Today we are reviewing the Crucial Adrenaline Solid State Cache. You might be wondering what makes this a “Solid State Cache” drive and not simply a “Solid State Drive”. The answer is simple – it’s all about the included cache software.
Crucial Adrenaline – What Is It?
When Intel introduced their “Smart Response Technology” – the ability to use an SSD up to 64GB in size as a cache to standard mechanical hard drives, they were really onto something. Because SSDs were extremely expensive at the time (and still are, relative to mechanical drives), it made more sense to use one as a cache instead of buying an absurdly expensive drive and trying to install your OS and programs onto it. This had two caveats however; first, it was only available on Z68 (and now Z77) chipsets. Secondly, 64GB drives can often perform slower than larger drives, due to fewer channels of memory being read and written to in parallel.
Products like the Crucial Adrenaline – and you’ll be seeing a lot more products like it I think – use 3rd party software to get around the first problem. They have licensed NVELO’s Dataplex caching software, which works on any Windows 7 PC, regardless of chipset used.
To get around the second problem, they over-provisioned the drive, so it contains more flash that is used in the background to allow the SSD controller to run at full speed. We saw this with the OCZ Synapse, which is advertised as a 64GB device, even though it only offers 32GB of storage. Perhaps because they are using a Marvell controller instead of SandForce, Crucial doesn’t have to make such drastic cuts; there is 64GB of flash memory on the Adrenaline, 50 GB of which is accessible. Dataplex can work with as little as 16GB of storage, so this should be plenty.
The Crucial Adrenaline is priced at about $100 right now, which roughly the same price as a 64GB Crucial m4, its hardware cousin. However, due to aggressive price cutting, the 128GB Crucial m4 quite often available for $100 as well.
So $100 seems like a lot to ask for what is essentially a 50 GB m4 drive, since 128 GB is about the capacity that may be manageable as an “OS and Installation” drive. However, if you have a lot of games installed, be aware that 128 GB is not nearly enough to keep more than a couple games installed at any given time. If you are like most SSD owners and use a mechanical drive for game installation, you are losing out on the main advantage of an SSD, and that is blazing fast read speed. In this case, an argument can be made for a dedicated cache SSD to sit on top of a slow mechanical drive, using that for everything from Windows to games. 50GB would be sufficient for this task, and unless you are running on an Intel Z68 or Z77 system, you are basically limited to using a Dataplex product such as the Crucial Adrenaline anyhow.
By the end of this review, we’ll know whether Dataplex does a better job of caching than Intel Z77, so there is that to consider as well.
The Crucial Adrenaline itself is sold as a kit shown above. Some SSDs come in several models, containing a bare drive, or perhaps a 3.5″ bracket and SATA cable. The Crucial Adrenaline comes with everything shown. The data must be downloaded from Crucial after entering the product key which is written on the box (but not the drive, so don’t lose that box!). It should also be mentioned that an internet connection is required to install the Dataplex software, and it can only be installed on one system at a time. The software will deauthorize automatically when it is uninstalled, but again, an internet connection is required at that time.