Date: June 2, 2010
Author(s): Robert Tanner
Are you interested in equipping yourself with one of the fastest SSD’s on the planet? If so, then OCZ’s Vertex 2 is the one you want to keep an eye on. Thanks to its tweaked SandForce SF-1200 controller, the Vertex 2 is the fastest SSD we’ve ever tested, dominating almost every single one of our tests.
It has been a long time coming, but today we can add one of, if not the current absolute best of solid-state drives to our ever growing database of SSD results. OCZ’s Vertex 2 shouldn’t need any introduction by now, but this drive is the official version of the OCZ Vertex Limited Edition model, and a successor to the original Vertex series.
OCZ does plan to continue selling the Vertex series alongside the Vertex 2, which we are very glad to hear. Needless to say with this pedigree price is not a primary concern, this drive is simply all about performance. Enthusiasts concerned with getting the best value should consider the original Vertex series. Thanks to the SandForce SF-1200 powering this drive combined with OCZ’s tweaked firmware, the Vertex 2 has no qualm flaunting its remarkable performance.
As a short recap, the only genuine competitor to SandForce has been the Crucial RealSSD C300 which combines a Marvell controller with a customized firmware. If that sounds familiar it might be because Western Digital took a similar approach by taking a JMicron controller and trashed the firmware in favor using its own in-house design in the SiliconEdge Blue series. Even so, those drives are nowhere near the same performance class as OCZ’s Vertex 2 or the RealSSD C300.
Indilinx isn’t sitting still either, with the past success of its Barefoot controller (which powered the original Vertex, no less), it is hard at work developing its next generation controller known as the “Jet Stream”, but so far little else is known and a launch date is still far enough into the future to not be worth waiting for if you are already in the market for a high-performance SSD.
This leaves the RealSSD C300 as the Vertex 2’s only performance-comparable competition, but unfortunately for Crucial (a subsidiary of Micron) the picture hasn’t been as rosy as current owners of the C300 can doubtlessly attest. We will expand on this more in the article’s conclusion when discussing our recommendations.
OCZ’s Vertex 2 solid-state drive is not very remarkable in appearance, but honestly we know it’s what is hidden inside the metal housing that really counts. What primarily differentiates the Vertex 2 from its slightly cheaper cousin (Agility 2) is that the V2 uses slightly better Micron NAND (The Agility 2 uses IMFT NAND) and a specially tweaked firmware to unlock the higher small random write capabilities that the SF-1200 is capable of achieving. Otherwise the Agility 2 is the same as the Vertex 2.
The drive packaging is solid and there should be zero issues with shipping these units. To our surprise there was one minor change from past OCZ packaging we immediately noticed, however. Tucked into the back of the foam housing is a steel mounting plate that serves as a 2.5″ to 3.5″ drive adapter. We think this is a nice touch and so far is the easiest adapter to use that we have seen included with any of the SSDs we have tested.
If all the Vertexes have left you feeling hexed, we put together a small table to sort them out. Prices on the original Vertex series have since come down (we have seen the 120GB Vertex Turbo as low as $280 on sale a few times!), but with the Vertex 2 things are once again a little more straight forward. Performance will be as good as the Vertex LE (if not better) as the firmware continues to be improved upon and updated. The Vertex 2 series is warrantied against failure for three years, which is comparable to most mechanical hard drives.
50, 100, 200, 400, 480
30, 60, 120, 250
Indilinx Barefoot (OC’d)
30, 60, 120
|Vertex Mac Edition|
30, 60, 120, 250
Indilinx Barefoot (LC)
|Vertex Limited Edition|
Speaking of firmware updates, we have confirmed with OCZ that all Agility 2 and Vertex 2 SSDs will receive a new firmware that reduces over-provisioning of SandForce drives. What this means is all current Vertex 2 and Agility 2 drive owners will get a jump in useable capacity on these drives. So for example the 100GB Vertex 2 would in effect become a 120GB Vertex 2, with no tangible loss in performance.
The short explanation is that all SSDs have more NAND capacity than advertised, as NAND capacity must always be a power of 2. (32GB, 64GB, 128GB, just like RAM). So today’s Vertex 2 really has 128GB of storage, but only 100GB was addressable by the end user. Increasing this limit to 120GB still leaves approximately 8GB of spare area for the drive to use for various purposes.
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 Hard Drive Test System
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 – 2.4GHz Quad-Core
4GB Corsair 800MHz CAS 4
Foxconn 8800 GTS 320MB
Intel X25-M G1 80GB
Kingston SSDNow V Series 40GB
Kingston SSDNow V Series 128GB
Kingston SSDNow V+ Series 128GB
OCZ Summit 60GB
OCZ Vertex Turbo 120GB
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue 256GB
PC Power & Cooling Quad Silencer 750W
Arctic Freezer 7 Pro
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing
When preparing our SSD testbed for testing we follow these guidelines:
All solid-state drives start in a factory fresh or HDDErase fresh state prior to testing. Windows 7 is manually installed and then SYSmark 2007 Preview is installed. Due to the nature of SYSmark, Windows 7 must be reinstalled upon completion of testing in order for many programs to function normally and benchmark consistently. As not all SSDs support TRIM technology, this process is important and ensures all of the drives are in a “dirtied” state before we collect the benchmark results.
For the time-being, cloned test images are not used as these can result in non-aligned partitions, which if it occurs will result in degraded SSD performance. Just as with Windows XP’s default sector offset causing degraded SSD performance, non-intelligent cloning software can have the same effect.
For testing, we ran all tests five times, dropping the highest and lowest results to finally average the middle three. And who said that college statistics class wouldn’t prove useful? If any anomalous results were seen, the test was run again. Given the complexities of modern computers, and especially today’s operating systems, 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 activity 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.
There are few PC enthusiasts who are unfamiliar with the name “Futuremark”, as the Finland-based developer has been producing quality benchmarks to help us gauge our computer’s worth for years. Originally known as Madonion, Futuremark has expanded its focus to go beyond its bread and butter, graphics and gaming, and tackle other areas, such as full system performance. That’s where PCMark comes into play.
The company’s most recent addition to the PCMark family is Vantage. For most users, a full suite would be run, but because we’re focused on storage performance only, we instead run only the storage-specific tests. Fortunately, Futuremark makes this easy for us to do as it has split up the entire suite into seven separate sub-tests, one being the aptly named “HDD Suite”.
PCMark’s HDD Suite may look simple on the surface, but it’s actually quite exhaustive. While the benchmark does deliver a simple “overall” result, it actually tests I/O performance based on a variety of scenarios, from adding music to Windows Media Player, to loading applications in succession, to editing video, to running a malware scanner, and more. It even includes metrics to evaluate a simulated Windows Vista boot time, so Futuremark has done a fine job of combining many useful scenarios into a single button press.
Before jumping into the results, keep in mind that the SiliconEdge Blue uses the identical JMicron drive controller as the SNV425. The only difference is Western Digital wrote its own custom firmware. To date all other SSD manufacturers that use JMicron’s controllers use the firmware supplied by that company. Therefore while it would be easy to dismiss the controller outright, the SiliconEdge Blue results do show what optimized firmware can do with this controller.
With that over with, onto the results!
Although the X25-M still clings desperately to the top spot in the overall PCMark score, by looking at the HDD suite’s overall score and the hard drive sub-tests it is fairly evident that the Vertex 2 is king. Of more interest is how the Vertex 2 compares against its predecessor, the Vertex Turbo. The Vertex Turbo in its own rights is a very powerful drive, so to see it eclipsed so easily is simply astounding and really goes to show the power of the SandForce SF-1200 controller.
The Vertex 2 seems to take every test in stride, with only the fast sequential writes of the Kingston V+ drive able to match the Vertex 2 in a few of the tests. With many results ranging near 100 times the performance of a “mere” mechanical hard drive or even greater, I think the new class of drives like the Vertex 2 proves that it is time again for Futuremark to redesign their PCMark Vantage hard drive benchmarking system!
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 hit a drive with, you can easily accomplish it here. Also, the program delivers results in IOPS (input/output operations per second), a common metric used in enterprise and server environments.
The level of customization cannot be understated. Aside from choosing the obvious figures, like chunk sizes, you can choose the percentage of the time that each respective chunk size will be used in a given test. You can also alter the percentages for read and write, and also how often either the reads or writes will be random (as opposed to sequential). I’m just touching the surface here, but what’s most important is that we’re able to deliver a consistent test on all of our drives, which increases the accuracy in our results.
Because of the level of control Iometer offers, we’ve created profiles for three of the most popular workloads out there: Database, File Server and Workstation. Database uses chunk sizes of 8KB, with 67% read, along with 100% random coverage. File Server is the more robust of the group, as it features chunk sizes ranging from 512B to 64KB, in varying levels of access, but again with 100% random coverage. Lastly, Workstation focuses on 8KB chunks with 80% read and 80% random coverage.
Because these profiles aren’t easily found on the Web, with the same being said about the exact structure of each, we’re hosting the software here for those who want to benchmark their own drives with the exact same profiles we use. That ZIP archive (~3.5MB) includes the application and the three profiles in an .icf file.
Scenarios such as these are pretty much the bane of hard drives and illustrate why 15,000RPM SCSI drives exist. Ironically, despite Iometer and these tests being created well before SSDs began entering the desktop market, the nature of the tests are going to inherently favor them due to their rapid, near-instantaneous random access times. While we do not have a 15,000RPM or VelociRaptor drive to use for reference, the numbers generated by them would only be little better than the desktop drive here due to the large number of tiny reads and writes to be made often randomly across the platter surface.
If looking for a perfect test to illustrate the potential strengths of random access, this would be it. That said, the large number of 512B to 4KB mixed reads and writes in the File Server scenario will also be the anathema of any SSD controller that was designed primarily for large sequential read & write performance. We can gauge which candidates have the highest potential to suffer from performance stuttering with these tests. Very small, random file operations are the worst offenders as they stress the controller the most.
If the SSD controller becomes backlogged, it will exacerbate the stuttering, causing file operations that should take milliseconds to instead take up to a full second or more to complete, thereby only compounding the problem. Unfortunately, the Summit happens to use a Samsung controller optimized solely for large, single sequential writes and makes for a good example as a warning of what to look for.
While we were expecting the Vertex 2 to prove less adept at numerous small file operations we can easily say we were proven wrong here. The performance results here are rather scary to put it mildly, for example in the Database test the mechanical disk reaches 54.27 read IOPs, yet the Vertex 2 is capable of performing 6020.28 read IOPs. That’s again roughly 111 times the performance! If percentages are your thing, then that’s an approximately 10,993% increase in performance.
Differences in results this large are extremely abnormal with computer technology today. The difference between new CPUs, GPUs is often anywhere from 10-30% better per generation, and with RAM the results are often lower. With results so drastically higher it is clear that storage technology is undergoing a revolution, or perhaps more accurately a paradigm shift. Of course this is something SSD proponents have been trying to claim ever since Intel released their first SSDs in 2008!
As the name might hint, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for SSDs. It can be run on mechanical hard drives, but be warned that what should take minutes will take over an hour to benchmark! This handy little tool provides several read/write tests at important file sizes, but also includes a benchmark to simulate the transfer of three types of large files.
We selected this program for its precision, ability to generate large file sizes on the fly, and that it is written to bypass Windows 7’s automatic caching system. The tool does not bypass any onboard cache.
Curiously, AS SSD doesn’t seem to favor the Vertex 2 at all, and we aren’t altogether sure why. We will chalk this one up as an exception, but it does go to show that no single test by itself is capable of always determining an SSD’s performance. Or perhaps I just spoke too soon, as inexplicably the AS SSD benchmark gives the Vertex 2 top spot in all three scoring metrics, and by a far margin at that. While we can’t explain how these final scores were reached, the AS SSD program is available as a free download if you wish to try it for yourself.
The access times for the Vertex 2 place it second to only the Vertex Turbo. Access times like these are the reason why a mechanical disk RAID array can never be the equal of any good quality SSD, because adding mechanical drives together in RAID does not decrease the initial access latency involved. Concurrent file accesses in RAID can better hide the latency penalty, but it doesn’t actually remove it.
Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.
SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCO is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.
The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.
A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows 7 64-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed.
SYSmark’s exhaustive battery of recorded real-world usage tests is an important factor when trying to precisely gauge drive performance. According to BAPCo, differences of 3 points in the final scoring should be considered meaningful. Given the age of this test suite, the “Preview” part of the benchmark’s name, however, is definitely not.
As if there was ever any doubt, the Vertex 2 again takes top honors here by posting results ahead of the next best drives. The overall score is two points ahead of its predecessor, the Vertex Turbo, and that of the larger 256GB SiliconEdge Blue. Remember that differences of three points are supposed to be considered meaningful here.
Given that we are now fairly certain our test system is capping performance and hindering these drives from pulling away from each other in the individual tests we find it all the more remarkable the Vertex 2 was able to squeeze two more points here out of the system. The lone mechanical drive is looking all the more lonely as it is left further behind in the results.
HD Tune has long been one of our favorite storage benchmarks, thanks in part to its ease-of-use, and its ability to deliver consistent results (which is obviously important). Since we are using HD Tune on storage devices that also house our OS, we’re unable to test the write performance, so here, we stick to both Read and Access Times.
Unlike the AS SSD read results, HD Tune does clearly like OCZ’s Vertex 2 SSD. Worth mentioning is that the Vertex Turbo does offer slightly better 512B and 4KB file size performance than the Vertex 2, at least with this program.
Yet again we show access times as these are the hallmark of solid-state drives, and I can’t underscore this point enough. The dirty state of the G1 leaves it with a particularly high result here, but even the G1 and other SSDs all put in results an order of magnitude better than the platter-based drive with small file reads.
HD Tach is a program similar to HD Tune, and although it hasn’t been updated in a few years, it’s still decent for testing SSDs. It offers a different method for calculating burst rates, as well as offering access time measurements below 0.1ms, which is unfortunately the limit for HD Tune. With a massive new program rewrite in the works, we look forward to seeing what the upcoming new version can do.
HD Tach’s age might be showing here, and we can only hope that the announced future rewrite of the program brings it up to date with storage technology. The Vertex 2 ranks in just above the old Summit drive, but given the best read results are held by a JMicron based drive and other similarly fast drives also fared poorly we aren’t going to give this test too much credence.
HD Tach is another program designed to measure platter-based drives (hence the downward curve in the image) but is capable of measuring access times below 0.1ms if the platform is up to the challenge. For the hard drive, the 13ms access latency is typical for a standard mechanical drive, but even a VelociRaptor would only decrease the latency to 7ms, a far cry from 0.1ms any SSD typically achieves. This clearly illustrates the drawback to RAIDing traditional mechanical drives.
For this test we took a 7.16GB Dual-layer DVD image and timed how long was required to transfer it to a different 10GB partition created on the same drive. Keep in mind with a hard disk, this requires the actuator arm to seek back and forth between the source and destination sectors of the disk platter, while any SSD can instantly read and write to multiple flash chips at once. Still, this is not a test of the raw write speeds of a SSD as the SSD controller cannot read & write to the same parts of the NAND flash simultaneously.
Finally we reach the real-world tests where there are no unusual testing or scoring algorithms to leave us scratching our heads! First we start with a simple file transfer from one part of the same drive to another. Straight file transfers to a different destination would post even higher results.
Interestingly the Vertex 2 does slot in the middle of the pack here, and we believe it is precisely because of the controller’s design. As the controller must first read, then reassemble the parts of the file before writing (and recompressing) them to another partition on the drive it must perform both tasks concurrently. We are considering use of a RAMdisk in a future rewrite of our SSD testing methodology, and it would be interesting to see if copying the file to (or from) a RAMdisk would in fact allow the SandForce controller to attain higher speeds for this reason.
For this test we utilize 500 large RAW files, and import them into Lightroom. We time how long it takes the program to import the files, cache them, and build the image library.
Somewhat interesting is that the results are split into two main groups with the Summit only able to tie the hard drive, while the other SSDs clump together around the 3 minute mark. It appears the Lightroom test is not demanding enough, and another system component (likely the CPU) has become the bottleneck here rather than the storage. Remember, Lightroom only utilizes two cores when loading and creating its image library, so it is not fully utilizing our slower quad-core CPU.
This should go to show that not all workloads are bottlenecked by storage, and that to get the most out of a fast SSD it will require an equally matched processor and system as to avoid any system (or in this case software) bottlenecks. Even so, the Vertex 2 again manages to somehow squeak a few more seconds off of the best results.
This test is perhaps the most important in our battery of benchmarks as it gives us truly real-world results. It is designed to simulate three kinds of multi-tasking scenarios in order to see how well the storage drive can cope with concurrent workloads. The better a drive performs here, the quicker and more responsive it should feel in everyday tasks. It shouldn’t need to be said that this is where SSDs shine and where traditional HDD bottlenecks are most directly experienced.
In addition to stressing the controller with a demanding, large queue to sort through (NCQ support helps here), this test will give any weak controller a complete panic attack by overwhelming it with simultaneous random read/write operations to juggle with large sequential writes, which is the Achilles’ heel of many cheaper SSDs.
Queue depth and IOPs optimizations have long been a strength of Intel’s own SSDs, however, there is enough differing types of workloads here that regardless of drive, every SSD should see some part of the workload playing to its own unique strengths and weaknesses in some fashion. A good-quality SSD should allow the system to remain responsive as the tasks are carried out in the background at all times. (Please for your own safety don’t try this at home on your HDD!)
Our Medium test consists of the following:
Our Heavy test consists of all-the-above in addition to a full Anti-Virus scan running concurrently in the background with the start of the test. The AV scan uses a static, unchanging 5.1GB test folder that contains 19,748 files and 2,414 sub-folders created from the Program Files directory.
Granted, even with a Core i7 processor, no computer user would be performing all of these tasks concurrently unless they wish to see their computer go unresponsive for up to 30 minutes at a time, but with an SSD, this is almost child’s play! If you think we are exaggerating then just look at what a fairly typical SATA HDD is able to offer, which is a representative sample for any other desktop HDD.
Last but not least, the Light test changes things slightly. This test is a batch file dropped into the Startup folder designed to load several programs as soon as Windows 7 reaches the desktop. This light test will open four websites in Firefox, load five images in Photoshop CS4, start playing our favorite 8 minute (56MB FLAC) music file in Winamp, and open a single large Word, Excel, and PowerPoint document, in addition to a single PDF file. For this specific test in particular, we start measuring from the moment the power button is pressed to the moment the last program and all files have been fully loaded ready for use.
In the time required for a regular hard disk drive computer to boot, it is possible for an SSD to boot and have fully loaded a multitude of programs and files that you regularly use, as the nearly two and a half minutes for the HDD clearly illustrates. Keep in mind we are talking about booting both the OS and several frequently used programs, the base boot time for the best SSDs in this platform is a rather sedate 55 seconds. While loading these programs only requires an extra twelve seconds, for a mechanical drive they in fact double the time required to boot.
What should make the light batch results all the more impressive is to realize that a motherboard featuring one of the latest chipsets, with the proper tuning should be capable of dropping the best 67 second boot times down to as little as 35-50 seconds depending on the overall system configuration.
For the medium scenario the results are unfortunately beginning to clump together around the seven minute mark. This shows that once again the platform itself is beginning to bottleneck the faster SSDs in our tests, these drives are just fast. It is a safe bet anyone considering a Vertex 2 will be building a top-notch system around one, it still is worth mentioning that it will require a fast Core i7 or Phenom II to really get the most out of this SSD.
One thing not shown by our graph is that with the medium scenario the Vertex 2 performed all five runs with results that fell within seven seconds of each other. To be frank we didn’t believe this level of consistency was even attainable given the nature of these tests. Weaker controllers such as the “V” drive’s JMicron controller by comparison had some results differing by as much as several minutes, which is clear evidence the controller was becoming overwhelmed from the workload. Clearly, with only a seven second deviation in results the Vertex 2 had no such problems!
Moving onto the most demanding scenario we finally see the best drives spread out a bit, although clearly we will need to redesign both our batch tests and bench platform if OCZ designs too many more drives like the Vertex 2. Speaking of which, the drive once again squeezes sixteen seconds off of the previous best result for a final average time of 7 minutes and 11 seconds. Given that the heavy batch scenario includes everything from large sequential writes to 5GB of random reads there is no doubt the Vertex 2 is still as well-rounded a drive as its predecessor, despite the drastically different controller technology between them.
This is a test that any Windows 7 user can perform on their own system without needing to download anything. For those curious, Vista should allow the same, but we can’t guarantee the results will be directly comparable due to changes made in the WinSAT program. To run the program, hit the Windows Key + R at the same time, and type cmd into the run box. In the command prompt window type (or right-click and paste) the following without quotes: “cd c:windowssystem32” and hit enter. Once there input, again without quotes: “winsat disk -drive c -ran -write -count 10” and enter again.
This command runs a small portion of the Windows Experience Index’s drive assessment, specifically it uses small random writes and calculates how fast in MB/s the drive can sustain it. As we mentioned before with the HD Tune results, regardless of what drive is in question, its actual performance depends on what file size is being referred to. The smaller the file size, generally the lower the performance for a hard disk drive. So again, the small random file writes will be brutal.
OCZ’s Vertex 2 makes quick work of this test, perhaps we should recommend this SSD to anyone that desires a perfect 7.9 rating on their Windows 7 Experience Index score. Or more seriously we should recommend this drive to anyone that wants a great user experience, as this score shows the drive more than excels at the small writes the OS frequently uses.
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 boots, from motherboard to just the BIOS configuration, so these times should not be used as an expectation of how fast the SSD will boot in your respective system. With some newer motherboards condensing the time taken in the boot process, boot times could reach significantly lower than these.
In conjunction with our light batch scenario test, here is the raw boot times without any additional programs being loaded. Results like this clearly show that as we reach the 55 second mark, the storage medium no longer becomes the source of the bottleneck. As we touched on previously, a modern chipset and motherboard combination will make it possible to drop this boot time significantly.
Last, but certainly not least, are the game level-loading times. SSDs tend to improve application load times significantly over their mechanical brethren, and games are no exception.
Crysis is still infamous for how well it could stress the entire PC, and although Crysis Warhead was a significant improvement and much better optimized than its predecessor, it still makes for one of the better gaming benchmarks to use. For this test, we timed how long it took to load the first level, Ambush. We also figured we would use the newer Left 4 Dead 2 game, for its slightly longer-than-average load times. Here, we timed how long it took to load the final chapter in the Hard Rain campaign.
While the difference between the best SSD and the typical HDD almost exactly halves the game loading time, that 15 seconds really doesn’t seem like much in L4D2, or 30 seconds in Crysis Warhead. At least until considering that each level load is one of many, then halving the load time really starts to add up. Some games involve quite a few load points or build them directly into the level (Half Life 2 being a good example), and smoother, more fluid transitions will greatly preserve game the immersion. In which case, for some gamers the answer becomes a definite yes.
Finally, we reach the most important of our benchmarks! Okay, maybe those were the batch scenario tests, but still games are admittedly more interesting! Choosing almost any SSD results in an immediate near-halving of load times over a mechanical drive, but the truth is most games are not demanding enough to see any improvement between a good quality SSD and the best SSD available. If this was the case most games would become intolerable to play for the majority of gamers that use mechanical drives, which is something no game developer is going to want.
That said, after having made the transition personally to an SSD in my gaming system I can attest those differences of ten seconds (or more) are definitely noticed and I could never go back to a mechanical drive for gaming.
As we started to mention at the beginning of this review, Crucial’s RealSSD C300 has been plagued with several different post-launch firmware issues, one of them being a slim chance of the drive reaching a nearly “bricked” state under certain usage scenarios. While the chance was extremely slim this was still a real problem that, while quickly addressed, in turn created a second serious issue.
Namely, that the process of updating the firmware ended up actually bricking some drives instead of inoculating them against that previous chance of drive failure. It turned that the software tool that performs the firmware update itself conflicted with specific motherboard setups, and Crucial is just about to release a modified software stack after they are sufficiently satisfied that no more issues will result.
Quality assurance and validation of major computer hardware components that are intended for widespread adoption across wildly differing computer setups is not easy, in fact early on Intel had very similar issues with their own SSDs. As with Crucial, the firmware updating process also ended up bricking some users X25-M G1 drives and was yanked, and then a similar event happened all over again after the launch of Intel’s X25-M G2 drives!
We aren’t trying to scare you into backing up all data stored on a SSD (although you should be doing this anyway!), but to instead point out that these issues have not occurred with the Vertex 2 and other SandForce drives. This gives it a clear edge in our mind over the Vertex 2’s only real competitor, the RealSSD C300. Our tiny tangent into the annuls of SSD history might make for a lot of reading, but it is important to add context to our recommendations and we feel it adds more meaning to them as well when readers can see where we are coming from.
So, that just leaves Intel’s X25-M G2 SSDs. These drives truly set the benchmark by which all over SSDs were compared against, and for good reason. By sporting the highest IOPs and 4KB random write performance these drives were able to compete even against drives that offered twice the sequential write speed. Alas the pace of technology has marched onwards and these drives, while still fast in their own right, are no longer the quickest drives available.
It doesn’t help that Intel’s 80GB G2 is still firmware limited to 80MB/s writes (only the 160GB G2 is limited to 100MB/s). With the help of the Kingston 40GB drive in our tests (Which uses the Intel G2 controller) and from comparing other results we can safely say OCZ’s specially tweaked Vertex 2 can not only offer higher small file IOPS but almost double the write throughput of comparable Intel drives. This is simply astounding.
OCZ has taken the well-known Vertex series, an admittedly already powerful drive, and taken things up to a new level entirely with its successor the Vertex 2. This SandForce powered SSD will easily live up to the Vertex name and then some. Despite its distinctly unique controller design there just are no weak spots, no caveats, and no asterisks with fine print with the Vertex 2 to hold it back. There is only one issue that will be a problem for the Vertex 2, and that is simply price.
As if aiming to fix even that, there is some good news about the pricing of these drives. As it stands (at the time of this review) the Vertex 2 can be found for $385, which works out to be $3.85 per GB. When OCZ releases another specially tweaked firmware all 100GB drives will become 120GB drives (With increases for other drive sizes, of course). This little fact sneakily changes the price per GB of the 120GB Vertex 2 to a more palatable $3.20 per GB, which we consider to be far more reasonable than the $4 per GB these drives debuted at. We focus on the 100GB model, because as a general rule of thumb most 100-128GB SSDs have the best price-per-GB ratios.
So, several lengthy paragraphs later we have absolutely no hesitancy in recommending the Vertex 2 as the best SSD to get. It may not offer SATA 3 (6Gb/s) and SandForce’s controller operation is extremely unusual to put it mildly, but we have to say neither seems to matter as the end result is still a SSD that had put forth some of the most remarkably consistent and impressive results during repeated test runs. We praised this quality with the Vertex Turbo as it shows users can expect consistent, excellent performance from their SSD after continued use, but OCZ has truly done one better with the Vertex 2.
OCZ’s Vertex 2
June 2 Addendum: This review was originally posted without an Editor’s Choice award logo, which was an error on our part due to editing.
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