Once More, With Feeling

Ryan said we’d lose some sequential write performance. The drive would no longer be capable of 230MB/s writes, perhaps only down to 80 or 90MB/s now. I told him it didn’t matter, that write latency needed to come down and if it were at the sacrifice of sequential throughput then it’d be fine. He asked me if I was sure, I said yes. I still didn’t think he could do it.

A couple days later and I got word that OCZ just got a new firmware revision back from Korea with the changes I’d asked for. They were going to do a quick test and if the results made me happy, they’d overnight a drive to me for Saturday delivery.

He sent me these iometer results:


The New Vertex was looking good, but was it too good to be true?

I couldn’t believe it. There was no way. “Sure”, I said, “send the drive over”. He asked if I’d be around on Saturday to receive it. I would be, I’m always around.

This was the drive I got:

No markings, no label, no packaging - just a black box that supposedly fixed all of my problems. I ran the iometer test first...it passed. I ran PCMark. Performance improved. There’s no way this thing was fixed. I skipped all of the other tests and threw it in my machine, once again cloning my system drive. Not a single pause. Not a single stutter.

The drive felt slower than the Intel or Summit drives, but that was fine, it didn’t pause. My machine was usable. Slower is fine, invasive with regards to my user experience is not.

I took the Vertex back out and ran it through the full suite of tests. It worked. Look at the PCMark Vantage results to see just what re-focusing on small file random write latency did to the drive’s performance:

The Vertex went from performing like the OCZ Apex (dual JMicron JMF602B controllers) to performing more like an Intel X25-M or OCZ Summit. I’ll get to the full performance data later on in this article, but let’s just say that we finally have a more affordable SSD option. It’s not the fastest drive in the world, but it passes the test for giving you the benefits of a SSD without being worse in some way than a conventional hard drive.

As the Smoke Cleared, OCZ Won Me Over

Now let’s be very clear what happened here. OCZ took the feedback I gave them, and despite it resulting in a product with fewer marketable features implemented the changes. It’s a lot easier to say that your drive is capable of speeds of up to 230MB/s than it is to say it won’t stutter, the assumption is that it won’t stutter.

As far as I know, this is the one of the only reviews (if not the only) at the time of publication that’s using the new Vertex firmware. Everything else is based on the old firmware which did not make it to production. Keep that in mind if you’re looking to compare numbers or wondering why the drives behave differently across reviews. The old firmware never shipped thanks to OCZ's quick acting, so if you own one of these drives - you have a fixed version.

While I didn’t really see eye to eye with any of the SSD makers that got trashed in the X25-M review, OCZ was at least willing to listen. On top of that, OCZ was willing to take my feedback, go back to Indilinx and push for a different version of the firmware despite it resulting in a drive that may be harder to sell to the uninformed. The entire production of Vertex drives was held up until they ended up with a firmware revision that behaved as it should. It’s the sort of agility you can only have in a smaller company, but it’s a trait that OCZ chose to exercise.

They were the first to bring an Indilinx drive to the market, the first to produce a working drive based on Samsung’s latest controller, and the company that fixed the Indilinx firmware. I’ve upset companies in the past and while tempers flared after the X25-M review, OCZ at least made it clear this round that their desire is to produce the best drive they could. After the firmware was finalized, OCZ even admitted to me that they felt they had a much better drive; they weren’t just trying to please me, but they felt that their customers would be happier.

I should also point out that the firmware that OCZ pushed for will now be available to all other manufacturers building Indilinx based drives. It was a move that not only helped OCZ but could help every other manufacturer who ships a drive based on this controller.

None of this really matters when it comes to the drive itself, but I felt that the backstory was at least just as important as the benchmarks. Perhaps showing you all a different side of what goes on behind the scenes of one of these reviews.

Disappointed, I went back to OCZ The OCZ Summit: First with Samsung’s New Controller
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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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