[REVIEW] OCZ Vertex 4
OCZ’s showcase of their latest flagship SSD turned their Cebit presence in possibly one of the most anticipated product launches for PC enthusiasts on show. During Computex we got the chance to talk to the marketing pillars behind the speed leaders in SSD technology, OCZ Technology.
No matter how you twist or turn things, the Vertex series is still one of OCZ’s best selling drives in the lineup. They are not only incredibly fast; they’re built of industry’s top-shelf components too, guaranteeing any PC or Mac out there to reap cutting edge timings and a whopping number of IOPS.
The box says…
We got hold of the 256GB edition of the VERTEX 4 series, type: VTX4-25SAT3-256G (UPC: 842024030362).
- Sequential reads: 560MB/s
- Sequential writes: 510MB/s
- Random 4k Read IOPS: 90 000
- Random 4k Write IOPS: 85 000
- Maximum IOPS: 120 000
OCZ’s speed results were measured using ATTO for Seq. R/W and IOMeter 2010 for Random & Max IOPS (512b).
- NAND Components: 2Xnm Synchronous Multi-Level Cell (MLC)
- Interface: SATA III / 6Gbps (backwards compatible with SATA II / 3Gbps)
- Form Factor: 2.5 Inch
- NAND Controller: Indilinx Everest 2
- DRAM: Cache Up to 1GB
- Dimensions: (L x W x H) 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3 mm
Reliability and environment
- MTBF: 2 million hours
- Data Path Protection: ECC corrects up to 128 random bits/1KB
- Data Encryption: 256-bit AES-compliant, ATA Security Mode Features
- Product Health Monitoring: Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) Support
- Power Consumption: Idle: 1.3 W Active: 2.5 W
- Operating Temperature: 0°C ~ 70°C
- Ambient Temperature: 0°C ~ 55°C*
- Storage Temperature: -45°C ~ 85°C
- Shock Resistance: 1500G
*Anywhere from 35 ~ 55°C Ambient temperature you’re supposed to be in a swimming pool or counting ice cubes in your freezer, not work.
OCZ’s presents their new controller
When checking the specifications at any SSD out there, people are looking at the bare numbers and it would seem that 75% of all drives are almost identical, especially considering there are so many Vertex 3 (SF 2281 based) ‘clones’ out there. However, Vertex 4 is in no way comparable to Vertex 3. Pretty much everything is different in the new generation. I won’t go into the specifications differences because that has already been said in many articles, product descriptions etc.
- The controller (hardware) has one aspect, which is that it is not sensitive to compression (unlike the SF based SSD’s) which means that the performance is much more consistent across the board regardless of the type of file being used. In combination with the hardware is the Indilinx firmware. It provides a much more stable performance compared to any previous firmware ever built and is even adaptive to the actual state of the drive. When the drive is filled up to approximately 50%, the firmware changes mode and takes into consideration larger files are being used. By doing this, the firmware optimization is on both small files AND large files, resulting in a smoother overall experience.
- Vertex 4 performance level: the firmware (1.4 and later) has been optimized to provide an extra boost, called ‘Performance Mode’. As soon as the drive has been filled up over 50%, the firmware adapts and will shift into its ‘normal’ mode, based on a different user pattern, specially tuned for handling a larger data footprint.
- As a result of switching modes, the drive will face a one-time drop of performance, where the firmware needs some idle time to make the drive ready. It’s like switching gears on a bike or car and under normal usage; just a reboot might be enough to get the drive back up to speed. There’s also one feature I do want to highlight… nDurance 2.0. There are quite a few technical aspects when it comes to writing data on Flash NAND. In short; the smaller the form factor, the harder it is on the flash. With the help of nDurance technology, it is possible to create a better / higher quality data transfer and reduce write amplification at the same time. This results in a longer lifecycle of the flash chips and thus the drive.
Our test system is a Shuttle LGA1155 SZ77R5 motherboard paired with an Intel i7 3770S (3.1-3.9Ghz) and 4x 2Gb Kingston Quad channel ready 1600Mhz DDRIII.
Results may vary, but testing on ATTO and IOMeter made us come to the conclusion what OCZ put on the box is true and lives up to all expectations.
Just booting up from the Vertex 4 is a thrill; you can get from cold boot to Windows 7’s desktop in 12 seconds. Opening Word, Excel or PowerPoint is a 1-2 second task. On the higher end of the software shelf you can expect your AutoCad to load 6-7 seconds, Photoshop took us 5-6 seconds on average. In the gaming department we checked out Call of Duty Modern Warfare III and can say that in less than 30 seconds you can start the game, click any campaign or mission, and be fragging away.
Our maximum read speed: 559.3Mb/sec (on 8192 Kb blocks)
Our maximum write speed: 514.0Mb/sec (on 4096 Kb blocks)
Ironing out the kinks
After extensive testing this drive we found out that out of thin air the Vertex 4 lost 15-17% of it’s write performance. We sum up what we did:
- Install Windows 7 Ultimate
- Run ATTO
- Download/Install all Windows 7’s updates and Service Pack
- Extended tea break, lunch, another tea break (see previous point to determine why)
- Run ATTO
- Installed Call of Duty Modern Warfare III, HDTune Pro, Office 2011, Autocad 2011, Virus scanner, FutureMark 3DMark, Firefox, Flash player and DTools.
- Run ATTO
- Uninstall software 1 by 1, reboot after each and re-run ATTO
What we discovered, was the surprising fact that after uninstalling pretty much all the software mentioned except for the virus scanner, it turned out that Autodesk’s Autocad 2011 was acting up very strange for this drive.
After multiple uninstall and reinstalling, it was very clear this software (even though it wasn’t actively running) decreased the drives performance by a whopping 15-17% in the exact same ATTO benchmarking pattern.
We inquired about this issue at OCZ’s technical support to find out what could be acting up here to cause the drop. As it turned out, AutoCad activated the SSD/HDD caching services under Windows. What this means is, Windows (and other software) are using the SSD to buffer/cache applications, which makes the software run smoother and makes it load faster. On the other side of the medal it does reduce the “raw” performance of the SSD. Nothing you will particularly notice during your everyday workflow, but if you don’t like Windows using your SSD to cache your applications then you can turn it off this way:
- Right-click My Computer, and then click Properties.
- Click the Hardware tab.
- Click Device Manager.
- Click the plus sign (+) next to the Disk Drives branch to expand it.
- Right-click the drive on which you want to enable or disable disk write caching, and then click Properties.
- Click the Disk Properties tab.
- Click to select or clear the Write Cache Enabled check box as appropriate.
- Click OK.
Note to Vertex 3 users: We tested the Vertex 3 under the exact same conditions and failed to notice any performance drop with this particular model, so technically speaking there is little benefit to disabling the Windows caching services as it doesn’t affect the Sandforce controller’s performance.
OCZ Technology delivered a very exciting package with this newborn Vertex 4. The product showed very stable performance, nothing out of the odd to make it stick out except for the software issue that’s not related to OCZ/IndiLinx.
Is it worth the upgrade from a Vertex 3 I hear you ask? Well, honestly, we both have a 3 and 4 and find the immediate effect fairly moderate. So keep your Vertex 3 for the time being; unless you’re using database or other high IOPS evoking software. When you come from a Vertex 2 it is definitely a no-brainer, the high IOPS and read/write performance make it one of the best investments for SATA III enabled systems. Its also nice to see a 5y warranty tag on the box, although the system lifetime of SSD’s is much longer, it does sooth the worrying user who wants the best insurance possible when it comes to spending a few 100’s on an solid state drive. One of the key changes from the Vertex 3 to the Vertex 4 is the way the Vertex 4 handles compressed data, this SSD gets a boost over previous generation SSD’s when handling Jpeg, MP3, Mpeg, etc. In essence: It does not lose performance when working with compressed data. Overall the Vertex IV is an excellent and highly recommended purchase.
“Run a database server on one of these babies and call your competitor; they’re going to have to hire a waitress if they wish to serve your request rate with hot coffee*”
*From SATA III 6Gb/Sec SSD’s.