A few months ago, OCZ made a huge splash with its Vertex drive, which was the first solid state drive we'd tested that offers high-end read and write performance at a price that’s affordable for users looking to upgrade. The reason for the Vertex’s success is its controller chip, the Indilinx Barefoot. Since the Vertex, a host of other Indilinx-based drives from vendors such as RunCore and Patriot have hit the market, offering similarly strong performance. OCZ has released into the fray the similarly-priced Summit Series SSD, which also promises high-speed performance, but uses a Samsung controller instead. Our tests reveal that the $350 Summit is a compelling, competitively-priced choice for SSD upgraders, as it runs neck-and-neck with the Vertex on most tests.
Design and Form Factor
The OCZ Summit comes in a standard 2.5-inch form factor, and uses a standard SATA interface. Most notebooks made in the past couple of years support drives of this size and come with SATA ports. However, some ultraportable and thin-and-light systems such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s use 1.8-inch drives instead. Before you upgrade, be sure to check your notebook’s manual.
You won’t spend a lot of time staring at an SSD, so the way its casing looks isn’t very important. Still, when you plunk down hundreds of dollars on a drive, you want it to look sturdy. The Summit’s plain black metal case, adorned with a Summit sticker, is not very attractive, but at least appears solid.
Controller and Cache Memory
Like all but the most expensive server-class drives these days, the OCZ Summit uses multi-level cell (MLC) rather than pricey single-level cell (SLC) NAND Flash memory to store its data. Where MLC-based drives used to deliver poor performance, current-generation controller chips have made it possible to get incredibly strong results.
The Samsung S3C29RBB01 controller found in the OCZ Summit was originally used in Samsung’s own line of SSDs, including the 256GB MMDOE56G5MXP-0VB we reviewed (and raved about) in May 2009. Because Samsung only sells its drives to notebook vendors such as Dell and Lenovo, drive-makers such as OCZ and Corsair have stepped in and bought the controller to use in their products.
Owing to Samsung’s strong reputation in the SSD space, OCZ touts the Summit as having "unmatched reliability." However, there is no firm, public evidence to suggest drives based on the Indilinx Barefoot controller are any less reliable. In fact, OCZ backs both the Vertex and the Summit with three-year warranties.
The Summit carries 128MB of cache memory as opposed to the 64MB of cache found in the Vertex and other Indilinx-based drives, though this doesn’t seem to make a noticeable difference. The Samsung S3C29RBB01 is supposed to offer superior write speeds to the Barefoot and, as you’ll see below, our file copy test confirms that. However, in read speed tests, the Barefoot tends to come out slightly ahead.
Testing the Summit
The Summit was placed into our standard testbed, a Gateway P-7808u FX with a Mobile Quad Core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64-bit Vista Home Premium. We use this high-performance system with all of our drives so we can measure their full potential. The Summit was put through our standard suite of tests, which include:
Synthetic Test - Measures read transfer rate and seek time under ideal conditions.
File Transfer Tests - Time to copy files from one folder to another.
Zip/Unzip Tests - Time to create and extract large zip files.
Application Open Tests - Time to open launch popular applications, both alone and while multi-tasking.
Boot Time - Time from power on to last tray icon loaded.
Synthetic Benchmark – HD Tune
To get a baseline idea of what to expect, we tested the OCZ Summit using HD Tune, a program that measures both seek time (the time it takes for the drive to locate data) and read transfer rates (the average amount of sequential data read to the computer per second). While high transfer rates should help most with loading large pieces of data, low seek times allow a disk to quickly launch an application, which is made of many small files.
The Summit, like almost every other SSD, had a 0.2 ms seek time. Its transfer rate of 161.6 MBps is just a tiny bit behind the Indilinx Barefoot-based Vertex, RunCore Pro IV, Super Talent UltraDrive ME, and Patriot Torqx, but is miles ahead of the Imation M-Class, Kingston SSDNow V-Series, and the Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ, the fastest 7,200 rpm hard drive we’ve tested.
File Copy Tests on the OCZ Summit
To see how the OCZ Summit was able to read and write data in real-world situations, we conducted two file copy tests. In the first test, we copied 4.97GB of mixed media files—music, video, photos, and documents—from one folder to another. In the second test, we copied only one large video file, a 3.5GB MPEG-2 video, from one folder to another. Both tests were conducted three times and the results were averaged.
The Summit did very well on both tests, besting its competitors by at least 10 seconds on the single file copy and coming in just a few seconds behind the Patriot Torqx on the multi-file copy test. In the two write tests combined, the Summit was the fastest drive we’ve ever tested.
Zip/Unzip Tests on the OCZ Summit
In addition to simple file copies, we tested the OCZ Summit’s ability to zip and unzip large files. In our first test, where we compress 4.97GB of mixed media files, the Summit notched a respectable 4 minute and 26 second completion time, which was on a par with the Vertex and Super Talent UltraDrive ME, though a bit behind the RunCore Pro IV. When unzipping the large zip file we’d created, the Summit was also extremely fast, finishing in 2:45, within a few seconds of the other high-speed drives and miles ahead of the slower Imation, Kingston, and mechanical drives.
Application Open Tests
Perhaps the most important benefit a high-speed SSD can provide is faster application and file-open times. The less time you spend waiting for programs to launch, the more time you can spend being productive. To measure this benchmark, we used custom scripts that display time stamps when apps start and finish launching.
The four programs we used were Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Reader 9, Firefox 3, and Microsoft Word 2007. Firefox and Word were timed opening to blank pages, while Adobe Reader was opened to a large PDF (the 7.2MB, 567-page 9/11 Commission Report), and Photoshop was opened to a 398MB TIF file.
To ensure the accuracy of these tests, we disabled Windows Vista’s built-in SuperFetch service, which preloads frequently used applications into memory and affects open times. We tested each application three times, rebooting between tests to clear the system memory, and then calculated the averages. The chart below shows the average open time for each drive across all four apps, while the table shows individual open times for each app on each drive.
|Drive||Adobe Reader 9 PDF||Firefox 3||Photoshop CS4 TIF||Word 2007||AVG|
|Super Talent UltraDrive ME||5||0.8||9.2||2.1||4.3|
|OCZ Summit Series (120GB)||5.5||0.9||9||2.2||4.4|
|RunCore Pro IV (128GB)||5.3||0.8||9.4||2.2||4.4|
|Patriot Torqx (128GB)||5.8||0.8||9||2.2||4.5|
|OCZ Vertex (120GB)||5.9||0.8||9.1||2.1||4.5|
|Imation M-Class (128GB)||6.1||1.3||11.9||1.6||5.2|
|Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ 320GB (7,200rpm)||8.1||3.7||21.9||5||9.7|
The Summit provided lightning-quick open times of 9.0 seconds for Photoshop CS4, 5.5 seconds for Adobe Reader, 0.9 seconds for Firefox 3, and 2.2 seconds for Word 2007. The time to open Photoshop CS4 was the fastest of any drive we tested, and the other times were within a few tenths of a second of the leaders—a negligible difference. In comparison to the slower SSDs and the 7,200-rpm hard drive, the Summit is as much as 200 percent faster on larger applications such as Photoshop.
Application Opens Under Stress
To measure the OCZ Summit’s ability to handle multitasking situations, we ran the same application open tests while zipping 4.97GB of mixed media in the background. The stress of performing an input/output-intensive task such as zipping increased the open times of every application on every drive we tested, but the amount of slowdown really separates the contenders from the pretenders. On the fastest drives, open times are still reasonable under stress, but on the slowest the wait can make you want to pull your hair out.
|Drive||Adobe Reader 9 PDF||Firefox 3||Photoshop CS4 TIF||Word 2007||AVG|
|OCZ Vertex (120GB)||5.7||1.8||18.2||4||7.4|
|Patriot Torqx (128GB)||5.9||1.9||19||3.7||7.6|
|Super Talent UltraDrive ME||6.2||1.9||19||3.6||7.7|
|RunCore Pro IV (128GB)||6.1||2||18.3||4.7||7.8|
|OCZ Summit Series (120GB)||6.1||2.1||20.6||3.9||8.2|
|Imation M-Class (128GB)||8.6||2.5||31.3||5.5||12|
|Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ 320GB (7,200rpm)||34.3||23.3||130.1||23.9||52.9|
When opening the PDF in Adobe Reader under stress, the Summit barely flinched, returning a time of 6.1 seconds, only 0.6 seconds slower than it took under no stress. Firefox 3 opened in just 2.1 seconds under stress, a mere 1.2 seconds longer than it took when launching alone. Under stress, the Summit opened Word 2007 in 3.9 seconds, which is only 1.7 seconds longer than it took alone, and just 0.3 seconds slower than the Super Talent UltraDrive ME.
The Photoshop CS4 open test is the most intense, and it always shows in stress open times. Here, the Samsung-based Summit finished a couple of seconds behind the four drives with the Indilinx Barefoot controller (Vertex, Pro IV, UltraDrive ME, and Torqx). Still, its open time of 20.6 seconds was nothing to sneeze at, considering that the slower SSDs from Imation and Kingston took 30 and 60 seconds, respectively, while the 7,200-rpm hard drive took 2 minutes.
One common belief is that SSDs speed up boot times, but our tests show that’s not always the case and, when it is, it may not be significant. Still, the Summit improved on the 7,200-rpm hard drive’s boot time by a couple of seconds. Perhaps if you’re loading a number of programs at start up, you will see an even greater difference.
Support and Warranty
At present, Samsung does not provide downloadable firmware updates for the S3C29RBB01, though it is possible that updates will be made available in the future. By contrast, OCZ has worked with Indilinx to issue no fewer than five different firmware updates for the Vertex, each of which have increased the drive’s performance dramatically.
Firmware updates will be even more useful in the future, as they will be necessary for users to take advantage of Windows 7’s built-in support of Trim, a set of disk-cleansing commands designed to keep SSDs from slowing down over time as more and more data that has been deleted by the operating system clogs up the data blocks. (For a detailed explanation of Trim and the SSD aging problem it solves, see Microsoft’s Q & A or this graphical representation from Anandtech.)
Because the Indilinx controller supports Trim even without Windows 7, OCZ provides Vertex users with a command-line utility called “wiper” that purges pages of flash data that have been marked for deletion so it can maintain fast write speeds. Unfortunately, the Trim utility doesn’t exist for the Summit or other Samsung-based drives. However, the Summit does include Idle Garbage Collection in the latest firmware update, and OCZ told us they believe Samsung will issue some kind of Trim update before the official release of Windows 7 in October.
The OCZ Summit is covered by a three-year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and labor, as is OCZ’s Vertex drive and Kingston’s SSDNow V-Series. Super Talent, RunCore, and Imation offer only two-year warranties, while Patriot offers a ten-year warranty. OCZ also provides toll-free phone support and very strong Web support for all of its drives, with highly-active community forums where staff frequently answer the most detailed technical questions.
Value and Verdict
The OCZ Summit is one of the fastest drives we’ve tested, and is undoubtedly the fastest when it comes to copying large files. Its Samsung controller delivered strong numbers in all of our tests, including the critical application opens and application opens under stress.
We are somewhat concerned about the lack of firmware updates so far, but confident that something will be done in time to add support for Windows 7’s Trim feature. Deciding between the Summit and Indilinx-based drives such as the OCZ Vertex (our Editors’ Choice in this category) can be difficult because their performance is so similar—as is their price. The Summit currently retails for $350, or $2.73 per gigabyte; that’s lower than the Vertex ($374, or $2.92 per gigabyte), but the Vertex comes out slightly ahead in most of our application open tests. While we give a marginal edge to the Vertex, if you choose the Summit, you won’t be disappointed.