OCZ Tries Again with the Vertex

This is Ryan Petersen:

He’s the CEO of OCZ Technology. He wasn’t too happy after my Intel X25-M SSD review.

Although that review was about the X25-M, it addressed a major shortcoming with a number of other SSDs in the market - the most popular at the time being OCZ’s Core line.

The problem with the Core line was that although they were competitively priced, they had a major performance issue: small file write latency. The problem manifested itself in system-wide stuttering during disk intensive multitasking. It wouldn’t take a lot to make those drives stutter, and until that article went live, everyone assumed that the problem was Windows, the disk controller, or something else.

I placed the blame on the drives and Ryan wasn’t all too happy.

We argued. A lot. He claimed it was unfair that I was comparing the Core series to Intel’s far more expensive X25-M; I argued that the user experience offered by his drives was inferior to that of a regular hard drive. We never really saw eye to eye on SSDs after that article.

Ryan told me the problem was a lack of cache, and that they’d have a future version of their SSD with a large off-chip DRAM cache. Ryan did not want to send me any more SSDs that didn’t have a cache on them. It wasn’t just OCZ, we had difficulty getting JMicron based SSDs from most manufacturers after that article. Manufacturers were pissed.

I offered to look at any new SSDs they had coming, regardless of who made the controller. But I made one thing very clear - I did not believe that the JMicron based drives were fit for sale. I felt that they were hurting the image of SSDs in the market and doing more harm than good. Ask any of the major players in the flash and OS industries and you’ll hear the same complaint. We need good SSDs in the market, not a mixture of great ones and bad ones.

In early December I got word from OCZ that their first drive with a DRAM cache was nearing final production. The controller was from a Korean company called Indilinx, with a number of ex-Samsung engineers. JMicron was out for this product, they didn’t have a suitable controller - the JMF602B was it. I won’t draw too much attention to the fact that if the JMF602B drives were indeed fine then there would be no need to consider another controller manufacturer.

The Indilinx Barefoot controller would support up to 64MB of off-chip DRAM, but have no on-die cache. All user data would be buffered in this memory. Now 64MB is more than enough to handle anything being written to the drive, but the memory is also used for the ARM7 based processor for its work in dealing with wear leveling and flash block cleaning (removing invalid pages).

There’s a key distinction here between the Barefoot and Intel’s controller - the X25-M doesn’t store any user data in its DRAM. Technically the Barefoot approach is no less prone to dataloss than a standard hard drive, but the Intel approach is a bit better. In the event of sudden power loss there’s a chance that some of the data in the Barefoot’s 64MB buffer could be lost before it’s committed to flash.

The OCZ Vertex drive would have a more heavy duty controller, with an ARM processor and a large off-chip DRAM to improve performance. To top it all off, OCZ would sell it at a price much lower than Intel’s X25-M. Could this finally be the affordable SSD we’ve been looking for?

The Return of the JMicron based SSD OCZ Sends Me SSDs, Once More
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  • KadensDad - Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - link

    How do these drives fail? I have heard that they will just suddenly die, no more writes or reads possible. What I would like to know is what happens when it dies? Do you lose all data? Just can't write anymore? How does the OS respond? Any early warnings? What about e.g. CRC? How does possibility of data corruption compare to traditional SSD? What about RAID? Since the drives are electrical, not mechanical, this reduces the number of failure vectors and environmental concerns (e.g., ambient temperature over lifetime of the drive). Won't SSDs therefore fail closer together in time in a RAID configuration? This reduces the window of opportunity for fixing an array and also decreases the applicability of RAID, however marginal.
    Reply
  • adsmith82 - Monday, September 14, 2009 - link

    I need to run HDDErase on an X25-M. No matter what bootable CD or flash drive I create, HDDErase does not see either of my SATA hard drives. I already disabled AHCI in BIOS. Also, I am using version 3.3. I know that 4.0 does not work with the X25-M.

    Can someone help me troubleshoot this please? Thanks.
    Reply
  • gallde - Thursday, June 11, 2009 - link

    You point out that TRIM will only work on deletions, not on overwrites. But, couldn't a smart controller look at blocks that have a majority of invalid pages and "trim" them as well, recovering clean pages as a background process? Reply
  • forsunny - Thursday, August 13, 2009 - link

    Why not just make the SSDs capable of individual page erases instead of blocks? Problem solved. Reply
  • lyeoh - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Good and informative article.

    Regarding the shill tshen83 who claims that Anandtech cost the drive manufacturers millions of dollars in sales.

    If that is true, Anandtech has saved customers millions of dollars.

    Anandtech should care more about their readers losses than drive manufacturer losses. If Anandtech was a site for drive manufacturers and their shills we wouldn't be reading it.

    To me, if the SSD drive manufacturers lose money, it's their own fault for building crap that has higher write latencies than old fashioned drives with metal discs spinning at 7200RPM or slower. Not anandtech's.

    I can get higher sequential reads and writes by using RAID on old fashioned drives. It is much harder to get lower latency. So Anandtech did the right thing for OCZ.

    Lastly, there might be a way of making your windows machine stutter less even with a crap SSD. Note: I haven't tested the actual effect on an SSD because I don't have an SSD.

    Basically by default when Windows accesses a file on NTFS, it will WRITE to the directory the time of the access. Yep, it writes when it opens files and directories (which are just special files). That might explain the stuttering people see. For a lot of things, Windows has to open files.

    Warning! There are reasons why some people or programs would want to know the last access time of files. Me and my programs don't (and I doubt most people would).

    If you are sure that's true for you (or are willing to take the risk) set NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate=1 as per:

    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc75856...">http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc75856...
    Reply
  • poohbear - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    Brilliant article and very informative on these emerging technology. I wont be buying one anytime soon @ their prices, but good to know we'll FINALLY be replacing convential HDD which are the one component that have been pretty much the same since as far back as i can remember

    "SSDs have +5 armor immunity to random access latency"

    rofl that's the best analogy i've seen on a hardware review site. is every comp geek a RPG geek @ heart?
    Reply
  • Gootch - Sunday, April 19, 2009 - link

    Great article. Realy made me understand what I need to look at before making the plunge. Mistakes and all, my compliments. As for value between the now seemingly drastically improved Vertex vs the X25-M, I compared prices between the two and per Gb, the Intell product for say an 80 Gb drive is Can $5.86/Gb, while the OCZ 60 Gb SSD is Can $6.81/Gb. Now that we are no longer comparing apples and oranges, I think we need to point out that the Intel product is not only faster and maintains it's performance edge better, but it is cheaper per Gb. At least in Canada. I have many OCZ products and I love the company and it's customer support. I can only hope that they will make their SSDs more competitive in the near future, because most consumers will pay the extra 70 bucks and go with the X25 when they pay attention to the numbers, both performance and price. Reply
  • Baffo - Saturday, April 11, 2009 - link

    I could forsee a whole host of issues with encrypting SSD drives, not the least of which is essentially making the drive completely "used" outside of the drive slack space - which would be a temporary reprieve for the reasons discussed in this article. However, I could also see potential performance and lifetime issues since modern encryption uses streaming ciphers (e.g. an entire encrypted block - which may or may not conform to the physical block size will be changed for even one bit change within the block itself). Has anyone looked at the resultant effect on performance due to using encryption - it would be good to compare say Bitlocker, PGP, Checkpoint, and an open source encryption solution (Crypt or something like that?). This could actually become a real driver for moving to on-drive encryption where it would have the opportunity to optimize the encrpytion for the pro/cons of the SSD architecture. Reply
  • brandensilva - Friday, April 10, 2009 - link

    Great article! I respect that OCZ made the necessary changes to make this drive work. I'd rather take a slightly slower drive if it meant consistent performance.

    If my hard drive started to stutter I'd flip out! I'm glad that they took the feedback and instead of selling faulty drives, that would ultimately hurt their brand, they decided to go back to the drawing board and iron out the kinks. I'm not expecting them to compare to Intel's 25-M per price or performance. They don't have nearly the cash or manufacturing capacity to compete with Intel but they do have that small business feel with receiving feedback and making improvements, which is important to customers.

    Lets hope they continue to utilize that aspect of their business and further improve on their products and bring us some reliable SSD's in the future.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, April 09, 2009 - link

    although, I have some issues which I have put in an e-mail sent to Anand; can't wait for you response. Reply

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