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Appeared on: Thursday, July 28, 2011
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB Max IOPS review


1. Features, specs

The OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS solid state drives have been designed to unleash the performance potential of the SATA 6Gbps interface. Available in capacities of 120GB ($275) and 240GB ($540), OCZ's latest Sandforce-based offering pushed the limits in read/write rates with up to 85,000 IOPS maximum 4k write performance.

Compared to the OCZ Vertex 3 series, the "Max IOPS" is based on the same SandForce SF-2281 SSD processor, but it is based on 32nm Toshiba Toggle NAND and not the latest Intel 25nm MLC NAND used in existing Vertex 3 drives. The standard 240GB Vertex 3 has 32 die spread across 16 chips. The MAX IOPS version doubles that to 64 die in 16 chips. The 120GB Vertex 3 only has 16 die across 16 chips while the MAX IOPS version has 32 die, but only using 8 chips.

The 25nm seems to have caused confusion with respect to capacities and frustration amongst new Sandforce equipped SSD buyers as many learned that performance is totally dependent on the NAND in use. In addition, 2Xnm NAND also presents us with another barrier and that is its reduced total write cycle which for the most part has been tackled by firmware changes but is still a concern to many. Last but not least, the 32nm NAND is more expensive than the 25nm. Hopefully, this is translated in just $40 more in the final retail price of the new OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS compared to the Vertex 3.

The Vertex 3 Max IOPS series also features TRIM support to optimize performance over the drive’s lifespan as a Windows 7 companion. Vertex 3 SSDs come backed by a 3-Year Warranty.

 

Below you see the specifications of the 240 GB version of the OCZ Vertex 3 Series – MAX IOPS Edition (VTX3MI-25SAT3-240G - $540), which we will test today:

Specifications

Max Performance


2. Package, installation

Package - aesthetics

Below you see the slim package of the 2.5" Vertex 3 MAX IOPS 240GB SSD. The basics are listed on the front side of the box: interface, capacity, controller and type of flash memory:

The SSD comes into plastic packaging. An installation guide/ warranty info as well as a 3.5" SSD adapter are also found in the retail box:

 

The drive measures 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm and its weight is just 77 grams.

The drive uses a SATA III interface, which offers a maximum data rate of 6Gbps. Although it is backwards compatible with SATA II (GBps) the drive will show its strength in the faster interface. So you need to connect it to a proper SATA III controller, such as those found on the Intel series 6 chipset based products (H67/P67/Z68).

Disassembly

The 240GB Vertex 3 MAX IOPS SSD has uses 32nm Toshiba NAND and not the Intel 25nm MLC NAND used in existing Vertex 3 drives. The standard 240GB Vertex 3 has 32 die spread across 16 chips. The MAX IOPS version doubles that to 64 die in 16 chips. This brings the total capacity of the drive to 256GB to which one module (16GB) is utilized for over provisioning (7%) and firmware which brings the total user capacity before formatting to 240GB. Of course, formatting then leaves the user with a 223GB total available user capacity. 

The Vertex 3 Max IOPS uses the SandForce SF-2281 processor, also met in the Vertex 3 SSDs. We have already talked about SandForce's DuraWrite technology , which optimizes writes to the flash memory over conventional controllers increasing the overall endurance and reliability of the SSD. Intelligent block management and wear leveling also extends the overall endurance.

The SandForce controllers also use a "trick" as they can write to the FLASH memory less then the other controllers by using real time compression. The controller stores information about the data and not the actual data itself in a partition of the available NAND flash memory. This means that SandForce's controller throws away around 40% of all of the stored data thanks to its real time compression/deduplication algorithms, reducing the NAND bandwidth requirements.

Installation

The 240GB Vertex 3 MAX IOPS SSD is compatible with OCZ's Toolbox software utility.  Developed by OCZ and  SandForce, the software is packed full of features that you are going to find useful over the lifespan of the drive.

Through the software you can control all the main functions of your SSD, like formatting, completely erase your SSD, installing new software or password-protect your data.

Once we fired up the utility, OCZ's Toolbox identified the the installed SSD as "OCZ-VERTEX3 MI" with firmware v2.06 installed:

A little bit later the software found a new firmware for the drive (v2.08), which we easily downloaded and installed it:

The SSD can be easily installed in your chassis. The procedure is no different than installing any other drive. Connect the SATA and power cable, and you are good to go.

After installation, Intel's software in our test PC provided some information about the drive. As you see in the screen shot below, the drive is offering 228.936 MB of storage:

More information about the drive is provided by the CrystalDiskInfo utility:

For better performance under Windows Vista, you may need to disable any HDD optimizations such as drive indexing, prefetch superfetch disabled and defragmentation.

Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 support the TRIM function, which the operating systems use when they detect that a file is being deleted from an SSD. Here is how it works: When the OS deletes a file on an SSD, it updates the file system but also tells the SSD via the TRIM command which pages should be deleted. At the time of the delete, the SSD can read the block into memory, erase the block, and write back only pages with data in them. This will result in no performance degradation for writes because the pages are already empty. As you realize TRIM only improves performance when you delete files and not when you overwrite an existing file.

You may also consider enabling the AHCI mode, which could give your SSD a little extra performance boost.


3. Benchmarks - page 1

Here is our testbed:

For the tests, we used the following software:

We start the tests with the HDTachRW software. HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices. The software measures the sequential read speed (at various points on the device), the random access speed and sequential write speed.

The software reported an average sequential writing speed of 399.4MB/s and a sequential reading of 390.8 MB/s.

These figures are not exactly those quoted by OCZ but still, it is a good performance.This is not the first time we see an SSD performing lower than expected in this benchmark. That's mainly due to the fact that the HD Tach sequential read test is different from other benchmarks. Most benchmarks create a file on the drive and test within that file. But the latest drives use a zone bit recording technique that allows different read speeds depending on where the data is located. This means that data on the outside of the drive is much faster than data recorded on the inside.

In addition, HDTach’s fixed strides between sample points are sometimes causes issues. The software uses fixed strides across the array to measure small block sizes. The periodicities of the stride pattern and the flash memory address space may cause some wave-like interference patterns of the benchmark results that are also measuring artifacts rather than being indicative of performance.

In addition to sequential read performance, HD Tach tests the drive's random access time. In this case, the software returned a very fast 0.1 ms for the Vertex 3 MI SSD.

We move on to the HD Tune Pro software, another utility we used to measure the drive's reading performance. Although not necessarily representative of real-world workloads, HD Tune's targeted tests give us a glimpse of each drive's raw capabilities.

In the a sequential read test, the drive read the data at 300MB/s (average). This time the reported access time was 0.233 ms:

In the corresponding writing test, the drive wrote the data sequentially on the disc at 278.7 MB/s:

Here is another sequential file test. The software used 64MB of data comprising out of sizes ranging from 0,5 KB to 8 MB. As you see in the benchmark below, the drive was faster once it passed the 128KB file size.We tested the SSD on an Intel SATA driver system and also on a system with WIndow 7's default SATA drivers.

Under the Intel configuration, the SSD's performance for write topped at around 475MB/s and for read close to 520MB/s. Both results are very close to the performance figures promised by OCZ:

Using Microsoft's SATA driver did not have any effect on the drive's good performance:

 

 

The HD Tune Pro also allows random read and write testing. Here are some more results with the software to randomly seeks files of different sizes:

 

The next software we used was the ATTO Disk Benchmark. The tool measures storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. The benchmark performs file transfers ranging from 0.5 KB to 8192 KB.

The drive gave the expected performance with an average more than 550 MB/s for write and more than 500MB/s for read , with files larger than 128 KB, in Queue Depth 4:

Generally, ATTO is the preferred standard benchmarking software as while it runs spot data is has several advantages over other HDD benchmarks including the fact that it shows the specific speed of each file size transfer and shows a true average, this benchmarking product also doesn't seem to favor SRAM over DRAM caches. In addition, the SandForce controller is able to compress the data on the fly and it gets a lot of speed out of this function. The ATTO test files are very easy to compress and the SandForce Controller is getting best values in this benchmark.

The next benchmark is the CrystalDiskMark. The software provides throughput data based on sequential reads and writes, and random (512K/4K/4KQD32) reads and writes. For the first test we used the default 1,000MB file-size:

Sequential tests on this SandForce SSD produced a maximum read speed of 509.8 MB/s, while the write speed was 484.6 MB/s.

4K tests produced 33.08 read and 74.93 write performance.

4KB queue depth 32 IOPS is one area where high-end SSDs excel. The Vertex 3 MI SSD gave a great performance for the category.

We proceed with the AS SSD benchmark, which contains five synthetic as well as three practical tests. The synthetic tests determine the sequential and the random read / write performance of an SSD. These tests are carried out without using the operating system's cache. The Seq-test measures how long it takes to read and write an 1GB file. Most importantly, this sequential benchmark uses incompressible data for all of its transfers, meaning that we should not expect the very high performance figures we saw with other benchmarks, since the SandForce SSD will not be able to take advantage of the compression "trick" that boosts its performance.

The 4K benchmark tests the read and write performance for random 4K blocks. The 4K-64-THRD-test corresponds to the 4K procedure except that here the read and write operations are distributed on 64 threads.

Although the reading performance is high, sequential writing is slower than expected due to the SandForce controller.

Beginning with sequential read and write performance, the Vertex 3 MI 240GB SSD produced 511.77 MB/s read speed, and 261.49 MB/s write performance. Here the drive's writing performance suffers.

Single-threaded 4K IOPS performance delivers 16.60MB/s read and 59.66 MB/s write, which is slightly slower than the OCZ Agility 3 240 GB, while the 64-thread 4K reads recorded 245.23 MB/s and write performance was 211.27 MB/s.

In addition, although the drive showed great access times for read (0.061 ms,) it was slower during write (0.27 ms).

AS-SDD use files, that are not t very easily to compress and the Sandforce controller loses the benefice of the "on the fly compression". So the real real life should be something between ATTO and AS-SSD.

In the following test, the OCZ Vertex 3 MI 240GB SSD is reading and writing files, which have been partially of fully compressed. As it was expected , the more compressed the files returned higher read / write performance:


4. Benchmarks - page 2

We proceed to IOMeter benchmark. Iometer is run by using workstation and database patterns for queue depths (outstanding I/Os) of two and 32, representing very light and moderate loads. Iometer is both a workload generator (that is, it performs I/O operations in order to stress the system) and a measurement tool (that is, it examines and records the performance of its I/O operations and their impact on the system). The app's ability to bombard drives with an escalating number of concurrent IO requests also does a nice job of simulating the sort of demanding multi-user environments that are common in enterprise applications. It can be used for measurement of the performance of an SSD. We run the IOMeter tests using the Xtreme Benchmark template .

With 19165.79 combined IOPS, the Vertex 3 MI 240GB SSD rounds out the high-end of all solid state drive devices. In addition, the average I/O response time was just 0.4170 ms:

 

Below you see the results of Futuremark's PCMark 7 Professional edition. The drive scored 5354 points. Below you see the performance of the OCZ Vertex 3 MI 240GB SSD in various tasks defined by the software:

Below you see the performance of the SSD compared to some other SSDs we have tested in the past:

 


5. Final thoughts

With the Vertex 3 MI 240GB, OCZ has successfully combined any proven advantages of the 3xnm Toshiba NAND with the advantages of the SandForce 2281 controller. The result was an SSD that can easily compete with any 25nm SSD currently available on the market in terms of performance. Expect sequential reads of 550MB/s and writes of around 500MB/s, which are basically very close to a 'regular' Vertex 3 drive of the same capacity. By bringing the 3x Toshiba NAND to the new version of the Vertex 3, OCZ seems to have maneged to pick up some speed when the SSD is dealing with incompressible data. The IOMeter scores are in a different class, and the Vertex 3 MI 240GB is possibly the fastest SSD we have tested so far, with results miles ahead of the previous range of products.

The SF-2200 controller does its job keeping the drive speedy after heavy use, especially on systems where TRIM is employed. In addition, the 34nm is supposed to have greater longevity expectations than that of a 25nm drive, at least in theory. OCZ estimates the Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) to be right around 2 million hours.

Currently on Newegg you can get a 25nm 240GB Vertex 3 for $500 vs. $540 for the MAX IOPS drive. In the real world you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between these two, unless you are dealing with s demanding IO situations where the MAX IOPS will show a benefit. So it's up to you whether the MAX IOPS deserves the extra spending.

Summarizing our findings, we believe that the Toshiba 3xNM NAND flash is a worthwhile addition to the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS 240GB. We also understand that the "Max IOPS" version may sound to you more a marketing branding rather than an actual substance for typical gamers and desktop users. But if you are determined to pay $500 or more for an SSD and you are asking for edge performance, the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS 240GB is your choice.

 



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