When OCZ released the Vertex 4 in April, it brought us excepionally great write performance. Based on OCZ's Everest 2 controller (Marvell IP with custom firmware), the Vertex 4 began OCZ's transition away from SandForce for its high-end drives. However, as we noted in our review, sequential read performance at low queue depths needed work in the launch firmware. 

Fortunately, OCZ was well aware of the issue and it only took them a bit over a month to come up with a firmware update to address low queue depth sequential read performance. We updated our Vertex 4s (including the 128GB model that was missing in our initial review) to the new 1.4 firmware and ran them through our suite. By the time we finished running our 1.4 tests, OCZ had already released an even faster 1.5 firmware, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine the two updates into one article. 

The 1.4 Firmware

With the latest versions of OCZ's Toolbox, you can now update your drive's firmware even if you have Intel's RST drivers installed. The toolbox actually downloads the drive's firmware from OCZ's servers before updating your drive, so you'll need to have an active internet connection. I have noticed that older RST drivers may trigger in a firmware file not found error during the update process, but the absolute latest RST works as well as Windows 7's standard AHCI drivers. The toolbox update is only possible on secondary drives, not the drive that Windows booted from.

Note: Upgrading to 1.4 firmware is destructive, meaning that your SSD will be erased in the process. Thus it's absolutely necessary to make a backup of your data before upgrading, unless you are fine with losing the data in your SSD.

  • Increased read performance at low queue depths
  • Improved sequential write performance for 128GB and 256GB models
  • Increased performance under specific workloads of mixed reads and writes
  • Improved host compatibility with dated/uncommon BIOS revisions
  • Improved stability when resuming from S3/S4 on older generation motherboards
  • Increased read performance on small file sizes (lower than 4K)
 
The release notes are promising. Read performance at low queue depths is exactly what needed fixing and 1.4 claims to address this directly. OCZ also published an updated performance table, which is below:
 
OCZ Vertex 4 with 1.4 Firmware Specifications
Capacity 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
Sequential Read 460MB/s 535MB/s -> 550MB/s 535MB/s -> 550MB/s 535MB/s -> 550MB/s
Sequential Write 220MB/s 200MB/s -> 420MB/s 380MB/s -> 465MB/s 475MB/s
4K Random Read 70K IOPS 90K IOPS 90K IOPS 95K IOPS
4K Random Write 50K IOPS 85K IOPS 85K IOPS 85K IOPS

The 64GB model was introduced along with the 1.4 firmware and it will be shipping with the new firmware, hence only one set of performance figures. As for other capacities, sequential read performance is up by 15MB/s. That's not a significant increase, although it should be kept in mind that we are very close to the limits of 6Gbps SATA already. However, this data does not tell whether sequential read performance at low queue depths is what it should be. As we discovered in our review, increasing the queue depth lead to better results. 

Sequential write performance, on the other hand, is significantly improved in 128GB and 256GB models. The 128GB model had a fairly poor write performance at 200MB/s before the update, but the 1.4 firmware brings that to 420MB/s. That's over 100% increase, which is fairly abnormal but welcome for sure. The 256GB model is also getting a 85MB/s (~22%) boost in sequential write performance. Random read and write speeds remain unchanged for all models.

The 1.5 Firmware

Note: The 1.5 upgrade is destructive if upgrading from 1.4 RC or older. However, if upgrading from final version of 1.4 firmware, the upgrade is not destructive. We still recommend having an up-to-date backup of your data because something may go wrong and result in a data loss.

  • Improved sequential file transfer performance for 128GB, 256GB and 512GB models
  • Optimized idle garbage collection algorithms to extend the benefits of performance
    mode by enabling the feature across a greater percentage of the drive
  • Improved HBA / RAID card compatibility
  • Further improved compatibility with desktop and mobile ATA security features
  • Corrected a corner case issue where the ‘Remaining Life’ SMART attribute could be reported incorrectly

 

OCZ Vertex 4 with Firmware 1.5 Specifications
Capacity 128GB 256GB 512GB
Sequential Read 550MB/s -> 560MB/s 550MB/s -> 560MB/s 550MB/s -> 560MB/s
Sequential Write 420MB/s -> 430MB/s 465MB/s -> 510MB/s 475MB/s -> 510MB/s

The 1.5 firmware provides more incremental improvements compared to the 1.4 firmware. Sequential read speed is up by 10MB/s (~2%) and sequential write speeds are up by 2-10% depending on the capacity. Apparently, the 1.5 firmware does not provide any performance gains for the 64GB model. The other remarkable change in 1.5 firmware is enhanced garbage collection. This update actually relates to a unique performance mode OCZ introduced with the 1.4 firmware.

The Performance Mode

With the 1.4 firmware OCZ introduced a two operating mode structure for most capacities of the Vertex 4. As long as less than 50% of the drive is in use, the Vertex 4 will operate in a performance mode - delivering better sequential performance. Once you hit the 50% mark, the drive switches to its standard performance mode (similar to the max performance pre-1.4 firmware).

This mode switching is mostly transparent to the end user with one exception. When you cross the 50% threshold, the Vertex 4 has to reorganize all pages on the drive. During this reorganization performance is impacted. The entire process should only take a matter of minutes, and it only happens once, but it's worth keeping in mind. 

You may remember Intel did something similar (on the fly internal data re-organization) after the first X25-M firmware update, however that process took much longer. 

This isn't the only performance trick OCZ has up its sleeve, but it is something that is enabled by the fact that OCZ finally has full, low-level control over the Vertex 4's firmware.

The 128GB Vertex 4
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  • menting - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    aside from the first generation SSD that never got public release, Crucial uses the marvell controller with in-house firmware.
    They are looking to make their own controller in the future AFAIK, but I dont know when that is supposed to happen.
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    I'll have to back up the customer review of Crucial. I had a problem with Crucial once about 14 years ago. After a 5 minute phone call it took about a week and I had a replacement stick in my hand.

    Sound like Crucial's quality control went to pot for a little while there. Two bad products in 15 years... wow.
    Reply
  • JNo - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    Quite. In the UK the Samsung 830 is cheaper than the Vertex 4 (at 256GB for example).

    The 830 is cheaper, faster, made by a company that also manufactures all the components and firmware *and* has a much more reliable track record both for the drive and especially for SSDs in general where OCZ has been plagued by poor quality (I don't care if it was because of unreliable sandforce controllers - they decided to buy them and sell them).

    It's a no brainer imo - DON'T buy the Vertex 4! Why would you?! This article spent did a lot of good analysis when it could have just been a one-pager saying that the Vertex 4 has new firmware which makes it slightly faster in certain conditions but it's still slower and more expensive than competition which has a more reliable track record.
    Reply
  • Coup27 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    I like Crucial, but you really need to get your facts straight before spouting off like that. As has been mentioned below, the m4 controller is made by Marvell and is in use in more SSD's than the m4.

    The m4 has also had 5 firmware updates, one of which was to correct a catastrophic failure after 6 months of use.

    Samsung is the ONLY SSD vendor who makes all the parts.
    Reply
  • pc_void - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    " It's a very dirty under handed tactic to get good benchmark scales by leaving it under 50% than the customer not knowingly gets screwed."

    Yet Toms writes: "OCZ certainly ups the Vertex 4's game with its new software, and we commend the fact that the company is striving to improve its products."

    The OPPOSITE of what you say. Hmmm.
    Reply
  • brichter - Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - link

    You're correct, I didn't find the 512GB for $385 final, it was $379, $359 after $20 rebate. No shipping as I bought it in-store and no tax as I'm a resident of Oregon.

    The OCZ has 256 bit AES hw encryption, whereas the Crucial doesn't support hw encryption at all.

    I own both a Crucial and (now) an OCZ, they are comparable in performance judged by my butt -dyno, with 2 MBP 8,2s side by side. Both these drives are faster in my Macs than in my Windows machines, there wasn't more than a couple seconds difference in boot times on my Win7 desktop between the SSDs and the RAID1 (2x 500GB Seagate spinning platter drives), so the bang per buck is much better with the cheap 500GB Seagates in a Windows box.

    The following comment comes from the Tom's review, dated a couple of weeks before your post:
    But our story doesn't simply end with vindicated testing results. OCZ quickly pushed out a firmware version 1.5 to alleviate some of what we observed the last time around. The latest build significantly helps the drive to remain in “performance mode” and significantly reduces the shortcomings identified in OCZ Vertex 4 128 GB: Testing Write Performance With Firmware 1.4.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    No. "Performance Mode" is a bonus feature, which you may or may not get, depending on your usage of the drive. Sure, benchmarks should take this into account. However, the practical differences between any modern high-performance SSDs are small anyway. Reply
  • mattlach - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    I am also concerned about this.

    How much does the performance differ between performance mode and normal mode?

    I bought this drive based on previous reviews which did not mention this feature.

    I am concerned that once I add more data to the drive, I'll get something significantly worse than I paid for.
    Reply
  • Omoronovo - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    As the article states, you will get the same performance you would have had you bought the drive when it released (or with 1.3 firmware).

    You bought the drive based on previous reviews which were on older firmware which didn't have this feature.
    When at less than 50% drive capacity you get almost double write performance and better overall performance in many situations. When you go past 50%, you still get improved write performance (improvements in the firmware that extend beyond performance mode), but you just lose the extra sequential write speeds which you wouldn't have had in the first place without the update.

    You aren't going to get anything worse than EXACTLY what you paid for; just that in many situations you'll now get something BETTER.
    Reply
  • mattlach - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    I didn't base my purchase off of 1.3 firmware reviews.

    I saw those and thought "my the read performance of this thing is surprisingly poor", and then continued my research of other drives.

    Then other sites 1.4 and 1.5 reviews started coming out, showing the read speed issue having been resolved (but not mentioning the performance mode) which is when I bought the drive.

    As always Anand's reviews are better than other sites on SSD's and now I am aware of this issue, and almost feel cheated somehow...

    So are you saying this mostly impacts write performance? If that is the case I am less concerned. I write once and read many, so I don't care as much about the write performance as I do about the read performance.
    Reply

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