Date: May 27, 2013
Author(s): Robert Tanner
Recently, OCZ began simplifying its SSD product line quite significantly in order to make the decision-making process easier for consumers. This was also encouraged by the fact that even budget models today offer some great performance. OCZ’s Vertex 3.20 targets that market, replacing the Agility and Vertex 3. Is it a worthy successor?
As enjoyable or impressive as the most powerful SSDs can be, the reality is that any modern budget SSD has reached the point where it is more than fast enough to deliver considerable performance gains over hard disk drives, even including 10,000 RPM performance drives. If we took a system and asked someone to identify which kind of SSD is housed inside without using benchmarking software or any identification tools, odds are they won’t have any idea whether it was a low-cost SSD or a flagship model housed inside.
That brings us to the Vertex 3.20 SSD. The 3.20 is an updated Vertex 3 model featuring the latest firmware, while replacing the 25nm MLC NAND with the latest 20nm IMFT NAND (hence the name). The new NAND is marginally slower but offers cost savings that will allow prices to keep trending downwards. The Vertex 3.20 maintains the same black chrome metal base and plastic cover of the V3, and similarly features one green and red status LED. The red LED will only come own when the SSD firmware detects a fault, while the green LED simply indicates power status.
|OCZ Technology Solid-State Drives|
|Vertex 3.20||Vertex 3|
|NAND||20nm IMFT MLC||25nm IMFT MLC|
|Sequential Read||550 MB/s||550 MB/s|
|Sequential Write||520 MB/s||500 MB/s||520 MB/s|
|Random Read (IOPS)||20K||35K||20K||40K|
|Random Write (IOPS)||40K||65K||60K|
The Vertex 3 was once OCZ’s flagship model SSD in of itself, so other than the change in NAND the 3.20 retains that pedigree. As such the 3.20 remains a SandForce-powered SSD, meaning performance will vary depending on the compressibility of the data being written. The 3.20 will be replacing the discontinued Vertex 3 drives, with street prices currently at $129 for the 120GB model and $259 for the 240GB model.
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate and real-world applicable as possible. We list most of the steps and processes involved in setting up and conducting our benchmarking process below, but in the interests of brevity we can’t mention every last detail. If there is any pertinent information that we’ve inadvertently omitted or you have any thoughts, suggestions, or critiques, then please feel free to email us or post directly in our forums. This site exists for readers like you and we value your input.
The table below lists the hardware used in our current storage-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all of our testing, with the obvious exception of the storage device. Each drive used for the sake of comparison is also listed here.
|Techgage Solid-State Drive Test System|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-2600 – 3.80GHz (Locked) Quad-Core|
|Motherboard||ASUS P8P67 Deluxe|
|Memory||4GB Kingston DDR3-2133|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 5770|
|Storage||Hitachi 7200RPM 2TB Hard Drive
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB
Crucial m4 256GB
Intel 335 Series 180GB
Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB
Kingston SSDNow V300 240GB
OCZ Vector 256GB
OCZ Vertex 3.20 128GB
OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
|Power Supply||Antec NeoHE 550W|
|Et cetera||Dell 2407WFP (1920×1200)
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit
Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing
When preparing our SSD testbed for benchmarking we follow these guidelines:
Windows 7 Optimizations
For our new Sandy Bridge storage testbed we have migrated to using test images for our drives. All drives are imaged with the cloned test image to ensure all drivers, programs, and settings remain identical for testing purposes. We feel disk cloning software and SSD controller technology has matured to the point where potential issues such as non-aligned sectors are no longer a potential issue.
For testing, we run all tests five times dropping the highest and lowest results, then take the average of the middle three. And who said that college statistics class wouldn’t prove useful? If any anomalous results are seen the test will be run again. Given the complexities of modern computers, and especially today’s operating systems and the software that runs on them, we feel this provides the most accurate results possible.
Finally, we are seeking to constantly improve and expand upon our SSD testing methodology. We are always actively seeking real-world workload scenarios that are bottlenecked by hard drives, so if you have any suggestions whatsoever or there is a program you would like to see included in our SSD content, then please drop by our forums and let us know! We are always looking to expand our SSD benchmarks and provide more useful and real-world results, and not just synthetic numbers.
Futuremark’s PCMark benchmarking suite should need no introduction; it has been a staple of PC benchmarks for the better half of a decade. It includes over 25 individual workloads designed to measure all aspects of system performance and gives individual scores in each test as well as an overall system performance score for easy system comparisons.
PCMark 7 offers a more accurate measure of performance as compared to its predecessor, PCMark Vantage. The storage scoring metrics especially were significantly re-tuned and optimized with SSDs in mind to give a more balanced disk subsystem score.
For easy comparison, it’s worth noting the Kingston V300, HyperX, and the Intel 335 each utilize the same underlying SandForce controller, although only the V300 is a budget model.
The Vertex 3.20 edges out the V300 in the overall PCmark score by a single point, but slots in behind it once we turn to the storage system score. Gaming has always been a strong suit for SandForce controllers, which is probably why the 3.20 does well in the gaming subtest.
Originally developed by Intel – and since given to the open-source community – Iometer (pronounced “eyeawmeter”, like thermometer) is one of the best storage-testing applications available, for a couple of reasons. The first, and primary, is that it’s completely customizable, and if you have a specific workload you need to test a drive with, you can easily accomplish it here. Secondly, it bypasses the Windows disk subsystem entirely, meaning it bypasses the OS drivers and writes directly to the storage media. This has important implications, such as it means Windows 7 cannot correctly align Iometer to match the SSD or HDD sector alignment.
We have updated our test suite to the latest stable 1.10 rc1 build of Iometer, which was released in December, 2010. This version makes some changes to be aware of; specifically, it gives the option for three types of data sets used during testing. 2006 and earlier versions used a pseudo-random dataset for testing, while the 1.10 build will default to a “repeating bytes” test pattern. A full random test mode was also added. To avoid giving SandForce drives an unfair advantage (they rely on data compression to achieve their performance), we will stick to the pseudo-random test pattern for all of our testing.
We have configured Iometer for correct 4KB disk alignment using a single 8GB test file from within Windows, meaning they are acting as the host OS drive with no other drives in the system. We run individual random 4KB read and write tests at a queue depth of 3 and again at 32. Then we run the 128KB sequential read & write tests using a queue depth of 1. In addition, all drives are in a dirty state prior to testing – this means results will not be comparable to advertised manufacturer results. Our goal is to measure end-user performance under real-world conditions, and so our testing reflects typical SSD performance after it has been used for some length of time in a system. Each test pattern is run for 5 minutes to achieve an average result.
In addition, we have created three Iometer disk usage scenarios that should roughly approximate database, file server, and workstation usage patterns. These scenarios are run individually for 10 minutes each within an 8GB file on the drive, which is an unusually harsh scenario for any sort of SSD. Drives that are able to offer better sustained performance over time and those that favor certain file size accesses will do well here. All three tests are configured for a queue depth of 32 to show which drives are best capable of dealing with heavy workload scenarios.
“IOPS” is simply the measure of performance relative to a certain disk access size, specifically 4KB or 512 bytes, or any size desired. Typically with SSDs when speaking about IOPS it is referred to on the assumption of 4KB accesses. With this in mind, it is easy to convert between IOPS and MB/s. Iometer provides both types of results to us and for the sake of concise graphs, brevity, and easily understandable results, we have elected to use MB/s for the 4KB and 128KB tests. For reference: IOPS = (MBps Throughput / KB per IO) * 1024 and MBps = (IOPS * KB per IO) / 1024.
Iometer is a test that will push any SSD to its limits just to find out what they are. The 3.20 performs as expected with 4KB read scores similar to the V300, although sequential write performance is unusually high, surpassing half of the drives in our first chart. Write performance is more in line with what we should be seeing, with performance across the board nearly identical to the HyperX and V300 both.
The Vertex 3.20 slots in at the tail-end of the pack when it comes to our three workload scenarios, but interestingly is still able to significantly outperform the well-regarded Crucial m4 in all three workloads. In the database test, results are over three times those of the m4, while in the workstation test, results are again doubled over the m4.
As the name implies, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for solid-state drives. It can still be run on a mechanical hard drive just for fun, but be warned: what takes a few minutes on an SSD will require the better part of an hour on an HDD! It is freely available for download here.
This handy tool measures sequential reads and writes in addition to the important 4KB random reads and writes, then ranks the results with a final score for quick comparison with other SSDs. In addition to the main test there is a secondary benchmark that simulates the type of data transferred for ISO, Program, and Game files. We selected this program for its precision, ability to generate large file sizes on-the-fly, and because it is written to bypass Windows 7′s automatic caching system.
Second only to Iometer, AS SSD is one of the best tools for distinguishing between multiple SSDs while providing a scoring system for easier, quicker comparisons that anyone can run for themselves. One thing to note is that AS SSD does use incompressible data for its testing, which is a worst-case scenario for SandForce drives such as the 3.20 we are testing here.
The 3.20 performs well-enough without any single points of contention, but more importantly remains a close second to other budget SSDs in the AS SSD tests. Interestingly, access latency is slightly on the higher side with the 3.20, although this is normal with SandForce controllers in general.
HD Tune is still primarily an HDD benchmark, but we include it as an alternative for those consumers that prefer it for one reason or another. The free version does not perform write tests, but otherwise is available for free here.
HD Tune has always differed from AS SSD in its results, and this time is no different. The Vertex 3.20 is able to deliver a burst read speed on par with the best and delivers average performance on par with other SSDs, although it does post a lower minimum performance of 158.9MB/s.
HD Tune does utilize compressible data which is likely why random transfer performance is good for the 3.20, placing it in the upper half of the chart.
Finally, we reach the first of our real-world tests where there are no unusual testing or scoring algorithms to leave us scratching our heads, just simple tests to see how an SSD changes actual system performance.
For the File Transfer test we took a 4.5GB compressed archive and measured how much time was required to transfer the file to another folder on the same drive. Keep in mind that with a hard disk, this requires the actuator arm to seek back and forth between the source and destination sectors on the disk platter, with the destination sectors often not sequentially aligned. In contrast, any SSD can concurrently perform read and write operations simultaneously on any NAND chip without regard to spatial considerations of bits strewn randomly around a disk platter, which gives them a large advantage here.
The 20nm NAND appears to be coming into play here, with the 3.20 posting results five seconds behind the V300.
Either you’ve heard of FLAC, or it is an integral part of your digital life. But iTunes and Apple devices do not support FLAC files, leaving those with discerning ears forced to use Apple’s Lossless codec. dBpoweramp makes it possible to convert between them utilizing as many threads as are available to the system.
In this test, we take 10 albums amounting to 4GB of FLAC files and convert them to Apple’s lossless format. This creates exactly 3.96GB of new data. This scenario is even more applicable for those users with six or more physical CPU cores available, because as the core count increases, the more the storage system will become the actual bottleneck. Our test rig is limited to only a quad-core processor, but even then we can see clear differences amongst the various contenders.
The sequential read and write performance of the new NAND again comes into play, with the 3.20 posting results just a few seconds behind the V300.
Real-world results are surprisingly hard to come by when testing SSDs. It is extremely easy to showcase just how much faster any SSD on the market is compared to even a modern mechanical disk drive. However, when we try to compare SSD to SSD, differences can amount to just a few seconds or even a fraction of a second, often well inside the margin of error (and human reflexes), making any results obtained meaningless.
We are always eager to hear about any demanding storage workloads our readers may have, but in an effort to get around this problem, we have put together three batch test files that target three levels of intensity.
Firstly we have our light batch file, which we drop into the Windows Startup folder. Windows 7 will execute and load various programs and commands as it boots, making it perhaps the most easily pertinent of our three tests. Almost everyone has an array of programs that starts with their OS, ranging from background applications like anti-virus to programs like a browser or music player.
This batch file will load four websites in Firefox, start Photoshop CS5 and load five 5MB or greater images, and load 15MB of data in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents. Several background utilities will also load; a PDF file and compressed file are opened for viewing, and of course, since nobody likes to work without listening to some music, we have our favorite 56MB FLAC file playing the entire time. Obviously, all of this takes place while Windows 7 itself is still loading. We start timing from the moment the machine is powered on to the moment the last program finishes loading – and it isn’t as long as you might think. (We provide raw cold boot times on the next page for direct comparison).
Our medium batch test is similar although we apply the use of timers to space apart the commands. Instead of booting, time begins from the moment we execute the batch file until the moment all tasks have completed. The medium test also consists of the following:
To keep things simple, the heavy batch test is identical to the medium test in all respects, save for one important addition. Computer users coming from HDDs will be familiar with the slowdown or even molasses-like feeling that occurs from having an anti-virus or anti-malware scan running in the background. SSDs scoff at this sort of thing however, and the typical SSD user wouldn’t think twice about running an anti-virus scan at the same time as playing a fullscreen game since framerates will remain relatively unaffected.
The heavy test will capitalize on this by running an anti-virus scan from Microsoft Security Essentials on a static, unchanging 5.1GB test folder that contains 19,748 files and 2,414 sub-folders copied from the Program Files directory. Also worth noting is that because the medium and heavy batch tests are identical save for the AV scan, results between them are directly comparable.
Light batch boot times are on par with the 3.20, delivering fast boot and application load times. Moving up to the medium test the 3.20 slips to last place, two seconds behind the budget V300. Curiously, the 3.20 is able to surpass not just the V300 but also the m4 once we move to the most-demanding heavy batch run, placing at 122 seconds or just 11 seconds behind the Intel 335 SSD.
For the boot test, we perform a cold boot with the stopwatch starting the moment the power button is pressed until the last systray icon has finished loading. A large number of factors can change how fast a computer starts; whether the motherboard uses a BIOS or the newer UEFI; if a RAID controller has to be initialized; to delay timers or other motherboard optimizations. In other words, individual results will vary depending on the system hardware.
Obviously, our P67 motherboard is the bottleneck at this point; it takes more than just fast storage to quick-boot a system! It just goes to show, when considering purchasing an SSD other factors such as the motherboard age or age of the laptop negate some of the performance advantages of higher-end SSDs.
SSDs deliver some of the most benefits to games. Not only can the game load significantly faster so users can hurry up and wait to get through various advertisement screens, but they also boost level or map load times. For games where player immersion into the new world is important, the difference between 15 and 25 seconds can seem huge when waiting for the next part of the level or world to load.
For our new regimen we chose Portal 2 and Civilization V. Portal 2 is already a very well optimized game, but it’s immersive, so we time how long it takes to load the sp_a2.bts6 custscene. With Civilization V‘s recent overhaul to game storage files to help decrease load times, and the new option to disable the intro movie trailer, it becomes possible to time how long it takes to start the game.
Games have always liked SandForce drives, potentially due to the large amounts of compressible data that are involved. Performance of the Vertex 3.20 puts it directly in the middle of the pack if wishing to quibble over milliseconds. Again, this is one test where it doesn’t matter if one uses a budget SSD or the most expensive SSD – either one will deliver considerable performance gains over a hard disk drive. The adoption of an SSD means either the CPU or the GPU becomes the next bottleneck for game performance.
At Techgage, we have been longtime proponents of SSD adoption; there just isn’t any other component that can deliver the same increase in system performance and system responsiveness as switching the OS drive to a solid-state one. Replacing a five-year-old Core i7-920 with a Core i7-4770K will save on power and make for a faster system, but it still won’t deliver the bump in OS and program responsiveness that is felt during everyday use of a desktop or laptop. I’d recommend checking out Brett’s recent editorial which talks about this in good detail.
The Vertex 3.20 only ships in a 9mm 2.5” form factor, so it may not be compatible with all laptops. Both capacities do not include additional software nor a 3.5” bay adapter, which while simplifying product models is still something to keep aware of. All OCZ owners will of course have access to OCZ’s Toolbox program for SSD Smart info and general health monitoring of the company’s drives.
OCZ’s Vertex 3.20 is a nice modernization to the SandForce family. As opposed to the V3 or Agility 3 models still plentiful on the market, when it comes to the 3.20 users will be sure at a glance that they are getting the latest SandForce firmware when adopting one of these drives. The Vertex 3 at one point was a flagship model, so it is great to see it brought back into a cost efficient market as the 3.20. It isn’t going to be leading any benchmarks but nor is it designed to. Performance-wise it performs on par with other similar budget SSDs, making it an attractive alternative if the price is right.
That said, the pricing currently makes any sort of recommendation cumbersome. Currently, the 120GB model starts at $130 and the 240GB at $260. Not only does this place them above similar budget models but pits the 3.20 directly against mid-range and higher end drives. For example, the V300 (our review) is $25 cheaper, and even performance SSDs such as the Neutron GTX (our review) are $5-10 cheaper.
Odder still is that for the 240GB model, it is priced completely out of the market, and has been for several months according to the pricing engine camel. The 240GB 3.20 is priced $20 above Intel’s 335 (our review), and Intel drives typically commend their own price premiums. Even OCZ’s own Vertex 450 series, which will debut as upper-midrange drives, will launch at the same price or, in the case of the 240GB model, will launch $25 less than the 240GB 3.20. Probably most amusing is that OCZ’s own flagship, the Vector, costs less than the 240GB 3.20 at most retailers. However, all of that said, market prices do fluctuate and we suspect at a future date after this writing the 3.20 will regain competitive pricing.
OCZ’s Vertex 3.20 is a welcome replacement to the venerable Vertex 3 and Agility 3 models, delivering good performance for a budget model while giving consumers a single product instead of a myriad of models to choose from. It is impressive to remember that the Vertex 3 first launched as OCZ’s flagship SSD two years ago and today consumers can get that level of performance from even a budget model SSD. Once the prices align with the current market, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Vertex 3.20 as one potential candidate when looking for an affordable solid-state drive.
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