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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  • hybrid2d4x4 - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    I agree with this. I care more about power consumption than incremental performance since I only have an SSD in my laptop for now, and the next one I buy will replace that 128GB F120 and my HTPC and eventually desktop will get them as hand-me-downs Reply
  • sswing - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Now it looks like we need a review comparing VTX4-25SAT3-512G & VTX4-25SAT3-512G.M since I haven't been able to find updated specs from OCZ. There's a big price difference but is the performance difference relatively equivalent? Reply
  • Movieman420 - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Actually Ocz has been fore-warned not to repeat the same stunt they pulled when they switched from 34nm 32Gb dies to 25nm 64Gb dies without making it clear that there was a significant performance difference...esp with the 50 & 60gb drives that went from using 8 nand chips (1 per SF channel) to using only 4 chips and 4 channels. Anand took Ryan Peterson to task over the stunt and Ryan promised to differentiate models who's speed change by 5% or more I think.

    The '.M' drives with Micron nand are slower than the regular V4 with IMFT nand

    Here's the thread at Ocz.

    http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread...
    Reply
  • menting - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    huh? Micron NAND IS IMFT NAND.
    what was that support guy smoking?
    Reply
  • semo - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    Just to add that not only did the performance suffer but the capacity did as well. They also used Spectek NAND which wasn't what the reviews reported originally.

    In the end, OCZ managed to bury the issue without even issuing a mass recall of the affected drives. OCZ is a dodgy company and I'm glad that there is enough competition out there for me to avoid buying any of their products.
    Reply
  • primeval - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    The performance is great and all, but without reliability I just don't see that many people jumping on board. No one wants to replace their SSD frequently. Reply
  • chaudx - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    How much of a drop in performance do other drives take when over 50% full?

    Benchmarking empty drives seems like a waste of time, as most people are going to fill them at least 50%, if not more.
    Reply
  • Linuxhippy - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    What I really miss is an analysis, how much used capacity affects real-world performance.
    This way, it looks just a lot like an advertising campaing bought by OCZ ...

    The review reminds me a lot about the SandForce benchmarks, where you had to subtract -25% once the drive had been written its capacity for the first time.
    Reply
  • AFUMCBill - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Anyone needing an SSD in a video recorder such as the Black Magic Design Shuttle 2 now knows to stay away from this drive. A real time application like that is going to be utterly intolerant of the drive deciding it needs to take a large timeout half way through. I am sure there are other applications in a similar situation to that. Reply
  • Beenthere - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    The way these companies rush out half-baked software, firmware and hardware is a crime. They should all be severely punished financially for using consumers as unpaid beta testers.

    If they continue to do this the executives of these companies should do prison time. This would reduce the exploitation of consumers and bring some sanity and integrity to business. Tolerating the illegally gotten industry monopolies and product price fixing sent a clear message to these criminals that anything goes and as such they are cashing in and using the media to further their unscrupulous behavior.
    Reply

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