Although SSDs have been around for a couple of years now, they're still premium items. The harshest critics of the technology have now conceded that the superior access times and high transfer rates more than make up for the high cost involved, but mainstream users still have their doubts. With traditional mechanical drives headed to 4TB in the next six months and 2TB drives now selling for less than 80 USD, it's easy to see why some have put off owning an SSD. That might sound like I'm getting soft on the technology, but rest assured, I still believe a modern solid state drive is the best upgrade going on the market today when looking for a better user experience and increased productivity.
The second best upgrade going these days is the hybrid solution. Products like LSI's CacheCade and Adaptec's MaxCache brought SSD caching to the enterprise sector of the market and now the technology is ready for mainstream users. SSD caching places frequently read data on a high speed SSD that is used in conjunction with a mechanical platter drive. The data resides on both drives, but when called upon is read back from the SSD if available. In theory, SSD caching allows smaller, much cheaper SSDs to be used as the 'cache drive' and thus the overall cost is reduced.
This theory was made a reality when SilverStone released the HDDBoost, a low cost product that made SSD caching available at a mainstream price. While the HDDBoost was a very good product, it still added additional cost to a system build and wasn't the on-board solution system integrators were looking for. In this world where desktop systems start out at 399.99 USD, an even lower cost integrated system needed to be developed to bring the technology closer to the mainstream market where large volume brings in large profits.
Intel was quick to fulfill the needs of their customer base and set their sights on an on-board solution that allows system builders to bring the performance gains of solid state technology to mainstream customers. The end product was the Z68 chipset. Z68 includes Intel's Smart Response Technology, also known as on-board SSD caching and is part of Intel's Rapid Response Technology that controls RAID functions on Intel chipsets.
Today we're going to look at two solutions for bringing Smart Response Technology to your system. Both are based on GIGABYTE motherboards, some of the best we've used to date. Since Intel SRT requires a Z68 (or future) chipset, a new motherboard is required right from the start. Intel Smart Response Technology should become a part of most near future Intel chipsets and we expect to see the technology for several years to come.
Besides the motherboard, you're also going to need a solid state drive and this is where things get a bit tricky. Intel has released a Smart Response Technology specific SSD, the 311 Series. The 311 is available in two options, the first a 2.5" drive and the second a small mSATA version that will be used in notebooks and on some desktop motherboards like the GIGABYTE GA-Z68XP-UD3-iSSD.
Let's take a look at the motherboards we'll be using today and the Intel 311 Series SSDs.