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Corsair Accelerator 30GB SSD Cache Drive Review

AkG

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A short time ago we took a long hard look at the Corsair Accelerator 60GB drive and walked away craving even more. Its ability to increase the overall responsiveness of an entire system was impressive, performance was improved without sacrificing capacity and it didn’t cost a veritable fortune. However, there was one major issue: the overall value was lacking when compared to similar solutions offered by the competition. Today we will be looking at the smaller and even more frugally priced sibling – the Corsair Accelerator 30GB – to see if this drive can alleviate our concerns.


Much like OCZ and their Synapse line, the Corsair Accelerator series relies on Nvelo’s Dataplex software to meld a moderately fast solid state drive to the user’s existing hard drive in order to create one “hybrid” storage solution. As with the larger version, the 30GB unit relies upon a standard SATA 3Gb/s Nova Series 2 drive. As mentioned extensively in the previous review, this drive uses a less capable SandForce controller but in this instance it is the SF2141 instead of the SF2181.

Unfortunately, the 7% over-provisioning found with the standard Nova Series 2 drive has also been carried over from the 60GB model. Based on previous experience, this does raise serious concerns over short and long term performance loss. Luckily, the Accelerator 30GB has an ace up its sleeve which may help mitigate these concerns. Namely, with an asking price of only $59, this model may so frugally priced that nothing in the same price range will be able to match it.

To keep things as fair as possible, we will be pairing the Accelerator with the same 1TB hard drive we tested the OCZ Synapse with. This will allow us to find out how much performance is possible from a truly budget setup and judge the Accelerator’s overall efficiency and effectiveness.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Accelerator_30/bottomn.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

As with the 60GB version, the Corsair Accelerator 30GB’s exterior is very robust and reassuring. While some SSD makers use a metal-and-plastic solution, the Accelerator’s outer shell is a full metal affair that seems like it could shrug off damage that would leave a Synapse in pieces.




Opening up the Accelerator 30GB reveals an interesting layout. Not only is the PCB half the size of what is normally found in most SandForce-based devices, but the number of NAND ICs has been greatly reduced as well. While most solid state drives make use of 16 dual-layer NAND modules –and the Accelerator 60GB uses eight – this model has only four ONFI 1 NAND ICs. These chips’ density is higher than that of most contemporary 32GB SSDs, but the Accelerator does rely on a slower and less capable SF-2141 controller so there may be some performance loss.


It is also unfortunate that Corsair—much like OCZ—opted for ONFi 1 NAND rather than ONFi 2 or Toggle-Mode NAND. Either of these superior NAND technologies should have allowed the Accelerator 30GB to hide a degraded state better than ONFi 1 NAND. However, this is a budget-oriented drive so we can’t expect miracles.


The software needed to actually run the Accelerator as intended is included neither in the box nor on the drive itself. Rather than bundle a CD with a potentially outdated version, Corsair simply supplies a serial number that can be used to download the Dataplex caching software.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Windows 7 load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a Kingston HyperX 240GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Please note:
Due to the unique nature of this hybrid setup certain tests have been omitted as they require an unformatted drive to test or gave erroneous results.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Kingston HyperX 240GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB: 2.2
OCZ Vertex 3 MI 240GB: 2.2
Patriot Pyro SE 240GB: 3.3.2
Crucial M4 256GB: 000F
Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 120GB: 5.0.2
Intel 520: 400i
OCZ Vertex 4 512GB: 1.5
OCZ Vertex 4 128GB: 1.5
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.






The Corsair Accelerator 30GB's performance curves are a touch low, but overall they are still reasonably good. The difference between the 30GB and 60GB models varies from minor to moderate, but considering the price between the two is significant this reduction in performance is more than acceptable.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.



The small file performance of the Accelerator 30GB is lower than what we would want, but as with ATTO the reduction in performance over the 60GB model is not that significant. It appears that this smaller drive gives most of the larger model’s performance, but at a greatly reduced price.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.



While a difference of 250 points is significant, this inexpensive drive continues to impress with the amount of performance it offers. After all, it is taking a downright slow hard drive and turning it into a drive which can almost compete against devices costing significantly more.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.





The more results we see, the more we like this little powerhouse. Yes the small file performance certainly cannot hold a candle to its larger 60GB model, but once again, this drive’s price to performance ratio is astronomically high.


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


Much like AS-SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and easily – yet accurately – test your drives. While it is still in the Beta stages it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read / write scenarios but two in particular stand out for us: 4K queue depth of 4 and 4K queue depth of 16. A queue depth of four along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario while 16 depth will be encountered only by power users and the like. We have also included the 4k queue depth 1 results to help put these two other numbers in their proper perspective. All settings were left in their default states and the test size was set to 1GB.






Anvil Storage Utilities really doesn’t tell us anything we did not already know: the 4K performance of this small drive lags noticeably behind other hybrid devices, but does significantly boost the hard drive's performance.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER



IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,3xk,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.





This hybrid device is not designed or marketed towards more business environments and these results just prove why. Though once again, this device delivers a lot of performance boost for its extremely low asking price.
 

AkG

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Windows 7 Startup / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. Where Windows 7 has become nearly ubiquitous for solid state drive enthusiasts we have chosen Windows 7 64bit Ultimate as our Operating System. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.


To be perfectly candid this device may not be able to compete against most hybrid solutions, but it does pack a lot of punch into such an inexpensive package!


ADOBE CS5 LOAD TIME


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!


The Accelerator's results may be slow compared to solid state drives and the other larger hybrid drives we have looked at, but the significant reduction in load times from the hard drive only results will be noticeable. These results just underscore how fast an Accelerator-equipped system will seem for first time consumers who have only moderate performing hard drives to compare it to.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable Offline Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.





While the Accelerator would not be our first choice in this situation, these results are excellent for such a modestly priced device. You may not get even the same performance as the 60GB model, but you will get a lot more performance than from any other device in this price range!


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy (set to 1 file depth) and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.






As expected the small file performance and the large file performance of the Accelerator 30GB leave a lot to be desired when compared against more expensive hybrid and solid state options.
 
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AkG

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NON-TRIM Environment Testing

NON-TRIM Environment Testing


In many ways, a SF2281 should be severely handicapped in an environment that doesn’t support TRIM. To recreate this, we first modified our testbed so that it would not pass on the necessary cleaning commands. Meanwhile, to artificially induce a degrade state we ran eight hours of IOMeter set to 100% random, 100% write, 4k chunks of data at a 64 queue depth across the entire array’s capacity. At the end of this test, the IOMeter file is deleted and the drive was then tested. This will replicate drive performance after extended heavy usage prior to any self maintenance routines kicking in and is indicated by the “Dirty” results below.

In order to allow each drive’s self-maintenance routines to kick in, we then wait 30 minutes (Dirty + 30 results) with the system at idle and rerun the tests.



Real World Results


For a real world application we have opted for our standard Vista load time test.



These results are unfortunate, but do not change our overall opinion of the Accelerator 30GBe: it is slow for a hybrid setup, but still impressive for such a low priced solution. The lack of over-provisioning really does hurt the long term prospects, but even with these numbers factored into the equation it still offers one of the better low cost upgrade solutions available today.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


To elitists, cache drives may be considered the poor man’s SSD route but that just isn’t the case. Using a drive like the Accelerator 30GB on a slightly outdated configuration can breathe new life into older technology and it can even help along newer systems. This last point is extremely important since SSDs still haven’t hit low enough price brackets to be an option for most users. The Accelerator 30GB on the other hand is designed as an add-on solution for larger capacity drives, thus giving a balanced combination of storage space and improved system load times.

When dealing with a $60 SSD, a middling level of performance is to be expected but the Accelerator was never intended to be used as a stand-alone solution anyways. But even though the performance Corsair’s 30GB model offers is indeed quite abysmal compared to higher end solutions, when paired with a traditional HDD it easily outperforms every spindle-based drive out there. Just be aware that due to its capacity limitations, the number of programs it will accelerate is significantly less than its 60GB sibling.

In order to get even higher performance, a consumer would have to increase their budget from a very modest $60 to nearly $90 to get an OCZ Synapse 60GB. On the surface of things this seems like an excellent investment of thirty dollars and for some it will be. Luckily, customers who can justify an increase in their budget are not the target demographic for this particular model. Those customers play no part in the Accelerator 30GB’s eventual success or failure.

While thirty dollars may not seem like all that much, it is a 50% increase in a customer’s budget. The rock bottom asking price is the key to why we like and respect this model more than the faster –but more expensive – 60GB Accelerator. For many, spending nearly a hundred dollars on a performance upgrade for an outdated system is rather hard to justify, whereas spending significantly less than that almost falls into the impulse buy category. In the sixty dollar price range the Accelerator 30GB’s performance is not mediocre, it is class leading. This tangible boost in performance coupled with an ease of installation unmatched by traditional solutions will make it very alluring to budget restricted consumers.

Make no mistake about it, Corsair’s Accelerator isn’t for consumers who want the fastest solution available, nor those who can easily afford a larger investment. This drive is for customers who want to quickly and easily boost the performance their system without investing a lot of time, money or effort. They simply want an inexpensive system life extension product and that’s exactly what the Accelerator 30GB delivers.


Pros:

- Price
- Will work with your existing hard drive
- Only moderate CPU requirements
- Can help extend the life an older rig


Cons:

- Requires CPU cycles to work
- Relies on less than optimal ONFi 1 NAND
- Rather low small file performance




 
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