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Like most contemporary SSD controllers, the Barefoot 3 has eight NAND channels. Each one can address up to eight individual flash dies, bringing the controller's total capacity up to 64 dies. Those flash chips can conform to the ONFI or Toggle DDR standards, giving OCZ the flexibility to offer multiple products based on different flavors of NAND. The Vector uses synchronous ONFI 2.2 chips similar to those found in high-end SandForce SSDs.

The 25-nm MLC NAND comes from Intel, but OCZ's name is silk-screened onto the packages. What gives? OCZ is buying entire flash wafers and then slicing and packaging the individual dies itself. This approach cuts costs, OCZ says, and the savings are purportedly passed along to the customer.

Packaging its own NAND should allow OCZ to sort individual dies based on their performance and endurance characteristics, reserving only the best chips for higher-end drives like the Vector. OCZ wouldn't confirm whether it's engaged in this process, which is commonly referred to as binning. We do know that OCZ isn't the only SSD vendor buying NAND by the wafer, though. Kingston also does its own flash packaging for some drives.

In addition to the NAND, our Vector 256GB sample has a pair of 256MB DRAM chips onboard. These low-power DDR3 chips are split between the two sides of the circuit board and combine to form the drive's cache memory. The resulting 512MB cache size is identical to that of the Vertex 4 and quite a few other drives in the 256GB range

Capacity NAND
dies
Max sequential (MB/s) 4KB random QD32 (IOps) Price
Read Write Read Write
128GB 16 x 64Gb 550 400 90,000 95,000 $150
256GB 32 x 64Gb 550 530 100,000 95,000 $270
512GB 64 x 64Gb 550 530 100,000 95,000 $560

At least to start, OCZ will limit the Vector line to 128, 256, and 512GB flavors. All three use the same 64Gb NAND dies, and it looks like the 128GB model doesn't have enough of them to fully exploit the controller's performance potential. The 128GB drive's sequential write specification trails that of its higher-capacity siblings by 130MB/s. That model's random 4KB read throughput is also lower by 10,000 IOps. There's no difference between the performance ratings of the 256 and 512GB variants, though.

All three models are covered by the same five-year warranty, albeit with some small print attached. The warranty is good for five years or 36.5TB of total host writes, whichever comes first. 36.5TB might not seem like a lot, but it works out to 20GB of writes a day for five years. If those numbers sound familiar, that's because they mirror the endurance specification attached to Intel's 520 Series SSD.

The Vector employs an assortment of tricks to extend the lifespan of its flash memory, including a proprietary garbage collection algorithm, multiple levels of error correction, and the adaptive NAND management functions fueled by the Aragon co-processor. OCZ has also taken steps to improve reliability, noting that the Vector is its "most extensively and comprehensively tested consumer SSD line to date." A "large network of beta testers" was part of the validation process, and all Vector drives will undergo a burn-in test before they ship. OCZ says future firmware updates will be subjected to more validation testing, as well.

All this extra testing sounds good, but we won't know how effective it is until a large number of Vector drives are out in the wild. In the meantime, there is some room for optimism. The Vertex 4's customer reviews on Amazon and Newegg are definitely more positive than similar reviews of the older, SandForce-based Vertex 3. Customer reviews aren't completely reliable, of course, but we haven't heard about any pesky problems with OCZ SSDs since the SandForce BSOD bug. With everything but the Vector's NAND and cache memory developed in-house, OCZ will have only itself to blame if the drive exhibits any flakiness.

The Vector comes with a 3.5" bay adapter designed for older cases that lack dedicated mounting hardware for 2.5" drives. OCZ also throws in an activation key for Acronis' True Image HD cloning software. Adding an SSD system drive is a great way to improve the performance of an existing machine, and I'm sure upgraders will appreciate having a free tool to migrate their existing Windows installations.

As one might expect, the Vector is compatible with OCZ's own Toolbox utility. This app covers the basics, including updating firmware and securely erasing the drive. Despite recommending that the Vector be paired with Intel's RST storage drivers for optimal performance, OCZ suggests using Microsoft's AHCI drivers for firmware updates. Apparently, other storage drivers don't consistently pass firmware update commands correctly. You'd think a portion of the Vector's additional validation testing would be dedicated to ensuring that firmware updates work properly with the recommended performance driver, though. OCZ says RST users can attempt firmware updates to see if they work, but I'm not sure I'd be comfortable rolling the dice without a fresh backup image to protect my data.

If you want to watch your drive's slow but inevitable decline to fatal flash failure, the Toolbox app can also be used to monitor SMART values. It's a death by millions of needles as individual NAND cells slowly burn out due to the destructive nature of the electron tunneling process used to program flash memory. The data is presented in a text window, which will probably confuse mainstream users more than the simple graphs used by the equivalent Intel and Samsung utilities. Those apps are a little more polished than the OCZ Toolbox.