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OCZ Vertex 4 512GB SSD Review

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AkG

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OCZ’s Vertex series has long stood out as a trendsetter within the SSD market and the new Vertex 4 is looking to continue this winning tradition. Considering how well received the original Vertex and its two follow-up drives -the Vertex 2 and Vertex 3- were received, there are certainly some big boots to fill.

Back in 2009 OCZ first wowed us with their first Vertex 120GB and with good reason: it provided revolutionary, genre-defining performance in a compact yet oh so expensive package. Not only did it go on to sales success but this one product helped make Indilinx (back then, an almost unknown controller manufacturer) into a veritable household name. Unfortunately, while the Indilinx Barefoot controller which powered that first OCZ Vertex was indeed powerful, its successor foundered on the rocks and shoals of product development. This meant OCZ along with their competitors had to look elsewhere when the time came to choose a controller for their follow up products. This search eventually brought most into a close relationship with Sandforce’s SF1200 and then SF2281 controllers and to this day, SandForce remains a dominant player in the SSD product space. But then, last year, OCZ turned the game on its head by acquiring Indilinx and bringing the lion’s share of controller and firmware development in house.


Ever since the close bond between Indilinx and OCZ was forged, the enthusiast community has watched and waited for what we all knew was coming: the real return of Indilinx controllers. While the “Indilinx Infused” Everest 1 controller which powers the OCZ Octane looked like a step forward, it simply a first test of the relationship between two industry heavyweights. This all changes with the release of the all new Vertex 4 512GB drive and with it the newly minted Indilinx Infused Everest 2 controller. Just as importantly, the Vertex 4 marks the return of true competition in the enthusiast market; a marketplace which has gone stagnant due to an massive influx of almost exclusively SandForce-equipped drives. Even Intel decided to go the SandForce route with their 520-series.


With its black and silver color scheme, the exterior of the Vertex 4 is not all that different from past Vertex models. OCZ has truly done away with the all metal cases and has opted for a plastic and metal case for their new flagship model. As we have said in the past, this is perfect acceptable when dealing with entry level / budget models, but we would have much rather seen an all-metal cladding on a flagship drive.


Speaking of flagship status, be prepared to pony up a good amount of coin if the Vertex 4 series interests you but that isn’t to say that you will be paying a premium for it over some of the other solutions on the market. Take its closest competitor for example: Intel’s Cherryville 520 lineup starts around $185 for the 120GB version, the 240GB goes to $350 and if money is only a word to you, be prepared to pony up $800 for the 480GB version.

While there are other drives out there and the Intel example may be the most extreme, it does bring up several good points. First and foremost is the over-provisioning required by Sandforce-based drives which isn’t required with the new Everest 2 controller. This translates into additional capacity across the whole Vertex 4 product range. In addition, OCZ has brought back their 5 year warranty, effectively matching Intel’s offerings.


The layout of the various components may indeed be very odd compared to Vertex 3 – or nearly any SandForce SF2281-based drive – but the overall architecture is very similar, albeit with one or two major points of convergence. There are 16 NAND ICs populating the PCB’s 16 circuit slots alongside a large Indilinx branded IDX400M00-BC –aka Everest 2 - controller chip. To help cool this large chip OCZ includes a heat pad which allows the metal half of the chassis to act as a large heatsink to disperse any latent temperature buildups.

There is also a pair of 512MB Micron branded DDR3 -1600 SDRAM IC's for a whopping 1GB of cache. This is the twice the amount of cache you will find inside an Everest 1 “Octane” 512GB drive and is the largest amount of cache we have ever heard of gracing an SSD with a single controller. This should help with ensuring the rest of the architecture doesn’t slow down the ultra powerful controller.


The total number of NAND ICs is no different than what you will find in any other massive capacity enthusiast grade solid state drive and the NAND’s quality is second to none as well. To be precise these are Intel Branded ONFi 2 NAND chips and are indeed very high performance chips that feature exceptionally low failure rates.
 
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AkG

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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 512GB model, this is 32GB of extra space you will have compared to a 480GB 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.
 
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AkG

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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 or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Please note:
Due to the unique nature of this hybrid setup certain tests have been omitted as they require an unformatted drive to test or gave erroneous results.

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: 2.1.5
OCZ Vertex 3 MI 240GB: 2.1.5
Corsair Force 3 GT 120GB: 1.3.3
Crucial M4 256GB: 0009
Mushkin Chronos 120GB: 3.3.2
Intel 520: 400i
Patriot Pyro 120GB: 3.3.2
OCZ Vertex 4 512GB: 5.10.31
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


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 thus we no longer included it. The most 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.


In terms of sequential read performance the Vertex 4 and its Everest 2 controller are able to match blows with the best Sandforce has to offer. Unfortunately, merely matching the performance of a controller which has been on the market for as long as the SF2281 is not what we would classify as a ringing endorsement.


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.


The sequential write performance is once again exactly what you would expect from a drive costing as much as this one does: it is simply great. However, just like with read performance it just couldn't beat higher end SandForce drives. This is the first time we have not seen large improvements from one generation to the next. Hopefully, this is because A) sequential performance is less important than small file performance and B) the SATA rev 3 interface is the bottleneck and not the controller.
 
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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.





The power curves of this new drive and its new controller certainly are interesting. The write performance is exactly what we want to see from a next generation controller since it dominates its predecessors on the low end. Sadly, it appears that the same can'tt be said of the read performance curve. While it not precisely lackluster per se these numbers are not anywhere close what's expected of a new flagship model. Hopefully, this is simply a case of immature firmware and not an underlying long term performance issue with the Everest 2 controller.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

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.




The Vertex 4's results here are interesting to say the least since they show a different set of strengths and weaknesses than the SandForce-based products. The Everest 2 controller combined with ONFi 2 NAND is one potent combination and posts some 4K write numbers which have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, while the write performance of the Vertex 4 is very good, read performance at single queue depths seems to suffer a bit.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous 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 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.


With a result of nearly 5800 points the Vertex 4 is the best performing drive we have reviewed to date. Hopefully, this is indicative of what to expect from the Vertex 4 in real world orientated tasks as synthetic benchmarks only tell half –at best – the story.
 
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AkG

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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 to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.





As with Crystal DiskMark, the performance of the Vertex 4 is impressive but its profile is totally different than any other drive we have seen. Again, it is truly amazing to see what this drive can do with small file data type tests.


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


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




Once again we are seeing some impressive synthetic test results which show that the Vertex 4 has a capable and adaptable controller architecture. However, while it does beat all other drives, some of the differences are not precisely what we would call overly large. Rather than dominating, it is more of a case of improving upon already great levels of performance the previous generation has to offer. It is also becoming readily apparent that somewhere between a queue depth of 4 and 16 this drive tends to stumble and loses ground to SF2281 based drives.
 
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AkG

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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 setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,3xk,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.




Based on all tests so far - including IOMeter- it does appear that the underlying technology truly is powerful and with merit. Even the best SandForce SF2281 drives are simply unable to match what this new Everest 2 based drive can accomplish. However, IOMeter's wide variety of tests really do show how the Vertex 4 can stretch its legs in certain situations.
 
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AkG

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Windows 7 Start Up / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up with 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 64bit Ultimate as our Operating System. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.



While the Vertex 4 is only barely able to beat the –previously- best drives in our charts, with some further firmware refinement we can only see this gap widening. After all, those older drives firmware have been optimized over many revisions, whereas this new controller’s existing firmware is only the starting point upon which the Vertex 4's firmware team will build.


Adobe CS5 Load Time


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!



This is bar none the best consumer orientated drive we have ever seen, particularly in this benchamrk. When both Toggle Mode NAND and custom firmware equipped versions of the SF2281 drives are slower, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it: the Vertex 4 simply raises the bar of what an enthusiast grade device can and should do.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Offline / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

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




While the Everest 2 based Vertex 4 512GB does post great numbers and is able beat the previous generation’s “best of the best”, this level of performance does not drastically improve upon what the best SF2281 drives have to offer.


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 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.






Once again we see two results that are completely at odds with one another. On one hand the large file copy results really aren't all that impressive but the all important small file performance is leaps and bounds better than the competition.
 
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