The question on everyone's lips is whether Intel Smart Response technology lives up to its promise. To find out, we tried out the two different modes, Enhanced and Maximized, with two system benchmarks, SYSmark 2007 and PCMark Vantage. They should provide a decent benchmark on the level of performance gain from the SSD cache.
We also tested the startup time (measured from the moment the Windows logo first appears, to having all your startup programs loaded and your desktop ready). We also conducted a short browser test, where we opened 20 tabs' worth of URLs on Mozilla Firefox 4 and took the average time taken of three runs.
For the HDD, we used a WD Caviar Black 1TB along with the 20GB Larson Creek SSD. The rest of the system is identical to that listed on our test setup, though we did use slightly newer Intel Rapid Storage drivers (as we tested this feature after we were done with the motherboards).
Going back to the benchmarks, we had to run it at least twice before we saw any performance gain. This is due to how the caching works to improve your system performance, so only your frequently accessed applications get 'accelerated'. However, you can't miss when it starts to kick in - our scores increased by around 20% in PCMark Vantage, no doubt thanks to a dramatic increase in HDD and Productivity scores. The margin was much lower in SYSmark though - an average gain of 6%, with Video Creation recording the biggest gain.
Maximized mode, as expected, gave the biggest performance gains, but given that it was only slightly better than Enhanced mode (at least from our limited time with it), users may actually be more comfortable going with Enhanced, since that would reduce the risk of data loss.
As for the qualitative aspect, we found the startup time for our Smart Response systems to be around 5 seconds faster than before. (19.9s vs 14.8s). Browser performance also saw a slight improvement in speed, with the SSD enhanced systems consistently faster by around 1.7 seconds. There was also practically no difference in performance between the two modes.