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A quick look at OCZ's 2.15 SSD firmware

BSODs begone?

For months, we've heard reports of folks experiencing blue-screen-of-death errors when running solid-state drives based on SandForce's latest SF-2281 controller. This so-called BSOD bug appears to affect all drives based on the controller, although SandForce claims that only "isolated" hardware configurations pose problems. We discussed the issue in the 120-128GB SSD round-up we published back in September, and at the time, SandForce was optimistic about a new firmware revision undergoing testing in its labs.

About a month later, that revision materialized in an OCZ 2.15 firmware update released to the general public. Tailored for OCZ's Vertex 3, Agility 3, and Solid 3 SSDs, the 2.15 firmware pledges to address BSOD errors while also eliminating one cause of drive stuttering. Here's the skinny direct from the release notes (PDF):

  • Fixed a rare condition that may cause Windows Blue Screen error when the primary configured drive woke up from either a SATA slumber mode or S3/S4 mode
  • Fixed a rare condition that may cause Windows Blue Screen error when the drive was configured as primary with OS installed
  • Fixed a corner-case issue that may cause the drive to stutter or Windows freezing screen when a media read error occurred

OCZ got first dibs on SandForce's new controller, so it's no surprise the firm was the first to release a firmware update with the supposed BSOD fixes. SandForce's other drive partners aren't far behind, though. Corsair and Kingston have both released new firmware updates promising to address BSOD problems associated with their SF-2281-based SSDs.

Curious to try this BSOD-proof firmware for ourselves, we downloaded the 2.15 updates for our Agility 3 and Vertex 3 SSDs. These two models represent the most popular SandForce configurations on the market: the Agility pairs the SF-2281 controller with asynchronous memory, while the Vertex combines the chip with pricier (and faster) synchronous NAND. We haven't observed substantial performance differences between similar SandForce configs from different drive makers, so we're confident our results with OCZ drives based on 2.15 firmware will mirror what's available from the competition.

Rather than rehashing our test methods here, we'll point you to the appropriate page of our 120-128GB SSD round-up. The same systems and methods were used to test the 2.15 firmware. For reference, we've included our original Agility 3 and Vertex 3 scores, which were obtained with older 2.11 firmware. Let's start with an overall score, which nicely summarizes the results of the most important tests in our benchmark suite.

So far, so good. The 2.15 firmware slows the OCZ drives a little, but the differences are small at best. On the Vertex 3, our overall performance score drops by less than 2% (that's percent, not percentage points). The results for the Agility 3 are even closer.

Many of our tests showed no difference in performance between the old 2.11 firmware and the latest 2.15 release. Since you probably don't want to scroll through several pages of graphs with little to tell, we'll just pull out a few highlights, starting with sustained transfer rates in HD Tune.

The 2.15 firmware doesn't really change the performance of either drive with reads. However, average write speeds are 19 and 16MB/s slower on the Vertex 3 and Agility 3, respectively. Those deltas don't translate to slower performance for the 2.15 firmware in our real-world file copy tests. There's no difference in random access times, either.

We did, however, notice some changes in the performance of the Agility 3 and Vertex 3 in our load-time tests.

Although the Agility and Vertex SSDs boot Windows about a second faster with the 2.15 firmware, they're slower to load game levels. The new firmware adds fractions of a second to the load times of both OCZ drives in Duke Nukem Forever and Portal 2. Odds are you probably won't notice the difference.

You might squeeze out a few more minutes of battery life in a notebook running either SSD, though. The Agility 3 and Vertex 3 consume a little more power under load with the 2.15 firmware, but their idle power consumption is much lower.