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 Post subject: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 4:36 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
Short version: The part I'm most concerned with is the correct configuration for the RAID: What kind of RAID? Are both the HDD and SDD in the RAID, or are they in separate RAIDs, or is only one in the RAID? What ports/controller to use (do both the HDD and SDD have to be on the same Intel controller?), and also how/when to install the RAID drivers (In the middle of Win7 install? Are they on the motherboard CD?).

I've read many guides about this, even so called "step-by-step" guides, but they all seem to gloss over what I feel is a very critical step: setting up the RAID. They pretty much all just say, "Enter BIOS, set HD mode to RAID, install OS." I've been building my own computer's since the original Pentium, but one thing I've never messed with is RAID. So hopefully you can understand why I'd like to have a better idea of what to do and what to expect.

What kind of options are there in the RAID settings for modern motherboards? The mobo I purchased is the ASRock Z77 Extreme4. Which drive is supposed to be in the RAID? The system disk? The SSD? Both? Do I specify which drive or which port in the BIOS? If it's just the system disk, I guess I use RAID 0 with one drive? Does this mean I can't use one of the other SATA ports (since I have a RAID with one drive)? Or do both the HDD and SSD have to be in their own single drive RAIDs? The SSD is SATA3, so obviously I want it in an SATA3 port, not SATA2. Does the HDD have to be in SATA3 as well? I've read that you have to use the SATA3 ports that are on the Intel controller (which is 2 of the 4 on the mobo), not a Marvell, ASMedia, or other controller. Is that true? Do both the HDD and SSD have to be on the same controller? Or is it just the HDD or just the SSD that have to be on the Intel controller?

Should the SSD be connected during Windows 7 installation? Does Windows still require F6 RAID controller drivers that have to be installed at a certain time during Windows installation, like back in the day? Are these drivers on the mobo CD and will the Windows installer look for them in the optical drive (I don't have a floppy)?

The SSD I purchased is the OCZ Vertex 3 120 GB. I'm aware that SRT only supports up to 64GB and that the rest will/can be partitioned off as a separate drive. I've read that Intel's software will do this partitioning itself. Is this true? If not, what exactly do I need to do to prepare the SSD? From my understanding, unlike HDDs, partitions in SSDs are virtual. So if 64 of the 120 GB is used for caching and the rest is unused or is a separate partition that is not used much, the Sand Force controller will still balance usage across the entire SSD, correct? I've read that in Maximum caching mode instead of Enhanced mode (basically cache write back vs write through), that the SSD is now stuck with the HDD because data is written to it first as fast as it can go and written to the HDD when it's able to. It sounds almost like once the SSD is put into Maximum mode it cannot be taken out again and you can never remove the caching SSD. Is this true?


Last edited by Zytrex on Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 4:49 pm 
Clawhammer
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You are so chocked full of questions, I don't even know where to begin. Did you read your mobo Raid installation guide? It'll walk you thru everything....I think!


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:53 am 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
Let me emphasize that the part I'm most concerned with is the correct configuration for the RAID: what kind of raid, which drives are in it, what ports/controller to use, etc., and also how/when to install the RAID drivers (in the middle of Win7 install?).

The motherboard is supposed to arrive on Thursday, which is when I plan to do the work. Although I guess I could find the manual online. But while I'm sure it will tell me how to setup a RAID, I wonder if it says anything specific about SRT. I even downloaded Intel's instructions for SRT, and this is what it said:

Configure SATA Mode in BIOS Setup
1. Press the F2 during boot up to enter the BIOS setup menu
2. Go to Configuration > SATA Drives
3. Select the setting for Chipset SATA Mode and change the value to RAID
4. Press the F10 key to save settings and restart the system.
Operating System Installation
5. You may now begin installation of the operating system on the HDD (or RAID volume)
6. Install all required device drivers
7. Install the Intel Rapid Storage Technology software version 10.5 or later

Once again, "Set HD mode to RAID, install OS. The end." RAIDs are complicated enough that a few more detailed instructions are warranted, I think. So it pretty much leaves me with most of my questions before. What about SATA3? Do both the HDD and SSD have to be on the same controller? Does it have to be the Intel controller? Should the SSD be connected during install. Is the SSD supposed to be in the RAID or in it's own separate single drive RAID or what? Do I have to install RAID drivers in the middle of the Windows 7 install? Etc. etc..

I would love to hear from someone who's done this.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 3:26 am 
Clawhammer
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Zytrex wrote:
Although I guess I could find the manual online. But while I'm sure it will tell me how to setup a RAID, I wonder if it says anything specific about SRT.


I have an idea, do it and go find out.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 2:58 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
The parts all came a day early so I'm trying to figure this all out right now before I tear my computer apart. The physical manual doesn't mention SRT except for saying which ports support it. The RAID guide (on CD only) doesn't mention SRT. The SRT guide (also on CD only) doesn't mention the RAID configuration except to say, "Complete initial system setup, including installing the OS to a RAID mode system."

So I'm still feeling quite unsure. I know that RAID mode exposes more information and control over the drives. So I'm wondering if all we're supposed to do is just set the controller to RAID mode so the SRT software can do what it needs to do with the drives. In other words, we're not creating a RAID at all, just changing the controller to RAID mode. Is this the case? Or do I still have to create a volume? Should it be RAID 0 (striping) or RAID 1 (mirror)? This is so weird to talk about when there's only one drive.

Edit: I did some more searching on this topic and I finally found a thread where someone says that while you do set the controller to RAID you don't have to actually create RAID volumes. So that makes sense and is what I shall do.


Last edited by Zytrex on Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 4:02 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Mon May 25, 2009 5:46 am
Posts: 113
For Windows 7 the procedure is this:

1. Connect your mechanical SATA drive and optical drive to the SATA ports.

2. Boot into your EFI and set SATA controller to RAID mode and restart. DO NOT PRESS CTRL-I AND CREATE AN ARRAY! Just let it boot from the DVD.

3. Boot your Windows install DVD and install.

4. Install chipset, LAN, sound, video, and Intel RST drivers.

5. Shut down, connect your SSD and boot Windows.

6. When Windows is finished booting. Open Intel Rapid Storage Technology control center.

7. Highlight the disk you want to speed up and click "accelerate". It should ask you what disk to use for caching and what size (i believe 64GB is the max allowable).

8. Click OK and you should be in business!

If I've missed anything, please someone correct me. Hope this helps you out.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:51 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:02 pm
Posts: 151
Wait, why install Windows 7 on the slower HDD only to "speed" it up with RST of an SSD? Why not install Win 7 on the SSD and use the HDD as a secondary partition? I'm confused.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:42 am 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
@Gutter96 : Thank you very much for the detailed instructions. I've also read in my mobo's manual that for Vista and Windows 7 I should not need to install F6 drivers. I've finished my backups and will do my upgrade on Thursday. Wish me luck!

@Masterchi : Because I install far too much software on my system drive. My current system drive has about 500GB of space used. Yes, I could make the SSD my system drive and attempt to pick and choose which software I install to the SSD and which I install to the HDD. And even for my enormous Steam folder, I know there is software that can swap the files around when I want to use them. But it's much easier to let the SRT software do all that for me with a caching SSD. With Steam especially, I always have many games installed and ready to go for when I feel like playing them (since downloading can take a while), but I'll usually only be playing three or four different games in a given month. So with SRT, the games I've been playing recently will be the ones on the SSD.


Last edited by Zytrex on Thu Aug 23, 2012 2:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:55 am 
Clawhammer
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Gutter96 wrote:
For Windows 7 the procedure is this:

1. Connect your mechanical SATA drive and optical drive to the SATA ports...


You've got it a bit backass. You install the OS on the ssd, not the mdd.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:05 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Mon May 25, 2009 5:46 am
Posts: 113
Kleinkenstein, why would you install windows on the SSD in order to use it as a cache drive? Have you ever used SRT? I have, and this is they way it's done. The whole point of Smart Response Technology is so you can speed up a mechanical drive by using a small SSD as a CACHE drive. You won't get raw SSD speed, but you're also not limited to the small capacity of the SSD.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2012 2:58 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
Gutter96 wrote:
Kleinkenstein, why would you install windows on the SSD in order to use it as a cache drive? Have you ever used SRT? I have, and this is they way it's done. The whole point of Smart Response Technology is so you can speed up a mechanical drive by using a small SSD as a CACHE drive. You won't get raw SSD speed, but you're also not limited to the small capacity of the SSD.

Exactly, as the title of the thread says, I wanted to know "How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT." Also, I've seen many benchmarks that show the performance of software that's cached to the SSD is virtually indistinguishable from software installed directly to an SSD.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Sat Aug 25, 2012 8:59 am 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:02 pm
Posts: 151
You have a 120GB SSD, do you really have over 120GB of software? Windows only takes up about 3-5 GB so why cripple the SSD, just run the whole OS on it and install your most used programs on it and then the programs you use once in a blue moon you install on the Mechanical drive. Your doing this completely ass backwards. the point of the SRT was for people that didn't want to spend over $100 on an SSD and just get a cheap 16-30GB drive (which is why there is a size limit on the SRT). You spent the money on a bigger SSD so use it. WTH.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Sat Aug 25, 2012 10:52 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5066
Or you can just partition 64GB of the 120GB for SRT, install windows on the remainder (also Windows takes up roughly 20GB after it gets its winsxs libraries together). Enjoy a super fast OS and all your programs loading at near SSD speeds, rather than having to pick and choose.

I should probably do that, since I'm not even using 40GB on my 128GB SSD.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 12:40 am 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:02 pm
Posts: 151
From a quick overview of benchmarks it shows that an SRT'd drive doesn't even come close to an SSD performance wise. And worst of all is it won't support TRIM so go ahead and SRT and enjoy your drive getting slower and slower to the point where it will be running at mechanical drive speeds and you've wasted your money. Running RAID on SSDs is horrible on performance overtime as well, its best to just leave SSDs by themselves and cut out all this gimmicky crap.

http://www.anandtech.com/show/4329/Intel-z68-chipset-smart-response-technology-ssd-caching-review/6


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2012 12:56 am 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5066
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4329/inte ... g-review/4

Oh look, a test showing that if you use caching in the manner of the algorithm used (which seems to be FIFO based), you get really really good results. And regarding TRIM, I have a work laptop running XP using an SSD from 2009. I've yet to see any real performance degradation.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Tue Aug 28, 2012 6:09 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
First, about my choice of using SRT caching

@Masterchi: Thank you for your comments. I thought a lot about the hardware configuration to go with and here's how I made my choice.

You said you did a quick overview of the benchmarks. I think you should go back and read them completely. That article by Anandtech is the exact one I quoted. They titled that section, "Application & Game Launch Performance: Virtually Indistinguishable from an SSD." They're conclusion is basically that SRT is a lot better than just an HDD, but not quite as good as an SSD.

As for people using caching because they don't want to spend more than $100 on an SSD, well I almost spent $70 on a 60GB SSD, then saw that I could get a 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 for just $100, so that's what I did. For $200, I could have gotten the 240GB, but that's still not big enough, and SSDs larger than that are just way too expensive.

However, it doesn't matter whether SRT caching is only better than just an HDD or if it's as good as installing straight to an SSD. As I said before, I cannot install straight to an SSD because I install too much. My previous installation had 500GB on the system disk. And I really did try to remove files and uninstall programs because my disk at the time (about a month ago) was only 600GB, but that's the best I could do. I'm not even a week into my new installation and I'm already back to 300GB.

What's taking up all this room? Office Professional 2010. Visual Studio 2010. Visual Studio 2012 Candidate. Various libraries. Steam games. I use all of these all the time. No, I don't have my entire library of Steam games installed of course, but I have quite a few. I obviously have the games installed I'm currently playing, as well as several more I want ready the moment they strike my fancy. Yes, I'm aware there are tools that can swap Steam games around, but I just don't want to worry about it.

As for TRIM support for RAID 0, I'm running a Z77 motherboard with RST version 11+, so I'm good.

And now, my installation experience

Since everybody helped me figure out how to do this install, I thought I'd report on my experience. For people like us that do a lot of manual work on computers, it's the many little anecdotal stories like this that make up our internal knowledge-bases so that we can quickly recognize and solve all the little quirky problems than can arise.

ASRock Z77 Extreme4 LGA1155
Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge 3770k, 3.5GHz (3.9GHz Turbo), 77W, 8MB cache, Quad-core with Hyperthreading
16GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600MHz in dual channel
Dual AMD HD 6950 2GB GDDR5 in Crossfire
Western Digital Black 2TB HDD (System)
OCZ Vertex 3 120GB SSD (SRT Caching)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

Video

When I first hooked everything up, I couldn't get any video. It was quite upsetting. After a few minutes of this, I thought to plug the monitor into the mobo's DVI port (instead of the discrete graphics card), and there was my picture! ASRock's UEFI is quite cool. It has this "System Browser" that shows a picture of the mobo and you can mouse over ports and it will tell you what's plugged into them. Oh yeah, the mouse works in UEFI.

What's not so cool is that it said both my PCI-E slots were empty. I tried several different combinations of video cards including my old nVidia 8800GTX (oh yeah!), always making sure that both video cards had power as well as the 8-pin power for the CPU, all with no luck at all. In the UEFI settings for the video card you can choose Onboard or PCIE. From what I've read, PCIE mode is supposed to detect when you have a discrete card plugged in and use it, otherwise it uses the on board graphics. I cleared the CMOS with the button on the board, I cleared the CMOS by removing the battery (which the manual says clears it even more, which is true because the button didn't reset the clock), and I updated the UEFI to the latest version. And still, the system browser just said the PCI-E slots were empty, and plugging my second monitor into the discrete graphics cards yielded no picture.

Finally, on a whim, I unplugged my main monitor from the mobo's DVI port and plugged it into the discrete card and restarted. Please note that this is the exact same configuration I tried in the beginning. Well, now the cards work and show up in the System Browser. I plug a monitor back into the mobo's DVI and restarted and the video cards disappeared from the System Browser. So it seems that plugging a monitor into the mobo's DVI port suppresses the loading of the discrete video cards. I could find nothing about this in the manual.

So something I did in-between the time I first hooked everything up and when I eventually unplugged the monitor from the mobo's DVI port made it all work, but I'll never know for sure. Though I have since read of other people not having a picture until they clear the CMOS.

Drives

Just to see what would happen, with all of my HDDs connected, I set the HD mode to RAID but did NOT make any RAID volumes, and then booted from the Windows 7 install disk. Happily, it saw all my drives and could recognize their partitions and their names. However, it said it could not install to my intended system disk (which still had the previous Windows 7 install which I cloned to the 2TB drive a month ago before deciding to do this large upgrade). The exact message was, "Windows cannot be installed to this disk. This computer's hardware may not support booting to this disk. Ensure that the disk's controller is enabled in the computer's BIOS menu."

When I switched back to AHCI, the error went away. When I then switch RAID back on, the error came back. But then, as I should have done in the beginning, and as I was planning to do for the actual installation, I unplugged every drive except the system disk and the optical. Then, even in RAID mode (and without any RAID volumes), the Windows 7 installer had no complaints about the drive.

Network

After Windows 7 was installed, I discovered I could not get on the internet. I solved this by installing the drivers for my network card. This isn't a huge deal, but it's the first time for me that a Windows 7 installation didn't already have working drivers for a network card.

Sound

On my previous, four year old system, I had been using a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi PCI-E (the little black one without the fancy plastic packaging like on the Fatal1ty version). I used a fiber optic cable to connect it to my Logitech Z-5500 Digital 5.1 speaker system. It worked great, and Creative's Alchemy software enabled surround sound and special effects in Windows Vista and 7 for older games that used DirectSound. However, I know onboard audio has come a long way since then, and my new motherboard's Realtek ACL898 is supposed to among the better ones. So I thought I'd give it a try and see how it sounded.

I discovered very quickly that, although onboard sound cards pretty much always have a digital optical and/or SPDIF output, that the drivers will only encode 2-channel audio. For more channels, you have to buy software, such as THX TruStudio. Well I'm not doing that.

So I pulled out my triple-stereo cable, plugged it in and set the drivers to 5.1 audio. Right away I noticed something very disturbing. Whenever I do anything that makes a sound, like navigating in explorer (the little clicking sound), there is a nasty electrical-ish snapping sound as the audio seems to turn on at the beginning of the sound and off once it's over. Sometimes starting certain apps, like Firefox, would activate this as well. If I switched back to the fiber optic cable (though it was only 2-channel), on my Logitech receiver it would say "No digital data." And then as I navigated in explorer, I wouldn't even get sound. But for sounds that were longer, such as the test sounds in Windows audio setting, the Logitech receiver would switch to DTS (or Dobly, I can't remember which) until the sound finished and then turn off again. So perhaps it was attempting to turn the sound on and off for the navigation click in explorer, but the digital output takes a little longer to establish and the sound was over by the time it was ready.

I switched back to the triple-stereo cables and did some more testing. It was very annoying. I couldn't believe that people would stand for this, so I started Googling but couldn't find anything. Then I tried switching to 2-channel audio over the stereo cables and the problem went away. With the drivers set to 2-channel mode, it seemed that the audio just stayed on, so there was no snapping as it turned on and off.

Finally, I switched back to 5.1 audio and plugged in my microphone. With the microphone plugged in, it seems the drivers think there is always an audio source, so now the audio is always on and the annoying snapping is gone. So I lucked out and avoided this problem, but if I hadn't found a solution, I would have gone running back to my discrete sound card.

One problem I still have is that all the ports on the onboard sound card are used up. My headset's microphone is plugged in, but the headphones are not. This wasn't a problem with the SoundBlaster because the stereo audio out was free since I was using the optical cable to connect to my receiver. But I actually never use my headset to listen to audio. I just hang it around my neck to hold up my microphone. Still, it does mean I no longer have the option of using the headphones to listen if I want to.

Also, yes my case has front panel audio ports, yes they're hooked up, and yes they work. But yes, the microphone picks up an enormous amount of distortion when connected this way (the exact same thing happened when the SoundBlaster was connected to the front panel audio). What's strange is that I can't hear the distortion if I just listen to my voice over the speakers, so for a while I didn't realize it was there. But my friends told me they heard it over Skype and it was quite bad. I did at times hear some very faint clicking sounds when testing the headphones during a quiet part of a song, so I thought they must have been hearing that and were simply exaggerating how bad it was. The test that finally convinced me works the following way: I started a game (Dead Island). I alt-tab out and connect to the Skype echo test. When it started recording, I said a couple words, then quickly went back into the game, said some more words, then tabbed out again. When it played back, the first part sounded fine, then in the game it sounded absolutely horrible. I did the exact same test with this new motherboard, new proc, and new onboard sound card and got identical results. So that's that. I've read in other places that this is a common problem for front panel audio on cases, even good ones like my Antec P182.

One final difference is the actual microphone pickup ability. On the SoundBlaster X-Fi, the microphone worked very well the way I wear it around my neck. However, with the onboard sound, I had to turn the microphone boost all the way up to 20dB. The sound, as a result, seems to be a bit more airy. It's hard to describe, and it's a minor note, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Conclusion

So that's it. This installation had some frustrating and astonishing moments, but eventually it worked out. Thank you again to everyone who supplied me with advice and criticism both. I hope my this thread and my experience can be helpful to others.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Wed Aug 29, 2012 3:37 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:02 pm
Posts: 151
Any benchmarks? I'm sure we'd like to know what type of speeds your getting from the free HDTune or any other benchmark utility you have.


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 3:38 pm 
Little Foot
Little Foot

Joined: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:05 pm
Posts: 111
A few benchmarks:

Windows Boot (starting when post screen disappears):

Without SSD Caching:
Post to login screen: 79 sec
Login screen to desktop visible: 28 sec
Steam system tray icon loaded: 76 sec
Total: 183 sec

With SSD Caching:
Post to login screen: 25 sec
Login screen to desktop visible: 5 sec
Steam system tray icon loaded: 15 sec
Total: 45 sec

Difference: 138 sec, 75% decrease

Starcraft 2 Launch (from hitting "Play" in launcher to login screen):

Without SSD Caching: 28 sec
With SSD Caching: 16 sec
Difference: 12 sec, 43% decrease


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 Post subject: Re: How to setup an SSD cache with Intel SRT
PostPosted: Thu Sep 13, 2012 10:28 pm 
Smithfield
Smithfield

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5066
Looks like it's doing wonderfully for you, and that's about as fast as my system (currently running a Samsung 830 Series SSD as the system drive). How long did it take before you saw those speeds?

Also a note for Masterchi, benchmarking programs won't really work because chances are they are first writing to the target, then reading that same data back. Since this data is temporary, Windows will never cache it. The caching mechanisms are probably looking for "permanently" stored data.


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