The playbook for SSDs is pretty well established. Controller updates are few and far between, so new drives typically combine existing technology with flash fabbed on a finer manufacturing process. That’s not the most exciting recipe, but it makes sense. These days, most folks want SSDs to be cheaper rather than faster. Transitioning to finer lithography is the best way to lower the all-important cost per gigabyte.
OCZ followed that formula when it released the Vertex 450 earlier this year. That drive paired the Indilinx Barefoot 3 controller from OCZ’s Vector SSD with newer 20-nm NAND. Now, OCZ is back with the Vector 150, which mates the Barefoot chip with the latest 19-nm flash.
To be fair, there’s more to the Vector 150 than a NAND upgrade—and more to this story than the drive itself. Now that I’ve teased some intrigue, let’s dive into the details.
OCZ’s own Indilinx Barefoot 3 controller sits inside the Vector 150’s 7-mm case. The chip is the same M00 revision used in the original Vector rather than the slightly down-clocked M10 variant employed by the Vertex 450. Apart from the clocks, the two chips are pretty much identical.
Like most contemporary SSD controllers, the Barefoot 3 has a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface on one end and eight parallel NAND channels on the other. The controller can address up to four individual flash dies per channel, making 32-die configurations ideal for peak performance. It also has an AES encryption engine onboard. That encryption block went untapped in the original Vector, but the new model can scramble bits on the fly using a 256-bit AES algorithm.
After loading its previous Barefoot 3 drives with Intel and Micron flash, OCZ has switched to Toshiba Toggle DDR NAND for the Vector 150. The change is notable because, during last month’s investor conference call, CEO Ralph Schmitt said OCZ was “still struggling to secure flash allocation.” That struggle primarily affected OCZ’s client SSD business, according to Schmitt, who also said the firm had trouble getting NAND at competitive prices. The situation was serious enough that OCZ declined to provide future guidance due to “current uncertainty with credit and supply.”
We asked OCZ how that uncertainty might affect the Vector 150. The firm told us the switch to Toshiba NAND is part of the solution to its supply problems, and that Toshiba has been a “good partner” for its enterprise SSD business. Flash supply shouldn’t be a problem for the Vector 150.
Unfortunately, moving to Toshiba NAND cuts OCZ out of the packaging. In the past, OCZ has purchased flash by the wafer and then handled the cutting and packaging of individual dies internally. That approach can lower costs, facilitating lower drive prices, but the Toshiba NAND comes pre-packaged.
The NAND packages split 128Gb (16GB) between dual 64Gb (8GB) dies. As with the flash in most consumer SSDs, there are two bits per cell—it’s MLC NAND, in other words.
|Max 4KB random (IOps)||Price||$/GB|
|120GB||16 x 64Gb||550||450||80,000||95,000||$130||$1.08|
Remember what I said about 32-die configurations being ideal given the Barefoot 3’s channel configuration? The Vector 150’s performance ratings largely bear that out. The 120GB model has only 16 dies, and its sequential write speed is 80MB/s slower than that of the 240 and 480GB models. Our 240GB sample has the same write speed rating as the 480GB drive. Oddly, though, its random read rate is slightly lower.
OCZ’s earlier Barefoot 3 SSDs have come in 128, 256, and 512GB flavors, but the Vector 150 is limited to 120, 240, and 480GB. The drives have the same amount of flash as their predecessors; they just devote more of it to so-called spare area accessible only to the controller. OCZ did this in part to improve performance with sustained workloads. Allocating additional spare area provides a larger pool of empty NAND pages for incoming writes.
The spare area was also increased to improve endurance. The larger the overprovisioned area, the more flash reserves are available to replace blocks that have gone bad due to normal wear. According to OCZ’s specifications, the Vector 150 is good for 50GB of writes per day for five years under typical client workloads. The Vertex 450 and the original Vector are rated for only 20GB per day. You can read more about how many writes modern SSDs can actually take in our ongoing endurance experiment.
As the Vector 150’s endurance rating implies, the warranty lasts for five years. OCZ’s reliability reputation is a little tarnished, though. Amazon and Newegg user reviews for the Vertex 450 and the original Vector are peppered with complaints about errors and premature failures. Online reviews should be taken with a sprinkling of salt, of course, but the numbers are worth noting. The table below summarizes the “star” ratings associated with the user reviews of a bunch of modern SSDs.
The OCZ SSDs clearly have more negative reviews than their peers. Just look at all those one- and two-star ratings.
In the past, OCZ has attributed Vector complaints to issues addressed by a firmware update issued in March. However, there are plenty of reports of failed Vector drives from just the past few months. The Vector’s firmware fixes were rolled into the Vertex 450, but that drive also has numerous reports of premature failures. In fact, the percentage of negative Vertex 450 reviews is even higher than for the Vector, albeit with a much smaller sample size.
OCZ says its internal data points to a defect rate of “around 1%,” which sounds a lot better than the figures listed above. If only that claim made me feel more confident. When OCZ introduced the Vector, it said bringing controller and firmware development in house would allow it to avoid the reliability issues that plagued some of its early SandForce-based products. So far, the anecdotal evidence suggests that OCZ SSDs are more problematic than their peers.
Still, OCZ does have a reputation for producing wicked-fast SSDs. Let’s see how this puppy performs…
Our usual SSD reviews are filled with page after page of graphs that take forever to create. The thing is, with minor updates like the Vector 150, only a handful of the results ever end up being interesting. And most of you skip over the numbers and head straight to the conclusion, anyway. With those factors in mind, it seems like a waste to roll out a full set of results for the Vector 150. We’ve run OCZ’s latest through our full test suite using the same setup as our last SSD review, but instead of giving you the full run-down, we’ll stick to the highlights.
SSDs are great for speeding up load times, so that’s a good place to start. We measure how long it takes each drive to load Windows 7 and levels from Duke Nukem Forever and Portal 2. We have a lot of historical data for these tests, but perhaps it’s time to update the suite with Win8 and more recent games.
Although the SSDs are much faster than the lone mechanical hard drive in these tests, the differences between them are relatively small. Less than a second separates the Vector 150 from its solid-state peers. In these scenarios, it’s difficult to notice a difference between any of the SSDs.
This benchmark plays back the I/O associated with nearly two weeks of everyday desktop activity peppered with bouts of disk-intensive multitasking. DriveBench 2.0 is the best tool we have for assessing real-world responsiveness. Here’s how the Vector 150’s mean service times stack up.
Impressive. The latest Barefoot drive tops the standings with writes and is barely out of the lead with reads. Most of the SSDs score pretty well here, but the gaps are definitely wider with writes.
The Vector 150 is a little bit faster than its Barefoot-based predecessors in DriveBench overall. There are no red flags in the results from our other DriveBench metrics or from the test suite as a whole.
FileBench looks at copy speeds using real-world files. Most of the file sets are self-explanatory: movies, RAW images, and MP3s. The TR set includes the image, HTML, and spreadsheet files that make up typical TR content, while the Mozilla set comprises all the files needed to compile the open-source browser. Click on the buttons below the graph to see the results for each set.
The Vector 150 isn’t the fastest SSD in FileBench, but it’s right up there when copying the larger files in the movie, RAW, and MP3 sets. The drive is somewhat less competitive with the smaller files in the TR and Mozilla sets. Those files are more amenable to compression, which is why the SandForce-based drives perform so well in those tests.
Interestingly, the Vector 150 is marginally slower than its predecessor across the board. All the Barefoot-based drives deliver comparable performance, though.
IOMeter highlights performance under a scaling load that increases the number of concurrent I/O requests. Desktop systems rarely deal with more than a few simultaneous requests, but the command queue associated with the Serial ATA spec supports up to 32. Ramping up the number of requests gives us a sense of how the Vector 150 might perform in more demanding enterprise environments.
This time around, the buttons below each graph compare the Vector 150 to other groups of SSDs. The web server access pattern is made up exclusively of read requests, while the file server test mixes reads and writes.
The Vector 150’s performance in the web server benchmark is good but unremarkable. Plenty of other SSDs match or exceed its I/O throughput. In the file server test, however, the Vector 150 outclasses most of its peers. Its transaction rate climbs steeply; by the end of the test, the drive is crunching substantially more I/O than its closest rival.
Now that we’ve seen the performance highlights, let’s take a quick look at power consumption. We measured each drive’s current draw under load with IOMeter’s workstation access pattern chewing through 32 concurrent I/O requests. Idle power consumption was probed one minute after processing Windows 7’s idle tasks on an empty desktop.
Not bad. Although the Vector 150’s idle power draw is nothing to write home about, the drive draws a couple watts less than its Barefoot brothers under load. And it does so while pushing more I/O than any of the other SSDs. The Vector 150’s throughput in the workstation test is just as impressive as it is in the file server benchmark.
We summarize storage performance with a single score derived by comparing each drive’s performance to that of a common baseline: a painfully slow notebook hard drive. This index uses a subset of the performance data from our full test suite. We then mash up that information with each drive’s cost per gigabyte, which is calculated from prevailing Newegg prices and the Vector 150’s official MSRP, to produce our famous value scatter plots. As always, the most desirable products are closer to the upper left corner, which denotes the highest performance and the lowest price.
Our lone mechanical drive makes somewhat of a mess of the scatter plot, so we have a second one with just the SSDs. Click the button below the plot to switch between them. And note that both axes have been trimmed for the SSD-only plot.
The hard drive squishes all the SSDs into the top right quadrant, and the labels are a little hard to read as a result. However, the plot nicely illustrates the wide discrepancies between solid-state and mechanical storage. Even the cheapest and slowest SSDs are a lot faster—and cost a lot more per gigabyte—than our 7,200-RPM desktop drive.
Concentrating on the SSDs brings the Vector 150 into focus. OCZ’s latest is the second-fastest SSD we’ve ever tested. It’s sandwiched between Vertex 450 and the original Vector overall, giving OCZ the top three spots on the podium. That’s an impressive feat considering the competition.
The performance differences between that trio and the next contenders down the line aren’t substantial, though. There are plenty of rivals within striking distance, and many of them are cheaper per gigabyte. The Samsung 840 Pro even matches the Vector’s five-year warranty coverage—but user reviews suggest Samsung has a much better reliability track record.
Therein lies the problem with the Vector 150. After watching negative user reviews stack up for two generations of Barefoot drives, I can’t bring myself to recommend one. The Vector 150’s performance advantage isn’t enough to make up for the apparently higher risk of premature failure. Reliability is of the utmost importance for a device tasked with storing one’s OS, applications, and precious data. Given the alternatives, I see no reason to roll the dice.
To be fair, the Vector 150 could end up with a spotless reliability track record and overwhelmingly positive user reviews. We simply don’t know, and we’ll be keeping tabs on user impressions to see how things shake out.