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OCZ Vertex Limited Edition, SandForce Powered SSD
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Date: Mar 01, 2010
Section:Storage
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications

There's an old cliche' that seems to ring true with respect to the onslaught of SSD technology we've been treated to in the market over the past year or so, "there's always another one coming."  Solid State Drive technologies are advancing so quickly, that some manufacturers don't even get a chance to let the ink dry on product labeling before their engineering teams step up with yet another offering to productize.  Such is the case with OCZ Technology, a company that is seemingly lining itself up to be a one-stop-shop for all things SSD.

When we first took a look at OCZ's Vertex 2 Pro series SSD back in February, we noted that our evaluation was a product "preview" due to the fact that the product was still being finalized in many ways and wasn't yet available on the open market.  Little did we know that exact product would never see the light of day in retail.  In fact, the Vertex Limited Edition SSD that we're going to review for you here today, will only be available in a limited 5K unit batch release from OCZ.  Once they're gone, OCZ intends to shift gears again from the Sandforce SF-1500 series controller to the SF-1200, at least for their consumer-targeted offerings.  The good news is, performance will continue to scale with the new controller, so again, this drive is essentially a view of things to come, though OCZ will actually be offering it for a limited time at places like NewEgg and Amazon. Let's take a look...


OCZ Vertex LE Series 100GB MLC SSD

OCZ Vertex 2 Pro Series SATA II SSD
Specifications and Features
Specifications:
  • 100GB capacity (93.1GB usable)
  • 50GB, 100GB, 200GB and 400GB available
  • MLC NAND
  • Slim 2.5" Design
  • Power Consumption: TBD
  • MTBF: TBD
  • Warranty: TBD
 100GB SSD Max Performance:
  • Read: Up to 270MB/s
  • Write: Up to 250MB/s
  • IOPs (4K random write): 15000
  • Seek Time: < 1ms
  • Operating Temp: 0C ~ 70C
  • Storage Temp: -45C ~ +85C
  • RAID Support
  • Shock Resistant: 1500G

OCZ's upcoming product family...
Model
 
 Controller  NAND  Max Read
 
Max Write
 
 4K IOPS
 Vertex LE
 
 SF-1500  MLC  270MB/s 250MB/s 15000
 Vertex 2
 
 SF-1200  MLC  270MB/s  260MB/s  20000
 Vertex 2 EX
 
 SF-1500  SLC  280MB/s  270MB/s 22000
Our buddy Nate over at Legit Reviews assembled the above table here and we liked it so much we stole it. Thanks Nate.  The OCZ Vertex LE 2 series of SSDs will come in two capacities of 100GB and 200GB.  We're specifically taking a look at the 100GB version here today.  It's an MLC-based drive with very robust read and write bandwidth up to 270MB/s and 250MB/s, respectively.  4K random write performance is rated at 15000 IOPs, which is a shade lower than the Vertex 2 Pro we tested not long ago, at 19K.  Essentially the Vertex LE is an offshoot of the Vertex 2 Pro but with firmware that tames down performance and adds a bit of stability.  All told, on paper the Vertex LE's specs are still impressive but as you can see there are more Sandforce-based SSDs from OCZ coming as well, perhaps with even better performance.  Finally, the Vertex 2 EX will be OCZ's SLC-based drive for the enterprise space.

Of AHCI, Trial and Error
In our first effort with the Vertex 2 Pro back in February, you may recall that while its performance was impressive, especially with respect to random write speed, we didn't feel we were getting all we could from the drive and it gave us a few moments of pause, especially in our IOMeter testing.  We came to find out that all of OCZ's new SSDs based Sandforce controllers, benefit significantly in term of general performance if AHCI is enabled in the system BIOS.  Historically, we found AHCI to be a flaky with certain SSDs and took the path of turning it off for our test setups. AHCI is a technology that was initially developed specifically for the latencies and inefficiencies of seek times and access on rotational media, so the benefit for it with SSDs, until only recently, was unfounded.  It turns out that though SSD controllers from Intel and Indilinx don't benefit much from AHCI, OCZ's chosen Sandforce controller, as well as the Marvell controller in Micron's new line of SSDs, both benefit significantly from it.   As such, in order to level the playing field, all of the storage benchmark tests you'll see on the pages ahead, were conducted with AHCI enabled for all SSDs tested.
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OCZ Vertex LE Up Close

The Vertex LE from OCZ looks just about like any standard SSD on the market today, at least in terms of its exterior appearance.  Of course we're always going to crack the case to get a look inside.

 
 

Like the Vertex 2 Pro we tested a few weeks back the Vertex Limited Edition is based on Micron NAND flash.  The PCB you're looking at here is based on a 100GB configuration, which actually has 128GB or so of memory on board but is over-provisioned specifically for the SF1500 controller architecture that is on board. It doesn't require any DRAM cache and actually uses NAND Flash for memory space, for caching, garbage collection and volume management.


What's this? OCZ's very own controller?  Not quite...

The silkscreen logo on the chip is actually that of OCZ's but this isn't custom silicon here.  Sandforce simply offered OCZ a limited quantity of a specific lot of their SF1500 controller which would allow them to offer an SSD with enterprise-class performance at a more consumer targeted price point.  In reality these chips are likely from a specific lot that didn't pass some corner case performance condition for enterprise applications but will serve just fine in a consumer client application.

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Test System and IOMeter

Our Test Methodologies:  Under each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our Vantage benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Processor -
Motherboard -

Video Card -
Memory -
Audio -

Storage -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 965

Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme
(X58 Express Chipset)

GeForce GTX 280
6144MB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1333

Integrated on board

Western Digital Raptor - OS
OCZ Vertex LE 100GB
OCZ Vertex 2 Pro 100GB
OCZ Vertex 120GB
Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -
Video Drivers
-
Relevant Software:
Window 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Intel 9.1.0.1012
DirectX 10
NVIDIA ForceWare v195.62

Benchmarks Used:
HD Tach 3.0.1.0
ATTO ver 2.41
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra XII SP2
IOMeter 2008
CrystalDiskMark

 IOMeter
 I/O Subsystem Measurement To


The IOMeter Question:
As we noted in a previous SSD round-up article, though IOMeter is clearly thought of as a well respected industry standard drive benchmark, we're not completely comfortable with it for testing SSDs.  The fact of the matter is, though our actual results with IOMeter appear to scale properly, it is debatable whether or not certain access patterns, as they are presented to and measured on an SSD, actually provide a valid example of real-world performance for the average end user.  That said, we do think IOMeter is a gauge for relative available bandwidth with a given storage solution.

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns; one with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and one with IOMeter's default access pattern of 2K transfers, 67% reads and 100% random access.



First we should note that there is a very different set of test conditions here, between the OCZ Vertex 2 Pro SSD, with AHCI disabled and the OCZ Vertex LE drive, as well as all other drives in this test, with AHCI enabled.  As we mentioned earlier, we learned the hard way that these drives from OCZ based on Sandforce SSD controller technology, benefit significantly from enabling AHCI.  As such, you can see how well the drive performs with this feature turned on, which allows the drive to queue up concurrent requests when the system is busy.  In terms of IOMeter metrics, we're looking at a 3X - 6X  performance gain with AHCI enabled.  Also, essentially, the Vertex 2 Pro and Vertex LE drives are the same SSD, save for different firmware versions. They both use the same controller and memory architecture with Micron NAND Flash.  What's also impressive is how the Vertex LE with AHCI enabled takes the Intel X25-M Gen 2 to task, generally doubling its performance in our IOMeter testing.

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SiSoft SANDRA Testing

 

Next we fired up SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the S ystem AN alyzer, D iagnostic and R eporting A ssistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting and both read and write performance metrics are detailed below. We also included SANDRA's graph so you are able to see how the drive performs over time and the length of the entire disk volume, along with the average rated result.

 SiSoft SANDRA 2009
Synthetic Benchmarks

OCZ Vertex LE Read Performance
 


OCZ Vertex LE Write Performance
 


Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB Read
 


Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB Write
 


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G) Read


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G) Write


As far as SANDRA is concerned, the new OCZ Vertex LE is the fastest drive of our bunch in terms of write performance and about on par with Micron's blazingly fast C300 SSD for read throughput. It's interesting to see the very saw-toothed pattern the write graph looks like for the Vertex LE drive, though in general there is more variance in write plots for all drives in our test.
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CrystalDiskMark Performance

CrystalDiskMark is a new synthetic benchmark we've started looking at that tests both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers.  It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to SSD performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers. 

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests


OCZ Vertex LE - 100GB MLC SSD


Intel X-25M G2 - 160GB MLC SSD

 
Micron RealSSD C300 256GB (SATA 3G)
 
OCZ Vertex 120GB


The OCZ Vertex LE offered up great read throughput and best of class write throughput, even competing with Micron's new C300 SSD.  To keep the playing field level, the Micron numbers here we taken with a 3Gbps SATA setup.  If you'd like to see the 6Gbps numbers you can take a look here.  The new Vertex LE drive excels in small block random write performance and handily outpaced the Intel X25M in 4K transfers with a queue depth of 32. Micron's new SSD clearly offers the best read throughput in this test, while the OCZ Vertex LE offers the best overall write performance, save perhaps for large sequential transfers.
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HD Tach v3 Performance

Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

HD Tach v3
http://www.simplisoftware.com


OCZ Vertex LE

 


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G)

 


Intel X25-M Gen 2


OCZ Vertex


In HD Tach testing, the OCZ Vertex LE showed anything but variance in its graph plot across the volume.  The drive chalked up slightly better write performance at 234MB/sec on average versus its 222MB/sec for reads.  Again, the Vertex LE drops in just ahead of the Micron drive in write performance and just behind it for read bandwidth.
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PCMark Vantage

Next we ran the OCZ Vertex 2 Pro through a battery of tests in PCMark Vantage from Futuremark Corp. We specifically used only the HDD Test module of this benchmark suite to evaluate all of the drives we tested. Feel free to consult Futuremark's white paper on PCMark Vantage for an understanding of what each test component entails and how it calculates its measurements. For specific information on how the HDD Test module arrives at its performance measurements, we'd encourage you to read pages 35 and 36 of the white paper.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance for its real-world application measurement approach to testing.  From simple Windows start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel confident that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of SSDs in an end-user/consumer PC usage model.


Here we're looking at significantly better real world test metrics versus our synthetic testing on the previous pages.  However, these tests represent more of a tradition desktop, versus workstation, usage model.  That said, the OCZ Vertex LE handily puts the hurt on all other drives in this test group, with the exception of the Micron RealSSD C300 in 6G SATA mode.  That specific comparison isn't "apples to apples" per se but we thought you'd like the score for reference regardless.  In short however, the OCZ Vertex LE puts up the fastest scores in this benchmark segment, that we've seen with any standard 3Gbps SATA SSD to date.

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PCMark Vantage (Continued)

Our next series of Vantage tests will stress write performance more so than the previous set. Applications like video editing and recording are not what we would call a strong suit for the average SSD, due to their high mix of random write transactions. 

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com



Here, the OCZ Vertex LE puts up a command performance.  If you're concerned about application load times (which is the one read intensive test in the mix here), this drive is easily the fastest SSD on the market right now, at least according to PCMark Vantage.  It literally smoked all other drives in the application loading test, even the 6Gbps SATA connected Micron C300. From there the Vertex LE traded a few victories off an on with the 6G SATA enabled C300 but blew out every other 3G SATA connected SSD in all the tests here.  It was damn impressive to see the Vertex LE do as well as it did in this test run and we think it's a clear indication of how well the drive will do in a real end user application usage model.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:
To be perfectly frank, and hey, that's what you come here for, we were sort of baffled at the sometimes strong, sometimes slightly lack-luster performance of the first iteration of OCZ's Vertex 2 Pro series SSD that is built with an identical PCB and controller platform as the new Vertex Limited Edition.  What we came to find out was that this line of new Sandforce SSD controllers benefits greatly with AHCI enabled, both for synthetic benchmarks as well as more real-world test conditions like our PCMark Vantage testing.  The downside of this is that, depending on the motherboard and BIOS combination at play, we've seen AHCI induce system instability on occasion, though hopefully this is the sort of thing that will work out over time.  Regardless, when AHCI is enabled, the OCZ Vertex LE is quite literally the fastest SSD we've tested on a 3Gbps SATA interface and even sometimes faster, depending on the usage pattern, than MIcron's C300 SSD, even when connected via a SATA 6Gbps connection.  One word, "impressive."

 

The OCZ Vertex Limited Edition can be found for $439.99 in the 100GB variant we tested here, or $919 for the 200GB flavor, on Amazon and at NewEgg.  When you consider you can find Intel's X25-M 160GB gen 2 SSDs for $449, it's a bit of a reach to justify the price-per-GB premium ($2.81 for the Intel drive, $4.40 for the Vertex LE), that you're going to have to ante-up for this SSD.  In fact, even Micron's C300 weighs in at a slightly lower price point from a cost-per-GB view.  However, the enthusiast in us is always yearning for the sort of high quality drive performance, maintenance and upkeep that the Sandforce SF1500 controller in OCZ's Vertex LE brings to the table.  In addition, with the reduction in write amplification and overhead that the controller offers, it's highly likely, though we haven't proven it empirically, that these SSDs will have better than average endurance over time.

So, let's bottom line things for you a bit here.  We think the Vertex Limited Edition by OCZ would serve very nicely as a super fast notebook drive, especially if you're the type that relies on a mobile workstation or an enthusiast class desktop replacement machine.   It could also serve you well as a boot/OS drive in a high-end desktop application, where you'd use standard spinning hard drives for bulk file storage.  Load up all your applications on this SSD and with the load time performance characteristics we saw in our Vantage testing, it will have you smiling ear to ear.  Your wallet, on the other hand, is going to wince in pain at the price.

What's really important to remember about our experience with this hot new SSD from OCZ is the promise that their chosen controller vendor, Sandforce, plans to offer more affordable controller derivatives moving forward, which OCZ will feature in their product line.  We're eager to take a look at OCZ's first drive with the less costly SF1200 controller under its hood, reportedly offering similar performance but in a more consumer-class price range.  We're genuinely excited to see OCZ's upcoming family of SSDs based on this technology.  With a bit more time in development and tuning, along with some economies of scale for driving cost down, OCZ could break out nicely from the pack of SSDs vying for customer attention in the market.


  

  

  • Superb all around performance
  • Great sustained performance with maintenance algo
  • Best of class write performance
  • Claimed increased durability, reliability
  • Very pricey
  • Limited availability

 



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