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OCZ Apex 120GB SSD Review

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AkG

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OCZ Apex 120GB SSD Review​





Manufacture Page: OCZ Technology | OCZ Apex Series SATA II 2.5" SSD
Product ID: OCZSSD2-1APX120G
TechWiki Info: OCZ Apex 120GB SSD
Price: Click Here to Compare Prices
Warranty: 2 Years



Many think of OCZ as one of the forefront innovators when it comes to the modern Solid State Drive. Indeed, a quick look at their forums and knowledge bases confirms that they are hell-bent on dominating the SSD market through listening to customer feedback and producing drives which improve upon their predecessors. Over the last while, they have split their SSD line up into three easy to understand tiers: Solid, Apex and Vertex. The Solid line is the value orientated line, the Apex is now their middle tier / “mainstream” model and the Vertex is their pro / enthusiast model. By doing this, OCZ has cleared up any confusion regarding what the true expectations of a given SSD line are. Up until now many consumers have seen “SSD” and instantly thought “enthusiast” and expected pricing to be absolutely out of their league. What OCZ has done with their move to distinct product segments is to simplfy what a customer will expect from a given SSD. Basically, if you are looking for insane performance at any price, grab a Vertex. On the other hand, if you are looking for most of the benefits that come with SSDs and aren't willing to sell your kidney then the Solid is for you.

Today we will be looking at OCZs mainstream, middle of the road model: the Apex or to be more precise the 120GB OCZSSD2-1APX120G. Very recently, we reviewed our first RAID 0 SSD, the Titan from G.Skill and in many ways this OCZ version of the Samsung reference design is quite similar to that drive. However, with OCZ being OCZ we fully expect this RAID 0 SSD to have a couple of tricks up its firmware sleeve and it should be interesting to see how it performs in comparison to not only the Titan but the de facto gold standard: Intel's X-25M.

Where this is an OCZ product, you will easily find it throughout the country in numerous retailer and e-tailers. Of course since this drive isn't from their budget Solid line, expect to pay a slight premium of about $400 for this particular iteration of the Apex line.

Where this is not the first RAID 0 SSD we have reviewed it will certainly be interesting to see how it stacks up; however, the biggest question which comes to mind is not how it performs, but whether or not it is worth the price premium over more budget-friendly drives.

Over the years, we have come to know and respect OCZ for their exceptional warranty and their above and beyond tech support. When it comes to SSDs, the FAQs, help and “how to guides” available for free on the OCZ forum are usually worth the minor price premium. As you will see during this review they do go that extra mile. However, everyone has their own priorities and hopefully by the end of this review you will have a good idea whether or not this is the right model (or even brand) for YOU.

apex_dual_b.jpg

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications

ocz_apex_specs.jpg

 
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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


OCZ_Apex_box_front_sm.jpg

The box which our Apex drive came in was in many ways similar to the G. Skill Titan box. In a nut shell its thick enough to provide adequate protection for the tiny drive within yet doesn’t take up all that much space on your desk.

Taking a closer look at the box, the very first thing you will notice is the funky orange colour scheme. It certainly stands out, and with all the information on the box it certainly is more than adequate. Whether you like orange boxes or not, there is no arguing that this one is distinctive and the color helps it stand out from the crowd.

OCZ_Apex_box_bac_sm.jpg

While the front of the box is predominantly taken up by a picture of the Apex itself, the back reads more like a sales pitch than anything. This is not a complaint, as anyone who wants to find out more about these drives just needs to flip it over and read short blurb about the technology's highlights. As we said, this box is designed for the retail sector and it shows.

OCZ_Apex_box_open_sm.jpg

When you slide the internal package out of the cardboard box in which it resides, you are greeted to a protection scheme very much like the Titan’s; albeit with a thinner profile. As with the Titan, you flip a top cover panel over to reveal a book-like high density foam container with the Apex drive snuggled up in the middle. As with the Titan we like it and think it is easily one of the best ways of not only protecting the Apex drive, but doing it with a touch of class.

OCZ_Apex_access_sm.jpg

As it becoming a reoccurring theme, this Solid State Drive comes with no accessories other than a pamphlet. ! At the very least we think they should have included in the pamphlet a list of URLs for the various (and very useful) How To tweaking guides which are on their own forum.
 
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AkG

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First Impressions

First Impressions


OCZ_Apex_bottom2_sm.jpg
OCZ_Apex_top_sm.jpg

The all metal cover of the Apex is done in a striking black and silver colour scheme with the only colour to be found anywhere being on the labels themselves, as the base of the unit is denude of paint. The “top” label is done in the same Creamsicle colour scheme which is used on the package but at least OCZ is consistent in their use (or some would say OVERuse) of orange ink.

OCZ_Apex_bottom_sm.jpg

The back label is your fairly typical, standard fare with its white background and black lettering. The most notable features of this label (besides the fact it is slightly skewed) is the fact this drive is rated to draw only .35 of an amp off the 5v line which means it will sip at most 1.75 watts of juice. This is a less than a 5400rpm laptop drive usually uses and simply blows away the X25’s full 1.0A power hog rating! In a nut shell the Apex should improve your laptop battery life, regardless of what spindle speed hard drive you have now. All in all, that is some very impressive engineering.

OCZ_Apex_top_ang_sm.jpg

All in all we still don’t like the orange colour scheme as it seems almost….sacrilegious to us, but the Apex is a darn decent looking drive. The two tone colour of the body of this drive is very striking and its clean lines still make us smile.

Now, lets crack this bad boy open and see what secrets (if any) are hiding inside!
 
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AkG

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Internal Impressions

Internal Impressions


Please remember that opening you SSD will void your warranty.

OCZ_Apex_label_sm.jpg

Just as with every other SSD we have worked with, opening the Apex up to look inside is as easy as removing four corner screws.

OCZ_Apex_top_off_sm.jpg

As we have said in the past if you plan on doing this, please make sure you are grounded. Taking the top off may not ruin your SSD like it will a regular drive (unless you are in a clean room, in which case your spindle drive may just survive) but a errant static charge can and will fry your precious data into paper weight uselessness. Trust us, you don’t want to hear that zapping sound.

OCZ_Apex_pcb_sm.jpg
OCZ_Apex_pcb2_sm.jpg

The board layout is exactly the same as the one found on the G.Skill Titan. At one end you have your SATA power and data connectors, with the small raid controller followed closely by the dual I/O controller chips and then two rows of four NAND MLC flash chips. The other side of this PCB has another 8 chips soldered to it (also in two rows of 4); making it for a grand total 16 NAND flash chips

OCZ_Apex_controler_sm.jpg

Also like the Titan, the I/O controller chips are JMicron model 602s. As we have said in the past it really is amazing that these companies figured out a way to cram two full working SSDs into such a small 2.5” form factor package. We really would have liked to have seen something else besides an updated and improved JMicron 602 used in the Apex, but the Titan did show that this is a decent and fairly potent combination.

OCZ_Apex_raid_contrler_sm.jpg

Also like the Titan the RAID controller chip (shown above) is the JMB390 controller chip by JMicron. This controller is a one-lane PCI Express to one-port Serial ATA II Host Controller which supports SATA II Gen2i and Gen2m, as well as Native Command Queuing (NCQ) and Hot Plugging. All in all it is small, low power RAID controller which is a very good fit for devices such as SSDs.

OCZ_Apex_chip_sm.jpg

As you can see the NAND chips used in the Apex are same ones as used in the Patriot Warp v2. To be precise they are Samsung K9HCG08U5M-PCB0 which are 48 pin MLC Quad Die Package, 1st gen lead free (ROHS compliant), 2.7V ~ 3.6V, 25 nanosecond NAND chips which have Dual nCE (Dual Chipe Enable control) & Dual R/nB (Dual Ready/Busy Output). This model is rated at a density of 64Gbits or 8GB per chip. Above the model number we can see these were made in the 1st week of 2009 and below it we can see the batch number YCK8D6Q1 (or at least what we assume is the batch number but is described by vaguely Samsung as “Customer List Reference” only).

When looking at these chips we are sure the biggest question on your mind is: “Why is the total capacity rated for only 120GB and not its true 128GB?” We assume the difference is for enhanced endurance as even when this drive is “full” it will still have 8GB of space for the wear level algorithms to work with. To us, losing 8GB for the chance of increased durability and possibly peed is a good trade off.

All in all, OCZ has gone for a completely reference design for the APEX. If you were to place the G. Skill Titan’s PCB along side the OCZ Apex’s PCB you would be hard pressed to tell them apart. The only distinctive characteristic of the OCZ is the QA sticker on the back of the PCB. Of course, you could also tell them apart by the size of the NAND chips used, but we are positive if we had access to a "250GB" OCZ Apex that it would be identical. It is interesting that OCZ only rates their Apex drives for 120 and 250GB when they are obviously 128GB and 256GB. We are also puzzled how OCZ can claim a faster speed for their Apex drives vs. the G.Skill Titan line when they are for all intents the same. For now we are going to give OCZ the benefit of the doubt and assume the difference has to do with custom firmware which squeezes more power from the components. This does make sense as OCZ has shown to have a lot of experience with SSDs and their capabilities.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a hard drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for SSDs to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the XP load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a WD 320 single platter drive.

For these tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HDTune, Cystal Disk Benchmark, h2benchw, SIS Sandra Removable Storage benchmark, and IOMeter for synthetic benchmarks.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long XP startup took, Adobe CS3 (w/ enormous amounts of custom brushes installed) took, how long a single 4GB rar file took to copy to and then from the hard drives, then copy to itself. We also used 1gb of small files (from 1kb to 20MB) with a total 2108 files in 49 subfolders.

For the temperature testing, readings are taken directly from the hottest part of the drive case using a Digital Infrared Thermometer. The infrared thermometer used has a 9 to 1 ratio, meaning that at 9cm it takes it reading from a 1 square cm. To obtain the numbers used in this review the thermometer was held approximately 3cm away from the heatsink and only the hottest number obtained was used.


Please note to reduce variables the same XP OS image was used for all the hard drives.

For all testing a Gigabyte PA35-DS4 motherboard was used. The ICH9 controller on said motherboard was used.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

Processor: Q6600 @ 2.4 GHZ
Motherboard: Gigabyte p35 DS4
Memory: 4GB G.Skill PC2-6400
Graphics card: Asus 8800GT TOP
Hard Drive: 1x WD 320
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W Performance Testing
 
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AkG

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Read and Write Performance

Read Performance


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture.

We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and this goes double for SSD based hard drive. The main reason we include it is to show what under perfect conditions a given drive is capable of; but the more important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.


OCZ_Apex_read.jpg


Considering this drive is for all intents and purposes a clone of the Titan we recently reviewed, it is a pleasant surprise to see this version perform even better. If this is not just an anomaly it may hint at some heavy firmware tweaking. This would be par for the course for OCZ as they have been known in the past to take a reference design and tweak it.


Write Performance


For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.

While most OS drives spend most of their times reading and not writing, the write speed of the drive does have a big impact on the stutter issue and how fast the drive feels.


OCZ_Apex_write.jpg


The plot thickens! Even though the bottom end is slightly better than the Titan's this is only half the story. As with the Titan, darn near all the of the write graph stayed above 50MB/s and there were only THREE dips below this. This is certainly an improvement over the Titan’s 5 dips. Either the controller is has been tweaked to work better (via firmware) or the NAND chips on this particular SSD are especially good. The chips are a later revision as they were made a couple of months after the Titan's and Samsung has been known to tweak and refine their manufacturing…but its most likely a more refined firmware doing this. In either case, it certainly will lead to even less stuttering than the Titan’s already good performance.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark

Crystal DiskMark


CrystalDiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5. When all 5 tests for a given section were run Crystal DiskMark then averages out all 5 numbers to give a result for that section.

Read

OCZ_Apex_crystal_read.jpg

If we had any doubts about this drive being anything but a highly tweaked and refined variation on the standard reference design….this puts those doubts to bed. In every single benchmark this Apex drive has beaten the Titan, and Crystal DiskMark is no exception. Heck, not only have they refined it, but this RAID 0 multi controller design is now actually better than the last generation single controller Samsung design.


Write

OCZ_Apex_crystal_write.jpg

We were not expecting miracles, as even OCZ’s engineers can’t do the impossible, but these numbers are an improvement from what we have seen in the past. It's just too bad this drive still has feet of clay when it comes to small 4k chunk writes.
 
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Random Access Time / SIS Sandra

Random Access Time


To obtain the absolute, most accurate Random access time, h2benchw was used for this benchmark. This benchmark tests how quickly different areas of the drive’s memory can be accessed. A low number means that the drive space can be accessed quickly while a high number means that more time is taken trying to access different parts of the drive. To run this program, one must use a DOS prompt and tell it what sections of the test to run. While one could use “h2benchw 1 -english -s -tt "harddisk test" -w test” for example and just run the seek tests, we took the more complete approach and ran the full gamout of tests and then extracted the necessary information from the text file. This is the command line argument we used “h2benchw 1 -a -! -tt "harddisk drivetest" -w drivetest”. This tells the program to write all results in english, save them in drivetest txt file, do write and read tests and do it all on drive 1 (or the second drive found, with 0 being the OS drive).

OCZ_Apex_random.jpg

In what is becoming almost monotonous in its consistency, the OCZ Apex also has better latency than the award winning G.Skill Titan. However, please remember that the difference is well within the margin of error.

Improved or not the Apex still cannot hold a candle to the X25’s performance. However, in real world situations the difference is so small as to be moot in all but the most insane of multitasking environments.


SIS Sandra


This test was run with the removable storage benchmark in Sandra XII Standard. All of the scores are calculated in operations per second and have been averaged out from the scores of 4 test runs.

Read
OCZ_Apex_sis.jpg

Well, these results were surprising….or at least they would have if you have skipped all the previous test results. For everyone else, yes this drive once again outperforms all but the X25 and even here it is inching closer and closer to that gold standard. Impressive
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.

Read

OCZ_Apex_atto_read.jpg

Unlike G.Skill which undervalued their drives performance numbers, OCZ got it completely right. They say it will hit 230MB/sec and that is about what it does. Its numbers do bounce around a bit more than the Titan’s but at this level of performance, any minor variations are moot.


Write

OCZ_Apex_atto_write.jpg

Unlike the read numbers which were basically what OCZ predicted, its write numbers are a good bit better than 110MB/s. In this test it seems that the OCZ Apex is a slightly more refined version of the Titan with smoothed out write performance.
 
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