SSD Guru: The New OCZ Toolbox

During the past couple of years we've seen a big push for better toolbox-like software for SSDs from nearly every major vendor. The reason lies in the ability to differentiate because SATA 6Gbps has already been saturated for so long and being substantially different in the performance department has become practically impossible (although that will soon change with PCIe and NVMe). As a result, the SSD manufacturers have had to seek for other opportunities that can increase the value for the customer and software has lately become one of the key aspects in doing so. (It is worth noting that the motherboard industry went through the same process, whereby most motherboards in a price bracket had a flat feature set and software became a differentiating factor. -Ian)

The old OCZ Toolbox

OCZ has had a toolbox for as long as I can remember, but to be honest it looked more like an engineering tool rather than something that was aimed for the end-user. It did have the critical functionality (firmware update, secure erase, SMART data), but given what the competitors have put out to the market it was certainly lacking in both features and usability.

I guess my original Vector is in need of a firmware update

Today, along with the Vector 180 release OCZ is launching its fully redesigned toolbox called the SSD Guru. The overall design of the SSD Guru is much more user friendly and, as we've seen in other toolboxes, the welcoming screen already includes all the essential information about the drive so the user doesn't have to dig through the different tabs to find the important data.

The SSD Guru is available as both Windows and Linux installers as well as a separate bootable tool for Mac users. All Barefoot 3 based drives are supported along with the RevoDrive 350, but the older Indilinx and SandForce based drives are not (although you can still use the old toolbox if you wish). 

The 'Tuner' tab includes two separate functions: SSD and OS Tuner. The SSD Tuner allows the user to issue a TRIM command to the drive to erase unused blocks to improve performance (although this should be unnecessary if you are running an OS with TRIM support) and it also includes a tool for increasing the over-provisioning for further performance gains.

The OS Tuner includes a few basic OS features that can be disabled for higher performance and/or capacity. By default the SSD Guru does nothing, but there are three preset options (reliability, performance and capacity) that you can choose from to optimize the OS. Different settings will be disabled based on what you choose (e.g. capacity option only disabled hibernation, whereas reliability disabled all four listed in the image above), although you can also customize the settings and disable what you see fit.

The maintenance tab has the common firmware update and secure erase functions that were also present in the old OCZ toolbox. The SSD Guru will also show a notification on the desktop if there's a newer firmware available.

The SSD Guru also supports logging, which can be a useful feature if you ever have issues with the drive and need to contact OCZ's support. 

One feature OCZ emphasized is the ability to save a 'support package' that can then be sent to OCZ support if the drive isn't operating properly. The file includes a brief overview of the system with the necessary information that may be needed by the support staff for troubleshooting. 

The one last cool feature of the SSD Guru is its SMART data monitor. Instead of just listing all the values like toolboxes usually do, OCZ has included three key icons that help the user to understand the purpose of each SMART value. While enthusiasts will understand the data without the keys, I still think it's a nice addition and something that at least slightly differentiates the SSD Guru from what is already out on the market.

The version that is being released today has all the core features that you would expect from a toolbox, but none of them are truly unique. Obviously, being a 1.0 release, OCZ only decided to include the most critical features to build the foundation for SSD Guru and the company already has a list of features that are under consideration for future updates (e.g. benchmarking tool). That said, I think the SSD Guru was a necessary move from OCZ in order to be considered a tier one OEM because it's an area where the company has certainly been lacking compared to the competition. I can't say the SSD Guru is special, but in the end the purpose of a toolbox is to provide easy access to the most needed SSD tools and the SSD Guru certainly does that.

Introduction, The Drives & The Test Performance Consistency
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  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - link

    This exactly. LOL Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    Isn't it a crime to put Samsung and support in the same sentence? That companies Achilles heal is complete lack of support. Look at all the people with GalaxyS3's and smart tv's that were left out to dry the moment next gen models came out. And on a polarizingly opposite end of the spectrum is Apple who still supports the nearly 4 year old iPhone 4S. I'm no Apple fan but that is commendable and something all companies should pay attention too. Customer support pays off. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    Apple did a shit job with the white Core Duo iMacs which all develop bad pixel lines. We had fourteen in a lab and all of them developed the problem. Apple also dropped the ball on people with the 8600 GT and similar Nvidia GPUs in their Macbook Pros by refusing to replace the defective GPUs with anything other than new defective GPUs. Both, as far as I know, caused class-action lawsuits. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    I forgot to mention that not only did Apple not actually fix the problem with those bad GPUs, customers would have to jump through a bunch of hoops like bringing their machines to an Apple Store so someone there could decide if they qualify or not for a replacement defective GPU. Reply
  • matt.vanmater - Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - link

    I am curious, does the drive return a write IO as complete as soon as it is stored in the DRAM?

    If so, this drive could be fantastic to use as a ZFS ZIL.

    Think of it this way: you partition it so the size does not exceed the DRAM size (e.g. 512MB), and use that partition as ZIL. The small partition size guarantees that any writes to the drive fit in DRAM, and the PFM guarantees there is no loss. This is similar in concept to short-stroking hard drives with a spinning platter.

    For those of you that don't know, ZFS performance is significantly enhanced by the existence of a ZIL device with very low latency (and DRAM on board this drive should fit that bill). A fast ZIL is particularly important for people who use NFS as a datastore for VMWare. This is because VMWare forces NFS to Sync write IOs, even if your ZFS config is to not require sync. This device may or may not perform as well as a DDRDRIVE (ddrdrive.com) but it comes in at about 1/20th the price so it is a very promising idea!

    ocztosh -- has your team considered the use of this device as a ZFS array ZIL device like i describe above?
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - link

    PFM+ is limited to protecting the NAND mapping table, so any user data will still be lost in case of a sudden power loss. Hence the Vector 180 isn't really suitable for the scenario you described. Reply
  • matt.vanmater - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    OK good to know. To be honest though, what matters more in this scenario (for me) is if the device returns a write io as successful immediately when it is stored in DRAM, or if it waits until it is stored in flash.

    As nils_ mentions below, a UPS is another way of partially mitigating a power failure. In my case, the battery backup is a nice to have rather than a must have.
    Reply
  • matt.vanmater - Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - link

    One minor addition... OCZ was clearly thinking about ZFS ZIL devices when they announced prototype devices called "Aeon" about 2 years ago. They even blogged about this use case:
    http://eblog.ocz.com/ssd-powered-clouds-times-chan...

    Unfortunately OCZ never brought these drives to market (I wish they did!) so we're stuck waiting for a consumer DRAM device that isn't 10+ year old technology or $2k+ in price tag.
    Reply
  • nils_ - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    Something like the PMC Flashtec devices? Those are boards with 4-16GiB of DRAM backed by the same size of flash chips and capacitors with a NVMe interface. If the system loses power the DRAM is flushed to flash and restored when the power is back on. This is great for things like ZIL, Journals, doublewrite buffer (like in MySQL/MariaDB), ceph journals etc..

    And before it comes up, a UPS can fail too (I've seen it happen more often than I'd like to count).
    Reply
  • matt.vanmater - Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - link

    I saw those PMC Flashtec devices as well and they look promising, but I don't see any for sale yet. Hopefully they don't become vaporware like OCZ Aeon drives.

    Also, in my opinion I prefer a SATAIII or SAS interface over PCI-e, because (in theory) a SATA/SAS device will work in almost any motherboard on any Operating System without special drivers, whereas PCI-e devices will need special device drivers for each OS. Obviously, waiting for drivers to be created limits which systems a device can be used in.

    True PCI-e will definitely have greater throughput than SATA/SAS, but the ZFS ZIL use case needs very low latency and NOT necessarily high throughput. I haven't seen any data indicating that PCI-e is any better/worse on IO latency than SATA/SAS.
    Reply

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