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Appeared on: Thursday, January 19, 2012
OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB SSD review


1. Features

Today we have in our labs an SSD developed by OCZ, designed for accelerating your PC by taking advantage the ultra-fast read and write features of flash memory. Designed to work in conjunction with your standard hard disk drives (HDDs), the Synapse SSD is optimized for caching applications and files that you are frequently using in your daily tasks and provide you with SSD-level performance across the entire capacity of the HDD.

The basic advantage of the Synapse SSD is that it can work in any Windows 7 PC system without any demanding hardware requirements. The "caching" operation is controlled by a software and not your PC's hardware i.e. chipset, as you need in other caching solutions such as Intel's RST.

The OCZ Synapse Series integrates the Dataplex caching software to dynamically manage the use of both SSD and HDD. This combination creates an environment where the most frequently used "hot" data stays on the ultra-fast SSD, while the "cold" data remains on your larger capacity HDD. Caching algorithms learn user behavior and adapt storage policies to ensure optimal performance for each individual user, maximizing productivity for the most demanded programs and applications. After at tree runs of the PC Mark Vantage software - required in order the Synapse SSD to effectively cache the "hot data" - OCZ's caching solution is significantly improves application performance:

The Synapse Series is available in 64GB and 128GB versions and it is backed by a 3-year warranty. 

Today we will put under testing the 64GB version of the drive, the OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB. have in mind that at least the 50% of the provided 64GB NAND flash will be used for overprovisiong to accommodate performance and software features (error correction e.t.c). This means that you will be actually

- Features


2. Package, drive

The OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB drive can be purchased online for about $155 and it comes with a 3 years warranty. The price is a little bit high for a 64GB SSD.

The retail package is not very different than what we have get used to see by OCZ. Basic information about the SSD drive as well as its specs are illustrated in both sides of the package:

The Synapse SSD is bundled with a 3.5" bracket mounting bracket, an installation guide and an OCZ sticker:

 

The 2.5" SSD weighs just 79g:

A label at the bottom side of the drive includes product information as well as a serial number for the DataPlex software, a mandatory install to get things going:

The drive came with firmware Ver. 2.15 installed and by the time we write these lines there is no new firmware for it. As you see below, the OCZ ToolBox utility does not support this drive:

The Synapse's PCB contains the SATA 3 interface, SF-2281 processor and eight pieces of Micron 25nm 8GB asynchronous NAND flash memory (29 F64G08CBAAA).


3. Benchmarks - Synapse as a regular non-cache SSD - page 1

Installing the OCZ Synapse is easy and straightforward - just plug-in the SATA and the power cables. The Synapse series is compatible with any Windows 7 system with a SATA II or SATA III interface. And of course, the DataPlex Caching Software should be installed in order to to the basic cache job.

Synapse SSD can be also installed as a cache for RAID configurations. Fault tolerance for the RAID array will be the same as before the use of the caching software.  If the RAID array is configured as RAID1 or better, then you should not encounter any data loss if one or more HDDs fail.

In order for the cache to work properly, you must set up your system to have all your data and applications on one primary hard drive or SSD. Synapse can only cache from one existing system boot drive at this time.

We start our tests by installing the OCZ Synapse 64GB SSD to a Z-68 system, which already supports another SSD caching solution, the Intel Smart Response Technology. Both Dataplex and SRT are host-based, write-cache solutions, but you do not need to own a Z68 chipset to use the caching feature of the Synapse SSD. In addition, the Synapse SSD has the additional benefit of speeding up your entire system since it accelerates the full capacity of your HDD.

We installed the SSD to the Asus Maximum IV Gene-Z motherboard (Z68 chipset). Our test system was running Windows 7 x64 SP1 with the latest software updates installed along with a WD 500GB 7200rpm Black Scorpio Edition HDD:

- Motherboard: Asus Maximum IV Gene-Z with 0902 BIOS
- CPU: Intel i5-2500K Retail
- CPU Cooler: Scythe Rasetsu
- Memory: Crucial Ballistix DDR3 PC3-17000 (BL2KIT25664FN2139)
- VGA: Gigabyte GT-430 (Nvidia Based) / On board
- HDD: WD 5001ALLS (500GB, 7200rpm Black Scorpio series)
- OS: Windows 7 x64 SP1 with all the latest updates installed
- VGA driver: Nvidia 275.33 x64 drivers
- Intel RST Storage Driver v11.50 alpha

The Intel RST driver reports that the Synapse drive has only 30GB of free space, despite its 64GB nominal capacity. It is obvious that half of the available SSD NAND is used for overprovisioning. Since the Synapse acts as a cache for file/program copies vs. typical data storage, the "free" capacity should be sufficient to deliver the full benefits of Synapse for any personal usage pattern:

Of course the Synapse can be also used as a high performance SSD drive without the DataPlex caching software, although we feel that no user will spend $150 for just 30GB of free space. OCZ states that even without the DataPlex software installed, the Synapse will maintain 50% NAND flash overprovisioning built-in for performance optimization. The result should be a higher data integrity than other SSDs. In addition, 50% NAND overprovisioning ensures that the Synapse SSD will never be completely filled. Using the intelligent caching software, the Synapse SSD is self-maintaining and initiates a background cleaning process to remove infrequently used or older data from its cache. Synapse also features traditional TRIM support to work in conjunction with Windows 7.

As we saw earlier, the drive was connected at a 6GB/s (SATA3) interface. That should give us the highest possible performance. So let's start with some typical SSD benchmarks.

We start the tests with the HDTachRW software. HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices. The software measures the sequential read speed (at various points on the device), the random access speed and sequential write speed.

At the HD Tach RW software, the OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB SSD gave a 417.7 MB/s for read and a 354.7 MB/s for write (average) - both results are lower than the drive's specs hint but this is related to the nature of the specific benchmark.

We move on to the HD Tune Pro software, another utility we used to measure the drive's reading and writing performance. Although not necessarily representative of real-world workloads, HD Tune's targeted tests give us a glimpse of each drive's raw capabilities. In the a sequential read test, the drive read the data at 267.5MB/s (average). This time the reported access time was 0.190 ms:

In the corresponding writing test, the drive wrote the data sequentially on the disc at 313.4 MB/s:

The HD Tune Pro also allows random access read and write testing. Here are some more results with the software to randomly seek files of different sizes:

The 512 bytes performance of the drive was OK particularly the read throughput which reached 6.065 MB/s. The 1MB performance was also strong at 404.789 MB/s.

 

We proceed with the AS SSD benchmark, which contains five synthetic as well as three practical tests. The synthetic tests determine the sequential and the random read / write performance of an SSD. These tests are carried out without using the operating system's cache. The Seq-test measures how long it takes to read and write an 1GB file. Most importantly, this sequential benchmark uses incompressible data for all of its transfers, meaning that we should not expect the very high performance figures we saw with other benchmarks, since the SandForce SSD will not be able to take advantage of the compression "trick" that boosts its performance.

The 4K benchmark tests the read and write performance for random 4K blocks. The 4K-64-THRD-test corresponds to the 4K procedure except that here the read and write operations are distributed on 64 threads.

The result is a pretty big reduction in sequential write speed on SandForce based controllers.

Beginning with sequential read and write performance, the OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB SSD produced 199.91 MB/s read speed, and just 75.29 MB/s write performance. Here the SSD's performance suffers.

Single-threaded 4K IOPS performance delivers 19.17 MB/s read and very good 62.72 MB/s write, while the 64-thread 4K reads recorded 52.17 MB/s and write performance was 44.45 MB/s.

AS-SDD use files, that are not t very easily to compress and the Sandforce controller loses the benefit of the "on the fly compression".

Below you see where the OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB SSD stands compared to other SSDs:

In the following test, the Synapse Cache 64GB SSD is reading and writing files, which have been partially of fully compressed. As it was expected , the more compressed the files returned higher read / write performance:

The next benchmark is the CrystalDiskMark. The software provides throughput data based on sequential reads and writes, and random (512K/4K/4KQD32) reads and writes. For the first test we used the default 1,000MB file-size:

Sequential tests on this SandForce SSD produced a maximum read speed of 204.7 MB/s, while the write speed was just 79.02 MB/s. Both results are very low since the test used incompressible data. CrystalDiskMark offers an alternative 'compressible' setting called 0×00 fill.

With the 0×00 0Fill setting, the drive's sequential performance has been restored to more normal levels:


4. Benchmarks - Synapse as a regular non-cache SSD - page 2

We continue our benchmarks using the OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB SSD as a regular, non-caching solution, without using the DataPlex software.

One of the finest tools available to measure storage performance is ATTO. The tool measures storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. The benchmark performs file transfers ranging from 0.5 KB to 8192 KB. Manufacturers prefer this method of testing as it deals with raw (compressible) data rather than random (includes incompressible data) which, although more realistic, results in lower performance results.

Writing peaked at around 402 MB/s for the 32KB file and reading 567 MB/s for the 8192 KB file. The drive performed great in the reading tests with large files and also in the writing tests with files smaller than 64KB.

Here is a comparison of the OCZ Synapse Cache 64GB SSD with other SSDs:

We proceed to IOMeter benchmark. Iometer is run by using workstation and database patterns for queue depths (outstanding I/Os) of two and 32, representing very light and moderate loads. Iometer is both a workload generator (that is, it performs I/O operations in order to stress the system) and a measurement tool (that is, it examines and records the performance of its I/O operations and their impact on the system). The app's ability to bombard drives with an escalating number of concurrent IO requests also does a nice job of simulating the sort of demanding multi-user environments that are common in enterprise applications. It can be used for measurement of the performance of an SSD. We run the IOMeter tests using the Xtreme Benchmark template .

With 8003.81 combined IOPS, the Synapse is not the fastest SSD around, but don't forget that it's just a 64GB SSD. Here is where the drive stands compared to other SSDs:

Below you see the results of Futuremark's PCMark 7 Professional edition. The drive scored 3118 points. Below you see the performance of the Synapse SSD in various tasks defined by the software:

 


5. Installing the Dataplex software

We already saw how the drive performs as a normal SSD, without cache. Of course, the basic reason to go and buy the Synapse Cache series is its caching feature, powered by the DataPlex software. Available for download at OCZ's website, the software should be enabled using the serial number found at the rear side of the drive and also in the manual bundled with it.

The installation process is easy. All you have to do is select the target drive - the WD 500GB 7200rpm HDD in our case - and the cache drive, which is the Synapse SSD:

After a successful installation and a reboot, you can check whether the DataPlex software is enabled using with a shortcut created on your desktop:

Congratulations, the Dataplex software is installed and ready to accelerate your system! Keep in mind that due the software's licensing method, you cannot install the same version of the software (same serial No) in another system . If two or more components of your system change, it is considered a “different” machine. If only one component changes, Dataplex automatically revalidates the license without issues, as long as the user is connected to the internet when the PC is rebooted after the change. Prior to changing two or more components, you should uninstall Dataplex to release the license. Licenses cannot be released after the system is no longer valid. In this case, you will need to be in touch with OCZ to reset the license.


6. Benchmarks - Synapse Cache DataPlex Vs Intel RST

Let's now proceed to the interesting part of the tests. The DataPlex software "monitors" your daily activity and caches the most frequently used applications and files in order to accelerate your system. This means that you won't be able to enjoy some real performance boost at once. Hopefully, after a few reboots everything will gets snappier. The same also applies for the benchmarking, so we performed each test three times before taking our final benchmark results. We also used the the Synapse SSD as a normal cache drive for the Intel RST feature.

In this test we will "accelerate" a normal HDD that has a rather low performance compared with today's SSD. The WD 7200 500GB Black Scorpio Edition gives about 70MB/s for reading & writing.

First we start with the CrystalMark 3.0.1 x64 Edition free benchmark. In the following tables you see the performance gains for both reading/writing.

For the reading part, we saw a major performance boost from the DataPlex Caching software (3rd run) at the seq/512K tests. The 4K/4K QD32 tests belonged to the Intel RST software. Both the Intel RST and DataPlex software offer a significant performance improvement to your system:

CrystalMark 3.0.1 x64 - Reading (Default Pattern)
Seq
70.34
179.9
155.4
192.1
512K
33.97
174.2
165.8
188.70
4K
0.543
24.24
26.65
24.91
4K QD32
1.319
53.97
49.70
50.68

In the writing tests, we were surprised to see that the non-caching configuration gave a higher Seq test result. Compared to the Intel RST, the DataPlex software shines at the Seq tests and it is slower than the Intel RST Maximized mode at the 512K, 4K and 4K QD32 tests.

CrystalMark 3.0.1 x64 - Writing (Default Pattern)
Seq 70.26 62.01 58.17 61.47
512K 49.27 47.59 61.43 59.98
4K 1.222 1.221 60.77 59.25
4K QD32 1.234 1.366 61.31 53.36

At the HD Tune 5.0 benchmarking software, the DataPlex software performed much better than the Intel RST Maximized mode and generally performed great.

HD Tune 5.0
Reading Performance
Minimum
44.5
6.2
72.2
Maximum
91.6
125.9
182.9
Average
75.2
66.3
126.8
Access Time
12.6
0.232
0.119
Burst Rate
156.1
168
176

At the HD Tune 5.0 File Benchmark sub test, the DataPlex software took the lead at the Sequential and Block read tests. The Intel RST Enhanced mode was more effective at the gave slight better 4K random tests:

HD Tune 5.0 File Benchmark Reading
(Zero Data Pattern)
Sequential
67953
375746
68786
465336
4K Random Single
123
7702
120
7619
4K Random Multi 32
327
21108
618
20867
Block Read
80
375
100
475

In the writing tests the DataPlex software managed to outperform the Intel RST software and gave truly great performance.

HD Tune 5.0 File Benchmark Writing
(Zero Data Pattern)
Sequential
68109
59660
67644
392890
4K Random Single
370
367
14011
14335
4K Random Multi 32
343
375
46685
75538
Block Write
75
75
90
300

While the above benchmarks gave us an idea of the performance expected from the Synapse Cache solutions, caching more complex data will be likely more challenging. So the next benchmark is PCMark 7, which uses patterns met in everyday's real-life PC tasks:

PCMark 7 v1.0.4
PCMark Score
2991
4255
4441
4559
Lightweight Score
2378
4261
4541
4796
Productivity Score
2206
4434
4420
4657
Creativity Score
3268
3504
4805
4925
Entertainment Score
3013
4251
3502
3538
Computation Score
4253
4245
4240
4241
System Storage Score
1853
4245
4506
4838
S.S. Windows Defender
1.75
5.03
5.10
5.39
S.S. importing pictures
6.15
16.51
24.34
27.06
S.S. Video Editing
18
20.92
21.18
21.42
S.S. W.M.C.
7.55
7.66
8.12
8.14
S.S. Adding Music
1.25
1.36
1.39
1.39
S.S. Starting Applications
2.80
31.24
29.65
36.92
S.S. Gaming
4.83
14.44
14.13
15.62

Finally, below you see how the DataPlex software optimizes its caching as you are using your system. We ran the same PC Mark benchmarks four times and below you see how the DataFlex improves caching accordingly:

PCMark 7 v1.0.4
PCMark Score
4525
4528
4542
4559
Lightweight Score
4682
4691
4750
4796
Productivity Score
4531
4554
4641
4657
Creativity Score
4881
4877
4884
4925
Entertainment Score
3531
3535
3543
3538
Computation Score
4255
4224
4250
4241
System Storage Score
4702
4721
4778
4838
S.S. Windows Defender
5.26
5.26
5.36
5.39
S.S. importing pictures
26.27
26.09
26.08
27.06
S.S. Video Editing

21.19

21.21
21.38
21.42
S.S. W.M.C.
8.14
8.14
8.12
8.14
S.S. Adding Music
1.39
1.39
1.39
1.39
S.S. Starting Applications
33.03
33.55
35.55
36.92
S.S. Gaming
15.23
15.52
15.55
15.62

7. Final words

The Synapse Cache Series is a SandForce-based SATA3 SSD with a software caching layer. The concept is not very different than Intel's Smart Response Technology, which also uses an SSD to accelerate your Z68-based system. However, the OCZ Synapse Cache is addresses to a wider audience since it can be used in any system that supports SATA the technology and run Windows 7 x32 or x64bit.

The Synapse series is aimed for caching and there is no reason to buy if you plan to use it as a typical SSD, without using the Dataplex software for caching. Priced at $155, it will cost you more than a typical 128GB SSD and will also offer you limited capacity as it uses half of the available NAND for overprovisioning. Our benchmarks with the SSD without using the Dataplex software revealed a typical behavior of a small Sandforce-based SSD, which behaves well while accessing compressible data and lags behind other SSDs with incompressible data.

The great things happen after installing the DataPlex software. It works silently in the background and keeps caching data that you are frequently using under Windows, for example, Chrome, gaming, office applications etc. After some time using your system, the Dataplex caching will offer you improved boot times, your applications will run faster and snappier and your system - even if it uses an HDD as a boot disk - will perform at and above the level of a PC running off an SSD. According to our tests, the Synapse Cache will give you a performance boost comparable or even higher that Intel's Smart Response Technology.

 

Unless you have a high performance SSD already installed as your primary drive, the OCZ Synapse Cache SSD is a great upgrade, which will offer the most noticeable overall performance increase to your Windows 7 system, while retaining the capacity of your mechanical drives.

 

 

Positive

+ High performance gain when paired with a traditional HDD drive
+ Faster than Intel Smart Response Technology
+ Can be used as a regular (no-cache) SSD drive
+ Can be used with all systems that support SATA2 (or SATA3) technology
+ Supports TRIM, SMART and 128/256-bit AES Encryption
+ Has a MTBF 2 million hours
+ Includes 3.5" mounting bracket
+ 3 years of warranty

Negative

- Available capacity is half than advertised
- Works only with as a primary (boot) drive
- DataPLex Software needs re-licencing in case you change system components

- Requires Windows 7 to operate
- Price could be lower for easier user adoption



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