OCZ Synapse 64GB SSD Cache Drive Review
The current storage market is all about contrasts but the OCZ Synapse 64GB cache drive is trying to act as an intermediary. On one hand we have the SSDs which offer nearly unlimited performance but are limited in capacity and come at a steep price that’s usually beyond the means of most consumers. The other end of the spectrum holds the faithful spindle-based hard drives that are inexpensive and can store massive amounts of information but due to technological limitations just can’t provide the same raw speed as a typical SSD.
In order to offer consumers the best of both worlds, some manufacturers have resorted to exotic “hybrid” storage solutions like Seagate’s Momentus XT and OCZ’s RevoDrive Hybrid. The OCZ Synapse 64GB on the other hand takes a slightly different approach since it doesn’t supply the hard drive part of the equation, nor does it rely on a dedicated controller to meld the two dissimilar technologies into one cohesive whole. Rather, it is simply a modified Agility 3 60GB SSD which uses third party software to meld the SSD part of the equation with your existing hard drive to form an entirely new “hybrid” storage device.
Naturally, a software based solution requires a certain amount of processor overhead but this philosophy of using your (hopefully multi core) CPU to do the heavy lifting does its merits. It allows for increased storage flexibility while also keeping the associated costs relatively low. There are some major questions which largely center around the SSD’s capability to cope with degraded states and just how much CPU overhead is actually required but if OCZ has been able to successfully navigate around these pitfalls the new Synapse line of drives may just be the Hybrid drive many consumers have been waiting for.
To help keep things as fair as possible we will be pairing Synapse with the same 1TB hard drive the RevoDrive Hybrid ships with. This will allow us to show how much performance is possible from a truly budget setup and it should allow us to judge the efficiency and effectiveness of this setup compared to a RevoDrive Hybrid.
By simply looking at this drive you wouldn’t know that it is anything other than a typical SSD. With the exception of the sticker, there really isn’t anything that distinguishes the Synapse from an Agility 3. Sadly, even the Synapse’s case is the same and is only partially metal with the top being made from “hard” plastic. We never like seeing plastic on our drives but considering the price point of this device it is still an acceptable – albeit far from optimal – solution.
Even when opened up and we looked inside, there is nothing you could point to and say “this is what separates a Synapse from an Agility 3 ”. As with the OCZ Agility 3, the Synapse relies on a single SandForce SF2281 controller and uses 16 ONFi 1 NAND chips. What makes this drive unique is not the NAND, nor controller but the firmware. In a typical 64GB SF2281 drive your operating system would see 60GB of space with the additional 4GB being set aside for over-provisioning whereas with the 64GB Synapse it is seen as a 30GB drive. Having this much over-provisioning is the very definition of overkill and has been done to help reduce the negative effects associated with running a SF2281 drive in a non-TRIM environment.
It is unfortunate that OCZ did not opt for Toggle Mode NAND or even ONFI 2.x NAND as that too would have helped obfuscate a degraded state better than what ONFi can accomplish. Given the price range this drive occupies and the philosophy behind it – i.e. budget price with enthusiast grade read performance– we understand the reasoning behind this move but like the plastic case, we do not consider this an optimal choice.
It is also noteworthy that the software needed to actually run the Synapse as it is intended isn’t included in the box – nor on the itself drive. Rather than include a CD with potentially outdated version, OCZ simply includes a serial number which is needed to download the special Dataplex software, which is the same that comes with OCZ’s RevoDrive Hybrid.
Essentially, Dataplex runs in the background as Windows starts and other than a small activity console, it doesn't impede in any way upon standard computing tasks. As long as the software is installed and running it requires no user interaction and goes happily about its job without any complex setup requirements.
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