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Hardware Caching vs. Software Caching

If you are researching hard drives to buy then you will probably be deciding whether to go for a standard hard disk drive or a solid state drive. The latter is faster and less prone to failure, but those luxuries will put a hefty dent in your wallet. As such, the idea of a hybrid storage device that joins together the inexpensive price tag of a hard disk drive with the speed of a solid state drive is becoming increasingly popular. There are two different methods when it comes to hybrid storage: hardware and software. But which is better and why?
Generally, software is the cheaper option while hardware is much more expensive. Another difference is that the former is slower and relies on the host software and hardware to function well, while the latter is usually independent and offers faster speeds. A hardware solution is generally one that needs a RAID card, drives and software, or it puts the storage and software in to one device. On the other hand, a software solution is one that is focussed much more on that. The software is sometimes combined with hardware, but the emphasis is far less.
One example of a software based caching solution is the Intel z68 Express Chipset. Using RAID, Intel’s chipset supports using a solid state drive as a cache. It uses Smart Response Technology to combine any SSD, drive or RAID volume in to a pair. The software apparently only caches small and random logical block addresses. For example, something like a virus scan is registered by the software and then bypassed the cache so that it only stores frequent files. As a result, users will see a decrease in application loading times. Since this software comes with the chipset, configuration is a breeze and the price is all inclusive.
A hardware based solution is something like the Seagate Momentus XT. This is a 7200rpm hard disk drive with 4 GB of SLC NAND. The hardware only uses the cache for reading, which is a bit of a downside. While loading up the operating system can offer the speeds of a solid state drive, writing to disk (like saving a file) will still be slow. The Momentus XT is relatively cheap when compared to other hardware solutions too. It will only set you back another $20 or so over a normal, non-hybrid drive.
It’s up to you to decide whether you go for hardware or software caching. If your use is primarily in the home then something cheap, like Intel’s offering, would be the best value since they increase speeds when running applications. And if you are on a laptop, where your choice is more limited, then something like the Momentus XT would be suitable. If in an enterprise situation, then something with lots of SSD cache and wide driver support would be desirable. This comes with a price tag to match, though. There is no definite answer as to whether hardware or software caching is better. It comes down to what your needs are and what the device offers.


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