Intel Z68 Review - The Sandy Bridge Platform Expands

Author: SKYMTL
Date: May 11, 2011
Product Name: Intel Z68 Chipset
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An In-Depth Look at Intel's Smart Response Technology

Modern solid state drives may have boatloads of speed but all too often they fall flat in one key area: storage capacity. In the almighty price per GB race, the ages old spindle-based drives have a significant edge which is becoming more and more important as digital files erupt in size. With high definition content consumption on the rise and the installation size of many games easily reaching the 15GB mark, a sub-$400 SSD just isnít in the cards unless sacrifices are made.

In order to marry the speed of an SSD with the capacity of modern hard drives, some have been looking towards file caching as an interim solution. Essentially, this means storing certain files of frequently used programs on the blazingly fast SSD in order to speed up boot and load times while the HDD is used as a mass storage device. Itís a novel idea which has been used quite effectively in the past. Weíve seen Kingston introduce their value-oriented Desktop Upgrade series and Seagate use a similar approach for their Momentus XT hard drives. Even Silverstone has weighed in on the game with the excellent, easy to use and inexpensive HDDBoost. Now itís Intelís turn.

Intelís approach centers upon their Rapid Storage Technology into which has been built a provision that allows SSD acceleration (Smart Response Technology) to operate. In real time SRT caches the most frequently used blocks of data (it does not cache entire files) while intelligently discarding blocks from applications that are not as frequently used. In laymanís terms this means the technology adapts to usage patterns and doesnít use unnecessary space by speeding up seldomly used programs. It does take some time to ďlearnĒ which files are most used but by the second Windows boot or program load, there should be a noticeable improvement in responsiveness.

Smart Response Technology is also vendor agnostic but a 20GB or higher capacity SSD should be used to ensure adequate space for the cached files. A larger SSD naturally leads to further improved caching since it can store the necessary boot files for more applications.

Since Smart Response Technology is housed within Intelís RST control panel, it is relatively easy to access and implement once Windows is installed.

Contrary to their claims, Smart Response Technology is not quite as ďplug and playĒ as Intel says. RST Caching requires Windows to be installed in RAID mode but most people who use a single HDD will likely have their BIOS set to IDE or AHCI mode by default. Naturally this shouldnít cause any issues for people who had the foresight to install their Windows operating systems with RAID enabled in their motherboardís BIOS. However, for everyone else, using Intelís caching will require a complete reinstallation of Windows or modifying some registry files and installing the necessary RAID driver prior to the installation of the caching SSD. If you donít, be prepared for endless BSODs after rebooting with RAID mode enabled.

Within RST, there are two options: Enhanced and Maximum. Enhanced allows for host writes from both the HDD and SSD but write performance is limited to the performance of the hard drive rather than the SSD. Maximum mode provides additional performance since reads and writes are done on the SSD. The only downfall with Maximum mode is that data can be lost if there is a critical system failure. Below is a chart detailing what each state entails in terms of risk.


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