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OCZ Vertex 4 128GB SSD Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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With the release of their Vertex 4 series of SSDs, OCZ took the first steps towards re-introducing computer enthusiasts to the “Indilinx” brand name. This generation of drives may use a completely different Indilinx controller than the original Vertex but one thing remains the same: OCZ’s quest for a versatile, capable brand of recognizable consumer-oriented SSDs. When the Vertex 4 was first released, we were given the opportunity to review the massive 512GB model and walked away cautiously optimistic about its design. Unfortunately, because of firmware issues at the time of our initial review, only the highest capacity model was able to realize the architecture's fullest potential. However, thanks to some timely firmware updates, those early performance issues have been alleviated in the lower capacity versions, and today we will be putting the new, improved and affordable Vertex 4 128GB under the microscope.


With an SRP of about $120, the Vertex 4 128GB is easily the most intriguing product of the entire Vertex lineup. In past generations the 120-128GB size was never considered the best value proposition and was geared towards the mid-range market. This is not the case with this model as a relatively low asking price places it firmly into what was once the value-oriented domain of OCZ’s Agility series. For the first time ever, a Vertex-branded 128GB model has been designed to be fast enough to satisfy storage enthusiasts while sporting adequate capacity to tempt first time buyers—while still being economical enough to fit into all but the most miserly budgets. We have yet to see any solid state device that is competitive in all of these aspects at once, but that is precisely what OCZ aims to do with their newest Vertex model.


As expected, the physical appearance of this Vertex 4 is exactly the same as the higher capacity models. Unless you pay close attention to the label, you won’t be able to distinguish its black and silver exterior from that of the 512GB model. Only the interior components differentiate the two drives. The one issue we have with the exterior design is that the top half of the case is made from plastic and not metal. This is a less than optimal choice, but considering the downright reasonable price point of the 128GB model, it is more acceptable than it was with the much more expensive 512GB Vertex 4.


We were expecting to see just eight NAND ICs attached to the PCB and so were pleasantly surprised to see all 16 slots filled with Intel-branded, 3K-erase-cycle ONFi 2 NAND ICs. With a few exceptions, eight NAND chips are less efficient than 16 and such a configuration usually results in lower small file performance. Given the lower density of these chips, there will still be a reduction in performance when compared against the 512GB model, but it could have been much worse.


Much like the number of NAND ICs surprised us, so too did the number of RAM chips the Vertex 4 128GB comes equipped with. Unlike the 512GB model, which has a full 1GB of RAM, the 128GB makes use of only half this amount. Thus, we were expecting only one DDR3 ram chip on the PCB instead of the two 256MB modules found on the Vertex 4 512GB. We assume this has been done to increase the efficiency of the device and allow the Indilinx Everest 2 controller to fully utilize the cache capacity offered.
 
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SKYMTL

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Introducing the Everest 2 Controller

Introducing the Everest 2 Controller


At its heart the Everest 2 controller is a 400Mhz dual core ARM based, multi-channel SATA 3 / 2 controller which features some very interesting technology, some of which bears more than a passing resemblance to SandForce’s key features. For example, SandForce has something called “DuraWrite” while the Everest 2 has “NDurance 2.0”. In its most basic form, NDurance 2.0 is an advanced NAND flash management suite designed to radically extend the life of the NAND cells and your data. NDurance first made an appearance in the Everest 1 controller but has had its abilities refined and upgraded in the new second generation Everest controller.

This life extension takes the form of various different techniques, the first of which is extremely advanced multi-level, BCH Error Correction Code. Much like the SandForce SF2281 controller makes use of 55 bits of ECC per 512 bytes of data, the Everest 2 has 128bits worth of ECC per 1 Kilobyte of data. The controller’s progressive error correction capabilities are not fixed and can be adapted to the specific error characteristics of different NAND used in different runs, batches and even types. The end result is that the chances of your data being corrupted on any Everest 2 controller based drive –regardless of NAND type used - are greatly reduced as the ECC routines will be finely tuned to maximize data retention abilities of the NAND it is paired with.


Advanced ECC is only one part of NDurance 2.0 equation and this controller also boasts Adaptive NAND Management and Signal Processing. ANM&SP means that it can apply both proprietary and vendor specific commands such as internal voltage shifting as well as sophisticated signal processing techniques during read, write and erase cycles. These cutting edge commands and techniques extend the life of the NAND cells by being more “gentle” on them (ie use less voltage) while creating less disturbance of adjacent cells during highly stressful processes. As a result, NDurance 2.0 minimizes the physical deterioration of the NAND and helps maximize the potential lifespan of all the NAND’s cells.

The last feature of NDurance 2.0 is an optional feature not enabled on the Vertex 4 called RNA. RNA is much like the SandForce SF2281’s RAISE (Redundant Array of Independent Silicon Elements) since it is a distributed data safeguarding technique very similar to those found in a RAID array. Much like your typical RAID array, the Everest 2 controller can automatically generate parity data for each block and then stripe this data across multiple NAND blocks. If one block suffers a catastrophic failure - above and beyond what the ECC can handle - the controller can still recover the data via this second layer of protection.

Also like SandForce SF2281 controller, the Everest 2 controller makes use of auto-encryption with 256bit AES support. It is unknown if this encryption is an optional feature or even if it is enabled on the Vertex 4 as this is an enterprise-centric item not required for the average home user or enthusiast.


While some features bear a striking resemblance to those included in SandForce controllers, the Everest 2 isn’t a copycat since it does some very basic things in radically different ways. The biggest difference is the fact that this controller doesn’t do any compression on the data before writing to the NAND. While OCZ states emphatically that the Everest 2 has greatly reduced write amplification they don’t explain exactly what the write amplification is beyond being low. In all likelihood it is higher than SandForce’s .6x, but OCZ is so sure of this controller’s abilities that - unlike the Vertex 3’s three year warranty- the Vertex 4 will come with a five year standard warranty.

By not first compressing the data, the Everest 2 boasts equally good performance for both compressible and incompressible data types. This is a major boon to consumers used to SandForce drives which incur a rather large performance penalty when dealing with already compressed data such as MP3s or video. This directly impacts performance and in the case of the Everest 2 helps it attain an unheard of maximum rating of 120,000 IOP/s.

The other benefit to not compressing all data is there is no need for the massive over-provisioning which SandForce drives require. In the case of the Vertex 4 128GB model, this is 8GB of extra space you will have compared to a 120GB Vertex 3 drive. Of course, with zero over-provisioning, if enough NAND blocks die your drive will be in serious trouble as there will no “free” blocks to seamlessly take their place.

In addition to the aforementioned items the Everest 2 has another trick up its sleeve: its TLC NAND abilities. Triple Level Cell NAND is an interesting new technology which promises to make multi-Terabyte solid state drives not only a possibility but economically viable. TLC NAND is unproven and does come with a unique set of disadvantages but its inclusion does prove that the Everest 2 has been designed to work with as large and varied an array of NAND types as possible.

When taken as a whole the Everest 2 seems to be a capable high performance controller that’s more adaptable than any of its direct or indirect Indilinx predecessors.
 

SKYMTL

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a 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 & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed 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 Windows 7 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 Kingston HyperX 240GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

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

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase, Intel Toolbox or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.


Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Kingston HyperX 240GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB: 2.2
OCZ Vertex 3 MI 240GB: 2.2
Patriot Pyro SE 240GB: 3.3.2
Crucial M4 256GB: 000F
Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 120GB: 5.0.2
Intel 520: 400i
OCZ Vertex 4 512GB: 1.5
OCZ Vertex 4 128GB: 1.5
 

SKYMTL

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HD Tach was used. It shows the highest read speeds you are likely to experience with these drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst Speed readings and thus no longer include them. The most important number is the Average Speed value, which 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.



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; only then will it allow you to run the test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities, HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, exposing any potential weaknesses.


As expected, the sequential read and write performance of this drive is not much different from that of its larger siblings. It may be slightly lower, but the performance is still very, very good.
 

SKYMTL

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO Disk Benchmark tests the drive’s read and write speeds using gradually larger file sizes. For these tests, ATTO 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 generates an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.



The read and write performance of the Vertex 128GB model is very good, if a touch low in places. The power curve’s rather jagged lines could highlight the still unrefined nature of the firmware, but these will—in all likelihood—be smoothed out via further updates. In any case, this lower capacity drive still doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of performance to meet its significantly reduced asking price.
 

SKYMTL

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CrystalDiskMark / PCMark 7

CrystalDiskMark


CrystalDiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows you to set the number of test iterations to run as it measures sequential and random read/write speeds. We left the number of tests at five and the size at 100MB.



While there is a noticeable difference in performance between the 512GB and 128GB versions, the “smaller” Vertex does retain the majority of its larger sibling’s performance. Considering how much less you’re paying for it, these benchmark numbers are quite impressive.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. This consists of numerous tests that attempt to 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 assessed in the core tests. However, since we don’t consider this anything other than just another synthetic benchmark, we have opted to include only the overall score and not the individual test results.


Though a difference of 472 points between two drives in the same lineup is significant, these results are still excellent and much improved over what most previous 128GB models were capable of. When even a 120GB Toggle Mode NAND-equipped SF2281 drive seems slow in comparison, you can be pretty sure that you’re looking at one of the better drives in the budget marketplace.
 

SKYMTL

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AS SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS SSD


AS SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows the measurement of sequential and 4K read/write speeds, as well as 4K read/write speeds at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test SSDs, AS SSD does run on all storage mediums; it just takes a long time to run on mechanical drives, as each test reads or writes a full gigabyte of data.



As with CrystalDiskMark, the 128GB Vertex 4 does score noticeably lower than the 512GB in AS SSD. This is of course because of the lower density NAND, which just isn’t as capable as the higher density memory found in the bigger drive. Nevertheless, the results are still very, very good and more inline with what we have seen from previous 240GB models.


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


Much like AS SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and accurately test your drives. While it is still in beta stages, it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read and write scenarios, but two in particular stand out for us: 4K at a queue depth of 4, and 4K at a queue depth of 16. A queue depth of 4 along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario, while a depth of 16 will likely be encountered only by power users or in enterprise workloads. We have also included the 4K queue depth 1 results to help put these other two numbers in perspective. All settings were left in their default states, and the test size was set to 1GB.



Once again there is a moderate performance loss associated with using lower capacity NAND but it isn’t all that significant.
 

SKYMTL

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IOMeter

IOMeter


IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more end-user-centric we will be generating and judging the results of Iometer a little bit differently. To test each drive we did five test runs per HDD (at 1, 4, 16, 64, and 128 queue depths). Each test has eight parts, and each part lasts 10 minutes with an additional 20-second ramp-up. The eight subparts are set to run 100% random, 80% read, 20% write and to test 512b, 1K, 2K, 4K, 8K, 16K, 32K, and 64K chunks of data. When each test is finished, Iometer spits out a report in which each subtest is given a score in I/Os per second (IOPS). We then take these eight values, add them together, and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for each particular queue depth that is more weighted toward a single-user environment.

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Vertex4_128/iom.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

The rather large reduction in performance we are seeing here is only partially because of the lower capacity NAND. We suspect that the majority of the deficit comes from the lower cache capacity. IOMeter is extremely tough on a drive, and with only half the amount of RAM to help compensate, the Indilinx Everest 2 controller in the Vertex 4 120GB starts to lag. Equally obvious is that while the new firmware has done remarkable things to the overall performance envelope, the firmware still feels a bit immature. We're sure OCZ will continue to roll out enhancements as time goes on.
 

SKYMTL

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Windows 7 Start-Up / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start-Up w/Boot Time A/V Scan Performance


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. Where Windows 7 has become nearly ubiquitous for solid state drive enthusiasts, we have chosen Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit as our OS. In previous load time tests, we would use the anti-virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer sufficient. We have not only added a secondary anti-virus tool to load on startup but also an anti-malware program. Super Anti-Spyware has been set to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up, and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.



Results like this highlight how good a drive this new budget-friendly Vertex 4 128GB is. Yes, the 128GB comes in a few seconds slower than the 512GB model, but it is still noticeably faster than any 120/128GB SSD we have seen to date. In fact, it gives 240/256GB drives a real run for their money.


Adobe CS5 Load Time


Photoshop is a notoriously slow-loading program under the best of circumstances. The latest version actually shows a pretty decent improvement in load times, but when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the like, you get a torture test that can bring even the best I/O subsystems to their knees.


Once again we are seeing this model post numbers that belie its low asking price. It really can hold its own against the Toggle Mode 120GB drives and even compete with “true” enthusiast-grade 240GB models. The Vertex 4 may not cost much, but it definitely doesn’t act like a cheap drive.
 

SKYMTL

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Firefox Portable Offline / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is known for being slow at loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of few scenarios more taxing than having 100 tabs set to reload on Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting the browser to reload the last session upon next session start, and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to recreate a worst case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it a simple matter to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repeatability, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up to a .rar file and then extracted it to the test device.



As with the IOMeter results, the Vertex 4 128GB does stumble a bit when the heat is turned way, way up. This decrease in performance is because of the smaller cache and not just from the lower density NAND. Still, this drive is easily able to outperform competitors’ 120/128GB models. It is only when you compare it against the 512GB Vertex 4 that any performance difference becomes apparent.


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like Iometer or PCMark is, it can’t tell you how your hard drive will truly perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks endeavor to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s capabilities. To this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how benchmark performance relates to real-life use. In our Large File Copy test, we transfer a 10GB contiguous file. Our Small File Copy test transfers a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200MB to 100KB (10GB total).

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




The large file transfer speed of this drive is just as good as anything we have seen to date. The rather minor difference between it and any other enthusiast grade SSD is not going to be noticeable unless you have access to a fearsomely quick device like the Intel 910 or OCZ RevoDrive 3 x2. Otherwise, the other storage device will be the performance bottleneck rather than the Vertex 4 128GB.

Unfortunately, the small file transfer speed is a tad slow but still very respectable for a 128GB drive and when you consider the drive’s low asking price, these results more than just respectable. Honestly, they are so good that OCZ may have just squeezed their Agility series into a much smaller market niche.
 

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