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Review: Corsair Accelerator Series SSD Cache (60GB)

by Parm Mann on 25 April 2012, 09:04 3.5

Tags: Corsair

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qabfln

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Introduction

We've long eulogised the benefits of solid-state drives; they're fast, they offer near-instant access and they're dead silent in use. But if there's an area in which SSDs fall short it's price. These high-performance drives fetch a sizeable premium over a traditional hard disks, and offer fewer gigabytes in return.

If you need lots of storage, SSDs aren't the best bet - spending £100 will, generally speaking, buy only 120GB of capacity. Spend the same on a hard disk and you can easily pick up 2,000GB of storage, with change.

It's a dilemma, and one that SSD manufacturers are hoping to get around with the introduction of caching solutions. The theory, put simply, is that you attach a small SSD to your system and have it act as a high-speed cache for your existing hard disk. In essence, the cache provides the speed of solid-state storage while maintaining the high capacity available from a traditional mechanical drive.

The best of both worlds, it seems, and some of the first drives on the market have shown that the idea is sound; cache SSDs are easy to install and they do provide a noticeable jolt in performance.

But while the initial batch worked well as a proof of concept, they were also expensive, with small 60GB drives retailing for over £100. High pricing was enough to make the first crop appear niche in purpose, but with competition hotting up and prices beginning to tumble, Corsair's hoping that this is the opportune moment to get in on the action with an affordable solution of its own.

 

Dubbed the Accelerator Series, this cache SSD has a lot in common with the OCZ Synapse we reviewed late last year. It's designed to plug into a PC that uses a mechanical disk as its primary storage device and, as the name suggests, accelerate performance.

The Accelerator uses the same Dataplex caching software as the OCZ Synapse, but it attempts to differentiate itself by going mass market. Whereas OCZ opted for SATA 6Gbps connectivity with a high-end SandForce SF-2281 processor, Corsair moves things down a notch by sticking with SATA 3Gbps connectivity and a SandForce SF-2181 processor.

Corsair's drive won't therefore be able to hit the top-end speeds on offer from its direct competitor, so the idea here is to target a specific audience. In the manufacturer's own words, the Accelerator is designed "for someone who technically isn't able to migrate their OS to an SSD, or simply doesn’t want the hassle of doing that."

"It’s more a consumer product that provides a simple way to increase your storage performance, rather than an enthusiast product, since enthusiasts would typically buy a high-end SSD and use it as their C drive."

Makes sense. What Corsair's proposing to do is speed up mid-range systems with a drop-in upgrade that won't break the bank. So, how much does it cost?

The Accelerator Series SSD is currently available in a choice of three capacities. There's a 30GB model available for £45, a 45GB model for £60 and a range-topping 60GB drive that fetches £65 at retail. The minimal cost is the big attraction and it undercuts the competition; OCZ's smallest Synapse cache SSD is priced at just over £70, while Crucial's Adrenaline will set you back £75.

 

Corsair's drive won't be the quickest in terms of maximum speed - it's limited by the cost-effective SATA 3Gbps interface - but pricing is keen and it should still provide the requisite boost in performance. We've been sent the 60GB model to play with and cracking it open reveals a slightly unusual internal configuration. As a result of the relatively-small capacity, the manufacturer is using only a half-sized PCB adorned with the SATA 3Gbps SandForce processor and eight NAND flash memory chips.

The memory chips are of the low-cost asynchronous variety (the same Micron parts are found in Corsair's mid-range Force Series 3 drives) and each provides 8GB of capacity.

What's interesting is that while the rival Synapse is marketed as a 64GB solution, OCZ's drive is heavily over-provisioned to maintain optimum performance, leaving consumers with an actual cache size of 32GB. An unpleasant surprise if you don't read the fine print, but thankfully Corsair's being far more transparent; the 60GB Accelerator does what it says on the tin and offers a full 60GB cache.

 
Cosair Accelerator 30GB
Corsair Accelerator 45GB
Corsair Accelerator 60GB
OCZ Synapse 64GB
OCZ Synapse 128GB
Crucial Adrenaline 50GB
Processor
SandForce SF-2141
SandForce SF-2181
SandForce SF-2181
SandForce SF-2281
SandForce SF-2281
Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2
Interface
SATA 3Gbps
SATA 3Gbps
SATA 3Gbps
SATA 6Gbps
SATA 6Gbps
SATA 6Gbps
Actual Cache Size
30GB
45GB
60GB
32GB
64GB
50GB
Max. Sequential Read Speed
280MB/s
280MB/s
270MB/s
550MB/s
550MB/s
500MB/s
Max. Sequential Write Speed
260MB/s
260MB/s
240MB/s
490MB/s
510MB/s
95MB/s
Warranty
3 Years
3 Years
3 Years
3 Years
3 Years
3 Years
Price
£45
£60
£65
£70
£125
£75

When examining the specifications of some of the available cache solutions, you can see why Corsair's 30GB Accelerator would be a safe bet for many - it's technically the slowest option with read and write speeds of 280MB/s and 260MB/s, respectively, but it's still considerably quicker than a standard hard disk and it's the pick of the bunch in terms of price.

The 60GB drive could be less convincing - it offers a lot of cache for your money (pun intended), but a £65 price tag puts it close to SATA 6Gbps alternatives that will offer greater speed for little extra cost.

Corsair's made the buying decision unnecessarily difficult by offering three available models (the 45GB option seems entirely irrelevant), but the company's marketing message is loud and clear; an Accelerator Series SSD cache doesn't replace your hard drive — it just makes it faster. Let's take a look at how it works, and, more importantly, how it performs.