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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  • hasseb64 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    This OCZ firmware review biz has to stop. Let them get ONE chance to deliver a FINALIZED PRODUCT (review it 1 time, and then it is enogh). We consumers should not accept a half finished product. Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    The solution to that is simple. Just do what I do. Never buy OCZ. Reply
  • peevee - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    EXACTLY!
    OCZ is a sketchy business. We remember upder0the-table downgrade of Vertex 2. We remember blue-screening Vertex/Agility 3s. Now this.
    OCZ employs incompetent firmware engineers. 15 months later after I purchased my Vertex 3, and the latest firmware is still unstable.
    Now all modern SATA III SSDs are fast enough for desktop use. The main differentiators are reliability and quality of support. And at these metrics OCZ is the worst of the worst. They still cannot upgrade firmware on a system drive from Windows, they still don't work with Mac at all, they still will require you to "Sec erase" your drive with your system (and then spend hundred hours to reinstall and reconfigure everything again) every time they update firmware, they still don't allow you to go to an old firmware (although some on them crash less for some users then their new firmwares) and require you to have working internet connection for update utility to redownload firmware every time... And blame problems on everybody else (while other drives simply work). This company is so bad it should simply die. I don't know why Tom's pays them so much attention, OCZ's reputation is beyond repair at this point.
    Reply
  • vishwa108 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    It is never a good moment when the bull being lead by its nose-ring is claiming to be leading the bullring. This OCZ Independence Day saga have had many a worshipful scurrying to atone his altarboy days of their “independent” review and now, after “Version 1.5”, the worship is still akin to the fruit of The Choir Boys At Practice being heard louder than ever.

    First it was OCZ Zist und Zat soon to be followed by photocopied scans of “the reviewers” bottoms and then it was Marvellouski, quickly buried by another version of Amerikana 1.4 – only to end up with some vacuous advice of the, “Don’t go beyond half und you be OK, ja?”, variety. All for a good course/cause in buggery no less. No wonder Amerikans are being offered either the feast of Uncle Tommy und hist Kobbling Kabin Krew or another Mormon extravaganza with the mesmerised numpty vessels ringing louder than ever whenever the word, “War”, is messaged. What? OCZ are not of Yankeeland but rather of those who will soon be receiving their just rewards from across The Straits? Makes you ‘fink, ain’t eet. Perhaps the truth ought to be tried once in awhile – with all holes barred, of course.

    It is self benevolent to realise that Truth is merely another word for Freedom because the freedom that was gifted is about another/others and is not about self – when the gift was taken back. When truth is of self, you can’t even get it out of the blighter after a severe bout of torture. Hands up those who would like to disagree – especially when it is via a freed versioned 1.5 of some SSD doo-dah.
    Reply
  • ssddaydream - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    what is wrong with you? Reply
  • shunya806 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

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  • mark53916 - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    What happens to the lifetime and reliability of the OCZ Technology Vertex 4
    drives with firmware 1.5 when the drive is only running at 1/2 capacity?

    We already know that the performance is improved, but there may be other
    advantages to operating with reduced capacity. These two come to mind:
    1. The drive endurance may be improved
    If it turns out that either the drive endurance is improved if the
    drive is only half used I would be very happy.

    2. The data retention time for powered off devices may be improved.
    Increased powered off data retention time at reduced capacity
    won't affect me much since I couldn't afford solid state for my monthly
    backups even at the full capacity price, but people who have to
    keep around old system disks for long periods would benefit
    if the powered off data retention time were increased

    In addition, I find that the per byte price for SLC drives seems to be about
    10 times what the cost is for MLC drives [even though the manufacturing techniques
    seem to indicate that manufacturing cost is slightly less than 2 or 3 times
    as much for SLC compared to MLC.
    I'd gladly spend 2x the price per byte and run at 1/2 capacity until I actually
    need the additional capacity, even without increased drive endurance or
    powered off retention time, just for the improved performance.
    Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    SLC and MLC are the same parts, just binned and then programmed for either 1 or 2 bits. That's it. Reply
  • robalm - Sunday, September 16, 2012 - link

    I decided to upgrade from my old Intel x25-m g2 80gb to a new fast ssd.
    It became an OCZ Vertex 4 128gb (1.5) but now I saw this review and this:

    "Small filesize sequential read performance needs work. Thankfully most sequential reads in client workloads tend to be in the sweet spot for the Vertex 4, but there are some applications That do a lot of small sequential IO (eg web browser cache accesses). '

    Have I made ​​a stupid upgrde when it come to web browser performence?
    Reply
  • ryrynz - Monday, December 15, 2014 - link

    My Vertex 4 128GB had a sudden death. Seems to be fairly common for these drives.
    MAKE SURE YOU'RE BACKED UP. If you get some sudden reboots you know your controller
    is on the way out.. one time it'll happen and poof.. no drive detected, you've been warned.
    Reply

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