I have to admit today is a day we didn't think we'd see. Back at IDF OCZ quietly let a few members of the media see a prototype Barefoot 3 controller on an early PCB design. Back then we were skeptical of OCZ's claims of spinning this controller on their own since the last two products bearing the Indilinx Infused name were in firmware only. Then we had the OCZ stock meltdown with the company failing to release an earnings statement, the CEO resigning and finally a number of layoffs.
Things still aren't looking good for OCZ and the rumor mill is churning some pretty tall tales. The latest round of rumors has the former CEO Ryan Peterson leaving the country and now residing in Panama, a quarterly loss of 40 million and one that OCZ confirmed just days ago, an SEC investigation. With all of that stacked up, it's easy to be on Team Skeptical at this point.
What would OCZ need to turn their struggles around? A very good start would be to release the fastest consumer SSD on the planet today. Set the stage, cue the lights and roll the music.
OCZ acquired Indilinx and its 20 patents back in March of 2011, around the same time OCZ shipped its one-millionth SSD. Just a few months later OCZ acquired PLX Technology's engineering team and assets. By combining these two teams together with a new manufacturing facility, OCZ managed to produce a true successor to the Barefoot ECO, a controller that was all the rage in 2009.
Barefoot 3 is a true OCZ controller with its own IP and its own engineers making it happen, even the manufacturing of the drives comes from OCZ. Today we check out the brand new Vector SSD based on this new controller, and see how it goes.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
At the time of writing OCZ didn't have its product page up so we're using the specs presented to media in the reviewers guide. So far OCZ has released details on three capacity sizes. Vector is the new flagship in the OCZ SSD product family so we don't expect to see a 64GB model. We don't expect to see anything larger than 512GB either until a move to 20nm flash occurs.
Looking at just the Vector on the provided chart, we see the 128GB is down in performance slightly to the two larger capacity size models. The 256GB and the 512GB share the exact same specs so there isn't a large capacity performance penalty like previous generation products (SandForce, Crucial m4, etc.)
Barefoot 3 is an 8-channel design with an ARM Cortex processor packaged with an OCZ Argon co-processor. Page mapping resides in DDR3, 512MB in the 128GB and 256GB capacity sizes with a large 1GB buffer in the 512GB model. OCZ designed the Vector for sustained performance, the same thing we've preached for over a year here at TweakTown where the performance stays high even after intense use or with significant data on the flash.
Vector is a 7mm drive, OCZ's first flagship to appear in this form factor (although you can purchase a special Vertex 3 in 7mm Z-height at Newegg). Vector ships with a five year warranty and comes with Acronis True Image disk cloning software, another first for OCZ and a very nice feature to include. All of the standard OCZ add-in package goodies are also included, a desktop adapter bracket, screws, paper manual and a new sticker replacing my SSD is better than your HDD sticker.
Expect availability within 48 hours after the reviews go live. The 128GB Vector has an MSRP of $149.99, 256GB for $269.99 and the large 512GB for $559.99. These prices are above the magic $1 per GB, but they are also new and per the spec list the OCZ Vector is the highest performing consumer SSD on the market today. We'll put that claim to test very soon.
Blue is the new color for all things Vector. Other than the color, OCZ retained most of the package detail from the Vertex 4 with a fair amount of data for us to consume on the front and back of the package.
On the back we found quite a bit of general information about Vector.
Inside the package is a lot like OCZ's previous products with the desktop adapter bracket housed on the opposite side of the actual SSD.
Here we have it all laid out. Under the Heart OCZ sticker is an installation code for Acronis True Image.
OCZ Vector 256GB SSD
Here we get our first look at the actual drive. Just like the Vertex 3 Max IOPS, the drive has some reflective silver lettering that makes taking a picture difficult. In person the drive looks amazing, but looks aren't really a reason to purchase a SSD. It does look really good, though.
The case is all aluminum, no plastic on this flagship.
Vector is a 7mm Z-height and even with the reduced size the drive is very sturdy. We've noticed on some 7mm drives the case is flimsy and can even be bent rather easy, not the OCZ Vector. This drive could survive the baseball bat test.
OCZ includes a desktop adapter bracket and it offsets the drive to the left for easier cable management.
Here we get our first look at the insides of Vector and the Barefoot 3 controller. Barefoot 3 is an 8-channel controller. There are eight NAND flash chips on each side of the PCB and spaces for three DDR2/DDR3 chips. The 256GB Vector uses dual 256MB DDR3 chips.
Vector has quite a few power regulation components and it makes for a pretty dense array of components on the PCB. This isn't a low cost offering as you can imagine by the number of surface mount components.
Barefoot 3 uses the IDX500M00-BC on the controller.
OCZ is purchasing NAND wafers and packaging 25nm IMFT flash. We expected to see 20nm IMFT synchronous flash on this release, but OCZ choose to go the safe route and use proven 25nm synchronous flash.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation
We use two systems for SSD testing. The desktop runs a majority of the tests and the Lenovo W530 runs the notebook power tests as well as the real-world file transfer benchmark.
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.
With ATTO we get to measure peak performance. With a queue depth of 4 we recorded a maximum read of 556.6MB/s. The maximum write performance measured was nearly 535MB/s. Both values are higher than OCZ's claimed performance rating of 550/530. We aren't going to complain with the difference goes in our favor.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
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
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.
In HD Tune Pro we recorded an average sequential read speed of 344MB/s. The maximum and minimum speeds weren't much different. If you recall, Vertex 4 had less than stellar single queue depth read and write performance. The drive was designed for heavy multitasking and low access times. Storage products can be tuned for workloads, as we displayed in the LSI MegaRAID 9265-8i article back in March. The MegaRAID is a RAID controller, but by manipulating the way data arrived to the SSD, we were able to fine tune the RAID controller.
SSD controllers are sort of the same, just think of each flash chip as an SSD and the SSD controller as the RAID component telling data where to go and how much to send in each burst. This is why we say the firmware and programming is just as important as the hardware. OCZ has one of the most experienced teams in the SSD firmware business.
Here we see the actual run from HD Tune Pro. The Vertex 4 256GB was around 50MB/s slower than Vector in this same test and the Vantage performance was really low. We're jumping the gun here a bit, but Vector in Vantage actually kicks ass this time. The reason why is the single queue depth access time. In this image you can see a 0.020 ms measurement, around 10x better than Vertex 4 256GB with firmware 1.5. We'll refer back to this later in the review.
OCZ's storage mode is back. First introduced on the Vertex 4 and now living on Vector. When your drive gets around 70% full the sequential performance drops to around 175MB/s. This feature keeps you from burning through your flash PE cycles.
Here we see the actual run on a fresh drive. The actual sequential maximum speed is just shy of 455MB/s with the file system in place. This is hella fast - one of the highest we've recorded on a 2.5" drive.
After storage mode kicks in and takes the drive down to around 175MB/s the average drops to just over 370MB/s. If you are not in storage mode, i.e. have less than 70% of the drive full, you won't ever see an average of 370MB/s.
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.
Read access time was a straight solid line across the graph with a steady .07ms time.
The write access time was a steady .03 until we hit the 70% mark where the drive changes over to storage mode - a brief blip that went to .07ms and quickly back to .03ms. The blip didn't even register on the average result it was so brief.
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.
* 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.
You may have noticed a couple of new drives in the charts today that have not been reviewed on TweakTown yet - Intel's 335 Series and Samsung's 840. The Samsung 840 Pro is not on the list, they have a firmware issue and many of the drives are failing in the field with an unrecoverable issue.
Vector's 4K read speed is just over 31MB/s. That jumps to around 88MB/s with QD4 and all the way to nearly 400MB/s at QD32. Much like Vertex 4 the drive is tuned for a lot of high queue depth operations, but this time OCZ managed to leave the low queue depth performance intact, as you'll see on the next page.
The single queue depth 4K performance was 164MB/s, the highest on the chart and a beast of a number. Vector scaled to 340MB/s written at QD4 and 373MB/s at QD32. This 4K write speed is very nice especially when installing programs and working with small files.
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/
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.
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
Here we see Vertex 4 next to Vector, both in 256GB capacities. Like us you have to be wondering what happened since the Vertex 4 delivers 300MB/s sequential read and Vector delivers just 350MB/s.
OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
OCZ Vector 256GB
Here we see the latency at different sizes. AIDA64, our latency test can only measure 64KB, we've asked for the ability to change the transfer size, but after a year we've given up on the request. Anyhow, here we see that Vector is able to finish an operation faster than Vertex 4 at a queue depth of 1. At the 512 byte size Vector is nearly twice as fast.
What we think is going in Vantage is this. Vector can finish a read operation and start the next faster than Vertex 4. That is how Vector can actually outperform drives with SandForce controllers in Vantage despite being limited to just 250MB/s sequential read. Remember, Vantage is based on heavy low queue depth reads.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
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.
We prefer to test Vantage with the data on the drives. Using the 50% capacity mark as our measuring stick we see that the Vector 256GB delivers higher performance than Vertex 4 and comes close to many of the leading products on the market today.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC5
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 is 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
When testing compressible vs. incompressible data performance we didn't see a whole lot of variation.
QD32 Random Read
Our random read performance with 4K data and a queue depth of 32 was 97K IOPS.
QD32 Random Write
Our random write IOPS test under the same perimeters recorded 90K IOPS.
Benchmarks - BootRacer
BootRacer - System Boot Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0
Developer Homepage: Greatis
Product Homepage: BootRacer
Download here: http://www.greatis.com/bootracer/download.htm
Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation loaded with an operating system and several program files. The data on the drive at the time of the test is 45GB. The second test, 50GB Free, was run with the drives filled with block data until only 50GB of free capacity remained.
It's difficult to imagine booting faster than last gen SSDs, around 17 seconds, but Vector manages to take off another full second and boots our Lenovo W530 at 15.5 seconds.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
Developer Homepage: Nodesoft
Product Homepage: DiskBench
Download here: http://www.nodesoft.com/diskbench/download
Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSSpeed S301 SLC 128GB SSD to move a 15GB block of data to and from the target drive. This is part of our real world test regiment. Roughly 45GB of data resides on the target drive before the '15GB Block' is transfer. The 15GB Block is the same data we built for the Data on Disk Testing and is a mix of compressible and incompressible data.
We've replaced AS SSD's Copy Benchmark with our own test using DiskBench and a 15GB block of data used in the fill test. Vector does very well here and equals the pace set by the Corsair Neutron GTX with the new LINK_A_MEDIA Devices controller.
Benchmarks - Power Testing
Bapco MobileMark 2012 1.5
Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com
Test Homepage: http://www.bapco.com
MobileMark 2012 1.5 is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of office productivity, media creation and media consumption. Unlike benchmarks that only measure battery life, MobileMark 2012 measures battery life and performance simultaneously, showing how well a system design addresses the inherent tradeoffs between performance and power management.
It's going to be difficult to see on the small chart, but Vector is the black line that ends between the 261 and 266 minute mark. You can click on the image to see the results in higher detail. This is much better than Vertex 4, a drive that tied a Western Digital Caviar Blue 750GB spinner. When your SSD uses the same power as a mechanical drive there might be a problem. At least Vector isn't in the same high power category.
PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw
Here we see power usage in another view. Vector has a higher idle than most of the other drives in the chart, but the peaks are lower. Other than the extreme peaks when writing random data, Vector's power draw doesn't change much except for random writes and the high peaks in the chart. If it wasn't for the low idle power Vector would be a very power efficient drive.
Above we see a time line as provided by OCZ in the form of milestones. What comes next or when this list ends we don't know, but certainly it's something to consider. At one point OCZ's stock was down to just $1.12 per share, you could nearly buy 500 shares of OCZ for less than you could a 512GB Vertex 4. What does this have to do with Vector? Well, nothing if the company manages to pull through this tough time, but if a worst case scenario happens and you need to RMA your Vector, then things might get a little unpleasant.
Normally we wouldn't draw any lines to these events in a review, but this is the first time we've been in a situation like this, and we feel it's something to consider. I'm not the most knowledgeable person to consult on stock matters. I can read though and many "experts" are saying OCZ is in trouble. Just how much trouble remains to be seen. If trouble is big flaming crash and burn kind of trouble then questions come up about warranties. With that out of the way we can talk about performance, pricing and the new accessory package.
Performance first, Vector is a beast of a drive with high performance all over the place. The sequential read speed of 350MB/s is a bit misleading since the access times are so low. Still, when transferring data to the drive don't expect more than 350MB/s, but the limit doesn't hurt real-world tasks like it did Vertex 4 with only 300MB/s single queue depth reads.
Write speeds are higher than Vertex 4 as well, but that pesky storage mode makes a return. This keeps you from chewing through the NAND, but we wonder what life would be like if OCZ just reserved a block of data like SandForce and LAMD do turning the 256GB Vector into a 240GB Vector. Surely this was considered at some point by OCZ given its talented engineers and designers, but left off the table when in the final product. The advantage is you have more capacity, but when you get past 70% full, your drive slows considerably. Personally, I never recommend going over 60% on any SSD, but I hear from readers all of the time with drives running with 90% of the capacity used.
OCZ Technology's new Vector is the new king of IOPS. In HD Tune Pro we measured Read 4K IOPS at just over 11K and Intel's new 335 Series was only 7K in the same test. The write 4K IOPS for Vector was nearly 40K and the 335 Series was 35K. Vector not only outperforms SandForce's newest drive to hit the market, but also blows away Vertex 4. These are single request IOPS, not using NCQ. Vertex 4 shipped with a massive high IOPS rating as well, but most of us will never achieve a queue depth higher than 8. That's why it's important to bring high IOPS performance to lower queue depth levels.
When it comes to accessory packages OCZ sets the standard in which everyone else follows. We've even heard this referred to as "the OCZ standard". OCZ raised the bar with the Vector... again. You still get the paper manual, desktop adapter bracket and screws, but this round OCZ included Acronis True Image. Users can download the software from OCZ's website and the product key used for installation is printed on your paper manual. We've used Acronis for years and feel it's the easiest way to clone an existing drive. We actually use the software in each of our reviews when loading the Lenovo W530 OS image to the drives for testing. This is a great addition to an already very well put together accessory package. OCZ also backs Vector with a five year warranty.
So, how does it compare to everything else? Vector is faster than the previous generation drives based on the SF-2281 and Marvell controllers. It's also a little faster than next-gen products that are shipping now with LAMD controllers and Samsung's new 840. Vector even outperformed the TweakTown Chris Ramseyer 128GB SLC SSD when writing data to the drive in DiskBench. Through process of elimination that makes it one of the highest performing SSDs available on the market today.
There are two things that keep us from calling Vector the fastest consumer SSD in the world, though. The first is the 350MB/s single request read speed that can limit your file transfers when moving data around. The second is storage mode on the write side. Depending on what you do and how full you run your OS drive either or both could slow down your performance. If you run into these issues you'll be doing something very focused, transferring large amounts of sequential data or using your drive near capacity. It's a bit like saying SandForce slows down when working with incompressible data. These are all targeted issues and most of us really won't notice them. If you are coming from a mechanical drive or SATA II SSD, you won't even care because it's still a magnitude faster than what you had before.
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