Last year, OCZ was the first vendor to mass market affordable, high-capacity solid state disks with its Core Series. While those drives ushered in an age of affordable SSDs, a huge price gap continued between value-priced SSDs that offer middling performance and high-priced, high-speed models. With its Vertex series, OCZ bridged that gap, offering top-notch read and write rates at a relatively affordable price.
When we first tested the Vertex in May 2009, we gave it our Editor's Choice award, based on its ground-breaking performance, performance which blew away even the legendary Intel X25-M. Since then, OCZ has issued several firmware updates to increase the speed of its drive, but slew of competitors have stepped up their game, releasing their own affordable high-speed SSDs, many of which are based on the same controller chip. Though the race is tight, the Vertex remains our leading choice, because of its strong combination of performance, value, and support.
Editor's Note - 7/29/09: This review was updated to reflect a new round of testing that was conducted in July 2009, pitting the Vertex (with updated firmware) against a new series of competitors.
Design and Form Factor
The OCZ Vertex 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 smaller 1.8-inch drives; before you upgrade, be sure to check your manual.
You won’t spend a lot of time staring at an SSD, so the way its casing looks isn’t critical. Still, when you plunk down hundreds of dollars on a drive, you want it to look sturdy. The drive's plain black metal case, adorned with a Vertex sticker, is not very attractive, but at least appears solid.
*Capacity Note: Though the Vertex is labeled and marketed as 120GB, it's actually got 128GB worth of memory. Unlike most storage vendors, OCZ lists only the amount of drive space that is visible under Windows.
Controller and Cache Memory
Like all but the most expensive server-class drives these days, the Vertex uses multi-level cell (MLC) rather than pricey single-level cell (SLC) NAND Flash memory to store its data. While MLC-based drives used to be weak performers, current-generation controller chips have made it possible to achieve incredibly strong performance.
Just as the CPU is the computer’s brain, the controller chip does all the thinking in SSDs. Like several other leading SSDs on the market today, the OCZ Vertex uses an Indilinx Barefoot controller with 64MB of DRAM cache. Other Indilinx-based drives include the Patriot Torqx, RunCore Pro IV, and Super Talent UltraDrive ME.
The Barefoot is popular with vendors because it offers great read and write performance at a reasonable price, and because its firmware is upgradable. OCZ has issued a number of firmware upgrades since releasing the drive in spring 2009. Our latest tests were conducted with firmware version 1.30.
The OCZ Vertex was placed into our standard testbed, a Gateway P-7808u FX with a Mobile Quad Core processor, 4GB of RAM, and Vista Home Premium 64-bit. We use this high-performance system with all of our drives so we can see their full potential. The Vertex was put through our standard suite of tests, which include:
Synthetic Benchmarks - 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 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 in terms of performance, we tested the Vertex 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.
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The Vertex, like almost every other SSD we tested, had a 0.2 ms seek time. Its average read transfer rate of 172.1 MBps is second only to the Patriot Torqx, and is miles ahead of slower SSDs such as the Imation M-Class and Kingston V-Series—not to mention the Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ, the fastest 7,200 rpm hard drive we’ve tested.
File Copy Tests
To see how the Vertex 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, we copied only one 3.5GB MPEG-2 video from one folder to another. Both tests were conducted three times, and the results were averaged.
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While it did not lead the pack, the OCZ Vertex was only seconds behind the leaders, returning strong scores that were on par other Indilinx Barefoot-based drives such as the Super Talent UltraDrive ME and RunCore Pro IV.
In addition to simple file copies, we tested the Vertex's ability to zip and unzip large files. In our first test, where we zip 4.97GB of mixed media files, the drive notched a respectable 4:24 completion time, which was on a par with the UltraDrive ME and Summit, though a bit behind the RunCore Pro IV. When unzipping the large zip file we’d created, the Vertex was also extremely fast, finishing in 2:43, just 3 seconds shy of the Super Talent UltraDrive ME.
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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 use 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.
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The Vertex provided strong open times of 5.9 seconds for Adobe Reader, 0.8 seconds for Firefox 3, and 2.1 seconds for Word 2007. Photoshop CS4 opened in a lightning quick 9.1 seconds, which was only 0.1 seconds slower than the leaders on this test, the OCZ Summit and Patriot Torqx. In comparison to slower SSDs and the 7,200 rpm hard drive, the OCZ Vertex is as much as 200 percent faster on demanding applications such as Photoshop.
Application Opens Under Stress
To measure the Vertex'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 slows down the open times of every application on every drive we test, 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.
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It was in this all-important series of tests that the Vertex pulled slightly ahead of its closest competitors, delivering a slew of best-in-class scores. When opening the PDF in Adobe Reader under stress, the Vertex was barely fazed, returning a time of 5.7 seconds, actually .2 seconds faster than it took with no stress. Firefox 3 opened in just 1.8 seconds under stress, a mere 1 second longer than it took when launching alone. Under stress, the Vertex opened Word 2007 in a record-fast 4.0 seconds, which is only 1.9 seconds longer than it took alone, and still miles ahead of the 7,200-rpm drive launching Word 2007 alone.
The Photoshop CS4 open test is the most intense, and it always shows in stress open times. Here, the Vertex showed why it is a LAPTOP Editor's Choice, finishing in just 18.2 seconds, which is the best we've seen yet and at least .8 seconds faster than every drive except the RunCore Pro IV (which was .1 seconds behind the Vertex). The slower SSDs from Imation and Kingston took 30 and 60 seconds, respectively, while the 7,200-rpm mechanical hard drive took an interminable 2 minutes.
Many factors affect start-up time besides drive speed—post time, time to power up devices, start-up programs—so even a blazing SSD may not have much effect on boot time. That said, the OCZ Vertex booted Vista on our test notebook faster than any other SSD, averaging 49.3 seconds from power on until the last tray icon loaded.
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Support and Warranty
OCZ was arguably the first to release a drive with the ground-breaking Indilinx Barefoot controller when it rolled out the Vertex in spring 2009. Since launch, the company has supported its drive to the tune of at least five firmware updates, which improved performance signifiicantly. Firmware updates will be even more necessary in the future for users to take advantage of Windows 7’s built-in support of Trim, a set of commands designed to improve SSD performance. (For a detailed explanation of TRIM, see Microsoft’s Q & A or this graphical representation from Anandtech.)
Because the Indilinx controller already supports Trim even without Windows 7, OCZ provides Vertex users with a performance refresh tool that purges pages of flash data that have been marked for deletion so it can maintain fast write speeds.
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
When we first evaluated the Vertex, we noted that it was the first consumer SSD we’d tested that truly offers groundbreaking performance at an affordable price per gigabyte, particularly in the 120GB capacity, a sweet spot for many upgraders. We said that, though the Vertex is still pricey relative to a 7,200-rpm hard drive (the 320GB Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ, for example, costs $79.99 or 25 cents per gigabyte) upgrading to a high performance SSD has such a massive impact on day-to-day tasks like opening applications and copying files that it can make an old notebook feel new.
Today, the race has tightened and, as of this revision (7/29/09), other Indilinx Barefoot-based drives offer similarly strong performance at comparable prices. Because of OCZ's aggressiveness in issuing numerous firmware updates and because of the drive's leading performance on the all-important app opens under stress tests, we continue to give this drive our highest recommendation. However, other Indilinx-based drives like the Patriot Torqx and Super Talent UltraDrive ME come close to the OCZ Vertex on some tests and best it on others, so street price at the time you’re ready to buy should be a strong factor in your ultimate decision.