As I sit here revisiting what we discussed in this article, I can't stop myself from thinking about the future of what is to come. The SSD market is changing so rapidly right now and no one understands that more than OCZ. Just days before CES so many resources were going into the Vertex 2 Pro, a hybrid prosumer drive that used an enterprise SandForce SF-1500 controller paired with consumer MLC flash memory. Between the time our sample arrived and the completion of the article the drive was erased from the books and later replaced with an even stranger hybrid that would hit store shelves as the Vertex LE. OCZ was not the only one to take a stumble right out of the gate back in January. RunCore had a similar SF-1500 / MLC drive that was to be the Pro V. Now the RunCore Pro V is said to have an SF-1200 controlled drive, but the stumble for RunCore has nearly paralyzed the company and left them without direction. Luckily OCZ had the resources and experience to start off with several products based on SandForce technology, so the troubles on the starting block were little more than a hurdle in a long race to the finish line.
At this time SandForce controlled drives have only been talked about for five months with hardware in hand to aid the discussion. Using Indilinx's Barefoot as our benchmark, we still have at least another year before any significant changes are needed, unless Intel or Indilinx (with Jetstream) come out swinging hard at the end of 2010. The SF-1500 consumer models ended up being a stumble for the manufacturers, but with SF-1200 drives getting extended capacity in just a few days, will the 100 / 200 / 400GB drives be a stumble for early adapting consumers? It is certainly something to think about while making your purchasing decision. At this point we are pretty sure a firmware change will be able to turn a Vertex 2 into a Vertex 2E (extended) with minimal hassle, but there hasn't been a definite time frame set for this.
There are also some lingering questions about reliability on the E models that are a bit unknown at this point. Thousands of hours of testing have gone into the standard capacity drives and they are very good. When the Barefoot drives were 5 months in, the bug log was much larger than what we are hearing about with the SandForce controllers. SandForce brought the real deal to market and was able to get it out quickly.
That said, SandForce also had a lot of help and no one would have been able to help more than OCZ Technology at this time. The two companies have worked very closely together and managed to bring the Vertex LE, Vertex 2, Vertex 2 E, Agility 2 and Agility 2 E to market rapidly. That is like a new product being released every month.
As it sits right now, the OCZ Vertex 2 100GB has some strong points, but a few things are holding it back. I would consider the Vertex 2 100GB drive and the SandForce SF-1200 to be mature products and have no problem recommending or using them myself. When it comes to flat out speed the Vertex 2 100GB drive that we reviewed today is like the first time I ever rode a superbike. The speed is so fast you really don't believe it and the feeling lasts for a very long time. When it comes to the user experience there is nothing else on the market in this capacity size that is able to compete toe to toe with the Vertex 2. If you have two computers at home let me save you a few gray hairs; get two drives because once you start using one Vertex 2 you will start to feel ill just from thinking about using a computer that does not have a fast SSD in it. You can try it, but it is like you have Tourette Syndrome; four letter words start coming out of your mouth twenty seconds after you hit the power button on a platter drive system and they do not stop until you walk away. I think the FDA should get involved and put a warning sticker on SSD packages; "This product has been known to be highly addictive and when not used can cause high levels of stress." The sad thing is, I am not kidding.
So, with a drive this fast what issues could I possibly have, you ask? - While the Vertex 2 is very fast, OCZ has managed to get into a bit of a price war with OCZ. The Agility 2 offers nearly the same performance as the Vertex 2, but at a lower price point. The Agility 2 does not include the exclusive Vertex 2 firmware, but neither does the OWC Mercury or A-DATA S599; two SF-1200 drives that we tested the Vertex 2 against today and offer comparable performance. So now OCZ is not only in a price war with themselves, but also what I call Team SandForce, the collective group of manufacturers using SandForce controllers and there are quite a few of them.
Next generation SSD prices have plummeted. Newegg still has the 100GB Vertex LE in stock and the price is now 200USD less than what it was launched at two month ago. With the Vertex LE now at 299 after a small mail-in rebate OCZ 's battle with itself is in some ways out of control. I doubt anyone would have predicted the LE supply to last this long; I am surprised myself. If you are in the market for a next generation SSD at a better than previous generation price then stop reading this article now and get an LE before they are gone for good. Just make sure that the first thing you do is update the firmware.
If you are still here then that means the Vertex LE drives are now sold out. You are now left with Team SandForce standard drives including the Agility 2. These drives are very good, but for a little bit more money you could have the Vertex 2 with the exclusive high IOPS firmware. Right now the extra performance is hardly noticeable, but as these drives are refined with firmware updates it is a good possibility that the Vertex 2 will scale better with the changes than the Team SandForce drives.
With My Digital Discount taking the high volume, lower profit per unit approach the Vertex 2 100GB can be purchased today for 379.99. That makes the Vertex 2 100GB only 20 USD more than Newegg's price on the 100GB Agility 2. If more performance is out there then OCZ will find it since they led the search for Indilinx drives and have taken a leading role in the development of SandForce products as well. I am leaning towards the Vertex 2 with a twenty bet on OCZ and their ability to pull more performance with each firmware release for the Vertex 2. At this point the 128GB C300 with limited write speed shouldn't even be on your radar. That leaves Vertex 2 against Team SandForce, but the odds are in favor of Vertex 2 coming out on top.