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SSD Caching (Without Z68): HighPoint's RocketHybrid 1220

SSD Caching (Without Z68): HighPoint's RocketHybrid 1220
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Intel plans to offer its SSD caching functionality on the upcoming desktop Z68 platform, and only that platform. HighPoint’s RocketHybrid solution claims to achieve the same functionality, and it’s available as a PCI Express add-in card for only $59.

Everyone is waiting for Intel’s next LGA 1155 chipset announcement, which we previewed in Intel Z68 Express Chipset Preview: SSD Caching And Quick Sync. Z68 is expected to fix shortcomings of the existing H67/P67 Express models and add SSD caching capabilities to the LGA 1155 platform (Ed.: here's a hint: keep your eyes open for more in the next 24 hours). As of right now, you can either build an overclocked system on P67 Express or use the integrated graphics engine on H67, giving up processor overclocking entirely. Z68 is expected to rectify that major marketing-driven oversight and support more flexible combinations of the integrated graphics unit, external graphics, and overclocking.

Regardless of these expected additions, Intel is aiming at maximizing storage performance by utilizing hard disks and a solid-state drive, which can be utilized as a high-speed cache. While we expect this feature to be an attractive option, it will be limited to the Z68 Express chipset. Consequently, if you've ignored our recommendations to "wait for Z68" and already made the jump into a Sandy Bridge-based platform, you'll be forced to buy a new motherboard in order to get access to SSD caching.

Fortunately, that's not your only option. HighPoint recently launched a PCI Express-based storage controller that performs the same task at a fairly modest price.

HighPoint Technologies says it specializes in providing cost-effective storage solutions for mainstream markets. Therefore, it competes with the chipset companies. It also contends with entry-level solutions from vendors like Adaptec/PMC Sierra, Areca, and LSI. While Adaptec and LSI create their own chip designs, Areca and HighPoint base their products on controllers from third-party vendors.

The product we’re looking at today is called the RocketHybrid 1220, and it's a x1 PCI Express add-in card with two internal SATA 6Gb/s ports based on Marvell’s 88SE9130 controller. HighPoint also sells a variant of the card that employs eSATA instead. 

Cache Me If You Can

The concept of caching is fundamental in almost every PC component category, especially when you're looking at subsystems that work with large amounts of data. The idea is to improve performance by providing or prefetching information through a faster form of storage than the underlying device. Imagine a ladder or a triangle. At the base you have the slowest (and yet cheapest) form of storage. Ascending the hierarchy gets you performance, but at an increasing price. Throwing an SSD in between your hard drive and system memory is intended to help overcome the performance-oriented limitations of magnetic storage, while at the same time keeping costs manageable by specifically using lower-capacity solid-state devices.

An example: every processor has cache, typically organized in two or three stages referred to as levels. The purpose of these processor-based caches is to make hot data available as close as possible to the execution cores in an effort to minimize access to the slower system memory. Hard drives usually work with a physical DRAM cache memory of 8-64 MB to reduce activity on the physical drive. Optical drives use a memory buffer for caching write operations. Windows caches hard drive data or application data into available main memory. Even applications like Adobe Photoshop sometimes have their own caching implementation. At the end of the day, Windows’ indexing feature is another type of caching.

There have been various attempts to accelerate hard drive storage using different types of caching. Hybrid HDDs failed. However, there are a few product options available now that noticeably speed up system performance.

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  • 0 Hide
    amunn , May 10, 2011 4:41 AM
    This may be a dumb question, but why not go with two SSD drives? I could see using a fast 80 GB boot drive loaded with the programs/games you know will be used a lot and adding a cheap 40 GB SSD for caching so you don't have to constantly manage your system. Is this possible with Z68 or the HighPoint? Other than cost, is there a reason not to do this?
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 10, 2011 5:20 AM
    At this point, SSD caching is about as silly as Windows Vista ReadyBoost. It seems that if the same data was consistently being accessed at random, that even 4GB of cached should be enough to make a noticeable difference.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 10, 2011 5:24 AM
    Hmm.. Highpoint isn't the only solution out there. SilverStone has been hocking the HDDBoost for awhile which looks less of a hassle than Highpoint's. Tom's Hardware should run a comparison on both to dispel any myths on performance claims. http://www.silverstonetek.com/products/p_contents.php?pno=HDDBOOST&area=usa
  • 0 Hide
    Zeh , May 10, 2011 5:26 AM
    $59 for a built-in feature on Z68 doe not sound appealing at all. Specially considering that you could get a higher capacity SSD and control which data to put in it.

    I't good to see technology advancing, but if this is all ssd caching is about, I guess I'll stick to P67 on my new gaming rig.
  • 1 Hide
    jonkean , May 10, 2011 5:35 AM
    Could the review be updated to include a few tests on a RAID-0 hybrid setup? Maybe just the tests that didn't improve when moving up from the base HDD, since they are strong candidates for the improved writes speeds.
  • 0 Hide
    brynek , May 10, 2011 6:26 AM
    Another alternative is eboostr4 a software alternative to readyboost, but persistent and configurable.

    Im running a 16GB cache off a cheap 32gb ssd, photoshop cs5 starts in 5 seconds.
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , May 10, 2011 6:29 AM
    Zeh$59 for a built-in feature on Z68 doe not sound appealing at all. Specially considering that you could get a higher capacity SSD and control which data to put in it.I't good to see technology advancing, but if this is all ssd caching is about, I guess I'll stick to P67 on my new gaming rig.


    Consider it another way: $59 for a feature you'll have to spend $200 for on a new motherboard ;) . There are use cases for both solutions, I'm sure!
  • -1 Hide
    mrpijey , May 10, 2011 7:29 AM
    Quite right. I don't see any real benefits from using this caching technology since you can today for little more money get a solution that is much more efficient. This caching solution would have had a bright future if it had come out some 5+ years ago. But when you can get a SSD that blows the performance out of the water for less than the motherboard is worth then I see little reason to use this frankensteinian solution.

    Just get a SSD for the system drive and apps that need quick access, and squeeze everything else into a old tech platter drive.
  • 1 Hide
    regtom , May 10, 2011 7:30 AM
    I'm confused. I was expecting to see 1) near-SSD performance, but it's just near-HDD performance; and 2) performance improvement from run1-->run2-->run3 due to caching of hot/frequently-used data, but no improvement whatsoever. What's happening here?

    This article claims this is using the SSD as a cache, like Z68, but my suspicion is that RocketHybrid is simply a CONCAT of SSD+HDD. (Note: Highpoint's website makes no mention of "caching" ... just "Hybrid Technology" ... deceptive marketing?) But, if it's a CONCAT, I would have expected exact SSD performance in boot, program launch, etc.

    What am I missing here?
  • 1 Hide
    flong , May 10, 2011 8:17 AM
    I really am unimpressed with both the Z68 and the Rocket Hybrid caching - I agree that two separate drives are a better solution. Both almost seem like wasted efforts - especially in the Z68 platform.
  • 0 Hide
    palladin9479 , May 10, 2011 8:26 AM
    Sounds like they have a few driver issues to work through. And honestly I can't blame them. What you guys are expecting is damn near impossible to pull off. What you have is a NTFS formatted file system residing on a regular HDD. The Highpoint driver is trying to intercept the windows file subsystem I/O calls and redirect them to the SSD drive for reads. I'm willing to bet that if they included some sort of utility to monitor hits / miss's we would see that the windows file I/O is reading off the HDD lots of times vs the SSD. Also how does it handle file I/O writes? If the windows file system writes to a file, even something as simple as modifying its accessed date (metadata) will the SSD automatically update its values to reflect, or will it have to reread the data from HDD first?

    This concept is amazing as it allows a user to have a single large drive as their primary drive then specify exactly which folders to keep a cached copy on the SSD. You could have the C:\Windows, C:\Program Files and C:\Program Files (x86) folders residing on SSD but the C:\Users folders on the HDD. This would be amazing if they could figure out how to perfect the device drivers / file I/O sub-system intercepts. Maybe MS should be looking to add this base functionality to their OS, a capability to specify alternate storage locations to keep cached copies of system folders.
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , May 10, 2011 8:41 AM
    mayankleoboy1SSD caching does not make much sense to me. the speed up is not impressive in real world scenario. and writes arent affected at all.


    The real SSD scenario isn't very impressive in the real world either though.
    I'm sitting here with a C300 drive (laptop), and while it's nice to boot in no time at all, for most of the day I don't even notice the drive.
    The only time I really notice it is when I get home to my gaming rig and wait forever for the drive queue to get below 5.

    I'd still like one of those cards with a 64 or 80gb drive though. Just can't afford it at present.
  • 0 Hide
    Marcus52 , May 10, 2011 9:01 AM
    Inexpensive and pretty much hassle free way to boost the performance of an existing single hard drive setup.

    Otherwise, as was said, there are better alternatives for a new build. I would even go 2 7200rpm HDs in RAID 0 over this, cheaper and far more capacity, and judging by the Vantage scores not giving up anything in performance unless you are buying a high end SSD, which would negate the only value in the setup.

    ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    tetracycloide , May 10, 2011 1:18 PM
    Hybrid HDDs failed? My Momentus XTs in RAID 0 beg to differ.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , May 10, 2011 1:35 PM
    I thought my Falcon II SSD had died the other day but it was just the SATA cable got crushed ...

    I got a Momentus XT drive and when the guy from the shop handed it to me I handed it back and said ... that's a laptop drive.

    /facepalm.

    I am giving it a go shortly once I rinse and shampoo the data off my ol Falcon II 60GB.

    Could i use the old 110/210 Falcon as a cache and the XT as the main drive ... or would it be bettr round the other way ... I ask because I can just fit the Win7 OS on 60GB ... the XT is 500GB ... best for my games eh?

    Sorry for the question but posters who like this article might have the answer.

    Cheers

    :) 
  • 0 Hide
    lamorpa , May 10, 2011 1:39 PM
    I plan to offering you proof read the first sentence of the article.
  • 0 Hide
    lamorpa , May 10, 2011 1:43 PM
    mayankleoboy1SSD caching does not make much sense to me. the speed up is not impressive in real world scenario. and writes arent affected at all.

    If you want to assume a speedup, writes are _affected_ (influenced in an impaired way), they are not _effected_ by a switch from HD to SSD.
  • 0 Hide
    sweatlaserxp , May 10, 2011 2:45 PM
    For the price of this HighPoint card plus a decent SSD, you're getting awfully close to the cost of a 120Gb SSD to use as the OS drive. For many people, 120Gb is enough for Windows, and you get the full benefits of SSD.
  • 0 Hide
    Fokissed , May 10, 2011 3:01 PM
    regtomRocketHybrid is simply a CONCAT of SSD+HDD.

    I think you misunderstand the definition of concatenation.
  • 0 Hide
    groundhogdaze , May 10, 2011 5:17 PM
    I am guessing that a number of us already have several SSD's which will grow even more once the next black friday rolls around so for us it'll be ~Vertex3 for OS and older SSD(s) for games/apps/caching. My Steam folder alone is already >100gb and growing so I'd like to leave my games on a hard drive and leverage an SSD for caching rather than micromanage space.
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