Intel Smart Responses Technology – A closer look at the GIGABYTE Z68-UD3-iSSD

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Intel Z68 chipset is out since a while and a lot of brand on the market are fighting to sell you their solution based on the latest Intel’s baby. With first P67 and H67 in the wild and then the Z68 chipsets and the Mobile part of theses, Intel put quite a lot of stuff on the table, and letting everyone choose. As we won’t came back to the history of the 6-series chipset line, you need to know that mainly only the Z68 make sense nowadays for a desktop PC.

With the latest Z68 Chipset Intel unveiled an interesting solution to boost the performances of the regular computer, this is called the Smart Responses Technology. The SRT will be the main focus of this article, and our testing will be based on the GIGABYTE Z68-UD3-iSDD motherboard.

The Z68-UD3-iSDD from GIGABYTE will allow us to test multiple implementation of the Intel Smart Responses Technology, giving you a complete overview of the capabilities.

This article intends to be easy to read, give you the detail on own it work, how to set up easily and of course giving you the performance analysis of the different options available.


Back to basics : SRT What ?

HDD are over the hood for ages and SSD are now mature enough to be use on daily basis and are the beast in terms of performances. HDD of a big size are cheap while SSD are getting cheaper over the years but nothing compared to the HDD. Then come the choice… Storage space or daily usage speed ? That is the true reason for the Intel SRT.

Smart Response Technology is a Intel feature that will use a SSD to boost your hard-drive performances, basically a cache that can be set up to 64GB. This cache will store your most used files, well not really file but most accessed “storage block”, on the SSD or part of the SSD if bigger than 64GB.

The main advantage is that you almost get the performance of a SSD with the full capacity of your HDD and all that for a reasonable price.

Intel SSD Caching or Intel Smart Responses Technology is only available on Z68 chipset as well as some mobile chipsets used in notebooks, has no limitation whatsoever with any brand of SSD and HDD, and it’s accessible within few click on windows.


Enhanced or Maximized ?

To be or not to be ? live or die ? eat or drink ? party or… party ? that might be some of the answer-less question of this article but enhanced or maximized will not!

Intel provide two mode to operate the Smart Responses Technology feature, Enhanced and Maximized, both got advantage and limitation. In brief enhanced mode is totally safe while maximized mode will be focusing on performances.

Enhanced : Better than what you might think…

On the technical side enhanced will use the SSD as a write through disk, that means the data will be written on the SSD and the HDD before the next operation. This mode is then limited in write-speed by the HDD performances, but you will still see some performance gain in write speed. On the read speed, this will be fast as your SSD will serve the file directly.

As the enhanced mode write on both the SSD and the HDD it is completely safe, if you want to stop using it, unplug by mistake the SSD used as cache, lost power or in the unlikely event your SSD die. You will still be able to boot on your HDD without any problem as every written action are on both SSD and HDD at the same time.

Advantage :

  • 100% safe for files integrity and boot
  • Read speed improved
  • Safe to stop using it
  • Avoid losing data in case of power loss or SSD suicide
Limitation :
  • Write speed limited / impacted by the HDD Speed
  • Not full speed performances of the SSD

Maximized : Speed ticket anyone ?

The second setting is called maximized, and is using the full speed of the SSD for read and write operations, and the HDD is then updated. On a technical side that means the SSD cache is written first, then the next operation can be processed without the need to wait for the change to be done on the HDD. This improve a lot the performances and we will see that we get almost the SSD write speed. In this mode the HDD is truly used for storage and the SSD as cache.

As the data is not written to the HDD directly before going to the next operation, in case of problem liek a loss of power, this could lead to a file corruption of loose of data. In the unlikely event of a suicide of your SSD, you won’t be able to boot again if some of the boot file were in the cache or get corrupt file if the change did not get time to be synchronized.

This is a problem but limited as the performance boost is interesting and the most common error would be the loss of power before the data change get replicated.

As a side note, when you will stop using this mode all the data will have to be validated on the HDD, that might take few minutes depending on the amount of data to synchronize.

Advantage :

  • Limitation :Read speed at its maximum
  • Write speed at its maximum
  • Full speed of the SSD
  • Safe until you unplug by mistake or your SSD decide to suicide itself
Limitation :
  • Potential data corruption in case of power loss

Activate the Smart Responses Technology

To activate the Maximized mode, go to the Rapid Storage Technology tray icon and open the dashboard, select the optimize tab, select activate and the enhanced or maximized  mode.
Another easy solution is to use a GIGABYTE tools called EZ Smart Responses that is setting everything for you with just a few clicks. you can download it on the GIGABYTE official website or in the Z68-UD3-iSSD bundle.

Onboard SSD : Cheaper, better, cable-less.

Any SSD, any HDD will work with this feature, and to demonstrate it and compare performances we took the time to test with our old MAXTOR HDD, a Kingston 64GB V+ Now SSD and a mSATA 20GB Intel SSD directly onboard of the GIGBABYTE Z68-UD3-iSSD. Main advantage here is the Intel SSD onboard is one of the latest generation (Larson Creek) specifically designed for cache use, it’s onboard so no wire / power issue and you save space in your case.

The GIGABYTE Z68-UD3-iSSD is an ATX-size LGA 1155 Mainboard featuring two PCI-Express Slot (x16/0 & x8/x8) as well as two SATA III port and four SATA II ports. On the features side it’s equipped with HDMI output onboard so you could use the IGP(internal graphic processor) of the Sandy-bridge CPU or add a dicrete GPU and take advantage of the quicksynch features with the LUCID Virtu Technology.

Of course this mainboard main advantage is the 20GB INTEL mSAta SSD to be used with Smart Responses Technology, it’s the biggest advantage of this board. The INTEL 311 “Larson Creek” 20GB (SSDMAESC020G2) is using  mini-PCIe interface linked directly to the SATA bus, and more precisely on the Port number 5 (SATA II). The small form factor got almost all the advantage , first it’s smaller than a regular 2.5″ SSD, second you don’t need extra cable as it’s directly on board, third you then save space, fourth it’s cheaper than the similar 2.5″ drive and fifth because I want five point… it came with the mainboard directly.

Here are our gallery of the board and you could find all the details on the official site about this GIGABYTE z68-UD3-iSSD.

Note that the mSATA disk will use SATA II Port 5 when SRT is active, and you can use the onboard SSD as is if you want to.

Let’s ready to ruuummmbbblllleee !

The Z68-UD3-iSDD from GIGABYTE will allow us to test multiple implementation of the Intel Smart Responses Technology. First of all, this mainboard is bundled with a dedicated Intel mSATA 20GB SSD so we will be able to test the SSD alone with the operating system and no SRT. Secondly we will test a normal SSD reference with our Kingston V+Now 64GB (SATA II) to have a comparison point. And finally we will test the two SRT mode on both the Intel onboard SSD and the Kingston SSD.

We ran a few storage benchmarks and despite describing  test by test each result for the 7 configuration type we tried, we will sum it up into a comprehensive way. We ran CrystalDiskMark, AS SSD Benchmark, HD Tune and a good old PCMark 05 run.

First of all we did noticed some weird behavior while testing, first would be inconsistent result on all the benchmarks when SRT is activated, the first run is usually good, then the second crap, the third one a bit better, in the end, running it a fourth time get back to similar result as the first one. This wasn’t always four run, but if the score difference between the 3 runs appear to be weird, we did re-run the bench and took the average of the 3 best scores.

While running the benchmarks the HDD is of course the slowest factor, while the Kingston SSD 325 series (based on a Toshiba’s T6UG1XBG controller) and the onboard Intel SSD (311 Series) are way ahead, there is no surprise there. The difference between the regular SSD (Kingston) and the Intel is mainly on the performance on the small size files transfers, the Intel is a clear winner and it’s logical for that. The average speed read is slightly better on the regular SSD, while write speed is better on the Intel 311 (onBoard).

The Intel 311 series as been designed for caching purpose, this is why we can see a real boost on the small size test in the benchmarks compared to the regular SSD we used. When using a cache disk, there is a situation you cache the file itself and entirely, or you cache at the block level, this last option is how the Smart Responses Technology works. This is good to have more cache space available while you cache only the true needed data. For example, a pagefile for your system could be very space angry if you cache the complete file directly, but accessing and caching it block per block, you finally cache the only most needed part and saving space at the same time.

The Smart Responses Technology into enhanced mode, resulted in a major boost in term of read speed, the small size test almost get the full SSD speed while the larger transfers did boost but around 55 % to 65% of the SSD speed. The write speed in enhanced mode was still limited by the HDD itself while we saw a really minor help due to the way a SSD work (Search for SSD Offload request for technical details.). Same conclusion in enhanced mode for the read access time that was limited by the HDD speed.

The maximized mode kick out the HDD low-speed and latency to be closer from the full SSD Speed getting back to the similar difference we could see between the regular SSD and the onboard SSD.

Using the regular SSD, the small file caching is suffering ans stay similar to HDD speed, while on 512K and Sequential read (can be interpreted as bigger size “file”) the regular SSD is more interesting when writing. (NB : This is true only on CrystalDiskMark).

On all the others tests, especially for small size file the onboard Intel SSD is way ahead, this is logical as this SSD was designed to fit a cache use.

In the end the Smart Responses Technology Intel provided is really interesting to boost your performances if you still use a SSD as your main storage, wand have a low capacity SSD you want to use. Remember the SRT cache can be of 64GB maximum.

On a general tone the Intel 311 series SSD bundled on the Z68-UD3-iSSD is really interesting for caching or small size data access while having a generous write speed and normal read speed over the regular SSD technology we used.

The GIGABYTE Z68-UD3-iSSD equipped with the Intel 20GB 311 Series SSD that fit the perfect purpose of caching, while it is cheaper to buy the board with bundled SSD than actually buying them separately.

With the 20GB SSD is directly onboard you have then a few choice while setting up your system :

  • Install you Operating System on the SSD directly and let all your storage / application and files on the HDD.
  • Use Smart Responses Technology with the onboard SSD in enhanced mode : Keep your files safe and give you a boost for reading request (opening files etc)
  • Use Smart Responses Technology with the onboard SSD in Maximized mode : Get the most out of it and boost the performances to the max.

This board impressed us regarding the result we obtain described in this article and the extended testing we had. Keep in mind this is the case as long as you don’t use a SSD already.

NB : I really loved the onboard SSD to test and install our light-weight bench OS and play around with the board and no extra connected drive. (personal opinion.)

 We would like to thanks GIGABYTE USA for their support in this review and Intel too.


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