OCZ Technology Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB SSD Review

Max what? I thought Vertex 3 was the big dog? - Chris sets us straight about OCZ's new flagship SSD.

Manufacturer: OCZ Technology
15 minute read time


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In our very first SandForce SF-2200 article we told you that SandForce opened the door for manufacturers to get creative with products this year. When that article went live we had already learned that some SSD manufacturers were taking a good look at what NAND flash they wanted to use in their SF-2281 offerings. So far, we've only seen IMFT (Intel / Micron) 25nm flash paired with the SandForce SF-2281 controller, but that is about to change.

The OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS uses Toshiba Toggle flash rather than the IMFT flash we saw on the standard Vertex 3 and OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G. In order to use the Toshiba flash, a new PCB was needed and we suspect a few programming tweaks went in as well. The end result was a higher maximum limit for Input / Output operations Per Second.

If a higher IOPS version sounds familiar from OCZ, it's because it is. Last year the Vertex 2 Line was the highest rated IOPS model for the consumer product line of SSDs and the Agility 2 was the 'standard' model. For some reason the naming scheme changed this year. We suspect that OCZ pushed their Vertex 3 out and while doing so found that the Toshiba flash would allow them to push the SF-2281 even higher. The Agility line is returning as is the Solid, both now getting a '3' and both using SandForce controllers. We'll have the Agility 3 in for testing around the time you read this article and at that time we'll break down OCZ's SSD product line for 2011.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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The Vertex 3 shipped in three SKUs, each with different capacities; 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. The Max IOPS edition at this time only has two capacities; 120GB and 240GB. Things aren't as cut and dry with the Vertex 3 Max IOPS. The 120GB Max IOPS has a maximum random read rating of 35K IOPS and 75K IOPS for the write. This is up from the 60K IOPS write of the original Vertex 3. Both 120GB models state a maximum read speed of 550MB/s read speed and 500MB/s write speed.

The 240GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS unit that we are looking at today has a read speed rating of 550MB/s, the same as the rated speed of the original, but the write speed has been downgraded to 500MB/s from the Vertex 3 240GB's 520MB/s rating. The read IOPS has been increased to 55K, though, and the write max IOPS is up to 65K.

When it comes to pricing, we were a bit taken back after our Newegg search and jumped for joy after finding the 120GB Max IOPS was priced just ever so slightly above the 120GB standard Vertex 3. The 120GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS is available now for 309.99 and the original 120GB Vertex 3 will cost you a mere 10 Dollars less, 299.99. At the time of writing the 240GB Max IOPS wasn't available at Newegg, but the 240GB Vertex 3 was with a price of 529.99. There was also a 20 Dollars off promo code making the 240GB Vertex 3 509.99 USD. This was the first time we'd found a Vertex 3 240GB listed for less than the MSRP.

The OCZ Vertex 3 ships with a standard 3 year warranty and a desktop adapter bracket. We like the desktop adapter bracket since there aren't many notebooks with SATA 6G capability and most power users will install the drives in desktop systems.

Lenovo and possibly other notebook users will want to follow the OCZ Vertex 3 Form Factor article to keep up to date on an issue involving the physical size of the new Vertex 3 casing. OCZ has already come up with a plan of action and is working to fix the issue.

The Packaging

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On the front of the package OCZ clearly displays the SATA III (6G) information as well as some other bits of information. More importantly, they show the capacity of the drive in a large font on the lower right corner. A large MAX IOPS sticker was placed on the box as well, so you can easily see the difference between the Max IOPS and standard Vertex 3 model.

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On the back we found some general information about the Vertex 3 Series. A full specification rundown was also included, something we really like seeing on retail products since this will help retail shoppers figure out which product fits their needs better.

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Inside the box we found everything nice and tidy. The desktop adapter bracket is kept separate from the drive so you don't have to worry about one scratching the other. OCZ also includes a paper manual to get things up and running, a sticker that shows your SSD is bad ass and a package of screws that fit the drive and adapter bracket.

The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB

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On the surface everything seems perfectly normal with the retail Vertex 3 240GB, but we found the size of the drive to be out of spec. OCZ has been notified of the problem and is quickly working on a sensible way to remedy the issue. If you would like to learn more about the Vertex 3 form factor issue, visit this article where you will also find updates as they come in.

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Aside from the issue that will affect a few notebooks, the retail Vertex 3 we received will work fine in desktops with the adapter bracket. Here we see the retail drive has all of the mounting points on the bottom for installing the drive in the desktop adapter bracket.

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The mounting points are also located where they should be on the side of the Vertex 3.

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The SATA power and data connections are where they should be and the included desktop adapter bracket offsets the drive so these connections match the location of standard 3.5" form factor drives.

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Inside we quickly found the SandForce SF-2281 controller and on one side of the PCB, 8 Toshiba flash chips. The PCB design is different than the one we found with the Intel flash.

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An additional 8 Toshiba flash chips were on the other side. For the most part there isn't really anything interesting inside the Vertex 3, so you really have no reason to void your warranty by taking yours apart.

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, Cooler Master, 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.

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion in forums about SATA 6G. This stems from early X58 motherboards that shipped with Marvell controllers that are garbage compared to what Intel has released. The Intel native SATA 6G implementation is the best way to get the most out of your new Vertex 3, or for that matter, any other SATA 6G SSD. The Marvell controllers had their time and place, but it was a place holder and that time has passed.

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.

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In our early testing with the OCZ Technology Vertex 3 we observed the drive reading at almost 560MB/s and writing just over 500MB/s. There is no doubt that the Vertex 3 Max IOPS is fast, but is it significantly faster than the Vertex 3 in real world testing?

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.

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I doubt we are going to see much of a difference between the Vertex 3 and Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB drives without specifically targeting IOPS performance. Both drives are very fast, almost to the point of having more speed than you can really use. It's kind of like living in the city and driving a Ferrari Enzo. You have the ability to go 200 MPH, but rarely does an occasion happen when it'd be possible.

The Max IOPS model is like putting a better exhaust on the car. Now you have the ability to go 210 MPH, but the same basic issue is still there, you rarely ever get a chance to use it like that. Of course, not being able to use an upgrade has never stopped man from buying and trying to use anything.

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In both the read and write speeds across the drive the Vertex 3 Max IOPS matches the Vertex 3. Both drives are insanely fast and offer the best raw read and write performance available today.

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 cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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Marketing folks like to talk about big flashy numbers, so we hear quite a bit about ATTO performance and transfer rates, but SSD's real standout feature is access times. Access times are measured in milliseconds and the lower the access time, the better the user experience is.

The Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB has a read access time of .18ms on average. It doesn't sound as cool as 550MB/s, but .18 will make your programs open faster than you can even remove your finger off of the mouse button.

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The Vertex 3 Max IOPS write access time went up a little over the Vertex 3, but there have been a couple of firmware updates and that might be playing a little role in the difference. Still, you aren't going to notice the slightly elevated access times.

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.

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In this test we're looking at 4K reads and how the drive scales when commands are stacked up with Native Command Queuing. The 240GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS shows a massive improvement over the 120GB Vertex 3 when commands are stacked 32 deep. All three of the Vertex 3 drives perform within the margin of error in single depth 4K reads.

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The 240GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS is able to scale much better when write commands are stacked compared to the 120GB Vertex 3.

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

Synthetic tests are only the precursor to determining how a SSD performs. PCMark's Vantage software allows us to see exactly how a drive reacts in the real world. For the most part, the Vertex 3 240GB and 240GB Max IOPS offer about the same performance. Each drive has its own strong points over the other.

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 Technology Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB SSD Review 22

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

Benchmarks are great, but often times developers overlook logic and embrace results that are outside the realm of reality. On the previous page we saw the performance of the drives without data present, but on this page we see what happens when the drive are populated like they would be in your system.

In this test we see that the Corsair Performance 3 is the only SATA 6 SSD on the market to run at a static speed no matter how much data is present on the drive. This test was actually designed to show how the Performance 3 was able to achieve a static speed. Looking into 2012, I feel this is an area where SSD controller designers like SandForce should focus their attention. We already have peak speed of 550MB/s, now we need static speed of 550MB/s before moving on.

On the previous page we saw the Crucial m4 outperforming the Vertex 3 drives in some of the tests. Normally I would make a bit of a big deal about that, but then I saw the light. The Vertex 3 Max IOPS loses performance as data is added to the drive, but not at the same rate as the Crucial m4. With data on the drive the Max IOPS clearly outperforms competing drives.

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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The 240GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS really kicks it up a notch here. The 240GB model should be faster when writing the data to the drive since it is rated faster than the 120GB drive. This is also an area where SandForce spent quite a bit of engineering time on the SF-1200 and it looks like the SF-2281 is gaining ground here again after the initial controllers release in the pre-production Vertex 3 we tested a month ago.

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.

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Generally when we see an improvement in the Copy Benchmark on the previous page we see an improvement in the server tests as well. Our loved SandForce consumer drives are not that much different than the enterprise drives that cost hundreds of Dollars more.

Here we see the Vertex 3 with a SandForce SF-2281 controller dominating the server tests in all categories. The Vertex 3 is a consumer product line, so we won't spend too much time here, but if you are looking for a full on enterprise drive OCZ makes the Vertex 3 Pro with a SandForce SF-2500 controller and SuperCap for uninterrupted data flow.

Final Thoughts

We've yet to test the OCZ Technology Vertex 3 Pro with the SF-2500 controller, but have read the drive performed a little slower than the Vertex 3 original in many consumer level tests. Both the Pro and Max IOPS use Toshiba 34nm Toggle Mode flash and their PCBs are quite similar. At first I started to wonder if the Max IOPS was a rebranded Pro, just with a consumer SF-2281 controller, but even though the PCBs are nearly identical, the Max IOPS didn't have the solder points for the Super Capacitor. That still leaves us with the fact that the Pro and Max IOPS share the same Toshiba flash.

I rarely talk much about the longevity of NAND flash. This is mainly due to the fact that I don't have the resources to test drives until they fail. The flash manufacturers rate lifecycles, but even two brands that come off of the same manufacturing line can have different ratings (Intel and Micron 25nm). This alone tells me that you can't just quote a value with certainty while writing to such a large audience. Doing so is a bit foolish and has little scientific value (those things we like to actually use to warrant a purchasing decision). Still, 34nm flash is rated for higher write cycles than 25nm and even though the numbers appear to come from thin air, they are based on someone's formulas. Those looking to use their Vertex 3 SSD for a long period of time (more than the 3 year warranty) will want to keep this in mind. Small drives like the 120GB model will be affected more by this than the larger 240GB drives.

When it comes to real world performance, there isn't much of a difference between the Vertex 3 and Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB drives. I've read the 120GB capacity size is a different story with the Max IOPS model outperforming the standard Vertex 3. We'll see how that goes when OCZ sends us the 120GB Max IOPS. When it comes to pure speed, the 240GB Vertex 3 variants are very similar.

That pretty much leads us to the price. At the time of writing the Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB actually costs just a little bit more than the Vertex 3 240GB at Newegg. If it were me I'd be stretching a mere $10.00 USD more and scooping up the Max IOPS without hesitation. Desktop users will like the fact that all Vertex 3 drives ship with a desktop adapter bracket. Notebook users, especially Lenovo notebook users will need to be mindful of which drive casing they receive. By the time you read this OCZ will be ready to start rolling out a new 'Lenovo friendly' case and within a month those drives will have saturated the market. If you happen to get a drive that doesn't fit your notebook, OCZ will swap drives with you.

All things considered, I think the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB is more marketing than it is substance for consumer users. If you are looking to really work your drive in intense IOPS situations, then you may see a performance increase, but gamers and even power users doing day to day activities won't see much of a difference. Things may be different when it comes to the 120GB models, we'll leave that for another day. Don't let that scare you away from the Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB drive, though. It is still just as fast as the Vertex 3 and should be considered one of the fastest drives available on the market. If the price still sets very close to that of the standard Vertex 3 when you are shopping, then jump on it as quick as you can. The real world benefits may be in name only for consumers, but you can look down on your friend's standard Vertex 3 and laugh.

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