OCZ Vertex 4 256GB SSD review
Homegrown hot shot
Time was, when OCZ was typically first out of the gate with a range of SSDs based on any new incarnation of SandForce controllers. Yet, the first generation of the company’s popular Vertex drives were powered by Indilinx’s Barefoot controller. Now, with the fourth generation of Vertex drives, OCZ has completed the circle and returned to an Indilinx controller, the Everest 2.
Controller comeback: OCZ's Vertex 4 256GB Sata 3 SSD
The big difference this time around is that in the time frame between the original model and the latest Vertex 4 OCZ has actually acquired Indilinx. Having its own in-house controller and firmware has enabled OCZ to have control over two of the three things that make a SSD tick: NAND, controller and firmware. The first controller to see the light of day after the acquisition was the Everest chip, which was the brains behind the Octane and Petrol series of drives. The Vertex 4 see’s the deployment of the next generation Everest controller.
The Everest 2, or the IDX400M00-BC to use its part number, is based on Marvell hardware but with Indilinix firmware. It’s a dual-cored ARM processor, built on a 65nm process with a clock speed of 400MHz. It’s a feature rich controller with Auto-Encyption, AES-256 support, NCQ (Native Command Queuing), TRIM support, S.M.A.R.T monitoring and OCZ’s Ndurance 2.0 technology.
Mounting Everest... 2
Ndurance 2.0 uses a number of NAND flash management tools that have been designed to extend the life of NAND chips. Among them are advanced multi-level ECC (correcting up to 128 bits per 1KB of data), adaptive NAND management (including voltage shifting) and reduced write amplification without resorting to data compression. The five year warranty OCZ provides with the drive is one way of showing the company has faith in the technology.
The Vertex 4 range at launch consisted of three drives; 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities but very recently OCZ have added a fourth drive to the line-up in the shape of a 64GB model. With the 1.4 version of the firmware, the quoted Read/Write performance for the drives are: 64GB 460MB/s and 220MB/s, 128GB 550MB/s/420MB/s, 256GB 550MB/s/465MB/s and the flagship 512GB drive with 550MB/s/475MB/s, respectively. The drive I am looking at here is the 256GB version preinstalled v1.4 firmware although the OCZ website now reflects figures for the recent v1.5 firmware release that I'll come to later.
Inside the drive are the same NAND chips as to be found in the Vertex 3, that is to say 25nm Intel 29F16B08CCME3 synchronous modules. The 256GB drive has sixteen 16GB dual-die packaged chips to provide its capacity.
Everything but the NAND has OCZ's fingerprints on it
The layout of the PCB differs from what you usually find in a SSD, with eight NAND chips and a 256MB DDR3 memory chip arranged in a circle around the IDX400M00-BC controller on one side of the board, with another circle of eight NAND chips together with another 256MB DDR3 module on the reverse side of the board giving the drive 512MB in total for the cache.
Unlike the SandForce controlled drives, the Vertex 4 makes use of on-board cache memory. The controller uses this cache for quick read servicing to the host by pre-fetching requests from the NAND into the DRAM, which should allow reads to complete as fast as the drives interface will allow.
As quoted earlier, the headline performance figures for the 256GB drive are Sequential Read/Write speeds of 550MB/s and 465MB/s respectively. Tests with ATTO didn’t quite manage on the Read side of things, 533MB/s but did better than the quoted figures for the Write performance - 474MB/s.
Both of these figures are down on the previous generation 240GB Vertex 3 which uses a SandForce controller which produced ATTO scores of 550MB/s Reads and 517MB/s Writes – the officially stated figures for the 240GB Vertex 3 are up to 550MB/s Reads and 520MB/s Writes.
CrystalDisk Mark: standard and compressible data tests for out-of-the-box v1.4 firmware
AS SSD v1.4 firmware test results
The Everest 2 controller doesn’t suffer from the Achilles heel of SandForce powered drives which is dealing with incompressible data, it treats both compressible and incompressible data much the same, something that can be seen from the CrystalMark benchmark in its default incompressible data mode and when the 0x00 (compressible data) mode is enabled, there’s not much change in the sequential Read/Write figures.
Vertex 4 compared with version 1.4 firmware
Longer bars are better
The drive I tested came with the 1.4 version of the firmware but while I’ve been testing the drive, OCZ released its version 1.5 firmware upgrade. The company claims its boosts sequential file performance and improves garbage collection. After testing the drive with the firmware it came with, I flashed the drive with the new firmware using OCZ’s useful SSD toolbox utility to re-run the tests with v1.5.
Inside job: home grown controller update delivers a competitive edge
It has to be said, the performance gain was pretty impressive with the Sequential Read/ Write results from ATTO rising from the 533/474MB/s respectively for the 1.4 version of the firmware to 550MB/s and 511MB/s respectively which puts the drive right up alongside the SandForce-powered Vertex 3.
The Indilinix Everest 2 controller provides some much needed competition to SandForce’s dominance in this arena. Bringing in the controller tech in-house should also allow OCZ to sort out bugs quickly as well as delivering any performance upgrades in a reasonable short time frame. The recent release of the speed boosting v1.5 firmware for the Vertex 4 being a case in point. ®
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