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-bitVideo
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.