OCZ Synapse 128GB Review

Today we're launching the first full review in the post "uryaen.com 3.0" era. Another speedy bit of SSD storage from OCZ. 

This time instead of your average SSD drive, we're looking at what they call an SSD cache drive. What does this mean? To put it simply; imagine that the 64MB or so of cache that your HDD has could be extended all the way out to 128GB ( or more accurately 64GB but we'll get to that ). By using an optimized drive and special software, OCZ can turn your full 2TB drive into a 2TB SSD. The idea being that not every last bit and byte on your HDD requires being loaded ultra quickly. Lots of system files, your media files, even your games really do not benefit from being on the SSD. Stuff like boot files, applications, personal or work files you use often, that stuff does. So instead of having to choose where to place everything, the included Dataplex software analyzes your storage habits and moves things around for you. The end result being that the files and folders you use most are loaded with all the speed that an SSD can muster, and the stuff you don't use as often stays on the HDD. 

Easy, right?

There are some tricky caveats involved of course, but by and large, it could not be easier to speed up your computer than to toss this blue bullet in there. 

STATS of review

Synapse drive was tested on two systems:

  Synapse Test System "Ivy" Synapse Test System "Gulf"
Motherboard MSI Z77MA G45 Asus Rampage III Extreme
CPU Intel i7 "Ivy Bridge" 3770K Intel i7 "Guftown" 970 4.2Ghz
GPU Intel HD 4000 Radeon HD 5970+5870s
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws Z F3-12800CL9Q-16GBZL 16GB G.Skill 12GB 2000mhz
Cooler Corsair H100 Custom Coolit ECO 240
Storage WD Caviar Black WD2002FAEX 2TB Various Drives
Cache Storage OCZ Synapse 128GB Cache Drive OCZ Synapse 128GB Cache Drive
PSU OCZ ZT750 Corsair AX1200
OS Windows 7 x64 Windows 7 x64

 

Platform and Release Stats

Synapse 128GB drive and Dataplex Software were acquired direct from OCZ for review.

Overall Impression

Sleek, small package, exactly the same as a Vertex Drive, or any modern SSD really. 

Fast. Very slightly slower than a Vertex 3 MAX IOPS, but for the price/performance, it makes up for that in functionality.

Reliable, no fuss. Another win. 

So let’s get into the details a bit.

Overview

The Architecture

Synapse comes in two flavors: 64GB and 128GB. I reviewed the 128GB. The overall performance is very nearly identical. From the OCZ Specs: 

What we can take from this is that if you can swing it, grab the 128GB for about $120 but 64GB at $70 is a heck of a bargain. 

The drive uses Sandforce, they didn't start using the Indilinx controller until Vertex 4. I'm hoping a pair of those is next on my list, or maybe something not yet announced. We'll see, until then, I have benches!

I mentioned caveats earlier. One that you should know is that your bios will likely tell you that the drive is only 64GB. Don't panic. What that is is that the drive is "reserving" the other 64GB for swapping in later to preserve the drive and accomidate certain features of the software. This is how OCZ explains it:

"The 50% NAND overprovisioning used on all Synapse models (translating into 32GB and 64GB cache capacities) is maintained as a performance feature to increase the lifespan of the drive, and accommodate the writing of "hot" user data. Since the Synapse acts as a cache for file/program copies vs. typical data storage, the "free" capacity will be sufficient to deliver the full benefits of Synapse for any personal usage pattern."

Installing and Patching

Installation is as simple as any HDD. Unless you have need to use the included sled, and then it’s just one extra, but simple step. No issues here.

Areas for Improvement

The drive is the same size as a 2.5” HDD and features SATA III ports. There’s really nothing to improve here, until they come up with faster ports.

Test Platform and Methodology

Main testing was really only done on the new Ivy Bridge based system, so that’s what we’ll focus on. I also installed the drive on the Rampage III, but as the system is not native Sata III, performance suffers significantly. That's not OCZ's fault, just a reality. 

Testing a drive like this is tricky. We have to look at it in two main stages. First, we install the drive empty and run your standard drive benches to get the overall due diligence on drive performance. I did this first, and here is what I saw:

Synapse Benchmarks Baseline 

  HDD Alone Synapse Drive as D:
PCmark 7 3747 N/A
ATTO Top READ Speed C Drive 110MBs N/A
ATTO Top READ Speed D Drive N/A 547MBs
Crystal IOPS 4K QD32 N/A 34,090

Interesting indeed! The Read speed of the HDD is a respectable 110MBs already, but the SSD trounces this at 547MBs. Note that this is a hair slower than the Vertex 3's I tested, but in real world use, you're not going to notice the difference. 

IOPS compared to the Vertex is also slightly low, but I'm not complaining. 

But this is only half the story. Now we need to properly format this puppy and install the Dataplex software, which will make this whole thing a lot more interesting. 

Software Installation

Installation requires that you download the Dataplex software from the OCZ site, and register your key. The key is printed on the device itself. The key MUST be registered and you can only use the key on ONE system at a time. Why is this important? I don't know and cannot get a straight answer about it. One would think that the software is essentially useless without a supported device, so why all this security? 

Also, once the software is installed, you MAY NOT use your HDD on any other system. It will NOT be recognized. For failing to mention this in the sales information, I'm going to ding a couple of points. There are also some very specific limitations so be sure to read the OCZ site carefully before you purchase. 

Other than this, installation went off without a hitch. Once you reboot, the SSD drive itself vanishes from view. You cannot interact with it directly at all. You don't even interact with the Dataplex software. It simply does its thing in the background, and be thankful for that, as this thing knows what it's doing. 

I ran many tests for things like boot times, software launch times, and benchmarks post installation. Let's look at a chart of that:

Synapse Launch Times

  HDD Alone With Synapse 128GB Speed Increase
Restart System 49:38 13:17 73.32%
Launch Steam 35:00 7:58 78.34%
VMWare Launch 3:45:00 2:85 97.63%
Launch Photoshop CS6 20:19 1:43 92.91%
Launch Premiere Pro CS6 36:14 2:39 93.38%

I don't think that these results could be any clearer. 

With the HDD alone, Windows boots up in 49 seconds. After about two restarts post installation, that boot time is reduced to a mere 13 seconds. Dramatic result indeed!

Launching Steam with HDD alone? 35 seconds. With Synapse? 7.5 seconds. 

VMware, Photoshop and Premiere likewise saw a up to a WHOPPING 97% increase in launch times. 

Dataplex knew I wanted these particular apps to launch quickly and it delivered. No need for me to go on for pages about this, it did its job. 

Performance Claims

OCZ bills these as an inexpensive way to get into SSD performance. Did they deliver? Another winner. For about $100 ( and exactly that if you hit up newegg right now ) you get to turn a 2TB HDD into essentially an SSD. 

So how did the vendor do on claims? I’d say SPOT on.

Test Result Conclusion:

Mildly behind the Vertex 3 MAX IOPS in overall performance, but the flexibility of data management more than makes up for this. 

Issues?

Losing the ability to use the HDD without first completely unwinding the Dataplex set up is a little awkward and inconvenient for power users, but if you don't plan to move it around, it's fine. I still think it should be improved to allow this. 

COMPANY

So far so good. I’m looking forward to what comes next. Maybe faster SATA III SSDs? Maybe the Hybrid? We’ll just have to see.

Support

A year ago, things were touchy, but all that has been ironed out, and I'm fully expecting to see another sampling right after this one. Who knows what that will bring?

Conclusion

I will reiterate:

Sleek, small package, exactly the same as a Vertex Drive, or any modern SSD really. 

Fast. Very slightly slower than a Vertex 3 MAX IOPS, but for the price/performance, it makes up for that in functionality.

Reliable, no fuss. Another win. 

Some perspective for next time

The Sandforce controller has gone as far as it can go. I’m looking forward to working with newer controllers, and seeing newer features.

Final Score - 98

I'm dinging two for the HDD bondage thing, but other than that, if you need faster storage, give these a try, and you might find that you like this set up even MORE than a dedicated SSD boot drive. 

Bravo, and keep em' coming.

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