More on the memory
When coupled with the revamped controller, nDurance 2.0 makes the Vertex 4 quite distinct from the Octane that preceded it. There are more differences, too, like the amount of cache memory on the drive. Our 512GB drive has a whopping gigabyte of DDR3 RAM split between a pair of chips, one on each side of the circuit board. That's double the cache size of the Octane and four times what you get in the Crucial m4 and Samsung 830 Series.
OCZ wouldn't divulge why the cache needs to be so large, although we suspect the new nDurance features use some of the added capacity. To start, all Vertex 4 drives rolling off the production line will feature 1GB of cache. Over time, though, the lower-capacity models will migrate to smaller caches. It seems OCZ hasn't validated any lower-capacity memory chips for use in the Vertex 4 just yet.
Although it features more cache memory than the Octane, the Vertex 4's complement of NAND is pretty much identical. The drive uses 25-nm synchronous NAND packages bearing Intel's name. The Vertex 4 may also be sold with Micron flash, but OCZ assures us the chips will meet the same specifications as the Intel ones. Intel and Micron do, after all, share a joint flash venture in IM Flash Technologies.
Like the Octane, the Vertex 4 will be available in 128, 256, and 512GB capacities. OCZ isn't bothering with 64GB models for its high-end SSDs, which makes perfect sense. The market is already flooded with cheap 64GB SSDs, and these smaller drives tend to perform poorly because they don't have enough NAND dies to exploit the parallelism available in modern controllers.
|Dies per package||Max sequential (MB/s)||4KB random QD32 (IOps)||Price|
|128GB||16 x 64Gb||1||535||200||90,000||85,000||$179|
|256GB||32 x 64Gb||2||535||380||90,000||85,000||$349|
|512GB||64 x 64Gb||4||535||475||95,000||85,000||$699|
Our handy comparison chart nicely illustrates the already substantial differences between the sequential write performance ratings for the models in the Vertex 4 lineup; the 128GB model's write speed is less than half that of the 512GB drive. The sequential read and random I/O ratings are virtually identical regardless of the capacity, though.
The Vertex 4's firmware purportedly bears little resemblance to what's found on the Octane, which would explain the huge differences in performance ratings between the two drives. The Octane has lower stats across the board, and it looks particularly weak on the random I/O front. Indeed, OCZ says the Vertex 4's firmware has been specifically optimized to improve performance with random reads and writes.
As one might expect, OCZ is positioning the Vertex 4 as a high-end solution. Although the Octane technically costs more for some capacities, its price should fall as the Vertex rolls out in volume. The two drives will coexist for at least the next little while. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Octane replaced by an Agility 4 SSD that pairs the Everest 2 controller and its new nDurance magic with more pedestrian asynchronous NAND, though.
The last ingredient in the Vertex 4 is OCZ's Toolbox software, which can download and apply firmware updates with just a couple of clicks. The toolbox can also be used to secure-erase the Vertex if you'd like to return the drive to its factory-fresh state.
The toolbox app works well enough, but I wish it had better monitoring options. As it stands, users can view the SMART attributes that track the number of written sectors and the drive's remaining life, but those values are presented in a simple text window that looks a little low-rent compared to the SSD utilities offered by Intel and Samsung. Since OCZ has the keys to the controller and firmware, it should be able to do some interesting things on the utility front.
Let's be honest; OCZ doesn't have a stellar reputation for SSD reliability. Part of that comes from its early adoption of the SandForce SF-2200 controller. OCZ was the first drive maker to offer SSDs based on the chip, and firmware updates came fast and furious in the initial few months. Many more months passed before the SandForce controller's infamous BSOD bug was finally squashed with a firmware fix.
Although the number of users afflicted by the bug appears to have been relatively small, OCZ SSDs have dominated much of the chatter surrounding the issue. That's not necessarily an indication that the company's last batch of SandForce SSDs was more prone to problems than competing drives based on the same controller, though. Early adopters flocked to the OCZ drives because they were the only next-gen SandForce models available for quite some time. Those folks are exactly the sort that one might expect to sound off about problems in forum posts and user reviews.
When the Octane was released, OCZ was quick to point out that the controller and firmware were both developed in-house. Any issues would be on OCZ's head. So, have there been problems with SSDs based on the new Indilinx controller? Yes and no.
We've scoured the OCZ forums for evidence of issues with new Indilinx-based SSDs. We've also browsed the user reviews at Amazon and Newegg. Overall, there are very few complaints about the Octane, and seemingly no common thread between them. However, OCZ's budget Petrol SSD, which uses a 3Gbps version of the Everest controller and less exotic NAND, appears to be a bit finicky. There are numerous reports of DOA drives, premature failure, detection issues, and even some instances of freezing and data corruption. Yikes.
To be fair, that sample size is still relatively small. Fewer than 50 user reviews of Petrol and Octane SSDs are spread across Amazon and Newegg. There are over a thousand user reviews of just the Vertex 3 between those two sites.
When we asked, OCZ confirmed that more users are having problems with the Petrol than with the Octane. The affected drives are being replaced, the company said, and it was adamant there are no issues with the Indilinx controller or the associated firmware. It sounds like the Petrol's cheaper NAND could be the culprit, but OCZ is still investigating.
While I'm hesitant to draw any conclusions based on such limited evidence, it's clear that OCZ's new Indilinx-based SSDs aren't entirely trouble-free. Fortunately, the problem child seems to be the budget Petrol model. The Octane appears to be solid, which bodes well for the Vertex 4.
If you do run into problems with the drive, some comfort can be taken in the fact that it's covered by a five-year warranty. Most consumer-grade SSDs get only three years of coverage, so OCZ is going above and beyond here. Keep in mind that the longer warranty doesn't guarantee greater reliability or the integrity of your data, though—just that you're entitled to a free replacement if the drive goes bad during the warranty term.