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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  • TGressus - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    Whatever the cost of doing business will always be passed on to you the consumer. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    Only by monopolists and oligopolists. Adam Smith was right. Reply
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    You're probably confused - weed does that to people. If costs go up, whatever the cause, the cost of the final product goes up too. Doesn't really matter who the company is or what the product is. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    wrong. read up econ 101. Reply
  • B3an - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    I'm about to upgrade my Crucial C300 SSD's and wanted to know what people would recommend for my usage... gaming, heavy Photoshop, video editing and 3DS Max work. What would be best for this?

    I'm guess the Vertex 4 would be one of the best options? But i'm a bit worried about the pretty poor read performance under heavy workload.

    What would people recommend?
    Reply
  • charleshoskinson - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I'd highly recommend the Samsung 830 or the Crucial M4. I've used both lines of SSDs in my laptops and business computers and never have had a failure. I realize it's anecdotal, but I respect the engineers at Micron and Samsung and like the vertical integration they've built in their product line. Reply
  • charleshoskinson - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Also you may want to consider springing a little money for a sandy bridge E motherboard and 64 GB of RAM. At current prices, you'll pay about 400 for the RAM and you'll be able to mount a software based ramdrive running at speeds around 10-15 times that of a normal SSD. I use my setup to run a linux distro entirely in RAM saving anything I need from my work session encrypted on a dropbox account. I get read speeds around 2.5 GB/s and Write speeds around 2.0 GB/s. On a windows 7 setup you can expect similar speeds. Reply
  • mayankleoboy1 - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    the 50% issue affects the drive temporarily only. when it is more than 50% full, it rearranges the data in a few minutes and you get the old speed back. then when you fill it again some more, you get reduced speeds, till the data gets rearrannged. Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    That seems unlikely. I mean, sure the drive will slow way down while it is doing its reshuffling once it crosses 50%. But after it finishes that housekeeping, it would have to be slower at >50% full than it was at <50% full. Otherwise, why go to the bother of having a "performance mode" and a "storage mode", if both modes are the same speed? Reply
  • Alexvrb - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    No. Speeds drop DRASTICALLY while it is rearranging, making you briefly wonder if you're using a 5400 RPM HDD from the late 90s. But even after it finishes, speeds are reduced to firmware 1.3 levels. Permanently, unless there is some way to force it to return to performance mode (rearranging things again) after you delete files to bring it back under 50%. It's just silly, modern SSDs should have no need for this sort of nonsense.

    Anyway, this trick allows them to advertise ever-higher speeds, and even show off reviews of these speeds. I mean who buys an SSD with more than twice the capacity that they need? You're just going to replace it with a newer, better SSD in a couple of years. It's not worth the money. Better off getting a Samsung 830 or an Intel 520 that's the right size.
    Reply

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