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Appeared on: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Crucial Adrenaline 50GB SSD review


1. Features, specifications

We have in our labs an SSD developed by Crucial, designed for accelerating your PC by taking advantage the fast read and write features of flash memory. Designed to work in conjunction with your standard hard disk drives (HDDs), the Crucial Adrenaline 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 SSD 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 SSD 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. Crucial claims that the Adrenaline SSD enables your Windows 7-based PC to start up twice as fast and boosts access speed to data by up to 8 times.

While other caching SSDs such as the OCZ Synapse and Corsair Accelerator come in multiple capacity points, the Adrenaline comes in one 50GB capacity with a street price of $90. Crucial's solution is also based on the Marvell 9174 controller inside, while the other two leverage SandForce. So Crucial's SSD may be negated by the Marvell controller's ability to work well with incompressible data sets, but we'll see more on this one later during our tests.

Crucial Adrenaline is also simple upgrade that allows you to keep your existing hard drive, eliminating the hassle of transferring files and programs. Simply connect the SSD to your motherboard with a standard SATA cable, start the computer, and then install the caching software. Fully automated, the software then runs in the background and requires no user management.

Comprising a 50GB Crucial m4 SSD, a 3.5" adapter bracket, SATA cable and Dataplex software, Crucial Adrenaline is backed by a three-year limited warranty.

Form Factor 2.5" (9.5mm)
Interface SATA 6Gb/s (SATA 3Gb/s compatible)
Controller Marvell 9174
Sequential Read up to 500MB/s
Sequential Write up to 95MB/s
4K Random Read/Write 45K / 20K IOPS
Additional Features ATA-8 w/TRIM, SMART Command Support, High-speed Micron Synchronous MLC NAND
Capacity 50GB allocated for caching, 14GB provisioned for performance optimization

2. The package

The drive retails in the package illustrated below. It includes the SSD, a 3.5" bracket mounting bracket, mounting screws, an installation guide and a SATA cable.

 

The 50GB Crucial Adrenaline's design is not any different than what we have seen in drives from Crucial and Micron: a simple case with a metallic gray paint covering a metal alloy body.

The front of the Crucial Adrenaline offers the industry-standard SATA power and data connection. Notice that there are no service pins here for firmware flashing modes. All updates are handled through burning an ISO image to a CD and flashing the firmware through low-level operating system.

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.

Like all SSDs, the Adrenaline cites very low power consumption figures, at idle it uses less than 100mW and when active consumes just 150mW. The drive also measures 100.5 x 69.85 x 9.50mm and weighs 75 grams.

At the heart of the drive there are a Marvell SATA 6Gb/s controller, 8GB Micron 29F64G08CFACB NAND pieces and the Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2 processor. The NAND chips are placed in both sides of the circuit board.

The drive's physical capacity is therefore 64GB, but some of that is set aside for over-provisioning, leaving the user with an actual cache size of 50GB.

The Adrenaline SSD came with firmware Ver. 0390 installed. We the Crucial SSD Firmware update utility to update the firmware to Ver. 000F:

 

According to Crucial, changes between version 0309 and 000F include the following changes:


3. Benchmarks - page 1

The Crucial Adrenaline SSD can be easily installed as any other SSD - just plug-in the SATA and the power cables. The drive 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.

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.

We start our tests by installing the Crucial Adrenaline 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 Adrenaline 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

Of course the Synapse can be also used as a high performance SSD drive without the DataPlex caching software. So before testing the caching features of the drive, let's start with some typical SSD benchmarks.

We start the tests with the HDTachRW software. It 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.

The Crucial Adrenaline gave a 373.7 MB/s for read and just 114.7 MB/s for write (average.) Crucial talks about a 500MB/s sequential reading and just 95MB/s for writing in the drive's spec sheet.

We move on to the HD Tune Pro software, another utility we used to measure the drive's reading 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 361.1MB/s (average). The reported access time was 0.162ms:

In the corresponding writing test, the drive wrote the data sequentially on the disc at 96.8 MB/s:

Here is another sequential file test. The SSD's average performance for write was 111.288 MB/s and 474.349 MB/s for read. Both results are pretty close to the expected according to the drive;s specifications. For this test we used the "Zero" data pattern.

Selecting the "Random" data pattern resulted to a 110.627 MB/s average write and 501.827 MB/s read:

A "mixed" pattern gave similar results:

 

The HD Tune Pro also allows random read tests. Here are some more results with the software to randomly seeks files of different sizes. The random read performance is adequate with file transfers of 1MB (472.798 MB/s average) , as well as with randomly selected file sizes. The 512 bytes performance of the drive was OK particularly the read throughput which reached 6.619 MB/s:


4. Benchmarks - page 2

We continue our benchmarks using the Crucial Adrenaline SSD as a regular, non-caching solution, without using the DataPlex software.

The next software we used was the ATTO Disk Benchmark. 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. ATTO can be adjusted to do overlapped I/O, in a variety of queue depths. We tested the SSD using the benchmark's default settings, using 256KB file length performance and QD4. ATTO probably gives the most accurate results for compressible read and write data.

The writing performance of the drive was almost steady at around 114 MB/s for files bigger than 4KB. Reading was also high at 500-540 MB/s with files bigger than 128KB. The drive returned a fantastic reading performance with small compressible files:

Here is a comparison of the Crucial Adrenaline SSD with other SSDs. It is obvious that the Adrenaline SSD is very fast when reading small compressible files, leaving behind other cache SSDs such as OCZ's Synapse:

On the other hand, writing of small compressible files was not so easy for the Crucial drive:

With larger files (2MB) the drive was also fast during reading but remained slow in the corresponding writing test:

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 just 3692.11 combined IOPS, the Adrenaline is a not as fast as we expected, but don't forget that it's just a 50GB SSD. Here is where the drive stands compared to other SSDs:

 

Below you see the results of Futuremark's PCMark 7 Professional edition. The software includes 7 PC tests for Windows 7, combining more than 25 individual workloads.

The drive scored 4406 points. Below you see the performance of the Crucial Adrenaline SSD in various tasks defined by the software:


5. Benchmarks - page 3

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 of various sizes. For the first test we used the default 1,000MB file-size:

Sequential tests on this SSD produced a maximum read speed of 500.8 MB/s, while the write speed was just 114.8 MB/s. Both results match the figures quoted by Crucial. The drive also preformed great with in reading 4KQD32 files but was generally slower than other SSDs in the writing tests.

With the software testing the drive's performance with 'compressible' (0×00 fill) files, the drive's sequential performance remained unchanged:


6. Benchmarks - page 4

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.

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.

As we previously saw, the Marvell -based Crucial Adrenaline SSD is very fast in the sequential reading with incompressible files, leaving the Sandforce-based OCZ Synapse behind:

Crucial's SSD was also fast in the seq writing tests:

In the 4K random reading test the Adrenaline SSD was not as fast as the OCZ Synapse, although the performance gap is small:

The 4K random writing test left the Adrenaline SSD behind OCZ's Synapse:

The Adrenaline SSD takes the lead again in the 4K random read (64 thread) writing and reading tests:

In the following test, the Crucial Adrenaline 50GB SSD is reading and writing files, which have been partially of fully compressed. As it was expected , the more the drive returned a solid performance with all files:


7. Benchmarks - page 5

The next benchmark is the Anvil Pro, an ‘all inclusive’ storage utility. The software is tests transfer speeds as well as IOPS  The IOPS tests can be configurable with preset testing scenarios for read (Seq 4MB, 4K, 4K QD4, 4K QD16, 32K and 128K), write (Seq 4MB, 4K, 4K QD4, 4K QD16) and mixed IO. 

We used the software with the Crucial Adrenaline 50GB SSD and tested the drive with 0-fill compression (RAW), 8% compression, 25% compression, 45% compression, 67% compression and finally 100 % (incompressible data). Below are the results:

In the following charts we illustrate the results we got from four different drives with 0-fill compression files:

Below you see the results we got with incompressible files. The Crucial Adrenaline SSD does not take a very large hit when dealing with incompressible data:


8. Benchmarks with DataPlex Software

We already saw how the Adrenaline drive performs as a normal SSD, without cache. Of course, the basic reason to go and buy the specific SSD series is its cache feature, powered by the DataPlex software. The software should be enabled using the serial number found at the rear side of the drive.

The installation of the software 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:

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

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.

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.

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.

The Crucial Adrenaline SSD and the OCZ Synapse SSD both accelerated significantly the HDD by taking advantage of the DataPlex Caching software (3rd run) at the seq/512K/4K tests. The 4K/4K QD32 tests belonged to the Adrenaline SSD, as the Marvell processor has no trouble dealing with incompressible data fast speed, and the Crucial cache is able to out-pace the OCZ solution in CrystalDiskMark's 4K QD32 test, with an excellent read performance.

CrystalMark 3.0.1 x64 - Reading (Default Pattern)
No Caching
OCZ Synapse Cache (Dataplex Software)
Crucial Adrenaline (DataPlex Software)
Seq
70.34
192.1
200.2
512K
33.97
188.70
173.6
4K
0.543
24.91
21.6
4K QD32
1.319
50.68
199.6

In the writing tests, Adrenaline's sequential write performance isn't particularly exciting, but the drive is able to handle a large number of small transfers, making it a noticeable upgrade from a hard-disk only configuration:

CrystalMark 3.0.1 x64 - Writing (Default Pattern)
No Caching
OCZ Synapse Cache (DataPlex Software)
Crucial Adrenaline (DataPlex Software)
Seq
70.26
61.47
100.5
512K
49.27
59.98
99.8
4K
1.22
59.25
68.3
4K QD32
1.23
53.36
98.6

At the HD Tune 5.0 benchmarking software, the Adrenaline caching returned higher results than OCZ' solution

HD Tune 5.0
Reading Performance
No Caching
OCZ Synapse Cache (DataPlex Software)
Crucial Adrenaline (DataPlex Software)
Minimum
44.5
72.2
78.9
Maximum
91.6
182.9
221.3
Average
75.2
126.8
154.3
Access Time
12.6
0.119
0.114
Burst Rate
156.1
176
180

Below you see the results of the HD Tune 5.0 File Benchmark sub test:

HD Tune 5.0 File Benchmark Reading
(Zero Data Pattern)
No Caching
OCZ Synapse Cache (DataPlex Software)
 
Crucial Adrenaline (DataPlex Software)
Sequential
67953
465336
 
485736
4K Random Single
123
7619
 
7542
4K Random Multi 32
327
20867
 
22879
Block Read
80
475
 
485

 

HD Tune 5.0 File Benchmark Writing
(Zero Data Pattern)
No Caching
Synapse Cache (DataPlex Software)
Crucial Adrenaline (DataPlex Software)
Sequential
68109
392890
378649
4K Random Single
370
14335
14215
4K Random Multi 32
343
75538
73499
Block Write
75
300
289

While the above benchmarks gave us an idea of the performance expected from the Crucial Adrenaline SSD, 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. The specific tests were performed four times:

PCMark 7 v1.0.4
No Caching
Synapse Cache (DataPlex Software)
Crucial Adrenaline (DataPlex Software)
PCMark Score
2991
4559
4425
Lightweight Score
2378
4796
4818
Productivity Score
2206
4657
4971
Creativity Score
3268
4925
4634
Entertainment Score
3013
3538
3573
Computation Score
4253
4241
4116
System Storage Score
1853
4838
4940

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 with Crucial Adrenaline SSD and the performance was improved accordingly:

PCMark 7 v1.0.4
PCMark Score
3104
4406
4416
4425
Lightweight Score
2550
4797
4812
4818
Productivity Score
2312
4945
4971
4971
Creativity Score
3412
4630
4631
4634
Entertainment Score
3089
3559
3568
3573
Computation Score
4113
4137
4114
4116
System Storage Score
2023
4913
4994
4940

9. Closing thoughts

The Crucial Adrenaline is a Marvell-based SATA3 SSD with a software caching layer. It has been designed to accelerate your Windows 7 PC system working in tandem with your existing HDD, offering you dramatically enhanced operations like boot, frequently used file/application loads - sometimes rivaling some SSDs.

Without the Dataplex software, the Adrenaline will generally offer high sequential readings and slower writings, especially with compressible ones. Generally, the drive us in line with the performance of a Crucial m4 64GB drive, which is 500MB/s & 95MB/s read/writes. Priced at $90, it will cost a little less than a typical 128GB SSD but you will still get limited capacity. In case you already own a Z68-based system with a non-cache solid-state drive, you may also prefer to take advantage of Intel's Smart Response Technology and enjoy high performance as well.

But without a doubt, the Adrenaline will offer the performance of an SSD to your PC system without the hassle of reinstalling your software. 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 almost 3X- faster than without the SSD.

While the Adrenaline does not always take the top spots away from the "rival" OCZ Synapse cache SSD, remember that Crucial's solution is backed by Micron, who makes both the the NAND and firmware. It is also is based on a Marvell controller - in case you need something other than a SandForce controller - and offers more usable cache space than similarly priced Corsair or OCZ caching solutions.

 

Unless you have a high-performance SSD already installed as your primary drive, the Crucial Adrenaline SSD is a great upgrade, which will offer the most noticeable overall performance increase to your Windows 7 system. For your peace of mind, they offer a three year warranty to cover all drive defects. And until larger SSDs become affordable to the masses, such a solid-state cache solution is a wise purchase.

Positive

Negative



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