SSD Supertest – December 2012 (Part 4) : OCZ Vertex 4 256GB, Plextor M5 Pro 128GB

12/18/2012 3:27:55 PM

Vital statistics

·         Price: $246.4

·         Manufacturer: OCZ

·         Web: www.ocztechnology.com

·         Capacity: 256GB

·         Memory type: MLC synchronous

·         Controller: Indilinx Everest 2

·         Interface: SATA 6Gbps

·         Peak performance: 560MB/sread, 510MB/s write

·         Max lOPS: 95k

OCZ Vertex 4 256GB

OCZ Vertex 4 256GB

We remember the days, when drives had valves and pistons, and turny-turny things, and speediness generally meant flakiness. In this brave new age of solid-state computing, the idea is that the absence of moving parts means there's no downside to cranking up the clocks and letting things loose.

So far, however, that hasn't fully applied to solid-state drives. In fact, the sheer scale of vagaries that apply to solid-state storage continues to bemuse us. It makes getting consistent results from comparative benchmarks a bit of a'mare. Enter the OCZ Vertex 4, a super-speedy SSD with a rep for falling over.

Now, there's an awful lot we like about this drive. For starters, we like the fact that OCZ has its own controller chip and firmware. Well, that's not quite true as our understanding is that the Vertex 4's Indilinx Everest 2 controller is a rebadged Marvell chip. But by several metrics, the firmware is every bit as important and that's definitely OCZ Indilinx.

We also like the fact that OCZ has gone to town on I0P5 performance with the Indilinx 2 controller in general and the Vertex 4 in particular. It’s rated at 95,000 maximum read IOPS, which makes it more or less first equal with Samsung's fancy new 840 Pro, a drive that costs over $78 more.

What's more, unlike drives based on the SandForce controller, the Vertex 4 doesn't rely on in-drive data compression to achieve big performance numbers. Along with the impressive claims for IOPS performance, that bodes well for real-world performance, which tends to either involve lots of little data transfers or shunting around large, incompressible files like music, images and video.

All fall down

What we haven't been so impressed with, so far at least, is the Vertex 4's reliability. We've first-hand experience of Vertex 4 drives losing the will to live. Okay, our experience is anecdotal - we haven't run 1,000 sample drives as part of a peer-reviewed research paper, and it's worth remembering that you get a full five-year warranty -but when you know drives are going pop, it's hard to ignore.

Still, you can say the same of the Vertex 4's performance. It's too good to ignore. It blitzes the majority of the benchmarks we care most about. It clocks up easily the fastest 4k random write rate of 71.9MES/s, for instance.

Even more important are real world applications, such as file decompression and game installation. And guess what?

OCZ Vertex 4 256GB

OCZ Vertex 4 256GB

It posts the two fastest times there. But in the context of our reliability concerns, perhaps the most reassuring result comes in the endurance test. Where other drives lose performance in some areas following repeated cycles of filling with data and deleting, the Vertex 4 barely bats a flash memory chip. It still hits 70MB/s in the 4k random write benchmark. Impressive.

For a top performing SSD, it's also sharply priced. It certainly makes Samsung's new 840 Pro look rather silly. It's super quick, probably the quickest SSD you can buy. But evidence of flakiness makes it awfully hard to recommend. On balance, we’d take the chance, but you might take a different view.

Plextor M5 Pro 128GB

Vital statistics

·         Price: $204.8

·         Manufacturer: Plextor

·         Web: www.plextor-digital.com

·         Capacity: 128GB

·         Memory type: MLC toggle

·         Controller: Marvell 88S59187

·         Interface: SATA 6Gbps

·         Peak performance: 540MB/sread, 340MB/s write

·         Max lOPS: 91k

Plextor M5 Pro 128GB

Plextor M5 Pro 128GB

Controller chips for SSDs are very tough to get right. So tough, in fact, that Intel was forced to buy in third party chips to keep its consumer SSDs in the game. What hope, therefore, for a relatively small player like Plextor?

Plenty, actually. For starters, the odd truth is that several of the leading SSD controller chipsets hail from pretty puny outfits. Brands like SandForce and Indilinx are not the brainchildren of mighty global outfits.

What's more, firmware for controller chipsets is every bit as important as the hardware itself. And it just so happens that Plextor has a track record for knocking out some nifty firmware. The old Plextor M3 Pro was among the best SSDs to use the Marvell 88SS9174 controller, for instance.

But now Marvell has a new controller, the 88SS9187, and it's time to find out whether Plextor has managed to work a little magic once again. There's certainly plenty to like on paper. Along with the new Marvell controller and the promise of something special from Plextor's firmware team, the M5 Pro also gets the very latest 19nm toggle NAND from Toshiba. Right now, flash memory doesn't get much finer than that.

The net result is a set of impressive specifications. Claimed IOPS for both 4k random reads and writes, for instance, aren't a million miles away from 100k each, which puts the M5 Pro up there with the best. If there is a weakness with this 128GB model, it's sequential writes. At 340MB/s they're good, but not great.

That's a common problem with smaller drives, of course. With just a single flash chip per memory channel, latency becomes a problem. Larger drives that put two or more flash chips on the end of each channel tend to keep things motoring more efficiently.

Solid backing

Still, this is a quality overall package with a claimed minimum mean time before failure of 2.4 million hours.

If you're not totally convinced such numbers reflect real-world robustness, and we're with you on that, you can’t argue with the five-year warranty. Plextor clearly backs this drive.

Plextor M5 Pro 128GB

Plextor M5 Pro 128GB

But we can't quite do the same. The problem is a combination of mediocre performance and punitive pricing. Just a few months ago, the M5 Pro's 4k random read and write performance would have been peachy. But the likes of Samsungand OCZ have since changed the game.

The result is a drive with no major weakness, but not enough chutzpah to stand out from the crowd. It zips through our file decompression benchmark in 33 seconds, for instance. That's about twice as quick as one of Intel's X25-Ms from the early days of SSDs can manage. But the best drives here do the same job in just 26 seconds.

The M5 Pro's performance in our endurance testing was a little disappointing too; 4K random write performance fell off from 52.8MB/s to 45MB/s. Hardly catastrophic, but there are drives that suffered very little fall off, and are faster to begin with. Then there's the fact that you'll have to fork out $204.8 for a 128GB drive. KingSpec's 1TB card aside, that makes it the priciest here in terms of GB per pound.

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