For many reasons, including lower power consumption, heat-generation, and noise levels, Solid State Drives (SSDs) are becoming more prevalent in notebook PCs and other places where 2.5-inch drives can be used.
Unfortunately, their current high pricing and relatively low capacity have kept them a niche market. As part of their Storage Gadgets line, City of Industry, Calif.-based storage solution provider Sans Digital has created the CR2T and the Test Center had the opportunity to try it out.
Basically a do-it-yourself SSD, the CR2T is a CompactFlash (CF) card enclosure that has the same dimensions, mounting options, and connections as a 2.5-inch SATA drive. Inside the housing are connections for two CF cards and a micro switch that allows the user to choose between configuring the unit for RAID 0 (spanning) or RAID 1 (mirroring).
For our testing, reviewers loaded the CR2T with 4GB (2 x 2GB) of Kingston's fastest CFs, the 266X CompactFlash Ultimate.
We first set the switch for RAID 0, which allows the device to be used as an SSD with the storage capacity of the two cards combined (if the cards are of different sizes, only twice the lower capacity will be available).
When connected to a Windows Vista PC, the card was recognized immediately, but we were surprised to find that Windows was reporting the available space to be half what it should be. We found that although Windows showed the unit to be 4GB, it only saw 2GB as allocated. This is because the cards came pre-formatted. Via Disk Manager, we removed the two volumes, configured a new volume, and re-formatted. From there on everything was fine.
Our evaluation consisted of copying various-sized files to and from the unit for speed testing and we were a little disappointed with the results. The CR2T is by no means slow (at least with the 266X CF cards), but unfortunately it does not compare with the improvement SSDs have over standard hard drives. In fact, it was a tiny bit slower than the SATA HDD we tested it against.
When reviewers switched the device to RAID 1, Windows prompted us to reformat the drive upon startup. The same copy speed tests were performed with almost identical results. We then removed each card one at a time, and Windows continued to recognize the drive and data without a hiccup. As expected, returning the unit to RAID 0 required an additional reformat.
While literally not up to speed as a subsitute for SSDs, the CR2T still offers most of the other benefits associated with them, and a lower MSRP of $99 (not including CF cards). In addition, the ability to configure the unit for RAID 1 is a nice automatic backup option for regular users of critical data.
Although a card reader can serve the same function, the CR2T minimizes the need for extra peripherals and software, as well as the diligence required for manual backups. Depending on their reasons for needing an SSD, some customers may be able to swap in the CR2T, but the relatively slower speeds need to be taken into consideration.