SilverStone HDDBOOST review
SilverStone’s HDDBOOST is a clever little internal caddy that combines an SSD and a conventional SATA hard disk into a virtual hybrid drive.
The idea is to use an SSD as a high speed read buffer, while maintaining the write performance and capacity of the spindle drive. It’s all completely transparent to both the user and the OS, with the hardware taking care of mirroring data between the two disks.
It sounds good in theory, and technically it works. Hard disk benchmark tools, such as the free HDTach, see the hybrid drive as a single volume that offers SSD read performance for sectors towards the start of the disk, switching abruptly to mechanical speeds once you pass the capacity of the solid-state drive.
In use, though, the results are mixed. That’s partly down to the mindless way in which data is buffered to the SSD: rather than using a clever algorithm to determine which files to cache, the HDDBOOST simply duplicates the first however-many gigabytes of your hard disk – what SilverStone terms the “front-end data” – onto the SSD until it’s full. This should ensure that, even with a tiny SSD, the OS at least is mirrored onto high speed media; but at the same time it wastes a lot of space on rarely accessed drivers and support files.
Naturally, the benefit you see also depends very much on the hardware you use. To be sure, when we used the HDDBOOST to pair up a five-year old 200GB Hitachi Deskstar drive with a brand new, top-end Crucial M225 SSD, Windows 7 boot times on our test system plummeted from 36 seconds down to 20 seconds. But booting from a more modern 640GB Western Digital Caviar SE16 took only 24 seconds with no need for an SSD at all, making the HDDBOOST look like a less persuasive investment. Indeed, when we used HDDBOOST to partner that same Western Digital drive with an older 16GB Super Talent MasterDrive SSD, we saw no improvement in startup speed at all.
Another limitation of the HDDBOOST is its non-continuous approach to buffering. Data written to the hybrid drive goes initially to the mechanical drive, and is only mirrored to the SSD – space permitting – the next time you restart Windows. That sort of makes sense if you assume (as SilverStone evidently has) that the SSD won’t be able to keep up with the write speed of the mechanical drive, but that’s no longer true of all solid-state drives, and some sort of background buffering service could still have mitigated the effect. As it is, while applications and documents open up at solid-state speeds, as soon as you start to work with files created or edited during the same session you’re back to regular hard disk performance.
If you want to give a boost to an old hard disk, our tests show that the HDDBOOST can help, but it’s not a magic bullet. The convenience of a single hybrid drive is appealing, but unless you already have a spare SSD knocking about you’ll see more benefit if you give the HDDBOOST a miss and put the money towards a faster, bigger drive instead.
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