OCZ Vertex 4 256GB SSD Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, May 30th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/OCZ_Vertex_4_256GB/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Just two months ago we examined the Indilinx Everest platform for solid-state drives, which is based on the Marvell 88SS9174 design but features slightly faster clock speeds and different firmware. While we found the new controller to be strong in most regards, it didn’t quite have the same performance as SSDs using the SandForce SF-2281 processor. The very latest Indilinx controller was built to go head to head with SandForce as the second generation Everest 2 platform has industry leading sequential read performance of up to 550MB/s as well as I/O performance of up to 120K IOPS, and access latency as low as 0.02ms. All of this means the new processor will be to able to access data quicker than the previous generation, while also having strong performance at lower queue depths and higher throughput.

Since the new Everest 2 platform boasts such high performance, OCZ has decided to use it in their flagship Vertex SSD series. The latest drive is dubbed the Vertex 4, and along with the new Everest 2 controller it utilizes high quality Intel 25nm Synchronous Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND flash and supports the SATA 6G interface. Like the previous generation Everest controller, the Vertex 4 utilizes on-board DRAM to cache data but with this drive OCZ has doubled the memory compared to the Octane from 512MB to a whopping 1GB of DDR3 memory. The host clock of the controller has also been set higher at 400MHz instead of 333MHz to improve the performance.

Though OCZ has managed to push the performance of the new Everest controller to new heights over the previous generation models, the overall price of the Vertex 4 is still reasonable. Things are really starting to look up for SSDs built on the Indilinx Everest platform, but let’s first see if the heightened speeds translate into better real-world performance.

Specifications
Availability
128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Performance
  • Max Read: up to 550MB/s
  • Max Write: up to 456MB/s
NAND
2Xnm Synchronous Multi-Level Cell (MLC)
Interface
SATA 6Gbps / Backwards compatible 3Gbps
TRIM Support
Yes
Seek Time
0.02ms
Design
Slim 2.5" design
dimensions 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3 mm
Weight
83g
Operating Temp
0°C ~ 70°C
Ambient Temp
0°C ~ 55°C
Storage Temp
-45°C ~ 85°C
Power Consumption
 1.98W active,1.15W standby
Shock Resistant
Up to 1500G
compatibility Windows XP, Vista, 7 (32/64 bit), Linux, Mac OSX
MTBF
2 million hours
Warranty
5 years

The Vertex 4 drive comes in a box that is extremely similar to the packaging used for the Vertex 3 series, unsurprisingly as they are both part of the same family. However, the Vertex 4 box has a larger top area that shows off the drive, while the main features are listed in more compact form at the bottom. The key features listed include: the use of MLC flash memory, support for TRIM, as well as being built around the SATA 6Gbp/s interface. Another difference is at the top right, there is an Indilinx infused logo indicating this drive uses OCZ's in-house controller.

The reverse side of the packaging has a small paragraph that states:

"The OCZ Vertex 4 SSD Series was designed and built with unparalleled performance, reliability and endurance, in mind. As the fourth generation of the legendary Vertex family, the Vertex 4 Series pushes storage performance to the max and redefines the modern day computer experience, The Vertex 4 SSDs are innovatively engineered to deliver industry-leading file transfer rates and superior system responsiveness, all while providing a more durable, reliable and energy efficient storage solution productivity, gaming and multimedia applications like never before."

There is also a small statement about the drive being more efficient and durable than a traditional HDD, written in twelve different languages. Inside the box OCZ has bundled a 3.5" adapter, along with documentation and a "My SSD is faster than your HDD" sticker.

The Vertex 4 series is built with a standard 2.5" enclosure made of both plastic and aluminum. The front of the drive is solid black, and has a product sticker that extends across the majority of the enclosure, while the reverse side has a sleek brushed aluminum panel. Like the front, the rear panel also has a product sticker, however this panel also includes the SATA data and power connectors as well as a smaller sticker at the bottom left that voids the product warranty if removed.

The 256GB OCZ Vertex 4 SSD is a SATA 6Gb/s storage device that supports sequential reads of up to 550MB/s and sequential writes of up to 465MB/s, along with an incredible max IOPS rating of 120K. The 4K random writes are a little slower at 85K IOPS, but with these ratings this is one of the fastest drives on the market in terms of Input/Output operations per second. Unlike SandForce-based drives where the read and write speeds stay constant across capacity levels, the Everest 2 controller has varying speeds depending on the storage rating, but other than the 64GB model most of the drives have similar specifications.

Additionally, the OCZ Octane SSD comes with a host of technologies to improve performance. These include native TRIM support, Boot Time Reduction Optimization, background garbage collection and SMART. However, the Vertex 4 also includes OCZ's proprietary NDurance 2.0 technology which is designed to increase the lifespan of the NAND flash memory and minimize performance degradation. As with other SSDs all the data written to NAND goes through the 256-bit AES encryption engine which encrypts the data in real-time.

As mentioned earlier, unlike most SSD's currently on the market, the Vertex series is not based on the SandForce controller. Instead, it uses an Indilinx Everest 2 controller that supports up to eight channels and 16-way interleaving. This is OCZ's second generation Everest controller and while it is similar to the first iteration, it did undergo some modification. First off the 65nm G process controller comes clocked at 400MHz, instead of 333MHz as was the case with the SoC in the Octane drive. In addition, the sequencer has been improved to increase the performance of the drive, but for the most part the differences between Everest 1 and 2 are mainly found at the firmware level.

Since the Indilinx Everest controller doesn't utilize a real-time compression algorithm, it relies on dual 512MB of Micron DDR3-800 DRAM (1GB Total) to act as a storage cache. Additionally, the controller is based on the ARM architecture and has a dual core design. These features boost the overall performance of the drive and allow data to be stored in the DRAM modules instead of compressing in real-time, which should allow the Vertex 4 drive to deliver robust performance when transferring both compressed and uncompressed data. The drive also has sixteen Intel 25nm synchronous MLC NAND flash on the PCB, positioned in a circular layout around the controller.

Test Setup

Benchmarks Used

Windows 7 Boot & Shutdown

The title of this test says it all. To test the start up speed we enter the boot manager prior to entering Windows and select the drive we are currently testing. Once we have selected the drive we record the time it takes from the time we hit "Enter" in the boot manager, until the desktop has appeared and the LAN is connected.

The Shut Down test is also recorded via a stop watch, but for this test we shut down all applications and test the time it takes for the system to fully power down after we hit the "Shut Down" button.

The Vertex 4 demolished the SandForce based drives when it came to booting into Windows, doing so in just 16 seconds. That is an amazing feat, and nearly double the speed of drives from just a few years ago. The shutdown time was also extremely fast. Out of all the drives we have tested, the Vertex 4 is only one of two capable of shutting the system down in 4 seconds.

Call of Juarez

This time, the score used is not the benchmark score, but rather the time it takes to load.

Far Cry 2

It's the same principle here for Far Cry 2's built-in benchmark.

SSDs make a huge difference when it comes to loading games. Players running games such as Battlefield 3 and Total War: Shogun 2 with a traditional HDD have to suffer though long load times that can often last minutes. SSDs on the other hand have players in the game in just a matter of seconds, and in our testing the Vertex 4 was able to load Call of Juarez and Far Cry 2 in just 11 and 13 seconds, respectively.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage

PCMark is a benchmarking suite from FutureMark, who also make the renown 3DMark. It includes many tests to calculate overall system performance including hard drive performance. The hard drive suite performs tasks such as scanning for viruses, streaming, recording and more. It is a fairly good indicative of general real-world performance.

Futuremark PCMark 7

PCMark resembles a lot to the 3DMark suite from FutureMark, except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

The Vertex 4 did well in PCMark 7 and was able to perform above the other drives, though the difference was minimal. PCMark Vantage on the other hand could not run though to completion, so we were not able to generate a score. We are unsure why the drive could not complete the benchmark, but this was the only issue we ran into while testing the Vertex 4.

Futuremark PCMark 7

PCMark resembles a lot to the 3DMark suite from FutureMark, except the fact that it includes many other tests like hard drive speed, memory and processor power, so it is considered as a system benchmark and not just a gaming benchmark.

The categorized results show the Vertex 4 performing at nearly the same level as the fastest drives in our testbed, but the drive did lag when it came to video editing. It has to be stated that these are only synthetic benchmarks and as our previous tests have demonstrated, the real world performance is better than what these numbers suggest.

SiSoftware Sandra 2012

Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. In this case, we are using the physical disk tool, which measures read and write performance of a given drive.

The Vertex 4 did an outstanding job in Sandra especially when it came to write performance. The Vertex 4 is nearly 49% faster when it came to write performance in comparison to the OCZ Octane drive, which uses the first generation Everest controller.

ATTO Disk Benchmark

The ATTO disk Benchmark, developed by a company of the same name, measures the storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. Once again, the first graph in order shows results from the 256GB OCZ Vertex 4, 512GB OCZ Octane, 256GB Corsair Performance Pro, 240GB Patriot Pyro SE.

 

The Vertex 4 did well across most of the queue depths, but the read performance wasn't quite as fast as the other drives at the lower ones. Again we can really see the difference in write performance between the Everest and Everest 2 controllers.

File Copy

This test consists of copying our standard 100MB, 500MB and 1GB folder also used in our WinRAR test from one partition to the other, thus requiring reads and writes. The chronometer is started as soon as the "paste" button is clicked and is stopped whenever the window indicating the copy status disappears.

When it comes to transferring files smaller than a gigabyte, all the SATA III drives performed at the same level. Further testing with larger files showed the Vertex 4 was capable of transferring over 5GB in just around 28 seconds. Transferring larger amounts of data is one of the strong points of the Vertex 4 series, which should make it an excellent opinion in the enterprise market.

AS SSD

While most other storage benchmarks are designed with mechanical hard drives in mind, AS SSD, developed by Alex Schepeljanski, is built specifically for solid state drives. The application measure sequential and random read and write performance as well as access time. The performance charts below are as followed 256GB OCZ Vertex 4, 512GB OCZ Octane, 256GB Corsair Performance Pro, 240GB Patriot Pyro SE.

 

 

The Vertex 4 did an outstanding job in AS SSD, especially in the 4K though 64K portion of the test. This allowed it to become the first drive we have tested to have a combined score of over 1000.

Cost is an important factor for most consumers when it comes to purchasing new hardware. For this reason we have added a chart showing the cost per gigabyte of the drives we have tested. The results below will be updated constantly per review to reflect new prices, and for this review the prices are accurate as of June 1st 2012.

The cost per gigabyte for the Everest 2 based Vertex 4 was actually pretty good especially considering it uses synchronous memory. Of course it's still quite a departure from standard HDDs that cost only around 10¢ per gigabyte, while all the SSDs are over a dollar per gigabyte.

Currently the 256GB Vertex 4 has an MSRP of $299 USD, which is exactly the same as the Everest 1 based 256GB Octane SSD.

The Vertex 4 SSD showcased mixed results in the synthetic portion of our benchmarking, but the real world results were just phenomenal. This meant the Vertex 4 easily beat all the other tested drives for Windows 7 boot/shutdown times and loading into games. The Vertex 4 also tied the other SATA 6G SSDs when it came to transferring small files under a gigabyte but since the drive uses synchronous NAND flash memory and has a massive 1GB of on-board cache it excels at transferring large files, an area where many other SSDs fail. So, in terms of performance the Vertex 4 is essentially one of the fastest drives we have tested to-date, Indilinix-based or not.

Additionally, since the Indilinx Everest 2 controller is actually a Marvell 88SS9174 processor, write amplification is not as much as a concern as it was with previous Indilinix based SSDs. This along with OCZ’s custom NDurance 2.0 technology meant the amount of write amplification has reduced by nearly five times in comparison to the OCZ Octane series SSDs, making performance more consistent during operation.

The results we published in this review are going to be slightly different from other sites that received a Vertex 4 sample with the original 1.3 firmware. With the latest 1.4RC firmware, the drive's performance dramatically increased when compared to using the original firmware, but 1.4RC isn’t completely stable yet as we ran into issues where the drive could not be recognized by the test system, not to mention BSODs and the issue with trying to complete a full run though of Furturemark’s PCMark Vantage benchmark. So, even while the performance is outstanding there are still some bugs OCZ has to iron out in the firmware.

Overall the OCZ Vertex 4 is one of the fastest drives that have entered our lab in some time. It has low write amplification, excellent performance in both sequential and random writes, and is priced competitively against SandForce based SSDs. The only issue we have is the buggy 1.4 firmware which can at time make using the drive aggravating. We still strongly recommend this drive due to the sheer performance, but we just hope OCZ can iron out the firmware issues sooner rather than later.

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