Date: July 3, 2012
Author(s): Robert Tanner
The Vertex is back, and this time it features more OCZ than ever before! (No, we’re not kidding.) Powered by its latest Everest 2 platform, the Vertex 4 is a completely in-house SSD that not only brings Indilinx back to the table, but very well has the potential to be the most reliable Vertex-branded SSD we’ve ever seen.
OCZ Technology nor Vertex should need an introduction to any tech enthusiast, but for those readers that might appreciate one, here’s a brief recap. It was 2008 and Intel had just released the first general consumer-targeted X25-M SSD. Performance was exemplary at the time, albeit at nearly $600 for 80GB, it was a drive only a relative few could spring for.
Just a few months later, OCZ, with the help of a new startup called Indilinx, launched the first consumer rival SSD that challenged the X25-M on both price and performance. That SSD was the original Vertex.
Fast forward a few years and quite a lot has transpired since then. The Vertex 2 & 3 models were based off of SandForce controllers, admist a myriad of new competitors and SSD controllers. Then in 2011, OCZ seized an opportunity to jump headfirst into the SSD market by acquiring Indilinx. As one of the tech enthusiasts that fondly remembers the initial debut of solid-state drives, it is almost nostalgic to see the Vertex series again paired up with Indilinx technology in the latest generation Vertex 4 SSDs.
To be fair, the underlying hardware is actually an updated Marvell controller somewhat similar to that found in the older Crucial m4 or Intel 510 Series solid-state drives, however the firmware is purely Indilinx. As anyone that has followed the progression of SSD controllers would probably attest, the firmware can be even more important than the underlying hardware it is running on.
OCZ’s Vertex 4 is the latest challenger to the top SSD performers, and as such, will require a SATA III (6Gb/s) port to deliver its full potential. The 256GB model we are testing offers up to 510MB/s writes and 560MB/s reads with an eye-popping 90,000 & 85,000 read/write IOPS, respectively. These happen to be the highest IOPS ratings we’ve seen advertised for any SSD.
One advantage out of the gate for the Vertex 4 (and one that OCZ is quick to point out) is that performance no longer depends on the type of data being written. SandForce controllers achieve best performance by compressing all data that passes from the system to the flash NAND and will lose some of that performance if it’s already compressed data (such as JPEGs, zipped files, or most video types) that’s being written.
Briefly diving into the technical stuff, the original Everest controller was found on OCZ’s Octane and Petrol SSDs. The Vertex 4 is powered by the “Indilinx Everest 2” controller platform and utilizes Synchronous MLC NAND. OCZ touts that bottlenecks in the original Everest have been removed and the final clockspeed of the controller itself has been raised to 400MHz. The standard AES256 encryption is included, but what most readers will likely be most interested to hear about is the new 5-year warranty the Vertex 4 offers.
Perhaps the most telling detail on the spec sheet, OCZ has listened to consumers and adopted a full five year warranty on the Vertex 4, unlike its predecessor which just had three. This is actually thanks in most part to Indilinx’s Ndurance 2.0 technology, which basically manages flash writes, garbage collection, and most importantly minimizes write amplification. Another trick of Ndurance to ensure the longevity of the drive includes optimizing write voltages for each individual NAND used in order to minimize the necessary voltage required for writes. This in turn will extend the lifespan of the NAND just a bit more because (just like CPU silicon) not all NAND are created equal. The higher the voltage utilized during the writes the more destructive the wearing process will be.
Hardly any hard drives will offer a five year warranty anymore, so to have a five year warranty on a solid-state drive is a refreshing change and should only add value to the more expensive drives as well as showcasing OCZ’s confidence in its latest in-house creations, the Vertex 4 and Agility 4.
|OCZ Vertex 4 SATA SSD|
Random 4K Read IOPS
Random 4K Write IOPS
The retail kit is by now pretty standard fare, a 2.5″ to 3.5″ metal plate adapter, mounting screws, and a case sticker to show off that powerful yet hidden SSD upgrade lurking inside. OCZ also offers its SSD Toolbox software suite available as part of its SSD-specific firmware download package. The Toolbox will allow users to pull SMART data directly from the controller, check firmware versions, and even offers a tool for secure erasing the SSD.
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
Crucial m4 256GB
Kingston V+ Series 128GB
Kingston HyperX 240GB
OCZ Vertex Turbo 120GB
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
OCZ Vertex 4 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 PCMark series as it brings with it optimizations for SSD benching and score totaling. This results in a much flatter spread of SSDs in both the overarching score and the storage subsystem score.
Right off, the Vertex 4 proves that SandForce-powered drives are no longer the only choice if you are looking for the fastest SSD available. The Vertex 4 puts in very good numbers across the board with a very minimal spread between the top drives.
The Vertex 4 does deliver the best result we’ve seen in the importing pictures subtest, which is comprised primarily of writes with some data transference. The majority of data access happens at the 4KB level in this subtest which explains everything; the Vertex 4 features the highest 4KB write IOPS ratings we have seen yet on a consumer solid-state drive.
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.
Iometer may be a hard program for users to translate into real world performance, but it is one of the few programs that can truly stress the latest models of SSDs now available and illustrate the differences between them, let alone show what they are truly capable of. Any SSD that does well here is capable of the toughest load conditions found in server racks, so suffice to say it can withstand any usage scenario a desktop user might throw at it.
This test turns out to be extremely informative. For those astute readers wondering what the real difference was between an m4 and the V4, this test showcases that completely. IOPS performance baby! Results range from a doubling the read and write IOPS of the m4 at the low end, all the way up to almost four times the read/write IOPS performance in the workstation scenario. The Vertex 4 may share a similar genealogy to the m4, but that’s it. This clearly illustrates why the firmware package can be even more important than the controller hardware itself, and the Indilinx firmware package is definitely the better performer here. It isn’t the best results we have seen, but just to keep perspective, check out the traditional hard disk performance for a suitable reference point.
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.
Interestingly, the Vertex 4 gets edged out by just a mere 15-30MB/s on the sequential read test, but puts forth some extraordinarily better 4K-thrd results compared to the m4, and in fact better 4K and 4k-thrd read results than every other SSD here, which is no small feat.
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, aka 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 (as illustrated in our Iometer results), but with SSDs it is important to have a good controller with a high queue depth capability for the best, most consistent performance.
The Vertex 4 has no trouble taking an easy lead in all of the write tests, surprisingly able to offer better 4K-Thrd write performance than a SandForce SF-2281 can with best case sequential performance. Not only does it take the lead, but more importantly it delivers consistently better performance regardless of sequential writes or random write IOPS showing the V4’s firmware tuning to be fairly balanced.
While in real world performance nobody will notice the difference between 0.1ms and 0.03ms, it is nonetheless quite impressive to see OCZ’s claims about the ultra-low write access times to be reflected in the results. Noticeable or not, that is still a full order of magnitude difference in the access times and has to be pushing the boundary limits of the underlying NAND’s own capabilities.
With the strong performance in both reads and write tests it is no surprise to see the Vertex 4 get an average overall score of 1040, which is the highest AS SSD score we have seen to date. Individual read and write scores are also both comfortably higher than the nearest competitor at 405 and 424 respectively.
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.
Firstly, we apologize for the mixing and mashing results here, but drives denoted with a * were tested with HD Tune 5 due to some bugfixes and additional 4KB test tuning made to specifically improve handling with SSDs. Results are technically not directly comparable to the 4.6 tests but they are shown for comparison’s sake.
Even using HD Tune 5, results are not the same shutout we saw with AS SSD, and there are a few reasons for this. But by far the largest single reason is that HD Tune still uses a very low queue depth for its tests, which ironically enough are more suited for traditional hard disk drives. The Vertex 4 relies on its high queue depth more so than even SandForce drives, precisely in order to deliver better performance. This is one reason why we favor AS SSD results over those from HD Tune.
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.
The Vertex 4’s raw file transfer performance matches with the best here, and shaves almost two seconds off its predecessor’s own time.
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 and SSDs with a high queue depth.
The top two results are a bit of an anomaly, but even so the Vertex 4 slots in towards the latter half of the pack in this test with about 30 seconds left up for grabs.
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 after quite a few paragraphs and a single large graph, how does the Vertex 4 shape up? Very well, as it turns out. The V4 is able to go toe-to-toe with the SandForce-powered Vertex 3 in the medium and heavy batch tests, and deliver respectable results in the light startup test.
The Vertex 4 delivers a respectable 42 second startup time in the light batch test, placing it within three seconds of the fastest result in our graph. Compare this to the 169 seconds an average 2TB hard drive would require, meaning the Vertex 4 can boot Windows 7, start and load files into Photoshop CS5, and start some commonly used programs in under one minute, or a mere fourth of the time required for a hard disk drive.
If the light batch test was a 100 meter dash, then the medium test is more like a 500 meter relay event. The Vertex 4 turns in a time of 205 seconds which is impeccably within four seconds of the quickest SSD result we have seen. This is close enough to be considered a tie, really. While this equates to 3.5 minutes, the HDD took a full 10.5 minutes to complete the same task.
The heavy batch test is where things get really interesting. If sticking to our sprinting analogy this would be akin to the same 500 meter relay as before, but with all the runners carrying a 30lb backpack strapped to their backs. Weaker SSD controllers will struggle here, but despite adding the 5GB program file folder anti-virus scan the Vertex 4 only needed an additional 17 seconds to complete the race. This is a few seconds faster than the V3 and a full 26 seconds quicker than the m4. By comparison, the poor HDD walked across the finish line more than 10 minutes after the V4.
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.
The Vertex 4 turns in a result here about three seconds behind that of the fastest SSD. All of the SSDs are easily capable of handing a mere OS bootup, and doing so in a third of the time of our lone mechanical drive.
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.
Although the Vertex 4 shows a huge lead here in Civilization V, it turns out the culprit was Steam. Upon launching our game we were greeted with a message kindly informing us Steam was adopting a more efficient, faster file package format. Fortunately for Civilization V gamers we can clearly see the new format is quite effective, however it unfortunately ruins any sort of comparison whatsoever with previous SSD results. The V4 Civ results are simply not comparable to our past SSD results.
Our results with Portal 2 are not so favorable for the V4, and are roughly three seconds behind that of the quickest time for this test. Three seconds is not major given it is still appreciably ahead of the HDD, but it was still a slight surprise.
A quick side note: As we are looking to update out benchmarking methods, if you know of a recent, favorite game that loads exceptionally slow on a hard disk drive that could benefit from an SSD, please feel free to let us know in our forums, and we just may adopt it for future testing!
It should be noted that the launch firmware for the Vertex 4 was revision 1.3.X, and OCZ has since released the 22.214.171.124 update (the firmware utilized in our test sample). Amongst other things this version especially improves the Vertex 4’s performance at lower queue depths and may be worth considering updating to for the performance benefits.
However, a fair warning needs to be said, updating from a 1.3 firmware WILL destroy any data present on the V4. For safety we have always suggested updating the firmware on the SSD before installing to it, and if that is already impossible then make a full backup of the entire drive with a disk imaging program (such as Acronis) before updating the firmware. Also, never update the firmware on an SSD the computer is currently booted from.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into how the Vertex 4 has lived up to its heritage. To put it bluntly, OCZ’s Vertex 4 is simply astounding. Despite not utilizing any data compression trickery to give it an advantage, the Vertex 4 is able to either keep up with or exceed the performance of the Vertex 3 in the majority of our tests. Where the Vertex 3’s performance depends on the compressibility of the data in question, the Vertex 4 is data agnostic, or in other words, performance will not change regardless of the type of data passing through the controller.
That just leaves the big question about pricing. At current check the Vertex 4 slots in at $179 for the 128GB version and $239 for the 256GB model. Not only are these prices slightly less than its outgoing predecessor, but due to the difference in how the Everest 2 controller utilizes spare area, users will get a bonus 8GB (or 16GB) of usable capacity as well, if comparing to the older V3 drives. The pricing stacks up a little less favorably to the competition however, so the final decision will have to rest on other factors. One such factor is whether or not the consumer feels Everest 2 is a more stable, less buggy platform than all SF-2281 controllers still seem to suffer from, and if it is, then the price difference would easily be justifiable.
The Vertex 4 is the second SSD OCZ has been able to design from the start. The company began with a proven controller and modified it, launched it as the Everest 1, then in just a few months modified it again to remove discovered bottlenecks. It added a customized Indilinx firmware package and combined the ensemble with a custom PCB board design. But the important bit is since OCZ now owns Indilinx, this means it has a completely unparalleled level of access to the firmware package than it has had with any other SSD design until now. OCZ can now make any modifications or prioritizations it deems necessary in Indilinx’s firmware design that it sees fit. This will finally allow OCZ to maintain full control over the quality of its own solid-state drive brands and give it the ability to uniquely distinguish itself from its SandForce clone competitors.
Officially, it is too early to say with absolute certainty regarding the reliability question given how new Everest 2 still is, however given the quick shakedown run of Everest 1 on the Octane series and the proven reliability of the underlying hardware silicon platform, we feel that Everest 2 very well could finally be the stable, solid SSD that OCZ needs right now. Users that want to completely avoid the chance of mercurial BSoD problems, vanishing drives, or simply need working AES256 encryption may find the Vertex 4 to be the solid-state drive they’re looking for.
This naturally leads us into probably the best sign for the Vertex 4’s future, OCZ’s own confidence in its in-house SSD. OCZ Technology has launched the Vertex 4 with a full five-year warranty, which to date only a select few SSD manufacturers have been willing or able to do. SandForce-powered SSDs (with the single exception of the more expensive 520 Series) are notably absent from this select group. Even writing several gigabytes a day to the SSD every single day isn’t enough to wear out any 60GB or larger SSD within a five year period, so it is welcome to see the Vertex 4 lineup receiving that nice perk.
The V4 doesn’t yet have a proven track record, but it shows remarkable promise. OCZ’s Vertex 4 delivers SandForce-strong performance without the SandForce in a very well-balanced SSD offering. Read and write IOPS are both very strong and don’t sacrifice sequential performance to achieve it. Performance at higher queue depths is excellent, and SSD endurance is excellent as well thanks to Ndurance 2.0 – and OCZ isn’t afraid to prove it with a full 5 year warranty. With all this in mind the Vertex 4 should definitely be at the top of any SSD shortlist.
OCZ Vertex 4 SSD
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