So the Z68 chipset introduced the interesting addition of ‘ssd caching’ to the motherboard. I just wanted to take a quick look at the SSD caching and hopefully clarify it’s functionality and why you may or may not want to utilize it.
On RAM – as SSD caching and RAM is a similar functionality. The system uses RAM to temporarily store currently used programs – the reason is that RAM has a much much higher data transfer rate than a hard drive – but is vastly more expensive in terms of $/size. RAM is also not permanent – once the RAM no longer is receiving power, it loses the data. Solid State is a cross between a High Density Disk (standard disk based hard drive) and RAM. It has much higher transfer rates than an HDD, but keeps information after power is no longer being supplied.
So the standard operation of the system: Programs being accessed by the system are temporarily loaded into RAM, where the processor can quickly access information.
SSD Caching is in similar function to this, where the SSD sits between the HDD and the RAM. When freshly starting out, the SSD will be completely empty. Upon first load, the system will load the OS onto the SSD to be accessed directly from there. Unlike RAM, however, on restart and shut down the OS will remain on the SSD – so subsequent restarts will be much quicker. The same goes for the programs you use – upon startup of a program it will be first loaded onto the SSD and then subsequent access of that program will have SSD speed (as if it were installed on the SSD). So in general, your frequently accessed programs will be sitting on the SSD – depending on the size of the SSD they would only fall off if you have a habit of using a lot of different programs. If the SSD fills up, the ssd caching program will start clearing programs from the SSD.
This allows for the same loading speed in OS and programs as if you had everything installed on the SSD – after the initial load. The benefit being that you can get a smaller SSD (20-40GB) at a lower cost ($80-$100ish) vs acquiring a larger SSD (120-240GB) at a higher price ($250-$500). Going larger than 40 GB is not necessary, but it’s good to know that Intel has limited the max cache size to 64 GB. In any case, at this size and higher it may be better to simply have your OS and programs just installed on the SSD – depending on how much you have.
All that being said, the current trend of SSDs and pricing will probably see easily affordable SSDs in the 100GB+ range – making SSD caching obsolete.