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OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe Hybrid SSD Review

Date: March 5, 2012
Author(s): Robert Tanner

SSDs are expensive and often don’t offer enough capacity to meet user needs. The recent SSD caching craze attempts to alleviate both these issues, but OCZ has done one better. Combining a RevoDrive 3 with a 1TB HDD the RevoDrive Hybrid offers a self-contained SSD caching solution that is guaranteed to work.



Introduction

Solid-state drives are the hottest thing in desktop and laptop computers, but affordability is generally considered to be the single largest reason preventing mass adoption. Reliability is always a concern, but actual return rates across the industry tend to be very low, typically ranging from 0.1% to 5% at the high-end of the scale. Instead, price is the main issue with adoption because the NAND flash cost alone usually comprises over three quarters of an SSD’s cost. Given this limitation there are only so many tricks that can be done to mitigate the SSD’s cost.

Buying smaller capacity SSDs is one option, but that only goes so far before it becomes self-defeating. Small SSD caching drives are another, but they are either dependent on chipset technologies (Intel’s SRT) or still require a moderate investment in a discrete SSD with an advanced caching software suite.

OCZ Technology has chosen a relatively unique approach to this problem by combining the longstanding RevoDrive platform with a traditional, 1TB hard disk drive in order to create the RevoDrive Hybrid. The Hybrid comprises a standard pair of SandForce SF-2281 controllers that work in tandem (not RAID); while they can work like an ordinary SSD, they will instead serve as a cache for the hard disk drive.

OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe Hybrid SSD

There are a few advantages here. For one, the entire setup is self-contained in a 2-slot wide PCIe card. Second, OCZ doesn’t have to concern itself with possible combinations of SATA controllers, SSD controllers, or the type or speed of hard drive that might be combined. The company can instead specifically tune not only the Dataplex caching software, but also the RevoDrive’s firmware for the Toshiba drive not just to give the best performance, but to more importantly ensure that everything is guaranteed to work together.

Finally, the entire “drive” appears and functions like a 1TB in Windows and will offer SSD levels of performance, but would only have the price of a 120GB SSD and the 1TB disk drive. Needless to say, the RevoDrive Hybrid’s final price is less than even a fourth of a 1TB or two 512GB SSDs!

As mentioned above, the RevoDrive Hybrid is a 2-slot wide PCIe 4x card. PCI Express 2.0 is recommended, but not required. While this necessitates the use of pre-install drivers, it does completely bypass any SATA controller issues. The lack of any full speed SATA III or non-Marvell SATA III ports simply wouldn’t be an issue. The SSD portion is a full 128GB divided between two SandForce SF-2281 controllers, while the 2.5″ laptop drive is a 1TB Toshiba 5,400RPM offering. Unfortunately, for those tinkerers out there already contemplating it, the hard disk drive is not swappable, likely due to firmware optimizations specific to the drive.

OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe Hybrid SSD

The Hybrid is ready to go and simply needs to be installed, although we strongly suggest users copy down or photograph the Dataplex serial key sticker on the drive first, as it will be needed later! Next, the latest pre-install driver for Windows should be downloaded from the OCZ website to a USB key in order to begin the Windows install process. Yes, due to the Dataplex software itself only, Windows is all that’s supported at the present time. During the install users must be sure to select the largest capacity drive for the caching to properly work. If this is starting to sound rather complicated, OCZ Technology rather conveniently created a step-by-step video guide on YouTube that I would suggest watching in full!

After the install is complete, you need to be sure that the Toshiba drive is selected within the BIOS as the boot drive. Once within Windows itself, users need to register the key on the Hybrid’s product page in order to download the Dataplex software, and will need to input the key a second time during the Dataplex installation. It should be noted that once installed, nobody else can use this key. Should you need to reinstall the OS on the Hybrid or switch it to another computer, you must first uninstall the Dataplex software with an active Internet connection present – otherwise you will find the key locked out and will need to query OCZ support to reset it before it may be used again.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate and real-world applicable as possible. We list most of the steps and processes involved in setting up and conducting our benchmarking process below, but in the interests of brevity we can’t mention every last detail. If there is any pertinent information that we’ve inadvertently omitted or you have any thoughts, suggestions, or critiques, then please feel free to email us or post directly in our forums. This site exists for readers like you and we value your input.

The table below lists the hardware used in our current storage-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all of our testing, with the obvious exception of the storage device. Each drive used for the sake of comparison is also listed here.

Component
Techgage Solid-State Drive Test System
Processor
Intel Core i7-2600 – 3.50GHz (Locked) Quad-Core
Motherboard
ASUS P8P67 Deluxe
Memory
4GB Kingston DDR3-1866
Graphics
AMD Radeon HD 5770
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Hitachi 7200RPM 2TB Hard Drive
Corsair Force F90 90GB
Crucial m4 256GB
Intel 520 240GB
Kingston V+ Series 128GB
Kingston HyperX 240GB
OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid 1TB
OCZ Vertex Turbo 120GB
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
Power Supply
Antec NeoHE 550W
Cooling
Noctua DH-14
Et cetera
Lite-on DVD-RW
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit


Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing

When preparing our SSD testbed for benchmarking we follow these guidelines:

For our new Sandy Bridge storage testbed we have migrated to using test images for our drives. All drives are imaged with the cloned test image to ensure all drivers, programs, and settings remain identical for testing purposes. We feel disk cloning software and SSD controller technology has matured to the point where potential issues such as non-aligned sectors are no longer a potential issue.

For testing, we run all tests five times dropping the highest and lowest results, then take the average of the middle three. And who said that college statistics class wouldn’t prove useful? If any anomalous results are seen the test will be run again. Given the complexities of modern computers, and especially today’s operating systems and the software that runs on them, we feel this provides the most accurate results possible.

Finally, we are seeking to constantly improve and expand upon our SSD testing methodology. We are always actively seeking real-world workload scenarios that are bottlenecked by hard drives, so if you have any suggestions whatsoever or there is a program you would like to see included in our SSD content, then please drop by our forums and let us know! We are always looking to expand our SSD benchmarks and provide more useful and real-world results, and not just synthetic numbers.

Synthetic: PCMark 7

Futuremark’s PCMark benchmarking suite should need no introduction as it has been a staple of PC benchmarks for the better half of a decade. PCMark offers a range of tests to gauge every aspect of a computer’s performance and presents it in a neat simple final result. Thankfully it also breaks down the overall score with individual subsystem scores (such as Memory, Storage, etc) in addition to given individual test results.

With the latest 2011 release of PCMark 7 we should hopefully see quite a few changes to how SSDs are handled, and the resulting scores computed, as previously, results were biased towards sequential read and write performance. With its Windows 7 focus PCMark 7 offers a variety of storage system tests, such as simulating a Windows Defender scan and using Windows Media Center to using other built-in programs for video and music file manipulation. But for those that just want a nice overarching score, it has those too.

PCMark 7 Professional

Right off the bat we have some interesting results. Despite packing two SF-2281 controllers, performance is just a few points of the 256GB Crucial m4 SSD. This has to do with how the RevoDrive Hybrid is built; basically it utilizes two 60GB SF-2281 powered SSDs in tandem. For various reasons solid-state drives tend to reach peak performance between 128GB and 256GB capacities, and the smaller the capacity the lower the performance. At the same time, pairing two controllers in tandem provides significant benefits in burst operations and high I/O workloads, which can easily offset the hit in sequential write performance.

With that said, although it did not take a clean sweep, the Hybrid puts up some very respectable performance here, made all the more impressive considering this is actually a large capacity, low-speed laptop drive with a pair of 60GB caching SSDs in front of it. This is a promising start so far.

Synthetic: Iometer & AS SSD

Originally developed by Intel, and since given to the open-source community, Iometer (pronounced “eyeawmeter”, like thermometer) is one of the best storage-testing applications available, for a couple of reasons. The first, and primary, is that it’s completely customizable, and if you have a specific workload you need to hit a drive with, you can easily accomplish it here. Also, the program delivers results in IOPS (input/output operations per second), a common metric used in enterprise and server environments.

The level of customization cannot be understated. Aside from choosing the obvious figures, like chunk sizes, you can choose the percentage of the time that each respective chunk size will be used in a given test. You can also alter the percentages for read and write, and also how often either the reads or writes will be random (as opposed to sequential). I’m just touching the surface here, but what’s most important is that we’re able to deliver a consistent test on all of our drives, which increases the accuracy in our results.

Because of the level of control Iometer offers, we’ve created profiles for three of the most popular workloads out there: Database, File Server and Workstation. Database uses chunk sizes of 8KB, with 67% read, along with 100% random coverage. File Server is the more robust of the group, as it features chunk sizes ranging from 512B to 64KB, in varying levels of access, but again with 100% random coverage. Lastly, Workstation focuses on 8KB chunks with 80% read and 80% random coverage.

Because these profiles aren’t easily found on the Web, with the same being said about the exact structure of each, we’re hosting the software here for those who want to benchmark their own drives with the exact same profiles we use. That ZIP archive (~3.5MB) includes the application and the three profiles in an .icf file.

* Results from Iometer 1.1.0

We must preface that for compatibility reasons we utilized an updated version of Iometer 2010 (RC1 1.1.0) for the Hybrid results in this test. Please keep this in mind as the results are likely not directly comparable and are for reference only.

Iometer will completely fill up the test drive, so it stands to reason the performance we see will be almost entirely just from the hard drive. Results are what we would expect from a traditional hard drive, although it is worth nothing that for a 5400RPM laptop disk drive we see performance matching, and in the Workstation scenario even exceeding that of a full speed 2TB desktop hard drive. This is pretty astonishing, but again we cannot say for sure how much the newer version of Iometer changes the weight of these numbers. That said, the increased areal density of the platters in the Toshiba drive is certainly one contributing factor.

AS SSD

As the name hints, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for solid-state drives. It can be run on a mechanical hard drive, but be warned what takes a few minutes will require the better part of an hour to complete! This handy tool measures sequential reads and writes in addition to the important 4KB random reads and writes, then ranks the results with a final score for quick comparisons with other SSDs.

In addition to the main test there is a secondary benchmark that simulates the type of data transferred for ISO, Program, and Game files. With version 1.6 a compression benchmark was also added although not utilized here. We selected this program for its precision, ability to generate large file sizes on the fly, and that it is written to bypass Windows 7’s automatic caching system. The tool does not bypass any onboard cache.

4K-Thrd is similar to the 4K test but spawns multiple requests; basically this tests how good the SSD is at handling multiple file actions at once, aka queue depth. Queue depth wasn’t an issue with HDDs as they were generally too slow to handle more than a few simultaneous IOPS at a time, but with SSDs it is important to have a good controller with a high queue depth.

AS SSD is a program designed exclusively for solid-state drives, but it doesn’t seem to have any trouble with the unique RevoDrive Hybrid. Performance slots in at a fairly respectable level although below that of 240-256GB flagship SSDs currently on the market. Interestingly, for the access times we see 16.4ms reads which is what we would expect from a 5400RPM mechanical hard drive, yet writes are a mere 0.25ms which suggests the SSD caching was doing its job.

Synthetic: HD Tune Pro 4.6

Since we included a program designed to benchmark SSDs, we will include HD Tune as it benchmarks both hard disks and SSDs. Because the test drive houses the OS itself, HD Tune will not perform any write tests; we will have to be content with both the Read and Access times. HD Tune 4.6 added a new quick benchmark that we will include for users that wish to make a quick comparison with their own drives.

* Results from HD Tune 5.0

Again for compatibility reasons we utilized a newer version of HD Tune 5 when testing the RevoDrive Hybrid, so results may differ and are not directly comparable. Still, they provide a reference point we can make inferences from so we will include them here.

Even so, results are what we are coming to expect with the Hybrid delivering respectable, mid-range performance, although the dual-controller design gives it an edge in the random transfer tests. Unlike AS SSD, the access times completely hide the fact that there is a mechanical drive present.

Real-World: File Transfers, Adobe Lightroom

Finally, we reach the first of our real-world tests where there are no unusual testing or scoring algorithms to leave us scratching our heads, just simple tests to see how an SSD changes actual system performance.

For the File Transfer test we took a 4.5GB archive and timed how much time was required to transfer the file to another destination on the same drive. Keep in mind that with a hard disk, this requires the actuator arm to seek back and forth between the source and destination sectors of the disk platter, while any SSD can concurrently read and write to separate flash chips at once.

As SSD capacity is lowered write speed pays the highest price, and this aligns with the sequential write performance seen in this test. The Dataplex caching software was active even for something as basic as a file transfer, otherwise performance would have been much more similar to the only other mechanical hard drive in our graph.

Adobe Lightroom 3.4

With Adobe Lightroom, importing image files with “Copy” simply acts like a file transfer, exactly like our previous test. Rather than simply time how long it takes to create a duplicate set of 500 RAW files we elected to choose the “Copy as DNG” import option. This will convert the NEF files (Nikon’s equivalent to RAW) into the Digital Negative standard while importing them to its image library.

This test was not particularly effective as Adobe Lightroom 3.4 only spawns two threads, meaning that even with the power of a Core i7 that has eight threads available, the CPU was still the main bottleneck. When Adobe deems fit to update Lightroom to take advantage of more threads we will see a real need for faster storage here, as such a task as this is perfectly suited for high thread parallelization and SSDs with a high queue depth. We kept this test in our review to illustrate that most programs don’t support the threads required to properly take advantage quad-core processors, let alone fully utilize SSD technology.

Again, the Dataplex software has no trouble caching the gigabytes of data involved here, allowing OCZ’s Hybrid to deliver decent levels of performance, especially compared to a lone mechanical hard drive.

Real-World: Batch Tests

These tests are perhaps the most important in our battery of benchmarks as they give us a wide range of real-world results. They range from very light to downright grueling, and will showcase which drives can shine under the most demanding scenarios they might encounter in your personal system. Few computer users run their tasks in a vacuum; often several programs are in use concurrently while others are running in the background.

To excel in these tasks the SSD controller and firmware will need to be well-balanced. It will need to have excellent random read, small random write capability, and still have enough sequential writes to get the job done quickly. It is admittedly hard for an SSD controller to be optimized for all three things at once, and typically some SSDs are only optimized for sequential writes at the expense of everything else. Still, fast access times will give any SSD an inherent advantage over a mechanical hard drive.

First up is our light batch test. This test is a simple batch file placed into the startup folder, which Windows 7 will automatically execute at startup. This is perhaps the most directly relevant test to our readers, as almost everyone has to endure boot times and then the additional time it takes for their usual or favorite programs to load before they can start using their system.

The batch file will open four websites in Firefox, load five 5MB or greater images in Photoshop CS5, and open a document in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint each, which adds an additional 15MB. As a final measure, a few small system monitoring applications are started, a 3MB PDF file and zip archive are both opened for viewing, and while everything proceeds to load, an old, favorite FLAC music file (56MB) is loaded into Winamp for playback. If it sounds like the light batch file needs to go on a diet, then the results should surprise!

Our Medium batch test is similar although timers are built in to space out the user commands. Time begins counting from the launch of the batch file and ends when all tasks have completed. The medium test consists of the following:

To keep things simple, the heavy batch test is identical to the medium test in all respects save for one key difference. Computer users should be familiar with the slowdown or even molasses-like feel that occurs from an anti-virus scan running in the background. The heavy test will capitalize on this by running an anti-virus scan from Microsoft Security Essentials on a static, unchanging 5.1GB test folder that contains 19,748 files and 2,414 sub-folders copied from the Program Files directory. Because it is otherwise identical, results from the medium & heavy batch tests are directly comparable.

Granted, even with a Core i7 processor, no computer user using a hard drive would be performing all of these tasks concurrently unless they wish to see their computer go unresponsive for up to 30 minutes at a time, but with an SSD this is almost child’s play. For a good quality SSD, the above isn’t even enough to make the system crawl or go unresponsive. Playing a game with an anti-virus scan in the background without losing FPS is very possible. So if this sort of system abuse, or “multitasking” sounds vaguely like your daily routine when you sit down at the PC, then an SSD may be of interest to you.

In our light batch test the Hybrid doesn’t fare that well, but let’s look at why. In our cold boot test results averaged to out to 67 seconds, yet the same cold boot with multiple programs and files being loaded turns in an almost identical time of 65 seconds. Even with the margin of error to explain this, basically it means the Hybrid is loading all the programs and files nearly instantly after loading into Windows.

What is actually going on here (and not shown in the graphs) is that the Hybrid is spending a smidge over 20 seconds in its pre-boot state before the system POSTs. Only once the system fully POSTs then things happen at breakneck speeds. However, we test boot times as from the moment the power button is depressed to the point where the OS has finished loading all applications and files, so this long pre-post state hurts the Hybrid’s results here. We aren’t sure why the Hybrid needs such a long initialization process given the first model RevoDrive only took around five seconds, but we can expect the additional synchronization and failsafe protections in place to ensure data integrity between the cache SSD and the HDD will require some additional time as compared to a standard RevoDrive 3 card.

In our medium and heavy batch tests where boot times are not a factor, results are more in line with other high performance solid-state drives, and in fact once again slot into place behind the m4 SSD. Overall the results are a favorable showing for a cache drive given the tens of GBs of data being generated, read, and/or transferred during each single batch test. The stressing, demanding loads even with a concurrent anti-virus scan don’t pose an issue for the RevoDrive Hybrid. If one wants to appreciate just how much of an advantage the Hybrid offers over a recent model yet basic, mechanical disk drive, just keep in mind that the Hybrid finished the medium batch test in almost a third of the time, or finished the heavy test in close to a fourth the overall time!

The batch tests were interesting to watch. At first the results were atrocious, but immediately performance improved by the second run, and continued to improve by the third. In our batch tests where a myriad of programs, files, and tasks are randomly loaded and executed, the Dataplex software has its programming truly put to the test and it certainly held up well. Users can actually expect better performance than that seen here once the Dataplex software learns your typical system usage and builds its data cache accordingly.

Real-World: Boot Times, Game Level Loading

For the boot test we perform a cold boot, with the stopwatch starting the moment the power button is pressed until the last systray icon has finished loading. A large number of factors can change how fast a computer starts, from the motherboard to the BIOS/EFI configuration, so these times should not be used as an expectation of how fast the SSD will boot in your respective system. Thanks to motherboards replacing the BIOS with UEFI boot times have dropped significantly in many cases.

As discussed more in-depth on the previous page, the surprising boot time results for the Hybrid have more to do with something no graph can show. Likely for data security and verification reasons the Hybrid spends 20 seconds initializing before it hands control over to the system to POST. We certainly understand the need for additional data protection in a complex hybrid device such as, well, the Hybrid, but it does serve to hamper the drive in this particular aspect.

Game Level Loading

Last but certainly not least of our benchmarks are the game level-load times. SSDs are great at decreasing load intervals, and having an SSD can appreciably improve game immersion by minimizing load delays. It may not seem like much, but after a few levels, having the load times decrease by even a third compared to a hard drive adds up fast.

For our new regimen we chose Portal 2 and Civilization V. Portal 2 is already a very well optimized game and isn’t particularly demanding, and Civilization V is anything but either of those. For Portal 2 we chose to load the larger sp_a3_03 chapter, while with Civ V we loaded a save game file from late in a large game.

Ending on a mixed note OCZ’s unique drive slides a bit further back in the pack in both game load tests, although it still turns in better times than a standalone, full-speed 2TB hard disk. We noted performance was still improving by the third run before it began to level off on the fourth and fifth runs, so again with sufficient usage the Dataplex software will be able to offer better performance after the initial use as it learns what to cache.

Final Thoughts

There’s an adage about complexity; the more complex something is the more that can go wrong. While this is not necessarily true in this case, we would be negligent if we declined to mention that we did run into one such issue ourselves. During testing after an otherwise normal, standard reboot, we were promptly greeted with a warning screen and a data synchronization and integrity check between the mechanical drive and the cache SSD.

After a brief nine seconds, this check failed and the device became unbootable. Although a simple reinstall resolved the problem, when it comes to a complex device such as OCZ’s RevoDrive Hybrid, such issues won’t be unheard of. It’s also worth mentioning again that any unexpected power loss, forced shutdown, or similar event can require a lengthy verification of the SSD cache in order to prevent any data corruption from potentially occurring. It goes without saying that SSD users should always back up their data, and keep the backups current!

As the Hybrid functions like a cache drive, the first time a program is installed or run, the data will always be pulled from the mechanical drive. Only with subsequent runs will performance increase as the Dataplex software figures out what to cache and what to put in cold storage, although during our testing we often saw performance jump significantly or max out even by the second run and remain constant even to the fifth run.

OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe Hybrid SSD

One advantage to the Hybrid over many other caching solutions is simply the size of its SSD. In total it has 120GB (128GB if counting over-provisioning) to play with, which will ensure even users that run a very large gamut of programs and tasks won’t see cache data quickly evicted from the SSD cache. Caching solutions 25GB or less will always have caching contention as a primary issue, because if the cache data gets evicted then the user has to settle with regular hard disk drive performance until it is re-cached. In my personal opinion, if electing to go the SSD caching route then a capacity around 120GB is the best route to go with for exactly the above reasons.

So, all that said what are some reasons to consider an OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid? If looking for affordable SSD-level performance without having to pay full SSD prices, then that’s one reason. Another is if you either are tired of, or don’t wish to play the program swap game where the OS and only some programs are installed onto a small SSD while the rest are relegated to a HDD. Frankly in this age where just the average digital Steam game library can fill a 120GB drive by itself, there is some appeal to having a full terabyte to install all programs, commonly used files, applications, and the core OS without having to worry about space constraints. While only 120GB of that 1TB can be cached at any one time, it’s guaranteed to be the most frequently used apps, programs, and files and it should ensure relatively good, consistent performance for them regardless of just how many programs, games, or data files you may utilize.

Let’s face it, pricing will make or break a product like the Hybrid. Given the cost of a similar spec 120GB SSD and 1TB hard drive when sold separately falls around $350 give or take, the original launch $495 MSRP was simply pricing the drive out of the market. Thankfully I was satisfyingly surprised to see that no longer seems to be the going price. At the time of this writing OCZ’s RevoDrive Hybrid 1TB can be found for $330, or as low as $299 if mail-in rebates are your cup of tea. Given this price is cheaper than most self-built alternatives it should be an appealing option for the average user that wants easy SSD performance but without the price a super large capacity SSD.

The OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid currently is only offered in a 120GB/1TB model, although the potential is there for OCZ to release a 240GB, 4-way SF-2281 controller option for positively bleeding edge performance. Of course that would negate the price advantages too, so it’s hard to say whether we will see such a thing. Regardless the RevoDrive Hybrid is truly a unique product, and is positioned in that niche between full-fledged SSDs and HDDs where previously only discrete caching SSDs once stood.

For an all-in-one, truly unique SSD caching solution the OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid offers not only long-term convenience, but current prices means it also offers an attractive value over the do-it-yourself caching route. While there is some risk in any complex SSD caching solution, the added convenience to having the SSD caching and disk drive combined in a self-contained, highly tuned device as the RevoDrive Hybrid certainly adds to the convenience factor while also decreasing the chances of unexpected issues arising. To make it even better OCZ includes a full 3-year warranty on the Hybrid meaning should any part or either drive fail, OCZ will have you covered. With that in mind and given the current $299 price we have no trouble recommending the RevoDrive Hybrid as a suitable alternative to typical SSD caching solutions.

OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe Hybrid SSD
OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid PCIe Hybrid SSD

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