There is no denying that SSD’s are on the move, however, there is still the issue of price and capacity. It’s no problem getting a 2TB SSD at the moment, but its price is ridiculous. I could never understand people buying small SSD’s just to boot Windows and few apps and leave the rest on HDD. What kind of benefit is that to anything? To have slightly faster boot, yet 90% of the data remains sluggish slow from HDD only unless you install games or apps on already tiny SSD?
There is an alternative to this. Either a single unit hybrid drives like the Seagate Momentus XT or a paired hybrid system where you can use your existing HDD and pair it with a small SSD for caching purposes. Why do I think this is a much smarter way of doing it? Because the cache in such hybrid systems works across entire HDD stored data. The stuff that you use regularly will be cached and you can get ridiculous speeds for any app without sacrificing any space. Or be bound to install apps on SSD specifically. No such issues with hybrid solutions.
Recently, I’ve bought the Sandisk ReadyCache 32GB drive (it was by far the cheapest and had good scores in tests) for this exact purpose. I was testing it before with high speed memory card, but the results weren’t quite there. I got around 16MB/s random read from it which is much faster than any HDD can ever do (which is usually below 1MB/s), but Sandisk’s ReadyCache churns out over 90MB/s random read speed. There are also other drives like Corsair Accelerator, but they are also quite a lot more expensive.
Most SSD drives that are dedicated to be caching hybrid systems also come with dedicated caching software (for free). Sandisk is using ExpressCache which is made by Condusiv, better known from Diskeeper disk defragmentation software. But I’m sticking with eBoostr that I bought really cheap few weeks ago (Desktop Edition), for the fact that it just gives me more control. Specifically way to exclude files that I don’t want to cache and save cache space for stuff that actually matters to me. ExpressCache is easier to use since it has nearly no settings, but is also a lot less flexible.
So, I’ve excluded:
- browser download folder
- Windows TEMP folder
- P2P download and temp folders (kMule, uTorrent)
- all video, audio and photo formats (AVI, MP4, MKV, JPG, MP3, FLAC and WAV)
- archive files (ZIP, RAR, 7z, CAB)
- other files (MSI, TMP, LOG)
These files are either constantly getting modified or they have to be read sequentially, in which case, any regular HDD will be fast enough to access them instantly. No point in wasting cache space for them…
This is how it looks like in eBoostr. I’m using a 2TB WD Caviar Black HDD and this is how much cache I have populated. Slightly over 70% with cache hits reaching above 75% and it will go even higher, because it got reset a bit after changing the cache drive. This means over 75% of all read requests are performed from the cache instead of slower HDD.
Biggest difference that I’ve seen so far is system boot time (though it doesn’t matter to me since I have my system on 24/7 or in hybrid sleep), browser opens up instantly even when system is booted from cold and data hasn’t yet been cached to RAM. MusicBee also starts up instantly even though i have some plugins installed that usually take a second or two to load. And for games, Natural Selection 2. This game is notorious to make HDD’s squeal in pain when loading game levels and pre-caching game data. It was ridiculously slow with HDD alone. With SD card caching it got improved slightly and with ReadyCache drive it almost breezes through like there is nothing.
I’ll go SSD only some day, just not right now, because I’m not yet ready to give up massive storage capacity. And I’m also not ready to give up insane SSD random read speeds (or pay insane 4 digit price). So, having them in a hybrid setup makes loads of sense and it actually works really well. Sandisk ReadyCache was around 45 € and I got eBoostr for 5 or 7 € with a discount code if I remember correctly. And now I get basically SSD speeds with 2TB of space to store files. Cheap way to make your system super fast. And since both, ExpressCache and eBoostr support several caching devices, I can add another one if I feel like it and extend the cache capacity as well.
If you want to make your system snappy, there is no better and cheaper way to do it imo. The cost is minimal considering how much you gain from it.