Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/Corsair_Accelerator_SSD/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
The Corsair Accelerator is a lineup of dedicated SSD cache drives designed to be a hassle-free upgrade to an existing system and according to Corsair, offers an up to fivefold performance increase over systems using mechanical HDDs alone. To achieve this, Corsair includes intelligent caching software developed by NVELO. Intelligent caching means it automatically learns which files and programs you access the most, so the program can optimize the system performance by caching these to the Accelerator SSD.
In total there are three models in the Accelerator series with storage capacities ranging from 30GB up to 60GB. Neoseeker was sent the largest capacity model for review, which currently has an MSRP of $89. At this price, the 60GB Accelerator costs roughly the same as a kit of high-performance memory so if it can really improve performance by the advertised factor of five, it could be a worthwhile upgrade to any PC.
The Accelerator series drives are built around the SandForce SF-2181 processor and the SATA 3Gbp/s interface. This is obviously a cost saving measure, but this is a market where a lower cost unit will sell more volume. Since the drives use the SATA III interface, the speeds will be under 300MB/s, but with sequential read and write speeds of 270MB/s and 240MB/s the drive is still blazing fast in comparison to a standard HDD.
The Corsair Accelerator cache drive comes packaged in a small rectangular box displaying an image of the drive on the front along with the product name, storage capacity and SATA connection type. Overall the packaging is stylish and clean while at the same time being informative enough for the average consumer. It's also very similar to the packaging used for Corsair's other SSD lines like the Force series.
The reverse panel describes of the benefits of the Accelerator: "Using an Accelerator Series SSD cache drive can boost your system's read and write performance up to 5x over using a hard drive alone. Just add the drive to your system, download and install the intelligent caching software and start to enhoy faster boot times and quicker file access. There's no complicated drive mapping and no need to reinstall Windows." This paragraph is translated into six different languages, so it takes up the majority of the back of the packaging. The box has a small cutout that displays the SSD's internal bar code, a product sticker and FCC certification.
The SSD cache drive comes packaged within a plastic clam-shell casing for protection. The drive also includes a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter tucked behind it inside the box. The adapter comes with four screws to connect to the drive, allowing it to fit into any case that doesn't natively support 2.5" drives. It also comes with a quick install guide that gives a step-by-step overview of the installation process.
The Corsair Accelerator is encased in a plastic enclosure that is colored solid black. The product sticker is located on the front of the drive, and includes information like the model name, capacity and part number. The enclosure is a standard 2.5-inch design, but as mentioned earlier Corsair has included a 3.5-in adapter for desktop users. The back side of the SSD cache drive features strategically placed warranty stickers and a serial number that allows the NVELO software to be downloaded and installed.
With the enclosure removed, we can see that the Corsair Accelerator is built on a half slzed PCB that includes a total of eight Micron 25nm asynchronous MLC (multi-level cell) NAND flash memory chips (four on each side) that are manufactured by Toshiba. The difference between two models we are examing, besides the capacity, is the 30GB model uses the four channel SF-2141 processor instead of the the SF-2181 because it only uses four 8GB memory chips. The 45GB and 60GB models meanwhile use the SF-2181 processor, which supports up to 8 channels whereas SF-2141 is limited to 4 channels. All of three of the models use the SATA 3Gbp/s interface, giving them sequential read and write speeds of 270MB/s and 240MB/s respectively.
Since the Corsair Accelerator works with an existing hard drive, it requires the installation of special software before it can be used as a cache drive. The software was developed by NVELO for Corsair, and was designed to make adding the cache drive to an existing system extremely easy. Before you can download the software however, the serial number on the back of the drive has to be entered into the Corsair website for validation.
The first step after downloading the software is to input the serial number located at the back of the drive, as mentioned earlier.
Once the installation has started, you will be prompted to select the main and cache drives. Unless there are multiple HDDs in the system, the default options place the HDD as the main drive and the Accelerator as the cache drive. After the proper drives are selected, all that needs to be done is for the user to hit the "install" button.
After the installation has been initiated the rest of the process is automatic. When the installation is complete there is a prompt to finish and restart the system. Once the computer reboots, everything should be ready to go.
To ensure everything is running properly there is a Dataplex option available to the user. This program simply tells the user the status of the drive by stating whether or not it is actually enabled. As you can see from the image below ours was enabled after we rebooted, so no further tweaking was needed.
It is imprortant to note the NVELO Dataplex software does have some limitations, all of which are noted below;
1. The target drive must be the primary boot drive. Caching of a secondary drive is not supported. 2. Only MBR (Master Boot Record) partitions are supported. GPT (GUID Partition Table) partitions are not supported. 3. The Windows Reserved System Partition (100MB partition) must be on the same HDD as the Windows installation (C:\Windows folder) 4. Multiple OSes are not supported. 5. There is no support for target drives > 2TB in capacity. 6. Only one cache drive is supported in a system. 7. There cannot be two identical SSDs in the system, one of which is to be used as cache. 8. There is no support for RAID sets as the cache drive. 9. If after uninstallation of Dataplex, the system is restored to a prior state in which Dataplex was installed, Dataplex will be started in a disabled state.
Windows 7 Boot & Shutdown
The title of this test says it all. To test the start up speed we enter the boot manager prior to entering Windows and select the drive we are currently testing. Once we have selected the drive we record the time it takes from the time we hit "Enter" in the boot manager, until the desktop has appeared and the LAN is connected.
The Shut Down test is also recorded via a stop watch, but for this test we shut down all applications and test the time it takes for the system to fully power down after we hit the "Shut Down" button.
The Accelerator drives didn't quite match the performance of a stand-alone SSD when it came to entering and shutting down Windows, but it did improve the loading time over the standard HDD.
Call of Juarez
This time, the score used is not the benchmark score, but rather the time it takes to load.
Far Cry 2
It's the same principle here for Far Cry 2's built-in benchmark.
The Accelerator again reduced the time it took to load into the games, but neither drive configuration was as fast as a stand-alone SSD.
Futuremark PCMark 7
PCMark resembles a lot to the 3DMark suite from FutureMark, except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.
In this benchmark the Accelerator clearly delivered better performance, especially in the "Starting Apps" and "Gaming" benchmarks.
SiSoftware Sandra 2009
Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. In this case, we are using the physical disk tool, which measures read and write performance of a given drive.
The Sandra benchmark showcased strong read performance from both drives, but the 60GB model nearly doubled the write performance of the 30GB model.
This test consists of copying our standard 100MB, 500MB and 1GB folder also used in our WinRAR test from one partition to the other, thus requiring reads and writes. The chronometer is started as soon as the "paste" button is clicked and is stopped whenever the window indicating the copy status disappears.
In our last real-world test, the cache drives were again well ahead of the performance of a stand-alone HDD, but not at the same performance level of a SSD with the data stored on the drive.
The Corsair Accelerator series of SSD cache drives is designed to be an easy and cost effective upgrade to an existing system, and in most regards Corsair achieved this aim perfectly. Looking at the benchmark figures alone, both the 30GB and 60GB models substantially improved the performance of our test system. According to the results, the drives helped reduce the time it took to load into Windows by 28%, as well as cut the shut down time by 30%. Additionally, the drives helped improved performance of daily tasks such as file transfers, starting applications and loading into games. The drives achieve this by working in tandem with an existing HDD, so you get the performance boost without deleting any data or reinstalling Windows.
The software that comes with the drives is another aspect we liked. Not only was it easy to install, but it learns which programs are used the most and gives those priority. This on-the-fly learning makes the drive more efficient over time, as the programs used the most are cached for quicker access times. We have used other similar software utilities similar to the one included with the Accelerator, and we found the NVELO software to be more user friendly and quicker to install.
So far so good, but we did have a few issues with the drives. First off, a cache drive is simply not going to be as fast as a standalone SSD. This is because the data is not installed on the cache drive itself, so the hard drive is still present as a limiting factor. If you are looking for sheer performance, it would most likely be in your best interest to invest in a standalone SSD. However, the trade off with getting a cache drive is that you get to keep all your data, intact, on your current drive which likely still has more storage capacity than a standalone SSD, and Corsair has made the installation fool proof.
However, we found the software to be a bit buggy. Generally we encountered no issues, but at one point the system crashed, and upon rebooting it would hang at an error screen and not boot into Windows. The only fix was to disconnect the Accelerator, uninstall the NVELO software and then reinstall it. We only ran into this issue once, so we are not sure if it happens often, or if it an isolated issue. Another issue with the software is it currently lacks support for 2TB hard drives.
While the Accelerator series has its flaws, using a cache drive does help dramatically increase a system's performance without the fuss of having to reinstall Windows onto a new SSD or not being able to keep existing data. So, if you’re looking to boost your system's performance, the Accelerator series is to your system what steroids is to a body builder.
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