The OCZ Vertex EX SLC Solid State Drive

6/17/2009 Update: The OCZ Vertex EX series has received a firmware update since this article was posted. To read more about firmware update 1.20 please refer to this small update after reading the full review below.

Today, we have a special treat for our readers. Our very first SLC NAND Flash based Solid State Drive review! The recently released OCZ Vertex EX is designed to deliver unparalleled performance and reliability, featuring the latest-generation architecture and SATA interface utilizing single-level cell NAND flash memory for unmatched overall system responsiveness and stability for enterprise grade server solutions. With speeds up to a 260MB/s read and 210MB/s write, the Vertex EX series is clearly one of the fastest drives that money can buy today.

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB Solid State Drive

The OCZ Vertex EX series drive came in a plain black box that contained the 120GB version! Before we go any further let's take a look to see what OCZ has to say about this series of SSDs.

"OCZ Vertex EX 2.5” Solid State Drives are designed to meet the stringent demands of server environments and enterprise applications. These new premium offerings are the pinnacle storage option excelling in performance, reliability, and power consumption that offer professionals and enthusiasts an unparalleled computing experience. Offering a server-class storage upgrade from traditional hard disc drives, OCZ Vertex EX SSDs have a compact form factor and no moving parts resulting in a quiet storage solution with significantly higher performance. For crowded server environments, the OCZ Vertex EX SSDs offer space and cost-savings with a compact form factor that use significantly less power thanks to the benefits of high-quality flash-based storage." - OCZ PR

Looks like we have a screamer on our hands for sure, so without further ado...

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD Retail Box

The OCZ Vertex EX series 120GB SATA II 2.5" Solid State Drive comes in a small box that lists all the key features of the drive. OCZ also has 60GB versions of the Vertex EX on the market in case you were wanting a different size. It should be noted that all capacities have the same controller and 64MB of cache, but they do differ in write speeds due to the density of the SLC NAND Flash. As a result the 120GB model has a write speed of up to 210MB/s, while the 60GB model has a write speed of up to 200MB/s. So, a 10MB/s difference is seen on the write speeds and the read speed is identical at 260MB/s. The pricing on the other hand is not identical between the two models.

Vertex EX 120GB SSD Features:

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD

The Vertex EX uses the 2.5" form factor used in notebooks, so this drive will work in any notebook. If you wanted to be able to mount it in a desktop chassis with 3.5" bays you'll be forced to use something like the OCZ Solid State Drive 3.5" Adaptor Bracket in order to get it bolted up in the system properly. You'll need to secure it as the 120GB version of the Vertex can read up to 260 MB/s and write up to 210MB/s. Actually, a little double sided tape will work and you can stick it any place your heart desires as these drives have no moving parts and don't make any noise.

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD Firmware Jumper

Flipping the Vertex EX SSD over you get a better look at the SATA II header and the SATA power connector. OCZ states that the Vertex series has a MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) of 1.5 million hours and can tolerate a force of 1500G, so this is one tough drive. OCZ backs the Vertex EX series with a three year warranty as well, so you are covered if something happens to go wrong. This warranty period is one year longer than the Vertex MLC drives, so the Vertex EX SLC drives do have a better warranty period.

Inside The Vertex SSD - Indilinix

OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD Inside

Opening up any OCZ Vertex EX Solid State drive will void your warranty, so we opened ours up so you don't have to.

OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD Inside

After breaking the warranty seal and removing the four screws the cover comes off and you can easily see the controller and all the other goodies that make this SSD operate.

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD Indilinx Controller

Taking a closer look into this 120GB Vertex SSD we find the Indilinx controller. Indilinx is a fabless Korean semiconductor company that specializes in SSD controllers. This 90nm SATA 2.0 Barefoot controller was announced back in August 2008, but in recent months just came to market. It is rumored to be much better than the JMicron JMF602 controller that has gotten such a bad reputation over the past several months.

An Indilinx IDX110M00-LC 'Barefoot' controller is being used in the OCZ Vertex EX. This controller supports SSDs of up to 512GB in capacity and replaces the IDX110M00-FC chip found in OCZ's Vertex multi-level cell (MLC) drives.

OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD Samsung MLC

The Vertex has sixteen Samsung K9HCG08U5M-PCK0 Single-Layer Cell (SLC) flash chips.

OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD Elpida Cache 64MB

The OCZ Vertex EX has a 64MB cache and that is handled by the Elpida memory IC pictured above. The Elpida 64MB SDRAM module is marked with S51321CBH-6DTT-F, but the actual Elpida part number is EDS51321CBH, which is a 133MHz (CL3-3-3) mobile RAM component. This 64MB cache buffer helps improve small write-to performance and removes the 'stuttering' effect that drives with less cache and different controllers are often faced with.

OCZ Vertex 120GB and Corsair P256 256GB SSDs

Pictured above you can see the OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD (Left) sitting next to the Corsair P256 SSD (Right). As you can see the P256 has a completely different design as it uses a Samsung S3C29RBB01-YK40 controller and different components.

The Test System

Before we look at the numbers, here is a brief glance at the test system that was used. All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. The Intel Core i7 test system that was run in triple-channel memory mode at 1866MHz with 8-8-8-24 memory timings. The ASUS P6T Deluxe V2 motherboard uses the Intel ICH10R south bridge chipset, which is what was used for testing.

The OCZ Vertex EX Test System


Intel LGA 1366 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Core i7 975 Extreme

Motherboard

ASUS P6T Deluxe V2

Memory

6GB Corsair DDR3 1866MHz

Video Card

ATI Radeon HD 4770

Hard Drive

WD VelociRaptor

Cooling

TRUE

Power Supply

CoolerMaster UPC 1100W

Operating System

Windows Vista Ultimate 64-Bit

Let's take a look at the benchmarks and see what the Vertex EX SLC SSD has to offer!

HD Tach v3.0.4.0

HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives (ZIP/JAZZ), flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device possible.

HD Tach Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SLC Solid State Drive has great read and write speeds as seen in the benchmark results above. The drive averages 227.9MB/s read and 214.3MB/s write, which is very fast. Since SSDs don't have a platter they can maintain these incredible speeds at any position on the drive. The burst speed of this drive was a little lower than expected at 208.7MB/s.

HD Tach Benchmark Results

Comparison Chart: When comparing the OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SLC SSD to other popular 2.5" notebook hard drives you can see that it dominates the ten other drives that we have benchmarked on the same test system with the Intel ICH10R south bridge. The only HD Tach RW performance benchmark that the OCZ Vertex didn't win was the burst speed test, and to that the Kingston SSDNow M 80GB SSD gets the spoils of victory. The OCZ Vertex EX SLC was 25% faster than the OCZ Vertex MLC in the write test! The results of HD Tach's CPU utilization test don't mean much as the application has a +/- 2% margin of error and the results of the benchmark range between 0-3%, which doesn't represent a significant difference.

HD Tune v3.50

HD Tune Pro 3.50 is an extended version of HD Tune which includes many new features such as write benchmark, secure erasing, AAM setting, folder usage view, disk monitor, command line parameters and file benchmark.

HD Tune File Benchmark

HD Tune File Benchmark

Benchmark Results: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD has more impressive performance numbers in HD Tune Pro 3.50 in both the read and write tests. All said and done, the average read speed was found to be 215.8MB/s with a write speed of 211.3MB/s.  Both tests had an access time of 0.1ms and a CPU usage of ~2%.

HD Tune Benchmark Results

Comparison Chart: When comparing the OCZ Vertex EX SSD to other popular 2.5-inch hard drives like the Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB and the Seagate Momentus 7200.3 320GB, you can see that it dominates the performance tests.  It also performs faster than other popular SSDs by Super Talent and Corsair as seen above. This SLC based SSD really shines in the write test!

64MB File Test

HD Tune File Benchmark

Benchmark Results: Running the built-in file benchmark test in HD Tune showed once again just how the drive performs with various file sizes. This test shows the OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD topping out at nearly 240MB/sec in the read tests and 205MB/sec in the write test.

HD Tune v3.50 - Random Access

When HD Tune Pro 3.50 was released in December 2008 it included a brand new Random Access test. The random access read and write test is a very important performance area to look at on solid state drives as some controllers have problems with random writes.

Random Access Read Test Results:

HD Tune Random Access Benchmark

Benchmark Results: When it comes to the random access read performance test the OCZ Vertex EX does very well since it uses the Indilinx controller with 64MB of cache. From the looks of this benchmark the OCZ Vertex EX has very impressive performance numbers as it was able to to 202MB/s in the 1MB file size transfer test.

Random Access Write Test Results:

HD Tune Random Access Benchmark

Benchmark Results: The write performance test results were even more impressive as the OCZ Vertex MLC SSD had an average access time of 0.05-5.5ms and the OCZ Vertex EX SLC averaged between 0.05-4.4ms!  The random access write performance results were crazy as the drive was able to have an average speed of 220MB/s.

SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3

SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility. Sandra provides most of the information (including undocumented) you need to know about your hardware, software and other devices whether hardware or software. In order to test the hard drive SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3 was used as part of the test suite. The graphical results that Sandra gives you after the test is completed nicely shows how drives perform over time and where on the drive the performance is seen.

READ Performance Testing:

SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3 File Benchmark

WRITE Performance Testing:

SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3 File Benchmark

Benchmark Results: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD did great in Sandra 2009 SP3 and was found to have an average read score of 236.691MB/s with a write score of 214.656MB/s. Both read and write access times were just 1ms.

Sandra Benchmark Results

Comparison Chart: When comparing the OCZ Vertex EX to other popular hard drives like the Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB and the Seagate Momentus 7200.3 320 GB, it does roughly 3x better than these 'old school' platter drives. The OCZ Vertex EX came in third place for the average read test, but was the winner by a long shot when it came to the overall average write times. 

CrystalDiskMark v2.2

CrystalDiskMark is a small HDD benchmark utility for your hard drive that enables you to rapidly measure sequential and random read/write speeds.

100MB Files Test:

CrystalDiskMark v2.2 Benchmark

50MB Files Test:

CrystalDiskMark v2.2 Benchmark

Benchmark Results: With Crystal Mark v2.2 run with both a file size of 50MB and 100MB a performance difference can be observed. With the file size at 50MB the OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD had slightly higher read and write speeds. This is interesting as the Corsair P256 SSD had slightly higher read and write speeds in the 100MB file test than the 50MB test.

Crystal Mark Benchmark Results

50MB Files Test Comparison Chart: The OCZ Vertex 120GB Solid State Drive did great in the Sequential Read Test, but fell behind the Corsair P256 SSD in the other tests by a small percentage. The OCZ Vertex was still impressive and made the Super Talent MasterDrive OX 64GB look slow when it comes to write performance. 

ATTO Disk Benchmark v2.34

ATTO is one of the oldest hard drive benchmarks that is still used today. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that you can easily interpret. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes with the total length being 256mb.

ATTO Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD was able to reach 231MBps on the read test and 212MBps on the write tests. These write test results are the highest ever seen here at Legit Reviews in ATTO on the I/O comparison benchmark. 

ATTO Benchmark Results

Benchmark Results: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD was able to reach 248MBps on the read test and 213MBps on the write tests when running the Overlapped I/O benchmark.

ATTO Benchmark Results

4MB Files Test Comparison Chart - Overlapped I/O: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD had more than five times the read and write performance of the Seagate Momentus 7200.2 200GB hard drive in the ATTO benchmark. It also spanked the Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB and the Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB hard drives. The OCZ  Vertex EX faced the most competition from the OCZ Vertex, which actually beat it during the read test.  In the write test the OCZ Vertex EX was slightly faster, which is what is expected from this SLC based drive.

Everest Disk Benchmark

Legit Reviews has never benchmarked physical drives with Everest Disk Benchmark before, so we figured now is a great time to start including it. This benchmark is designed to measure the performance of storage devices including SCSI and ATA hard disk drives, RAID arrays, optical disk drives, Zip disk drives, flash memories etc. All of the used benchmarking methods used in Everest are synthetic tests, and so they may not reflect the real-world performance of the tested storage devices. None of the used benchmarking methods include any manufacturer specific optimizations, and they never change the operating conditions upon the detection of a specific storage device model. EVEREST Disk Benchmark Version 2.06.37 was used for testing.

Everest Disk Benchmark Read Suite

Benchmark Results: The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD had a linear read of ~222MBps across the entire drive. When it came to the Random Read test the drive scored 199.1MBps and then with a buffered read it reached an average of 226.9MBps. The average random access was again shown to be 0.09ms, which is just like what HD Tune and HD Tach showed in the previous benchmarks.

Everest Disk Benchmark Linear Write

Benchmark Results: The linear write test is designed to measure the sustained linear (sequential) writing performance of the drive by filling the whole surface of the device with data.The OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD showed solid performance doing this write operation for the first 40% of the drive and then the performance results got a little funky.  The average write speed for this benchmark using 128KB block sizes was 179.4MBps.

Everest Disk Benchmark Random Write

Benchmark Results: The random write test is designed to measure the random writing performance of the drive by writing 64KB data blocks to random locations on the surface of the device. The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD finished with an average of 103.6MBps for this task.

Everest Disk Benchmark Random Write

Benchmark Results: The final write test that was run was the random access test, which is is designed to measure the data access performance of the drive by writing small data blocks to random locations on the surface of the device. The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SLC started out with a great average write access time, but then around the 23% mark the access time drastically got slower and then got better as the test went one. The overall write access time came out to be 0.14ms, which is impressive as the MLC version of the Vertex finished this test with an average of 0.89ms.

AS SSD Benchmark

A new benchmark is in the works for Solid State Drives - AS SSD Benchmark. We have never run this benchmark and it just came out this week, so we figured why not and gave it a shot on the OCZ Vertex EX SLC based SSD that we are testing here today.

AS SSD Benchmark Results

 

AS SSD Benchmark Results

In the Everest benchmark results we saw that the drive performance degraded during the benchmark and now that we have run the entire test suite on the Vertex EX the drive has become badly degraded. This is the last benchmark we ran and you can clearly see that the performance has degraded badly due to all the benchmarks run on the drive. At this point in time we contacted OCZ asking if they know of a way to get the performance back to where it should be to finish the benchmarks and our testing. Tony from OCZ responded with these statements.

"You need to update to Firmware v1.20 then use wiper 0525, the issue is we have not officially released Firmware v1.20 yet. Then you will need to totally bench the drive again and performance does change slightly. I will ask if we can post the updates up, they are the full in Windows flash so all data on the drives is destroyed." - OCZ

It seems that our benchmarking stops here and that by running a couple of days worth of benchmarks on the Vertex EX, that we have successfully degraded the performance to a point of no return. Now we just need to wait for OCZ to release a firmware that supports TRIM functionality. They have one, but has not made it available to the public or Legit Reviews.

Performance Degradation Testing

When we first started benchmarking the OCZ Vertex EX last week we ran HD Tach first and got the following results.

HD Tach Benchmark Results

Just for fun we ran HD Tach again at the end of testing period and the results were rather shocking.

HD Tach Benchmark Results After Testing

The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB was used for benchmarking purposes only and never even had an operating system installed on it during the test period. Even though this SSD uses SLC NAND and is priced at $1299.99 shipped for the 120GB model that we are testing here today doesn't mean that it doesn't suffer from degradation issues like the rest of the drives.  When the drive was brand new and just installed it was seen having 228MB/s read and 214MB/s write averages.  Now that the drive has been through our benchmark gauntlet the performance has decreased down to an average of 204MB/s read and 74MB/s write. This means we lost 139MB/s or 65% of original write speed due to drive degradation. Since the Vertex EX SSDs firmware doesn't yet support TRIM or the wiper utility there really is no way to get the drive performance back.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Capacity

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD Capacity

When it comes to storage capacity the OCZ Vertex SSD has a free capacity of 119GB as shown above. This should be enough for many consumers and in the server and enterprise environments many of these will be run in RAID arrays.

OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SSD Retail Box

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

The OCZ Vertex EX 120GB SLC SSD was by far one of the fastest SSDs that we have ever benchmarked here at Legit Reviews. At the start of testing it was on its way to the Editor's Choice award, but by the end of testing the drive degradation was obvious and impacting the benchmarks before we could even finish testing the drive. If we were able to run TRIM or the Wiper 0525 we would be able to restore the drives performance, but right now firmware version 1.11 (v1.10 for the 60GB Vertex EX) doesn't support either of these functions.

6/17/2009 Update: The OCZ Vertex EX series has received a firmware update since this article was posted and it does now support Wiper.exe! To read more about firmware update 1.20 please refer to this small update after reading this detailed review.

Internally, OCZ has been testing and using firmware version 1.20, which supports these features. The engineers have told use to wait for this firmware, but they would not release it early for Legit Reviews to use for benchmarking purposes. The management over at OCZ pushed us to release this article with the current firmware as they were not certain when the new firmware would be ready. We put off this review for more than two weeks, while we waited for the new firmware and it still hasn't arrived. When it does arrive it requires a 'Full' flash meaning that you will lose all the data on the drive, but the performance is said to be better and it will be able to run Wiper 0525 to help restore performance. As for the degraded performance on the drive, OCZ had this to say today.

"You need to run wiper 0525, you can't do that unless you are running FW1.20, you are probably running 1.10 or 1.11 depending if the drive is a 120 or 60GB model. As soon as OCZ say i can upload 1.20 i will upload it and make it available.

Regarding do benchmarks degrade MLC and SLC drive performance...sure they do.

Regarding do benchmarks shorten MLC and SLC drive life...sure they do.

Why? because you are hammering the drive in a way it was not designed to run, no OS runs like a benchmark does. This is why we have threads explaining the more you bench a drive the more wear you are applying to the drive...even SLC drives slow down and take wear." - OCZ PR on 6-15-2009

The OCZ Vertex EX SLC-based SSD will be excellent drives once the new firmware is released, but for now it's hard for us to get excited about them when the drive we reviewed cost $1299.99 and the performance dropped down to the same write levels seen on the $140.99 Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB notebook hard drive. We will be posting an update once OCZ releases firmware 1.20 and we can take a quick look at the performance again.

Legit Bottom Line: The OCZ Vertex EX OCZSSD2-1VTXEX120G 2.5 inch SATA II SSD is no joke, but needs a firmware update to keep the performance numbers where we want to see them.