2010 was the year of the Solid State Drive (SSD).  In just one year SSD’s went from being ultra-expensive rather specialized pieces of equipment for the most dedicated enthusiasts, to almost mainstream affordable devices  for anyone looking to improve on the snail slow mechanical hard drive.  Price drops have been huge as the market saturates with products from many manufacturers.  Windows 7 directly supports SSD’s TRIM function which helps maintain performance levels in the long run.

 

Introduction

2010 was the year of the Solid State Drive (SSD).  In just one year SSD’s went from being ultra-expensive rather specialized pieces of equipment for the most dedicated enthusiasts, to almost mainstream affordable devices  for anyone looking to improve on the snail slow mechanical hard drive.  Price drops have been huge as the market saturates with products from many manufacturers.  Windows 7 directly supports SSD’s TRIM function which helps maintain performance levels in the long run.

So it’s no surprise we’re on to the next level for 2011.  Traditional (if you can call them that after only a year) SSD’s come in a standard 2.5” laptop size format which ends up working well in any computer through a standard SATA II port, and there’s even been a single entry in the market taking advantage of the SATA III interface we reviewed here last year.  But already the newest chips and controllers can even saturate (exceed) the capabilities of the mighty SATA III port and the logical new interface is a direct connection to the main bus via the PCI Express port commonly used for video cards.

 

Enter OCZ’s RevoDrive PCI Express SSD available in sizes from 50-480gb’s with read and write speeds approaching 540mbps read and 450mbps write, and there are even newer RevoDrive 2 PCI Express SSD in sizes of 100-960gb’s with 740mbps reads and 690mbps writes! To put that in perspective my Crucial C300 SATA III SSD can barely achieve 50,000 IOPS. The RevoDrive achieves 75,000 IOPS and the RevoDrive 2 100,000 IOPS. Now that’s screaming fast! All you need is a free 4x PCIe slot on a fairly modern motherboard.

 

Enter OCZ’s RevoDrive PCI Express SSD available in sizes from 50-480gb’s with read and write speeds approaching 540mbps read and 450mbps write, and there are even newer RevoDrive 2 PCI Express SSD in sizes of 100-960gb’s with 740mbps reads and 690mbps writes! To put that in perspective my Crucial C300 SATA III SSD can barely achieve 50,000 IOPS. The RevoDrive achieves 75,000 IOPS and the RevoDrive 2 100,000 IOPS. Now that’s screaming fast! All you need is a free 4x PCIe slot on a fairly modern motherboard.

 

The OCZ RevoDrive

As much as I enjoy the newest fastest toys I didn’t see spending the nearly $800 US for a 240gb RevoDrive 2 SSD. I tried hard to justify it, but even my current Crucial C300 SSD is blindly fast for my uses.  You can only be so wet right?  When making my SSD selection for a new student workshop PC I looked closely for value vs. speed vs. capacity.  I considered another Crucial C300 or OCZ’s excellent Vertex II, but both were more expensive than the RevoDrive’s $459 US price tag for a like capacity.  Yet, the Revodrive was a good 33.3% faster than my Crucial C300!

 

As much as I enjoy the newest fastest toys I didn’t see spending the nearly $800 US for a 240gb RevoDrive 2 SSD. I tried hard to justify it, but even my current Crucial C300 SSD is blindly fast for my uses.  You can only be so wet right?  When making my SSD selection for a new student workshop PC I looked closely for value vs. speed vs. capacity.  I considered another Crucial C300 or OCZ’s excellent Vertex II, but both were more expensive than the RevoDrive’s $459 US price tag for a like capacity.  Yet, the Revodrive was a good 33.3% faster than my Crucial C300!

 

I’d read a lot of posts on forums from unhappy RevoDrive customers so let’s address this first.  I’d even had people warn me not to buy one because they couldn’t get it to work.  So I decided to investigate myself by speaking with an OCZ representative and those on forums who were happy.  Why such a huge chasm of customer satisfaction?  Really, it boils down to early adopters, old motherboards, slow BIOS updates from motherboard manufacturers, unrealistic expectations, and inexperience.  I still think the Revodrive is an “intermediate” skill level device best left up to your PC builder or skilled enthusiasts.  We’ll get more into that later.

Early adopters wanting their RevoDrive to serve as a boot device quickly found their motherboards didn’t yet support PCIe boot devices.  This wasn’t something OCZ could fix other than to work closely with the manufacturers to ensure rapid BIOS updates were forthcoming and this they did.  Within months most every current motherboard on the market now supports the RevoDrives after installing the most current BIOS updates.  Here is a list of compatible motherboards  and any issues there might be with them.  I would advise you pay rapt attention to this list before ordering your Revodrive.

When I said “unrealistic expectations” I was referring to those who purchased a leading edge device expecting foolproof plug n’ play compatibility and operation the same as a SATA II device.  RevoDrive’s as you’ll soon read below aren’t that difficult to install, but they do require steps not required with SATA II devices and compatible motherboards.  I tested the RevoDrive with a Gigabyte X58-UD7 Rev 1 with the F7 BIOS, and a brand new Asus Rampage Gene III with their latest 704 BIOS.  Both worked flawlessly.

With that out of the way let’s talk about the RevoDrive.  It’s a PCI Express x4 half height card available in capacities from 50-480gb’s.  It can be used as a standalone storage device, or a boot drive with operating temperatures of up to 70c.  It uses 3 watts at idle, 8 watts under load, is compatible with all versions of Windows since XP, comes with a 3 year warranty, and has a MTBF (mean time between failures) of 2,000,000 hours.. That’s 2 million hours, or 228 years!  A reliable device.

 

With that out of the way let’s talk about the RevoDrive.  It’s a PCI Express x4 half height card available in capacities from 50-480gb’s.  It can be used as a standalone storage device, or a boot drive with operating temperatures of up to 70c.  It uses 3 watts at idle, 8 watts under load, is compatible with all versions of Windows since XP, comes with a 3 year warranty, and has a MTBF (mean time between failures) of 2,000,000 hours.. That’s 2 million hours, or 228 years!  A reliable device.

 

The RevoDrive is an internal RAID 0 device which spans two drives into one with an onboard RAID controller.  In the case of the 240gb drive it spans (2) 120gb drives in a RAID 0 configuration for a total of 240gb capacity using 2 SandForce controllers.  The onboard RAID controller is much better than RAIDing two regular SSD’s using the motherboard’s RAID controller which draws resources from the CPU.

 

The RevoDrive is an internal RAID 0 device which spans two drives into one with an onboard RAID controller.  In the case of the 240gb drive it spans (2) 120gb drives in a RAID 0 configuration for a total of 240gb capacity using 2 SandForce controllers.  The onboard RAID controller is much better than RAIDing two regular SSD’s using the motherboard’s RAID controller which draws resources from the CPU.

 

It comes in a box with the RevoDrive PCIe card, and a small instruction booklet. That’s it. Nothing more is needed.

 

It comes in a box with the RevoDrive PCIe card, and a small instruction booklet. That’s it. Nothing more is needed.

 

 

Installation

This is the part you’ll want to pay attention to.  It’s not that difficult if you follow these steps exactly.  I’ve taken the liberty of including extra steps you might not need on ‘your’ motherboard for the sake of making one set of instructions which will work on all compatible motherboards.  Don’t install the RevoDrive until step F.

a.  Ensure you have a compatible motherboard and flash the very latest non-beta BIOS available.  Go to your motherboard manufacturers website, go to support, download drivers, and look for the instructions and files for the BIOS update.  Get this done BEFORE installing the RevoDrive in your system.

b.  Enter your BIOS and disable all boot drives other than your CD/DVD drive.  Disable any SATA III controllers until after installation is complete.

c.  Copy the Revodrive drivers to a CD or DVD disc, or if you know for sure your motherboard supports thumb drives prior to loading Windows you can copy it to a thumb drive.  Some motherboards also directly support flash card readers and these can be used as well.  A CD will work in any system with a CD/DVD drive.

d.  For the installation process disconnect any other drives in your system.

e.  Completely power down your system, PULL THE PLUG, and wait about 15 minutes for the power to drain from the board.

f.  Wearing an anti-stat wrist strap, or at least grounding yourself well prior to touching the board, insert the RevoDrive in an available PCIe x4, x8 or x16 slot and secure with the retaining screw.

 

Wearing an anti-stat wrist strap, or at least grounding yourself well prior to touching the board, insert the RevoDrive in an available PCIe x4, x8 or x16 slot and secure with the retaining screw.

 

g.  Place your Windows Installation disc into your computer and power on the system.  READ THIS FIRST:  As you power up the system you’ll notice your boot screen first, then the RevoDrive BIOS asking you to press F4 or Control-S to enter the BIOS.

h.  Once in the BIOS configure your drive as a RAID 0 device with full capacity.  My RevoDrive came configured, but it’s very easy to follow their simple menu if it doesn’t. Exit the BIOS.

i.  Your computer should now boot off the Windows Installation CD/DVD.  Once in the installer tell it you want to do a full Windows Installation.  It will take you to an empty list of available drives.  YES, the RevoDrive WILL NOT SHOW at this point.  Don’t worry.

j.  Below the list you’ll see an option for “Install Drivers?”  At this point replace the Windows Installation disc with your driver disc, or make sure your thumb or flash drive is connected.  Click on “install Drivers” and browse to the x32 or x64 directory where your UNZIPPED drivers are waiting on your CD/DVD or thumb/flash drive.  Highlight the three files and click “next” and the drivers will install.

k.  Once the drivers are installed you should immediately see the RevoDrive in the list of available drives in the Windows Installation menu.  If you removed your Windows CD/DVD, place it back in your CD/DVD drive now.

l.  Continue with the Windows installation just like any other Windows Installation.

m.  As you know Windows will reboot during the installation process.  During this first reboot change your boot drive in your BIOS to reflect your Revodrive and continue the installation.

n.  That’s it!  Once Windows is installed power down your machine, connect any disconnected storage drives, and then install your programs on your new RevoDrive.

Some of you might be asking about restoring a Norton Ghost or Acronis mirrored image on the RevoDrive so you won’t have to rebuild the entire drive.  This is slightly different.  It can be done, but you’ll need to follow your Norton Ghost or Acronis instructions where it tells you “restore to a new drive and install drivers.”  Both programs allow this, but you’ll need to follow their instructions.  Due to the nature of these programs it might also require a call to tech support.

 

Performance

It’s fast.  Very fast.  I use the AS SSD benchmark because it simulates the sort of load an average desktop workstation will be using, and the ATTO benchmark because it measures the best case speed.  Both are widely accepted in the community and are free.  Review sites always include the AS SSD and ATTO benchmarks in addition to a slew of others.  You can get it AS SSD here,  and ATTO here.

 

It’s fast.  Very fast.  I use the AS SSD benchmark because it simulates the sort of load an average desktop workstation will be using, and the ATTO benchmark because it measures the best case speed.  Both are widely accepted in the community and are free.  Review sites always include the AS SSD and ATTO benchmarks in addition to a slew of others.  You can get it AS SSD here,  and ATTO here.

 

I found the read and write sequential’s in ATTO exceeded the advertised specifications, and with AS SSD the 4k ratings, and the IOPS ceiling were all very close to the advertised figures.  What I found surprising was that the time to load windows and most of my programs remained pretty much the same as with my Crucial C300 SSD.  I can only surmise the higher speeds, while roughly 30% greater, really come more into effect with larger files and system files such as page files and caches.

 

I found the read and write sequential’s in ATTO exceeded the advertised specifications, and with AS SSD the 4k ratings, and the IOPS ceiling were all very close to the advertised figures.

 

What I found surprising was that the time to load windows and most of my programs remained pretty much the same as with my Crucial C300 SSD.  I can only surmise the higher speeds, while roughly 30% greater, really come more into effect with larger files and system files such as page files and caches.

 

Summary

The OCZ RevoDrive is a great value in the 240gb capacity, it’s the fastest drive available next to its older brother the RevoDrive 2, and other than the obvious need of a PCI Express x4, x8, or x16 slot and the need to install drivers during the Windows Installation process.  I see no distractors other than its lack of TRIM support.

TRIM is a utility built into Windows that essentially rezero’s recently released space so there’s no or little degradation in performance over time.  TRIM doesn’t work with ANY RAID SSD.  They might find a way to make it work in the future, but for now it doesn’t work.  Instead the SandForce controllers have their own algorithm which is a sort of “lazy garbage collection” and it’s known to work quite well for normal desktop usage.  Hopefully in the future OCZ will come out with something a bit more substantial.

 

TRIM is a utility built into Windows that essentially rezero’s recently released space so there’s no or little degradation in performance over time.  TRIM doesn’t work with ANY RAID SSD.  They might find a way to make it work in the future, but for now it doesn’t work.  Instead the SandForce controllers have their own algorithm which is a sort of “lazy garbage collection” and it’s known to work quite well for normal desktop usage.  Hopefully in the future OCZ will come out with something a bit more substantial.

 

If you’ve got the spare PCI Express x4, x8, or x16 slot I see very little argument against using the OCZ RevoDrive.  It’s faster, very reliable, frees up a regular drive bay, and is less expensive than regular SSD’s of like performance and capacity.  If there was an argument against the RevoDrive it would be the future use of the SSD.  Will your next computer be a desktop, will it have a spare PCIe slot?  And don’t forget a regular SSD can be handed down to your laptop when the next greatest SSD comes along.

But if you want the fastest SSD available in a performance orientated workstation this is the SSD you want.  Nothing else comes close.  Until next spring maybe.. as I was writing this review I was watching the live news from CES 2011 and OCZ just announced new SATA III SSD's using a brand new SandForce SF-2000 controller with claimed speeds of both read and write approaching 500mbps, almost equal to this RevoDrive.  We certainly live in great times!

I hope you’ve found this review useful.  Please leave any feedback in the comment section below.