Date: July 13, 2011
Author(s): Robert Tanner
When we took OCZ’s Vertex 3 SSD for a spin last month, there was no other way to sum up our thoughts than ‘blown-away’. How could such a drive get even better? With tweaked firmware and a doubling-up of NAND chips, of course. Let’s take a look at the Vertex 3 Max IOPS edition and see if its price premium is justified.
Hot on the heels of our Vertex 3 review, OCZ Technology is back with the promise of an even faster drive, the Vertex 3 Max IOPS. Frankly, given the performance of the Vertex 3 it is hard to fathom that OCZ could so quickly fine-tune that powerhouse of a drive to find more untapped performance to release, but that is the claim.
The 120GB Max IOPS promises an additional 15,000 of 4KB random write IOPS over the Vertex 3, while the 240GB version gains an additional 5,000 IOPS for a whopping total of 65,000 4KB random write IOPS.
Avid followers of solid-state drives may remember the original Vertex series, specifically the Vertex Turbo. The Turbo took the same Indilinx Barefoot controller found in the Vertex and overclocked it slightly to boost drive performance, although otherwise the drives were physically identical to one another.
The Vertex 3 Max IOPS promises a tangible boost to IOPS performance over the already blazingly fast Vertex 3, but unlike the Vertex Turbo there is no overclocking or simple firmware tweaking behind the Max IOPS. OCZ’s Vertex 3 Max IOPS is an altogether different beast under the hood. Of course the SF-2281 SandForce controller is still present and unchanged. But instead of 25nm Intel NAND chips, inside users will find 34nm Toshiba flash memory.
This has two notable impacts on the drive worth mentioning. Firstly, it allowed OCZ to include a greater number of smaller 4GB NAND (the Vertex 3 uses 8GB 25nm NAND), which combined with the necessary tweaking to the firmware allowed OCZ to increase overall drive performance. Remember that NAND is still the limiting factor in SSD performance, so by having double the number of stacked NAND die means more read and write requests can be taking place concurrently.
This is where the Max IOPS appears to gain its additional performance from, and also explains why the 240GB drive receives a lower boost in IOPS versus the 120GB model, because the 240GB Vertex 3 had already doubled the number of NAND die over its smaller 120GB relative. (This is also why, as a general rule of thumb, that larger capacity SSDs tend to offer higher levels of performance.)
|OCZ Vertex 3 (vs. Max IOPS) – 6Gbps|
4KB Random Read
20K (35K) IOPS
40K (55K) IOPS
4KB Random Write
60K (75K) IOPS
60K (65K) IOPS
The second impact worth noting doesn’t actually affect performance, but rather durability. Due to the nature of shrinking NAND, 25nm NAND inherently has a lower write tolerance compared to 34nm NAND, just as 34nm did compared to NAND at the 50nm node. Is it something to be concerned about? Definitely not, but for those consumers that are planning to still be using the same SSD four or five years from now, it is a difference worth noting.
Just as with the Vertex 3, the Max IOPS version features the same SF-2281 controller, custom OCZ PCB, and SATA 6Gbps interface packed into a small 2.5″ form factor. Interestingly, while our Vertex 3 had a cosmetic issue with the plastic housing, the plastic on our Max IOPS sample was flush to the metal case. On the flipside however, there were quite number of air bubbles in the sticker. Given the SSD will be relegated to sitting in a drive bay collecting dust, neither are more than a cosmetic quibble, but we would still prefer to see all the minor details ironed out on a flagship product.
And again just like the V3, the Max IOPS ships in a deceptively small package which includes the mounting screws, 3.5″ bay adapter, and a cute sticker. The 3.5″ bracket is a single solid piece of steel, which also happens to serve double-duty as a layer of armor plating during shipping.
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
Intel Core i7-2600 – 3.50GHz (Locked) Quad-Core
ASUS P8P67 Deluxe
4GB Kingston DDR3-1866
AMD Radeon HD 5770
Hitachi 7200RPM 2TB Hard Drive
Corsair Force F90 90GB
Kingston V+ Series 128GB
OCZ Vertex Turbo 120GB
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
Antec NeoHE 550W
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit
Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing
When preparing our SSD testbed for benchmarking we follow these guidelines:
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 as it has been a staple of PC benchmarks for the better half of a decade. PCMark offers a range of tests to gauge every aspect of a computer’s performance and presents it in a neat simple final result. Thankfully it also breaks down the overall score with individual subsystem scores (such as Memory, Storage, etc) in addition to given individual test results.
With the latest 2011 release of PCMark 7 we should hopefully see quite a few changes to how SSDs are handled, and the resulting scores computed, as previously, results were biased towards sequential read and write performance. With its Windows 7 focus PCMark 7 offers a variety of storage system tests, such as simulating a Windows Defender scan and using Windows Media Center to using other built-in programs for video and music file manipulation. But for those that just want a nice overarching score, it has those too.
PCMark 7 is a welcome refresh of the well-known PCMark series and brings with it optimizations to better handle SSDs when computing scores. This results in a much flatter spread of SSDs in both the overarching score and the final storage system score.
Just as with the Vertex 3, the Max IOPS drive pulls away from the pack through its superior application load times and strong 4KB file operations. The Max IOPS ties or edges out the V3 in every test except one, showing that the drives are still very close to one another in overall performance.
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.
If ever there was a program that could best illustrate the differences between the Vertex 3 and the V3 Max IOPS, it would be Iometer. This program focuses on small file IOPS, primarily 512 byte, 4KB, and 8KB. Although the Vertex 3 laughed its way through these tests, the Max IOPS laughed louder by delivering an average 18.6% increase in reads and writes in the database test, an average 17.5% increase in the File Server test, and a 23% boost in the Workstation tests.
Iometer tests are more suited for server and enterprise workloads, but they do show what the controller is truly capable of. Controllers that do well in these tests tend to show better performance everywhere else. Until now only the first generation SandForce SF-1200 controllers were able to perform well under these sort of workloads.
As the name hints, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for solid-state drives. It can be run on a mechanical hard drive, but be warned what takes a few minutes will require the better part of an hour to complete! 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 comparisons 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. With version 1.6 a compression benchmark was also added although not utilized here. 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.
The SATA 6Gb/s interface allows the Vertex 3 (and the Max IOPS) room to stretch its legs. When it comes to read requests SSDs have been bottlenecked by the SATA 3Gb/s interface for some time. The interface isn’t responsible for the 4KB and 4K-Thrd scores, however; these are purely due to the controller.
4K-Thrd is similar to the 4K test but spawns multiple requests; basically this tests how good the SSD is at handling multiple file actions at once, or queue depth. Queue depth wasn’t an issue with HDDs as they were generally too slow to handle more than a few simultaneous IOPS at a time, but with SSDs it is important to have a good controller with a high queue depth.
As one might’ve already guessed, the Vertex 3 and the V3 Max IOPS both clean house with these tests; I’m not sure Alex ever envisioned scores so stratospheric appearing quite so soon with his program! There is one thing that can be deduced from these results though, and that is the Max IOPS appears to trade a small portion of its strong write performance for an even larger increase in read performance compared to the vanilla V3. Even so the Max IOPS consistently scored 9.5% higher in the final overarching SSD score, which is no small feat considering 65 points amounts to a tangible difference in its own right between the other drives.
Since we included a program designed to benchmark SSDs, we will include HD Tune as it benchmarks both hard disks and SSDs. Because the test drive houses the OS itself, HD Tune will not perform any write tests; we will have to be content with both the Read and Access times. HD Tune 4.6 added a new quick benchmark that we will include for users that wish to make a quick comparison with their own drives.
Our theory that the Max IOPS offering stronger read performance at the expense of a little write performance appears to be further verified here. The Max IOPS delivers much stronger read performance across the board, but is just barely edged out by the V3 in the random transfer test. Access times remain unchanged between each drive.
Part of what gives SSDs their mojo are in fact the access times. It requires 14.1ms for a typical HDD to service a 64KB read request. Almost any SSD can do the same in 0.1ms, giving the system 14 milliseconds to process and deliver the data to the end user. When requests start stacking up, such a small difference literally becomes exponential.
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 archive and timed how much time was required to transfer the file to another destination 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 of the disk platter, while any SSD can concurrently read and write to separate flash chips at once.
In a surprise twist, the Vertex 3 Max IOPS has no trouble outstripping the V3 here, lopping off four seconds from the already fast time. Considering both drives deliver performance already in a league of their own, it makes for a pretty strong showing.
With Adobe Lightroom, importing image files with “Copy” simply acts like a file transfer, exactly like our previous test. Rather than simply time how long it takes to create a duplicate set of 500 RAW files we elected to choose the “Copy as DNG” import option. This will convert the NEF files (Nikon’s equivalent to RAW) into the Digital Negative standard while importing them to its image library.
This test was not particularly effective as Adobe Lightroom 3.4 only spawns two threads, meaning that even with the power of a Core i7 that has eight threads available, the CPU was still the main bottleneck. When Adobe deems fit to update Lightroom to take advantage of more threads we will see a real need for faster storage here, as such a task as this is perfectly suited for high thread parallelization.
Even so, upgrading to any SSD will save a minute and a half off the import time over a mechanical drive. The Vertex 3 Max IOPS placed just over a second behind the V3, but drops the import time by over two minutes compared to the hard drive. If Lightroom simply doubled the number of threads spawned to four, it would likely halve the time required for completion using either one of the Vertex 3 SSDs.
These tests are perhaps the most important in our battery of benchmarks as they give us a wide range of real-world results. They range from very light to downright grueling, and will showcase which drives can shine under the most demanding scenarios they might encounter in your personal system. Few computer users run their tasks in a vacuum; often several programs are in use concurrently while others are running in the background.
To excel in these tasks the SSD controller and firmware will need to be well-balanced. It will need to have excellent random read, small random write capability, and still have enough sequential writes to get the job done quickly. It is admittedly hard for an SSD controller to be optimized for all three things at once, and typically some SSDs are only optimized for sequential writes at the expense of everything else. Still, fast access times will give any SSD an inherent advantage over a mechanical hard drive.
First up is our light batch test. This test is a simple batch file placed into the startup folder, which Windows 7 will automatically execute at startup. This is perhaps the most directly relevant test to our readers, as almost everyone has to endure boot times and then the additional time it takes for their usual or favorite programs to load before they can start using their system.
The batch file will open four websites in Firefox, load five 5MB or greater images in Photoshop CS5, and open a document in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint each, which adds an additional 15MB. As a final measure, a few small system monitoring applications are started, a 3MB PDF file and zip archive are both opened for viewing, and while everything proceeds to load, an old, favorite FLAC music file (56MB) is loaded into Winamp for playback. If it sounds like the light batch file needs to go on a diet, then the results should surprise!
Our Medium batch test is similar although timers are built in to space out the user commands. Time begins counting from the launch of the batch file and ends when all tasks have completed. The medium test consists of the following:
To keep things simple, the heavy batch test is identical to the medium test in all respects save for one key difference. Computer users should be familiar with the slowdown or even molasses-like feel that occurs from an anti-virus scan running in the background. 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. Because it is otherwise identical, results from the medium & heavy batch tests are directly comparable.
Granted, even with a Core i7 processor, no computer user using a hard drive 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. For a good quality SSD, the above isn’t even enough to make the system crawl or go unresponsive. Playing a game with an anti-virus scan in the background without losing FPS is very possible. So if this sort of system abuse, or “multitasking” sounds vaguely like your daily routine when you sit down at the PC, then an SSD may be of interest to you.
So, a few walls of text and a single graph later, what do we have? Well from the press of the power button to the very last image loading in Photoshop CS5, the entire system boot and Light batch test completes in an average of 39.4 seconds with both the OCZ Vertex 3 and the Vertex 3 Max IOPS. Since most computers can’t even load Windows 7 in that time-frame, that should say something. A traditional hard drive requires almost three minutes completing the same test the Vertex 3 and V3 Max IOPS can finish in less than forty seconds, system boot time included.
The medium batch test is where the real work begins for these SSDs. Still, at just three minutes and 15 seconds the Vertex 3 Max IOPS delivers the quickest time we’ve seen yet, a full eight seconds quicker on average than the V3. The nearest SSD, the V2, required an additional 116 seconds or 1:56 to complete the same workload. To keep things in perspective, a large capacity mechanical drive mustered up nine minutes for the same task.
Things get even more interesting with the heavy batch test. Remember results are directly comparable to the medium batch times as only a background anti-virus scan was added to the workload. For a controller such as the SF-2281 powering the Vertex 3 Max IOPS, such a scenario is perhaps the only test that truly maxes it out, other than perhaps Iometer.
Just like the original V3 results, the Max IOPs required a disconcertingly tiny addition of 15 seconds to complete an anti-virus scan of over 5GB spread across 19,748 program files in the background, while still performing the main tasks. One thing is for sure, there is no longer any excuse for not having anti-virus installed!
There really isn’t an easy way to quantify such stark results. The Vertex 3 Max IOPS completed the heavy batch scenario nearly 40% faster than the nearest competitor in our graphs, the V2. It was a full 13 seconds quicker than the V3, and performed the same task in 20% of the time required by a HDD. If percentages aren’t your thing, then simply consider that the Vertex 3 Max IOPS took three minutes versus the fifteen minutes for a mechanical hard drive. In fact, the V3 or V3 Max IOPS could run the same scenario five times over before the HDD even finished once.
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, from the motherboard to the BIOS/EFI configuration, so these times should not be used as an expectation of how fast the SSD will boot in your respective system. Thanks to motherboards replacing the BIOS with UEFI boot times have dropped significantly in many cases.
It appears we are well into seeing diminishing results from upgrading our storage as far as boot times are concerned, which means something else is the bottleneck. Users that overclock the Core i7 processors by a significant amount can drop boot times even further, although booting Linux would deliver the same results.
OCZ’s Vertex 3 Max IOPS only manages to edge out the V3 here, but both deliver the best boot times we’ve seen so far. Where they truly shine are warm boots, or restarts where the system was already powered on. Warm boots with the V3 Max IOPs averaged around a mere twenty seconds.
Last but certainly not least of our benchmarks are the game level-load times. SSDs are great at decreasing load intervals, and having an SSD can appreciably improve game immersion by minimizing load delays. It may not seem like much, but after a few levels, having the load times decrease by even a third compared to a hard drive adds up fast.
For our new regimen we chose Portal 2 and Civilization V. Portal 2 is already a very well optimized game and isn’t particularly demanding, and Civilization V is anything but either of those. For Portal 2 we chose to load the larger sp_a3_03 chapter, while with Civ V we loaded a save game file from late in a large game.
The Max IOPS again just edges out the V3 in Portal 2, and ties it in Civ 5 where the lack of multithreading is the primary bottleneck. The important part to take away from this is if you are considering upgrading from a hard drive you will see some very real gains in performance, but the same can’t be said for most SSDs. The Vertex Turbo provides an interesting look back in time, but even it is much faster than the hard drive here.
The Vertex 3 Max IOPS is 39% faster than the mechanical drive when loading a chapter of Portal 2. Considering how many levels there are in any game, that 39% starts to make a tremendous difference and goes a long ways toward keeping the game experience smooth and immersive. I can personally attest that after getting used to an SSD for gaming, having to switch back to a mechanical drive for any reason is simply painful.
Given the nature of the Vertex 3 Max IOPS, we thought it would be interesting to include the original Vertex in our tests to see just how far these drives have come in a short two years. Even just last year, the performance that the Vertex 3 and Vertex 3 Max IOPS can deliver was only possible through complex PCIe cards that featured two, or sometimes four SSD controllers striped in RAID 0 arrays. Today, such performance can be had from a single SATA 6Gbps SSD, at lower cost, and with none of the caveats of the PCIe-based drives.
That brings us to the drive in question, the Max IOPS. The OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS certainly lives up to and will even exceed the Vertex 3 in many tasks, but it only shows its true strength in the most demanding and rigorous tests we have. For simple daily desktop use the differences are minimal and wouldn’t be noticed through normal use.
As many consumers will favor the 120GB drives for their favorable blend of price and performance, we should take care to highlight one important fact about these SSDs. Because we were “only” able to test 240GB drives, this review only shows the performance differences between the 240GB Vertex 3 and the 240GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS SSDs.
However, consumers considering the 120GB sized drives should be aware that there will, in fact, be a larger performance difference between the 120GB Vertex 3 and its Max IOPS counterpart. The difference is large enough to warrant mentioning, so keep this in mind if deciding between the 120GB Vertex 3 and its Max IOPS sibling. As we mentioned briefly on the first page, this difference results purely from the number of NAND die per channel and is easiest to understand by viewing the table we put there.
The standard 120GB Vertex 3 is available at $259 ($239 after rebate), while the 120GB Max IOPS model retails around $290 at time of this writing. The performance differences are stark in extreme usage scenarios or most types of server workloads, but unless the drive will be used in those scenarios the price premium of $30 (or $50) isn’t justified, at least by the performance alone.
Consumers looking to buy an SSD and keep it over the long haul, namely several years past the three year warranty period, might have justification for the Max IOPS due to the additional longevity the 34nm NAND will provide. And if you are looking for the absolute best performing SSD to buy, the Max IOPS is certainly it. The OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS offers the best performance that can be found in a non-PCIe SSD, without a single one of the caveats PCIe drives are currently forced to endure.
We awarded the OCZ Vertex 3 240GB our Editor’s Choice award for good reason; it delivered unparalleled performance at its predecessor’s price point with no caveats we could find, beyond cost of entry. The OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB drive is everything the original V3 is and a bit more. It offers quicker application load times and higher 4KB random IOPS, but also a price premium to match. However for buyers that plan to use the SSD for several years, long after the original three year warranty, additional longevity in combination with the increased performance may very well be worth the small price premium the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS brand commends.
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