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OCZ's Octane 128GB solid-state drive

Indilinx returns to the sweet spot
— 10:19 AM on February 16, 2012

Manufacturer OCZ
Model Octane 128GB
Price $200
Availability Now

Imagine life as the smallest member of an SSD family. You have much less capacity than your larger siblings, who can store loads of games and applications in addition to a bloated Windows install. You typically charge more for each gigabyte that you do offer, so you're a dubious value despite your budget price tag. You're the slowest of the litter, too, a fact plainly illustrated in the spec sheets published by your, er, parent. Life is rough.

As we learned when exploring the impact of capacity on SSD performance, drives really do get faster as their capacity—and the number of NAND dies within—increases. The lowest capacities are the worst off, with much larger performance gaps between 64 and 128GB drives than between 128 and 256GB models. If you can afford to drop more than $300 on something around 256GB, that's the way to go. However, folks are probably going to be more comfortable shopping in the sweet spot: 128GB drives that sell for around $200 or less.

Why is all this important for OCZ's Octane SSD? Because unlike most families, this line of Indilinx-based drives starts at 128GB. That model's capacity and $200 street price put it in the sweet spot, but as the smallest and slowest member of the family, there's the potential for a bitter aftertaste.

We were encouraged by the Octane's performance when we tested the 512GB model late last year. That's the fastest of the bunch, according to OCZ, and it's a tad expensive at $900. We decided to reserve judgment on the family until we had a chance to see how the 128GB version stacks up, which is why we're here today. We've run the smaller drive through our gauntlet of storage tests, and it's time to see how the Octane fares when picking on competition its own size.

Dies, packages, and performance ratings
If you're unfamiliar with the Octane and its Indilinx Everest controller, do read our initial coverage. Since our focus today is on the 128GB variant, you'll only get the Cliffs Notes on the SSD's underlying architecture. The Octane is the first real fruit of OCZ's acquisition of controller maker Indilinx. Inside the simple metal case sits an Indilinx Everest flash controller with a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface and eight memory channels. This chip is accompanied by a massive 512MB DRAM cache, and it's tied to an array of 25-nm synchronous Intel NAND.

Don't confuse the orange Octane with its light-blue Octane-S2 counterpart. The Octane-S2 is available in a 64GB capacity, and the line is distinguished by its last-gen SATA link that tops out at 3Gbps. The S2 has slower NAND, too, so it really isn't in the same league as the standard offering. OCZ has positioned the Octane-S2 to take on cheaper SSDs, while the full-fat Octane targets the fastest drives on the market.

This faster Octane family spans 128, 256, and 512GB capacities. A terabyte model is planned, too, but it's not on the market just yet. All the other drives are selling right now, and we've summarized their key characteristics in the chart below.

Capacity NAND
Dies per package Max sequential (MB/s) Max 4KB random (IOps) Price
Read Write Read Write
128GB 16 x 64Gb 1 470 210 35,000 18,000 $200
256GB 32 x 64Gb 2 480 310 35,000 25,000 $370
512GB 64 x 64Gb 4 480 330 35,000 26,000 $899

As you can see, the 128GB model has by far the lowest performance ratings for writes, whether they're sequential or random in nature. The drive's peak sequential write speed is a full 100MB/s slower than the 256GB variant, whose write speed is only 20MB/s shy of the 512GB drive. The 128GB Octane purportedly cranks out 7,000 fewer IOps in random writes than the 256GB drive, while the random write ratings of the largest members of the family are only 1,000 IOps apart.

Even the Octane 128GB's sequential read speed is slightly slower than the higher-capacity models'.

These performance ratings might make the 128GB model look more like a 64GB drive, but the die counts tell a different story. Most of the 64GB SSDs we've seen use eight 64Gb flash dies. The Octane also uses 64Gb dies, but it needs 16 of 'em to hit 128GB. SSDs with higher die counts can exploit more controller-level parallelism, leading to better performance. With 16 dies spread across the same number of physical packages, the Octane 128GB has a very similar NAND configuration to modern SSDs in the same capacity range, including the Intel 320 Series and most SandForce-based drives. The Octane 128GB isn't as handicapped as one might expect from the smallest member of an SSD family.

The 128GB drive is a little worse off on the dollar-per-gigabyte scale, at least versus its 256GB compatriot. Expect to pay about $1.56 per gig for the 128GB version, which is a little more than the $1.44/GB you'll shell out for the 256GB drive. The 512GB model we reviewed last year looks like a pretty raw deal in comparison. At $900 online, it costs nearly $1.76 per gigabyte.

Of course, the cost of each gigabyte is but one component of the overall value equation. Performance counts for a lot, and we'll need to see how the Octane 128GB holds up against its contemporary rivals to get a real sense of the drive's value proposition. Without further ado, let's dive into the benchmark results.