OCZ's Synapse SSD to boost hard drive performance by auto-caching

The Synapse comes in 64GB and 128GB sizes

If you install OCZ's latest solid-state product in your desktop or laptop, it won't show up as a separate drive that you can drag and drop data onto.

Instead, the OCZ Synapse solid-state drive (SSD) works in conjunction with the computer's regular hard drive, automatically tracking application use patterns and caching the most frequent operations, such as loading the OS or opening Adobe Photoshop. The goal: to boost performance.

"We see caching SSDs becoming a much bigger market," said Alex Mei, OCZ's chief marketing officer.

OCZ is using the same Dataplex caching software on the Synapse as in its recently released RevoDrive Hybrid , which combines 100GB of NAND flash memory with a 1TB hard disk drive along with a high-speed PCI Express (PCIe) interface.

OCZ's Synapse SSD

"We decided to take the technology one step down for those users who aren't ready to buy an all-in-one PCIe solution or who already have a hard drive in place," Mei said. "It's for those people who don't want to jump into a full-fledged SSD."

The Synapse drive, which comes in 64GB and 128GB models, is not pre-loaded with the caching software. The SSD comes with a license key and log-in information to a website from which the software can be downloaded.

The OCZ Synapse is targeted at high-end desktops and laptops with two drive slots from system manufacturers.

"Down the line, we're also seeing more and more notebooks like the Lenovo that actually has an mSATA drive slot," Mei said. "Even though we're not releasing it now, we can do a Synapse drive for mSATA slots."

Mei said as the Synapse SSD fills to capacity with cached data, it reevaluates the data and offloads the least used to the system's hard drive, thereby allowing it to continue as cache.

OCZ isn't the first company to come up with a caching drive. Intel is now shipping SSDs with its Z68 chipset, meaning any one of the new products can be used as performance-boosting cache in combination with a standard hard disk drive.

In one desktop system test using PCMark Vantage benchmark software, OCZ said performance increased from 5,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) after the first use of the hybrid system to 40,000 IOPS by the second use.

The Synapse SSD's specifications indicate that it offers up to a 550MBps sequential read rate and a 410MBps write rate. Using 4K block sizes, the drive can generate up to 19,000 random read IOPS and 80,000 write IOPS.

Based on a SandForce controller, the Synapse drive uses consumer-class MLC NAND flash memory, which keeps the price lower than it would be if the drive used high-end SLC NAND flash memory. Because it uses less-reliable MLC flash, the SSD is over-provisioned at 50%, meaning there is twice as much raw capacity as usable capacity on the drive.

The Synapse SSD retails for $149 for the 64GB version and $249 fo the 128GB model.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com .

Read more about storage in Computerworld's Storage Topic Center.

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