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OCZ Vertex 3 240GB Update: Retail vs Review Sample

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AkG

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Not that long ago we had the opportunity to review a pre-release sample of the new OCZ Vertex 3. We walked away extremely impressed and it is safe to say that with the introduction of the Vertex 3, OCZ once again raised the bar for what a single solid state drive could do. The only issue was that our sample was a pre-release version and not a retail sample. Did that matter? Upon first glance, likely not but we were proven wrong in that assumption.

Since that review went live, we have been asked numerous times if there would be performance difference between our original engineering sample and drives on retailers’ shelves. Truth be told, there are no differences between the two drives on a physical level and even the innards of mirror images on one another.

On the firmware side however, things had changed quite a bit as the drives sent to the press had version 1.11 while current drives are shipping with v2.06 and v2.09 (a minor revision to 2.06) was recently made available. We did have one issue though: our engineering sample was not equipped with end-user updateable firmware. In the short term it meant that any numbers in our charts wouldn’t line up with what end users would experience. Naturally that didn’t sit quite well with us.

You see, firmware updates play a critical role in the maturation of a solid state drive. More to the point, the performance difference could have unduly handicapped or – worse still – given the pre release Vertex 3 an unfair advantage over time. It would not have been the first time a drive’s firmware had “toned down” the performance in order to reduce wear and tear on the NAND. Nor would it have been the first time firmware refinement noticeably increased the performance of an SSD. These days, either situation is possible and only having a drive with fully updated firmware to test can remove this variable.

Today, with the assistance of OCZ we are going to be able to once and for all tell you exactly what – if any - performance differences there are between the pre-release 240GB Vertex 3 drives most sites have reviewed and a retail 240GB Vertex 3. To do this we need not worry about packaging, accessories or the other minutia. Rather, we are going to focus in on a few key tests – both real world and synthetic – with the latest 2.06 retail firmware to see where the differences lie.


 
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AkG

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Firmware's Changing Face: The Synthetic Tests

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark 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 and size at 100MB.





When it comes to write speed and Crystal Diskmark, the latest firmware does add a few minor refinements and we see an across the board improvement which varies from minor to significant. The largest improvement is within the 32 que depth 4K results. What was once extremely good has now become even better.

On the read side of things, the new results are not quite as straightforward though. Once again the 32 que depth 4K results are simply astonishing but both the 4K 1 que depth and sequential read speed are ever so slightly lower. We do however consider this small discrepancy to simply be variation from drive to drive and thus inconsequential as neither will be noticeable in real world scenarios.


PCMark Vantage


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark Vantage, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of 8 tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these 8 core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.



It seems that while Crystal DiskMark did indeed like the new firmware enabled Vertex 3 more than the previous sample, PCMark Vantage down right loves it. A boost this large is both significant and very impressive. It seems that OCZ and SandForce were able to – in a very short period of time - tease even more performance out of this drive.
 
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AkG

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On to the Real World

Vista Start Up


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. While all the other tests were run with a Windows 7 operating system, this particular test uses another older test bed's “day to day” OS (copied over to our new testbed) which has accumulated a lot of crud over the months from installs and removals. We chose the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line as it is the last program to be loaded on start up.



While am improvement of one second doesn't sound like all that much, the only difference between these two versions of the OCZ Vertex 3 240GB drives we have is firmware. That in itself should speak volumes of OCZ's potential to squeeze more performance out of their drives as time goes on.


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous RAR file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy (set to 1 file depth) and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.





Believe it or not, the reason for no real performance difference here is likely due to the fact that OCZ's Vertex 3 can easily saturate our test system RevoDrive in some situations.
 
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AkG

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Parting Thoughts

Parting Thoughts


This short update allowed us to emphasize how important SSD firmware updates are and it should also draw some attention to how certain companies strive to improve their drives over time. These SSDs aren't inexpensive investments and if the firmware isn't updated on a routine basis, their full potential will likely never be realized.

When we originally reviewed it, we thought Vertex 3 was an incredible SSD but the retail drive has proven itself to be even better. There weren’t any earth shattering differences by any stretch of the imagination but the minor refinements are certainly a step in the right direction. As time goes by and new firmware revisions are released, we're sure that even more performance will be coaxed out of the Vertex 3. After all, within a short period of time between initial reviewer sampling and retail availability we have already seen performance gains which actually do impact real world results. The next few revisions may not exhibit such a noticeable gain but with so many competitors lining up we highly doubt that OCZ will allow performance to stagnate either.

Are there things to be learned from this exercise? You bet. First of all, don't ever consider buying solid state drive which doesn't come equipped with end-user upgradeable firmware. If there are any issues with the firmware on the retail drives there's no telling what kind of hassles could be waiting in the wings. Compared to error correction, performance gains are obviously a secondary benefit but as we saw in this article, they can take an already excellent drive to the next level.

No matter how you look at things -be it real world or synthetic- firmware is a fundamental cornerstone to the long term success or failure of a modern SSD. That's why all of our future reviews will contain up to date firmware results for the Vertex 3 and every other SSD.
 
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