A roll-your-own hybrid drive option for people who don't want to reinstall Windows
Hybrid drives that combine NAND flash and mechanical hard drives are making a comeback. But what if you could make your own hybrid drive, with as much capacity as you want? That’s the concept behind the Silverstone HDDBoost. The idea is to slot an SSD between your OS drive and the motherboard, allowing your PC to read system files from the SSD instead of the HDD. This effectively adds an SSD to your machine without any of the actual work.
The HDDBoost is easy to install—just screw any SSD into the HDDBoost, slot both into a spare 3.5-inch bay, and connect SATA power and data cables. One SATA cable runs from the old OS drive to the HDDBoost, and another from the HDDBoost to the motherboard. Boot into the BIOS and set the HDDBoost as your boot drive, and away you go. The HDDBoost copies the first gigabytes of your boot drive (which contain your system files) to the SSD. The system treats the HDDBoost as part of one contiguous volume with the capacity of the larger drive—any data present on both drives will be read from the SSD first, speeding up your system’s performance without any further action on your part. If you write to the section of the hard drive that’s synced to the SSD, it will be synced at your next boot. Thus, you can take advantage of some of the speed of an SSD without reinstalling your OS.
The Silverstone HDDBoost does not include the Intel SSD shown here.
We tested the HDDBoost in the 3D HTPC we built for our August 2010 cover story. The PC’s sole drive is a 2TB WD Caviar Green. The SSD we chose is our current go-to budget SSD, Intel’s 40GB X25-V. To test the performance boost, we looked at average read speeds and random access times, boot times, and the PCMark Vantage x64 HDD subscore.
Because the HDDBoost treats both drives as one, HDTune and HDTach performance registered as expected: the first 40GB of the volume showed read speeds of more than 150MB/s and low random-access times, while the rest of the drive acted exactly the same as the pre-Boost Caviar Green, with read speeds near 100MB/s at the beginning of the drive, trailing down to around 50MB/s toward the end sectors. The huge boost in the first 40GB was enough to lift HDTune average read speeds across the whole drive up from 63.7MB/s to 78.7MB/s. The HDDBoost also lowered boot times from 56 seconds to 50, a decent improvement. But the most impressive improvement came in PCMark Vantage’s HDD subscore, which more than doubled from 2,620 PCMarks to 5,860.
Adding the HDDBoost to your system won’t hurt your OS drive—if the SSD is disconnected or fails for some reason, you can just boot from the mechanical drive as normal. This is good, since the target audience seems to be people who can afford an SSD plus $50, but don’t want to do a clean install or reconfigure their system with multiple drives. It’s also a good way to utilize an older-generation SSD—since HDDBoost only writes to the SSD during manual sync or reboots, it doesn’t need TRIM or garbage-collection utilities.
You won’t see the same performance boost from an HDDBoost and mechanical drive that you would from just installing Windows on the SSD, but the HDDBoost works as intended and won’t break your system, so if you’d like a bit more performance without the hassle, the HDDBoost could do the trick.
Relatively inexpensive; no need for TRIM; no need to reinstall OS; no data loss in event of SSD failure.
Limited utility for most users; better performance could be had from the OS on an SSD.