OCZ Listens, Again

I promised you all I would look into this issue when I got back from MWC. As is usually the case, a bunch of NDAs showed up, more product releases happened and testing took longer than expected. Long story short, it took me far too long to get around to the issue of varying NAND performance in SF-1200 drives.

What put me over the edge was the performance of the 32nm Hynix drives. For the past two months everyone has been arguing over 34nm vs 25nm however the issue isn't just limited to those two NAND types. In fact, SSD manufacturers have been shipping varying NAND configurations for years now. I've got a stack of Indilinx drives with different types of NAND, all with different performance characteristics. Admittedly I haven't seen performance vary as much as it has with SandForce on 34nm IMFT vs. 25nm IMFT vs. 32nm Hynix.

I wrote OCZ's CEO, Ryan Petersen, and Executive Vice President, Alex Mei, an email outlining my concerns last week:

Here are the drives I have:

34nm Corsair F120 (Intel 34nm NAND, 64Gbit devices, 16 devices total)
34nm OCZ Vertex 2 120GB (Hynix 32nm NAND, 32Gbit devices, 32 devices total)
25nm OCZ Vertex 2 120GB (Intel 25nm NAND, 64Gbit devices, 16 devices total)

Here is the average data rate of the three drives through our Heavy 2011 Storage Bench:

34nm Corsair F120 - 120.1 MB/s
34nm OCZ Vertex 2 120GB - 91.1 MB/s
25nm OCZ Vertex 2 120GB - 110.9 MB/s

It's my understanding that both of these drives (from you all) are currently shipping. We have three different drives here, based on the same controller, rated at the same performance running through a real-world workload that are posting a range of performance numbers. In the worst case comparison the F120 we have here is 30% faster than your 32nm Hynix Vertex 2.

How is this at all acceptable? Do you believe that this is an appropriate level of performance variance your customers should come to expect from OCZ?

I completely understand variance in NAND speed and that you guys have to source from multiple vendors in order to remain price competitive. But something has to change here.

Typically what happens in these situations is that there's a lot of arguing back and forth, with the company in question normally repeating some empty marketing line because admitting the truth and doing the right thing is usually too painful. Thankfully while OCZ may be a much larger organization today than just a few years ago, it still has a lot of the DNA of a small, customer-centric company.

Don't get me wrong - Ryan and I argued back and forth like we normally do. But the resolution arrived far quicker and it was far more agreeable than I expected. I asked OCZ to commit to the following:

1) Are you willing to commit, publicly and within a reasonable period of time, to introducing new SKUs (or some other form of pre-purchase labeling) when you have configurations that vary in performance by more than 3%?

2) Are you willing to commit, publicly and within a reasonable period of time, to using steady state random read/write and steady state sequential read/write using both compressible and incompressible data to determine the performance of your drives? I can offer suggestions here for how to test to expose some of these differences.

3) Finally, are you willing to commit, publicly and within a reasonable period of time, to exchanging any already purchased product for a different configuration should our readers be unhappy with what they've got?

Within 90 minutes, Alex Mei responded and gave me a firm commitment on numbers 1 and 3 on the list. Number two would have to wait for a meeting with the product team the next day. Below are his responses to my questions above:

1) Yes, I've already talked to the PM and Production team and we can release new skus that are labeled with a part number denoting the version. This can be implemented on the label on the actual product that is clearly visable on the outside of the packaging. As mentioned previously we can also provide more test data so that customers can decide based on all factors which drive is right for them.

2) Our PM team will be better able to answer this question since they manage the testing. They are already using an assortment of tests to rate drives and I am sure they are happy to have your feedback in regards to suggestions. Will get back to you on this question shortly.

3) Yes, we already currently do this. We want all our customers to be happy with the products and any customer that has a concern about thier drives is welcome to come to us, and we always look to find the best resolution for the customer whether that is an exchange to another version or a refund if that is what the customer prefers.

I should add that this conversation (and Alex's agreement) took place between the hours of 2 and 5AM:

I was upset that OCZ allowed all of this to happen in the first place. It's a costly lesson and a pain that we have to even go through this. But blanket acceptance of the right thing to do is pretty impressive.

The Terms and Resolution

After all of this back and forth here's what OCZ is committing to:

In the coming weeks (it'll take time to filter down to etailers) OCZ will introduce six new Vertex 2 SKUs that clearly identify the process node used inside: Vertex 2.25 (80GB, 160GB, 200GB) and Vertex 2.34 (60GB, 120GB, 240GB). The actual SKUs are below:

OCZ's New SKUs
OCZ Vertex 2 25nm Series OCZ Vertex 2 34nm Series
OCZSSD2-2VTX200G.25 OCZSSD2-2VTX240G.34
OCZSSD2-2VTX160G.25 OCZSSD2-2VTX120G.34
OCZSSD2-2VTX80G.25 OCZSSD2-2VTX60G.34

These drives will only use IMFT NAND - Hynix is out. The idea is that you should expect all Vertex 2.25 drives to perform the same at the same capacity point, and all Vertex 2.34 drives will perform the same at the same capacity as well. The .34 drives may be more expensive than the .25 drives, but they also may be higher performance. Not all capacities are present in the new series, OCZ is starting with the most popular ones.

OCZ will also continue to sell the regular Vertex 2. This will be the same sort of grab-bag drive that you get today. There's no guarantee of the NAND inside the drive, just that OCZ will always optimize for cost in this line.

OCZ also committed to always providing us with all available versions of their drives so we can show you what sort of performance differences exist between the various configurations.

If you purchased a Vertex 2 and ended up with lower-than-expected performance or are unhappy with your drive in any way, OCZ committed to exchanging the drive for a configuration that you are happy with. Despite not doing the right thing early on, OCZ ultimately commited to doing what was right by its customers.

As far as ratings go - OCZ has already started publishing AS-SSD performance scores for their drives, however I've been pushing OCZ to include steady state (multiple hour test runs) incompressible performance using Iometer to provide a comprehensive, repeatable set of minimum performance values for their drives. I don't have a firm commitment on this part yet but I expect OCZ will do the right thing here as well.

I should add that this will be more information than any other SandForce drive maker currently provides with their product specs, but it's a move that I hope will be mirrored by everyone else building drives with varying NAND types.

The Vertex 2 is going to be the starting point for this sort of transparency, but should there be any changes in the Vertex 3 lineup OCZ will take a similar approach.

The NAND Matrix The Vertex 3 120GB
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  • Xcellere - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    It's too bad the lower capacity drives aren't performing as well as the 240 GB version. I don't have a need for a single high capacity drive so the expenditure in added space is unnecessary for me. Oh well, that's what you get for wanting bleeding-edge tech all the time. Reply
  • Kepe - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    If I've understood correctly, they're using 1/2 of the NAND devices to cut drive capacity from 240 GB to 120 GB.
    My question is: why don't they use the same amount of NAND devices with 1/2 the capacity instead? Again, if I have understood correctly, that way the performance would be identical compared to the higher capacity model.
    Is NAND produced in only one capacity packages or is there some other reason not to use NAND devices of differing capacities?
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    Because price scaling makes it more cost-effective to use fewer, more dense chips than separate smaller, less dense chips as the more chips made, the cheaper they eventually become.

    Like Anand said, this is why you can't just as for a 90nm CPU today, it's just too old and not worth making anymore. This is also why older memory gets more expensive when it's not massively produced anymore.
    Reply
  • Kepe - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    But couldn't they just make smaller dies? Just like there are different sized CPU/GPU dies for different amounts of performance. Cut the die size in half, fit 2x the dies per wafer, sell for 50% less per die than the large dies (i.e. get the same amount of money per wafer). Reply
  • A5 - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    No reason for IMFT to make smaller dies - they sell all of the large dies coming out of the fab (whether to themselves or 3rd parties), so why bother making a smaller one? Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    You're missing the point on economies of scale.

    Having one size means you don't have leftover parts, or have to pay for a completely different process (which includes quality control).

    These things are already expensive, adding the logistical complexity would only drive the prices up. Especially, since there are noticeable difference in the manufacturing process.

    I guess they could take the poorer performing silicon and re-market them. Like how Anand mentioned that they take poorer performning GPUs and just sell them at a lower clockrate/memory capacity, but it could be that the NAND production is more refined and doesn't have that large of a difference.

    Regardless, I think you mentioned the big point: inner RAIDs improve performance. Why 8 chips, why not more? Perhaps heat has something to do with it, and (of course) power would be the other reason, but it would be nice to see higher performing, more power-hungry SSDs. There may also be a performance benefit in larger chips too, though, sort of like DRAM where 1x2GB may perform better than 2x1GB (not interlaced).

    I'm still waiting for the manufacturers to get fancy, perhaps with multiple controllers and speedier DRAM. Where's the Vertex3 Colossus.
    Reply
  • marraco - Tuesday, April 12, 2011 - link

    Smaller dies would improve yields, and since they could enable full speed, it would be more competitive.

    A bigger chip with a flaw may invalidate the die, but if divided in two smaller chips it would recover part of it.

    On other side, probably yields are not as big problem, since bad sectors can be replaced with good ones by the controller.
    Reply
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  • Kepe - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    Anand, I'd like to thank you on behalf of pretty much every single person on the planet. You're doing an amazing job with making companies actually care about their customers and do what is right.
    Thank you so much, and keep up the amazing work.

    - Kepe
    Reply
  • dustofnations - Wednesday, April 06, 2011 - link

    Thank God for a consumer advocate with enough clout for someone important to listen to them.

    All too often valid and important complaints fall at the first hurdle due to dumb PR/CS people who filter out useful information. Maybe this is because they assume their customers are idiots, or that it is too much hassle, or perhaps don't have the requisite technical knowledge to act sensibly upon complex complaints.
    Reply

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