Crucial Adrenaline review: SSD cache drive speeds up your PC

If you want to improve your PC's performance for under $100, try installing this SSD drive.

If you want to speed up your PC but don't want to deal with a new hybrid hard drive, one way is to simply add an SSD cache drive to your PC. These drives aren't meant to be mass storage devices; instead, they cache your most frequent application operations and thereby improve performance.

The Crucial Adrenaline SSD

One of the newest SSD cache drives out there is the 50GB Crucial Adrenaline, which sells for $100. (The drive actually has a capacity of 64GB, but 14GB is used for internal housekeeping.) For no more work than it takes to pop open your computer, install the SSD and load some management software, Crucial says you can get up to an eight-fold increase in the performance of your existing hard drive on a Windows 7 PC.

In the box

Like almost all SSDs, the Adrenaline is a 2.5-in. drive, which can be problematic for most desktop computer cases because they're engineered for 5.25- and 3.5-in. drives. (The 2.5-inch form factor is typically associated with laptops and other smaller devices.) Crucial supplies you with a bay adapter and the data cable you'll need to install the drive.

There's no documentation or software included in the package, but you'll need both. A video and a PDF version of the installation guide can be found on Crucial's website. I would encourage you to download that PDF and look through the list of requirements and exclusions. They are more detailed than I could go into here.

The PDF includes a link allowing you to download Dataplex software. Dataplex is the caching algorithm that the Adrenaline drive uses to determine what you are doing on your computer and what should be cached as a result. You'll need the software key supplied on the small placard in the Adrenaline box to initiate the download and, later, to install the software. Don't try to install Dataplex until the hardware is in place.

Installation

I installed the Adrenaline drive into a Max Force Revolution 2600K PC equipped with an Intel Core i7 2600K processor (overclocked to 5GHz), 8GB DDR3 RAM, a dual 1TB hard drive, dual EVGA GTX-570 SLI graphics cards and 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium.

The Adrenaline installation offered no surprises. If you've ever installed a hard disk, you won't have any problem -- once the SSD is attached to the drive bay adapter it follows the same general procedures. Based on my experience, however, I'd recommend connecting the data and power cables to the Adrenaline before you install the assembly into your drive bay. That may not be necessary, but the space between the back of a hard drive and the back of your computer's power supply is often only a few inches and it's usually crowded and dark.

The Dataplex software installation is also routine. Once it is installed you'll need to reboot your PC for it to "grab on," start analyzing how you're using data, and begin to speed things up.

Performance

You may not notice any difference whatsoever during that first reboot. Dataplex relies on a statistical preponderance of activity to "learn" what needs to be cached; that first time just provides a baseline. By the second -- or possibly third -- reboot, you should notice a reduction in the time it takes.

At a Glance

Crucial Adrenaline

CrucialPrice:$92-$114Pros: Low price, easy installation, almost guaranteed resultsCons: Requires a software key

In my own real-world comparisons, the PC's boot time decreased by about 10 seconds the second time I rebooted it. Loading the game Company of Heroes, with all its background information, was even less of a wait -- it took about a fifth of the time it normally takes. (This despite the fact that progress in a game can alter the information that will be cached, reducing the effectiveness of the Adrenaline.) Microsoft Word, which is a much less graphics-intensive application, popped up on screen like a genie from a lamp, especially when loaded with a previous document.

As scenarios change (a different Word document, a different battle level in Company of Heroes, or even a different application), you will notice variations in speed as the Adrenaline relearns what it needs to preload into cache. And while you may never see data rates improve "by up to 8 times" as Crucial suggests, I did see boot times decrease by as much as 40%, while application and game loading improved anywhere from 20% to 40% (or even as much as 60% in a few cases) over their noncached rates.

Bottom line

The Adrenaline drive doesn't work in a vacuum. Any gains you might see will depend upon the overall speed of your computer, the speed of your disk interface and the type of applications you run. However, even a 10% to 20% improvement, given the Adrenaline's low cost, is worth the price of admission. As a result, I give the Adrenaline an unabridged two thumbs up.

Bill O'Brien has written a half-dozen books on computers and technology. He has also written articles on topics ranging from Apple computers to PCs and Linux, and he has authored commentary on subjects such as IT hardware decisions.

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

This story, "Crucial Adrenaline review: SSD cache drive speeds up your PC" was originally published by Computerworld.

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