As time goes on in the SSD landscape, we have seen quite a transition in just a few years time. Huge performance increases, NAND lifespan increases, and firmware evolution all have eroded away at scene to reveal faster, more stable, and longer life SSDs. In this light, one of the more popular SSD makers, OCZ, has come out with their newest drive, the Vector. The OCZ Vector is aimed at the high performance and workstation market. Armed with their first in house controller, Indilinx Barefoot 3, this drive aims to please with class leading performance, superior sustained performance, and now sports a five year warranty on top of it all. Let’s see how this unit stacks up!
Looking at the specifications table below, we can see the Vector comes in capacities of 128 Gb, 256 Gb, and 512 Gb. As is typical with smaller SSDs, we see performance ramp up from 128 Gb to 256/512 Gb. OCZ was kind enough to send the 256 Gb model for review, which checks in at 550 MB sequential read and 530 MB sequential write. The IOPS are said to hit 100,000 in random reads, and 95,000 in random writes. It was only a scant couple of years ago when performance like this could only be achieved with their Revodrive line. To me, this shows just how far these SATA based drives have evolved. A couple years ago SSD makers just managed to get their knuckles off the ground. Today it feels like we have stood up straight, and are starting to cook with fire with incredible performance and dropping prices.
Below are some other details about the drive. This unit, like most others, makes use of MLC (Multi Layer Cells) and sits on a SATA 3 interface for best results. As we mentioned above, this drive uses OCZ’s home brewed Indilinx Barefoot 3 controller. If you remember from the OCZ Vertex 4 review, OCZ used the Marvell controller (specifically 88SS9174 – though OCZ has mentioned this ran at a higher speed than other drives using the same controller such as Crucial M4 and Intel 310 series) but with custom Indilinx firmware for their drives. The Vector also supports TRIM and idle time Garbage Collection to help keep the drive in top shape through use, as well as having a five year warranty. The last item I will mention here is this drive comes with Acronis True Image HD cloning software to help get things from one drive to another.
Taking a closer look at the controller (see below), you can see an ARM Cortex Processor and a co-processor to help data move along efficiently. The controller communicates with the NAND across 8 parallel channels using two DDR3L 1600 MHz DRAMs. OCZ does its own ‘purchasing and packaging’ on NAND flash wafers, so inside the drive you will mostly see OCZ branded ICs on the board (pictures later). Those IC’s are 25 nm IMFT NAND Flash.
Outside of the ~6.8% spare area (~238 Gb available), there are no extra NAND cells available for redundancy. At a high level this may seem like a concern, as over-provisioning seemed to be helpful for consistent performance on ‘full’ drives, However OCZ says the Vector is good for 20 Gb of writes per day across the warrantied life of the drive (5 years – LINK to Product page). If you want to do the math, that comes out to 36.5 Tb of writes across five years. The warranty is similar to a car’s in that it’s either five years or 36.5 Tb of writes, which ever comes first.
Along those lines, OCZ states the Vector SSD series is, ‘…the most extensively and comprehensively tested consumer SSD line to date’ and goes on to say, ‘quality, reliability, and stability were the number one priority. That seems like a good thing considering the firmware updates for fixes we have seen in the past, across most all vendors. They also say that future firmware updates will be tested longer to achieve validation. All good things there.
This drive also still uses the ‘performance’ and standard modes that hokiealumnus talked about in the OCZ Vertex 4 review. Basically that means that after 50% capacity has been reached, the drive switches modes to standard while the drive re-organizes the pages. This should only last a few minutes, so any noticeable performance issues should be resolved after its completed.
One of the selling points of this series is having superior ‘sustained performance’. So, if you are beating on the drive with large file transfers, the drives perform better and bounce back faster according to OCZ’s testing. Below is a slide from their review deck. Tom’s Hardware does a great job of explaining the process and also testing it with a more realistic parameters for a desktop environment. OCZ tests with QD of 32 whereas lower queue depths are more common on your PC. Side note, the results are quite similar anyway with the drive coming back to up to speed faster than the other tested.
The OCZ Vector 256 Gb
Our first glimpse of this SSD will be its retail packaging. The Vector ‘theme’ so to speak, is a slate blue and black combination. On the front you see a picture of the actual drive, the Indilinx name, the capacity of the drive, the interface, and a couple other high level goodies. Flipping the box over there is some marketing speak, and some notes in a slew of different languages.
Inside the packaging you see OCZ’s typical insert where the SSD sits all caged up. These drives, new, come in anti-static wrapping and sit quite snug inside the dense foam packing. Below the drive you see several screws (eight total) used to mount the drive to the included 3.5″ adapter, and then another set of four to mount that adapter or drive to your case. The last picture shows the manuals included, which consist of one for the Acronis backup software (where the activation key is located), and the other for installing the SSD. Very sparse, but what else do you really need?
Moving on to the drive itself, one can see OCZ’s blue on black coloring scheme on the 7mm drive. That size of drive will fit most all laptops. Flipping the drive over you see the serial number and driver information. Also located here is the sticker I will peel off voiding the warranty so you, the people, can see whats doing under the hood. In the last two pictures, the first shows a different angle letting the mounting holes on the side show, while the last picture is a closer look at the SATA connectivity. Overall, the Vector is a good looking drive that stands out from the Vertex/Agility 4 line.
Last are a few extra pictures of the box, drive, and all that is included.
Cracking open the drive (bye bye warranty!) we can see a plethora of OCZs-labeled NAND (model M2502128T048SX22 = same used in the Vertex 4), The Indilinx Controller (covered in the first picture, exposed in the last). You can also see the DRAM IC the controller uses (DDR3L 1600MHz DRAMs -with room for a third, possibly for error correction/parity purposes).
The test setup has changed a little bit from the previous drives to this one. Prior drives were tested on P67 and Z68 based boards. The Vertex 4, due to our test bed update, has been tested on a Z77 board. While the differences should be extremely small, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know it. Thus, the full test bed for this review is as follows:
|CPU||Intel i7 3770K @ 4GHz|
|RAM||Kingston HyperX Predator DDR3-2666 (@ 2133MHz)|
|MB||Gigabyte Z77X UD5H|
|SSD||OCZ Vector 256GB, Firmware 1.03|
|OS||Microsoft Window 7 Professional x64|
Before each test, the drive is Secure Erased(SE) before the test to ensure optimal results. As you beat on a drive with benchmark after benchmark, performance can lower significantly until the drive runs its TRIM and GC functions… we don’t have the time to wait, so we SE the drive and it comes out factory fresh!
- Crystal Disk Mark – Run three times, Default settings
- AS SSD – Run at default settings
- ATTO – Run with default settings outside of the Queue depth of 10
- IoMeter 2010- Ran manually
- Boot Timer – Default, just reboot
OCZ Toolbox Software
At the time of publication, the OCZ toolbox version that will support this drive has not been released to the public, according to the OCZ Forums. That said, there isn’t much in there one would need anyway outside of SMART information. If you need to Secure Erase (SE moving forward) the drive in the meantime, you can use the bootable version of the toolbox (sits on a tiny Linux install) and SE it from there. The press deck did come with an updated version so here are a couple of screenshots. You can check on smart data, and Secure Erase the drive with this utility.
Crystal Disk Mark
Finally getting to the performance metrics portion of the review, we will start with Crystal Disk Mark (CDM moving forward). We ran this with the default setup. Outside of the 4k writes section, the OCZ Vector has a clean sweep across the board in this test, easily beating out the former king of the hill, the OCZ Vertex 4. In the 4k reads, you see that performance is just barely below the Vertex4, Vertex 3 max IOPS, and Kingston HyperX 3K. OCZ continues to do well with deep queue depths, where as single threading isn’t a strong suit compared to other drives.
In the past, IOMeter was used by OCZ to find the IOPS, but for the Vector, OCZ has chosen to to use CDM. In order to see this value, just hover your mouse over the 4k QD32 results and you will see a small popup with that number. Here we managed to get very close to the specified values (100k in reads and 95k in writes) scoring 98k and and 93k (peak values) respectively. These are the highest IOPS values I have seen in a non ‘PCIe already RAIDed out of the box’ solution (read: OCZ Revodrives).
With the AS SSD testing, the song remains much the same here with the Vector handing out condolences to the other drives in this roundup, with the exception of 4k reads and writes. It fell a bit behind the Vertex 4 in both tests, but beat out the rest of the drives.
In the Access Time graph, the Vector beats out the competition in reads, and falls slightly behind the Vertex 4 in writes. Access times can vary drastically from run to run depending on what is going on in your system and with the SSD at the time.
The overall score here is a clean sweep for the Vector.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
In ATTO, which OCZ uses to find their sequential read and write specifications, we see very little variation through the larger values as they are seemingly hitting the SATA3 bandwidth limits. When looking at the 64k and 16k results, the Vector leads the pack by a fair margin. Stepping down to 4k, we see some nice results here bringing it back up to the top in Sequential reads.
For the writes in ATTO, the Vector beats out the competition from the 8092k through 64k files sizes. In the 16k test, the drive falls to the bottom end of the drives tested, while the 4k writes dominate the field here.
The last test we have to show you is IOMeter… I swear this benchmark is the bane of my existence in SSD testing. Use the configuration files, no don’t, run manually, here try this…all plagued me throughout this review. That is of little consequence as in the end, we ran it properly and the numbers we received were certainly in the ballpark of OCZ’s expected results. It should be easy to tell that the Vector manages to pull of another clean sweep here as well.
Boot Timer is a nifty little application that times how long it takes your PC to boot (post POST). In this case, with an image of my review machine, it managed to put up an impressive 13.49 seconds. Not too shabby! Now, I need to shorten the POST a bit…
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Ok, you have seen all the numbers, and where this drive lands in the landscape of SSD’s. To be brief, it’s really the fastest drive of this type we have tested. OCZ has gone to great lengths in bringing this drive to market as a more reliable and faster solution. By using their own in house controller, it appears OCZ has done so (well, it is fast, that is for sure). As far as reliability, only time will tell on that front, However, with more thorough testing before it goes out the door, firmware updates also being tested by more beta testers, lower write amplification, and more efficient garbage collection, it seems like they are on their way. Again, only time will tell.
So the next burning question is how much is industry leading performance going to cost us. The MSRP for the 256 Gb drive sits at $269.99. At Newegg.com the drive comes it at…$269.99. Whew, no new product inflation at the moment! The price point for this drive is more expensive than the Crucial M4 ($199-$215) for the same capacity, but the performance just isn’t there on the M4 compared to the OCZ Vector. One of its other competitors, the Samsung 840 Pro, comes it at the exact same price (it is on sale at the moment). We have reached out to Samsung and hopefully in the coming weeks we will get a sample to review. The price is fair to me for what we tested to be the fastest drive on the market.
The OCZ Vector is a very fast and seemingly reliable drive. If you are looking for class leading performance at a fair price, look no further than the OCZ Vector.
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Joe Shields (Earthdog)