As much as I like to site on my sofa or in my office chair and preach about the benefits of solid state drives, there are two issues that are difficult to overlook. SSDs are expensive when compared to traditional mechanical drives and they can't offer the same high capacity points either. The category for this is price vs. capacity and in this category SSDs have a poor track record. On the other hand, many users could care less about the high cost and lower capacity; the speed of SSDs is intoxicating and a bit addictive once you've taken your first dose.
Over the last couple of years we've seen companies try and merge the two technologies together. These hybrid solutions have come in many shapes and sizes and for several different markets. One of the first to launch was from Adaptec with their MaxCache designed for enterprise environments. LSI soon followed suit and released CacheCade and after that we were greeted with products from SilverStone (the HDDBoost) and finally there was Intel's attempt with Rapid Storage Technology. All of these products were a little different, but they all relied on the same principle - take a mechanical drive (or RAID of drives on the enterprise products) and pair them with an off the shelf SSD.
The problem with doing a cache system this way is there is a lot of performance that the SSD needs to make up. Since the HDD is already much slower than the SSD, you have a very large margin between the two. If you are using a small SSD, your hot data (data that is being cache) is only a small amount; this is what we found on the Intel RST solution. The larger your hard drive, the larger your solid state drive needs to be. This is especially true if you run several different programs and even more so if the programs you run most often are larger, like Photoshop. The holy grail for a cache solution is a large chunk of cache, in this case an SSD. In order to maximize performance and make up for the low speed of the HDD, you need a very fast SSD to get the same effect of running your entire system off of a solid state drive.
Let's take a look at OCZ's solution.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid isn't just a SSD paired with a HDD to give the feel of solid state performance. The RevoDrive Hybrid pairs a 1TB mechanical hard drive with a 128GB cache SSD system that uses OCZ's VCA 2.0 RAID-like system. The same technology used on OCZ's RevoDrive 3 is used on the RevoDrive Hybrid and we can tell you from past experience that the SSD portion is very fast. By using the PCI Express bus, OCZ has eliminated the bottlenecks found with SATA technology. This is what makes the RevoDrive Hybrid different from the competing products on the market.
As we said before, to make your cache system feel like a full on SSD drive you need to overcome the weak link, the HDD. The RevoDrive Hybrid has a read speed of up to 910MB/s and is capable of writing data at up to 810MB/s. On the IOPS side that is around 120,000 at peak and around 65,000 on average. It's safe to say that OCZ has managed to overcome the HDD with enough (Sand)force to make your system feel like it has a 1TB SSD working your data.
Of course, you are still talking about a product that uses two SSDs, a higher end controller (the VCA 2.0) and a 1TB 2.5" HDD and all of that comes at a cost. At the time of writing Newegg has the 1TB RevoDrive Hybrid listed at 499.99 USD. It really doesn't matter how good the RevoDrive Hybrid is or could be, it is a high cost and many won't give the product a second look. It's too bad OCZ wasn't able to bring the cost into the low 400 Dollar range.
Let's take a look at how it all works.
The Technical Side of the RevoDrive Hybrid
The whole idea of a cached storage system is as simple as it is brilliant. Data is broken down into two types. Hot data - data that is frequently accessed has the priority on the SSD system for high speed read back. Cold data - data that is infrequently accessed has a lower priority and can be stored on the HDD.
Some examples of hot data are the files used when booting your computer, program launch files and pieces of programs like Internet Explorer. Cold data examples would be your MP3 collection, files that play at the same speed regardless of the ability to play them faster, like movies and infrequently used software (like say a ZIP program).
Keeping track of all of this data is a software layer that runs on your system. OCZ went with a solution from a company called NVELO and their contribution to the RevoDrive Hybrid is software called DATAPLEX.
Here is how NVELO describes DATAPLEX:
Dataplex is a new cache software product that increases the overall performance of your computer by using a small SSD as a high-performance "cache" for your existing HDD. The result? You get SSD performance across the full storage capacity of your HDD - at a fraction of the cost of a full-capacity SSD.
Dataplex continuously monitors the way "you" are using "your" applications and data, and automatically keeps those files ready on the SSD for optimal performance. In a typical PC configuration, Dataplex delivers SSD-level performance by using as little as 32GB of SSD as a cache for your existing HDD. Finally, a single drive letter that delivers SSD performance, HDD capacity, and no data management or migration tasks for you! Simply plug and play!
DATAPLEX isn't the kind of software that you can just go out and purchase - NVELO is only working with OEMs and companies like OCZ to disperse their technology.
There is one small drawback with the software and that is its key code system that ties your RevoDrive Hybrid to a computer's hardware. When you migrate to another system or start to swap components, you will need to go back to OCZ to get a new key for DATAPLEX to work.
The package for the RevoDrive Hybrid is a lot like that found on the RevoDrive 3. On the front of the package we see some of the technical details; 1TB HDD, 128GB SSD, OCZ VCA 2.0 and Dataplex. You also get an image of the actual card on the front.
The back of the package gives an overview of the product and technology.
The inner package is well thought out and keeps your drive secure while being shipped.
The OCZ Technology RevoDrive Hybrid
Here we get our first look at the RevoDrive Hybrid. OCZ chose to use a Toshiba 1TB 2.5" HDD for their base drive and two banks of SSDs in a RAID like array for the advanced cache portion.
The RevoDrive Hybrid uses 25nm asynchronous flash and on the back we see some of it. This is where things get a little hairy. I'm not too sure what to think about OCZ using their own branded flash that we know nothing about.
The RevoDrive Hybrid appears to occupy a single slot from the back, but from the side we see it takes up a couple of slots due to its triple tier design.
There are three parts; the main board with the SSD, a daughterboard with the SATA interface and the HDD that rests on top of the daughterboard.
Most of the flash is found on the back side of the PCB, but this goes to show that OCZ has the ability to make units with more flash.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
Not everything is perfect with the OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid. Just like with the RevoDrive 3 X2 we found some motherboards just don't play well with the drive. We tested a GIGABYTE X58A-UD7 and found that it was one of them. We weren't able to find any specific documents pertaining to the RevoDrive Hybrid, but the RevoDrive 3 Series has a published list of known boards with issues. Since both of the new Revo products are so similar, this should be good place to start when asking if your motherboard can support OCZ's VCA 2.0 system.
When it comes to using your RevoDrive Hybrid as intended with the OCZ VCA 2.0 array acting as the cache for the included HDD, you *MUST* install your operating system on the OCZ HDD. You can't use a different SSD or HDD for your operating system and use the RevoDrive Hybrid as a secondary drive that is cached.
For our tests today we are going to look at the RevoDrive a couple of different ways. The first is without Dataplex installed and the benchmarks ran on the HDD. This establishes a baseline of absolute lowest performance. The second set of tests are run on the SSD VCA 2.0 array without Dataplex - this represents a complete cache hit of hot data. The third set of benchmarks will be from the RevoDrive Hybrid setup as it should be.
ATTO Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.
Let's establish the first baseline with just the HDD. The Toshiba 1TB hard drive is capable of delivering up to 80MB/s read and write performance.
The second test is from the VCA 2.0 array without Dataplex installed. Here we see the SSD portion of the system is able to deliver right around 1000MB/s of read performance and right around 800MB/s of write performance. This is much higher than the Intel 20GB "cache drive" and even faster than the Intel SLC E-Class drive Adaptec first used on their enterprise cache system.
To get the results you see here from the true hybrid array, we ran the test three times. This is the third result and as you can see, this test produced results between the two previous ATTO tests we've shown above.
Benchmarks - HD Tach
Here we see only the Dataplex hybrid combination, but two different runs. The test result at the top shows the first benchmark run. Here we see performance leveling off at around 100MB/s and by the end running at around 40MB/s.
After the first benchmark run the data from the test is cached and ready to be read back as hot data. In the second benchmark run we see the cached hot data coming through much faster than it did as cold data. The end result is an average read back speed of almost 400MB/s.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.
HDD1 - Windows Defender
HDD2 - Gaming
HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery
HDD4 - Vista Startup
HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker
HDD6 - Windows Media Center
HDD7 - Windows Media Player
HDD8 - Application Loading
We've got a lot of data here to look at, so let's start where I like to - down low. At the very bottom we have the OCZ Vertex 3, the trend setter for 2011. The 120GB model showed here now costs right around 200 USD, even less when you tack on the mail-in rebate over at Newegg. The Vertex 3 has everything you want in a modern solid state drive and sets our baseline for performance in this test.
Just above the Vertex 3 is the RevoDrive Hybrid running on just the 1TB HDD without the Dataplex software installed. This is obviously the performance we are trying to improve upon.
Just above the HDD only test is the SSD only test, also without Dataplex installed. This is the level of performance we hope the full package RevoDrive Hybrid can deliver when reading back hot data.
Now it's time to merge the HDD and the SSD together and run our first test with Dataplex installed and ready to collect data on your computing habits. In this test run we see the performance has increased over the HDD only tests by a small amount, but we are still at regular HDD levels.
At the very top we see the full benefits of the OCZ HybridDrive with your data loaded up into the cache. This is where you want to be, SSD performance with the capacity of a platter drive.
As you can see, the performance has improved by a large margin since the first run with Dataplex installed. More importantly, the RevoDrive Hybrid came very close to the performance of the Vertex 3 120GB when reading back hot data.
I don't think we are very far away from a time when all new personal computers ship with some form of cache system installed at the factory. Just a few days ago I saw a Youtube video of a motherboard still in the 3D modeling stages with a SandForce drive built onboard specifically for cache. Until those days arrive, products like the OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid will bring the future within our grasps today.
We've looked at several drive caching systems over the years, from high dollar enterprise systems to the most basic consumer versions that use USB flash drives. So far the OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid has been the absolute fastest we've tested and in many ways the easiest to configure for optimal performance.
By using their new VCA 2.0 system, OCZ managed to harness the performance of two SandForce SATA III SSDs in RAID and put that power in front of a large 1TB HDD. What you end up with is awesome SSD performance around 85% of the time and a full 1TB of capacity. The key is having your important data on the SSD portion of the RevoDrive Hybrid. With 128GB of space available to keep your hot data, the RevoDrive Hybrid simply holds more than competing products on the market.
The OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid isn't going to be for everyone, though. With a cost of right around 500 Dollars the first hurdle is a pretty steep one to climb over. With that price you have to wonder if a Vertex 3 240GB boot drive paired with a 2TB HDD for storage isn't a better option. If you take advantage of all of the mail-in rebates and instant rebates, this combination could be had for the same cost.
We applaud OCZ's continued efforts to push the envelope and release new innovative products to the market. That said, we feel that SSD cache technology should be a low cost alternative to SSDs and not just an alternative. OCZ chose performance with the RevoDrive Hybrid and that is reflected in the price. Those looking for a low cost solution can opt for OCZ's Synapse Cache SATA III product that also uses Dataplex to control the software.
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