OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC)

OCZ increased the Vertex 4 performance with a number of small improvements that add up to sizable increases.

Manufacturer: OCZ Technology
15 minutes & 18 seconds read time


OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 01

Given the short timing of this project we're just going to dive right in and get to work on this one. Just a month ago OCZ Technology released their new flagship consumer SSD, the Vertex 4. In our testing we observed a rather strange issue when reading data from the drives provided by OCZ. The issue had to do with single read requests for data, a single command. Both the 256GB and 512GB models provided to us would only read at around 200MB/s. This hampered the drives in several benchmarks and was even observed in several real-world tasks. The 200MB/s limit was surpassed when asking the drive to read two files, then up to 400MB/s. Three files read further increased the Vertex 4 performance to their maximum read limits. The ability to multitask with native command queuing (NCQ) is a great feature, but one that most consumers rarely take advantage of... we are just single task creatures, performing one step at a time.

When it comes to OCZ's house brand Indilinx, firmware changes, when needed, will be rapid. OCZ doesn't need to wait for a third party to get involved. As you know by now, Indilinx Infused at this time doesn't mean 100% Indilinx, but rather Indilinx programming and firmware sitting atop Marvell silicon. We suspected as much while testing the OCZ Octane, but without proof or a State of Solid State article between then and now, we kept our speculations to ourselves. Either way, none of this really matters because Marvell just makes the hardware and the SSD manufacturers come up with the rest. This is why every SSD based on Marvell controllers perform differently, from the Crucial C300 to the Corsair Performance 3; the changes in performance and behavior are pretty broad.

When it comes to the Vertex 4 update that should be available soon, the 128GB model gets the largest performance boost. This performance increase has more to do with the write speed than it does the 200MB/s read limit that we suspect the 128GB drive shared with the larger models we reviewed. Going back to the point made in the last paragraph, none of the other SSDs from other manufactures using Marvell controllers have achieved anywhere near 400MB/s write speed in a 128GB model. At the same time this article gets published online, our 128GB Vertex 4 will arrive. We hoped to tackle all three models in this article, but UPS cut off times aren't as flexible as we'd like.

Today we're focusing on the two largest Vertex 4 drives that are now shipping - 256GB and 512GB. In our previous review we concluded that both drives felt faster than what the benchmarks showed, but the 200MB/s read limit with a single request hurt the benchmark scores. We also noted that in some tasks the limited read at a single request did pop up in some real-world areas like Quick PAR and WinRAR.

Let's take a look and see the progress OCZ was able to make with their Indilinx Infused Vertex 4 in just a single month's time.

OCZ Technology Vertex 4

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 02

Since not everyone lives, eats and sleeps solid state drives for a living, let's run through some important details while we go though a few images of the drives.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 03

Vertex 4 is an IOPS monster, but the unique feature is the series brings high IOPS performance down to consumer queue depth levels. All three capacity sizes have a max IOPS rating of 120K with a random read of 90K (95K for the 512GB). The write IOPS for all three capacity sizes is right around 85K.

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At the time of writing Newegg lists the Vertex 4 128GB at $149.99, 256GB at $329.99 and the 512GB at $649.99.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 05

Per the Vertex Standard, a measurement in which many companies base their accessory list on (but would never admit), you get a desktop adapter bracket, mounting screws, paper installation guide and a jazzy sticker.

OCZ went one step further with the Vertex 4 though and increased the warranty length to five years. Most SSDs ship with a one, two or three year warranty and very few are offered with a full five year replacement warranty.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 06

To date we've been able to break down the consumer SSD market into two groups, SandForce without DRAM and controllers that use DRAM. The Vertex 4 uses a DRAM design, but it uses a massive amount - 1GB on the 512GB model and 512MB on the 256GB model. This is a significant change to the DRAM capacity found on other DRAM design SSDs regardless of the specific controller used.

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Vertex 4 uses Intel third generation 25nm flash programmed for synchronous operation. Since we first reviewed the Vertex 4 we've learned quite a bit about this new flash and how it is affecting the SSD market. Apparently yields have increased with the third generation flash and the cost is decreasing by a substantial amount. This is why SSD prices are taking a nose dive right now.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, LSI, Corsair and Noctua.

You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.

In order to fully utilize SATA III you need a system with native SATA III support. P67, Z68 and Z77 systems are preferred, but AMD has made advances in their newer SATA III systems as well. Older X58 systems with Marvell based SATA III ports do not deliver the same high levels of performance, so we recommend newer systems when available.

X79 is a newer chipset, but it is based on an enterprise chipset that does not perform as well as our P67, Z68 or Z77 systems.

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

OCZ Vertex 4 256GB

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The new firmware worked out very well for the 256GB Vertex 4. The read speeds shot up from around 535MB/s to nearly 543MB/s. OCZ and many companies have started using ATTO with a queue depth of 10 instead of the standard 4 that we've run for the last ten years. With a queue depth of 10 we achieved the stated read speed of 550MB/s.

OCZ Vertex 4 512GB

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 16

Oddly enough, the 512GB model is now just a little slower than the 256GB in the write test at the lower queue depth. The read speed is just a little higher, though.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00

Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com

Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance

Info: shows detailed information

Health: checks the health status by using SMART

Error Scan: scans the surface for errors

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 17

All of the drives have been retested with the latest firmware other than those based on SandForce SF-2281 controllers. The new performance 5.1 SF firmware has an issue with TRIM so we're including numbers based on fw 3.3.2.

Since the Vertex 4's with the new release candidate firmware are separated in the chart we've highlighted them in red for you. Hopefully you will find this format a little easier to read.

This is where we found the largest improvement with the new firmware update for the Vertex 4. Before we had that nasty 200MB/s limit, but as you can see that is no more. The 512GB V4 model is now capable of 345MB/s average read with a single request and the 256GB model moves to 309MB/s. This is a fairly large jump for just a month of work on the firmware.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 18

Just as OCZ stated in our email that discussed the new firmware, the write speed increased on both models. The 256GB drive saw a very large improvement, from 357MB/s on average to 415MB/s. The 512GB V4 only saw a small increase.

Both drives had a very large, brief moment dip in write speed. This is not uncommon for SSDs. The dip in performance was very brief and it had very little impact on the average numbers recorded.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 19

The Read Access Times increased for both Vertex 4 models. This is something we didn't expect to find, but clearly an increase has occurred with the new firmware.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 20

The Write Access Times stayed the same for the most part for both drives. Each had a single bump in the graph, but other than that brief moment the charts were smooth.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark


Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info

Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html

Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes

* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes

* Text copy

* Change dialog design

* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 21

In CDM we're looking at the 4K results (top three bars in each group). For the most part the 512GB Vertex 4 stayed the same except for a slight performance increase at 32 queue depth. The 256GB model lost a little performance at QD4, but gained around 45MB/s at QD32.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 22

In the 4K write test the performance stayed about the same.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/

Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

When the Vertex 4 first hit the market the 200MB/s limit caused some issues with this test. That prompted us to step away from the normal benchmark runs and make some conclusions based on real-world testing. Our review turned into a bit of an editorial that explained that even though what you were seeing in the benchmarks was accurate, the ultra-low access times made up for it in real-world feel.

Now the situation is reversed. The benchmark performance has increased, but the read latency has increased also. Unfortunately in this round we don't have the extra couple of days to sit down with the Vertex 4 as our boot drive to get a sense of the real-world feel. We'll update you in the Vertex 4 128GB review later this week or early next week.

As it sits right now, in our simulation of real-world performance, the Vertex 4 is faster with the new release candidate firmware than it was when the drive launched a month ago. In the chart though, the Vertex 4 is still not up to the same levels of performance found with the SandForce SF-2281 drives.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.

- Brief Methodology

SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.

Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test

Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)

60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB

120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB

240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB

Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 24

HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

Last week I had a really good question sent to me over email about this benchmark. The reader wanted to know the focus of this test, basically how to tell if a drive is doing what it should be doing. In some cases we get a reverse stair step that shows the drive slowing as increasing amounts of data are added to the drive. The Vertex 3 Max IOPS 120GB is a classic example. The Vertex 4 512GB with the new 1.4 firmware acts a little different.

With the 512GB and the new firmware, you take your performance hit and the drive retains its speed even when populated with more data. Ideally we would like to see a 0 performance hit when data is added to the drive, the second best result we could ask for is steady performance like what we see in the 512GB V4 with fw 1.4. If you are a professional working with data and are relying on a steady flow it doesn't get much better than that. A/V professionals are one group who will find benefits from constant performance.

Benchmarks - AS SSD

AS SSD Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358

Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9

AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.

In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).

Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.

- Copy Benchmark

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Our file copy test shows an increase in performance in most of the test with the new firmware.

Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: BETA 11

So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.

Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.

The software can be used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.

Fill Compressible Data

Vertex 4 256GB

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Vertex 4 512GB

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 27

Incompressible Data

Vertex 4 256GB

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 28

Vertex 4 512GB

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You asked for it and we delivered it, Anvil Storage Utilities benchmarks are now on TweakTown.

The first image set is from the 0-fill test and the second set is the incompressible data test. Eventually we'll figure out a way to chart this data for drive to drive comparisons. For now we're just showing the charts.

The OCZ Vertex 4 does not take the same type of performance hit when working with incompressible data or data that is already compressed as we see with the SandForce based drives. The architecture does not differentiate between the two data types.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.

The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.

The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.

OCZ Vertex 4 SSD - Progress in the Firmware (testing with v1.4RC) 30

Since the LSI AIS event we keep hearing stories about admins and other enterprise users increasing the number of consumer SSDs in their systems. Consumer SSDs offer a significant performance advantage over mechanical drives and a pretty large price decrease over enterprise SSDs. The new Vertex 4 firmware increases the web and file server test performance by a large margin.

Final Thoughts

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Thirty days is about what it took for OCZ to increase the read speed by around 150MB/s on the 512GB model at one transfer. That's not too bad at all; I can't wait to see what the next update brings. Users on the other hand might be a bit disappointed in the firmware progression. The reason why I say that is because this update is a destructive update. You will need to backup or clone your data before performing the update or your data will be lost. Destructive updates are a bit of a pain in the ass. When it comes to my personal systems I tend to wait to do the update for when I reformat or rebuild a system.

The Vertex 4 update is destructive, but on the other hand the performance increase is significant, at least in the benchmarks. As I've stated, we have not ran this new firmware in a daily use system yet and that is unfortunate. The real beauty of the Vertex 4 is how it feels and not so much how it looks in the performance charts. If the read latency would have stayed the same we wouldn't really worry about a change in the feel, but the read latency increased and with the 512GB model it doubled.

The pesky 200MB/s read limit has gone away, something we are grateful of. If you are a power user or someone who transfers large files, you'll enjoy the new 309MB/s to 345MB/s read speed as measured in HD Tune Pro. I download my Linux installs to the OS SSD so the PAR and RAR can take advantage of the high IOPS and then transfer them to a high capacity spinner array once the intense workload has completed. This is one area where the 200MB/s limit was noticeable and unwelcome. When working with 45 to 50GB ISO files, the extra bandwidth is significant.

OCZ has made significant progress with their new flagship Vertex 4 line up, but I doubt this will be the last time we test a new firmware for this drive. Indilinx Infused A.K.A OCZ firmware engineers will continue to increase the performance of the Vertex 4 just like we've observed with other OCZ SSDs in the past.

At this time it's really a bit of a tossup between the Vertex 3 and the Vertex 4 depending on what type of data you work with mostly. Incompressible data like pictures, music and such get the nod for the Vertex 4. The Vertex 4, at least with the old firmware (we want to spend time with the new fw to confirm) does feel snappier in the OS than the Vertex 3. On the other hand the Vertex 3 is still faster at many tasks, an area that we can't overlook. The new SandForce SATA III drives did just get a blazing fast firmware update (5.1), but as been the case too many times, there is a bug in the firmware, this time with TRIM.

Decisions, decisions... let's let this one play out a little longer and see what happens over the next few days when we get to use the new firmware in a daily use computer. Look for an update in the Vertex 4 128GB review coming soon.

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