Back in December I previewed OCZ’s Vertex 2 Pro, the first drive I’d tested to use SandForce’s SF-1500 controller. As you may remember, the controller works in a radical way - by reducing the amount of data written to flash it improves performance and longevity, at the cost of controller/firmware complexity. Not a bad tradeoff for a company trying to sell you expensive SSD controllers. If you want to know more about how it works, I'd suggest consulting my Vertex 2 Pro Preview. If you want to know how SSDs work, take a look at the SSD Relapse.


RIP...

The drive made an impressive showing, easily besting any other MLC SSD I’d ever tested. Unfortunately, it was pre-release hardware, with no known price and no set release date. Not to mention that the company who made the controller was shipping largely unproven technology with an unknown amount of reliability/validation testing.

Since then two things have happened.

First, my SandForce SF-1500 pre-release sample straight up died on me. No warning, no errors, just no data. It only took a couple of weeks worth of real world use to make it happen, but this is why I prefaced the preview with the following:

“Ultimately, the task of putting these drives to the test falls on the heads of you all - the early adopters. It’s only after we collectively put these drives through hundreds and thousands of hours of real world usage that we can determine whether or not they’re sponge-worthy. Even Intel managed to screw up two firmware releases and they do more in-house validation than any company I’ve ever worked with. The bugs of course never appeared in my testing, but only in the field in the hands of paying customers. I hate that it has to be this way, but we live in the wild west of solid state storage. It’ll be a while before you can embrace any new product with confidence.

And it only gets more complicated from here on out. The old JMicron drives were easy to cast aside. They behaved like jerks when you tried to use them. Now the true difference between SSDs rears its head after months or years of use.”

And second, the OCZ Vertex 2 Pro as a product has been canned. Not because of the issue that lead to the untimely death of my drive, but because the SF-1500 controller is just too expensive. I knew that it was going to be pricey at the time I wrote the article, but apparently OCZ thought it could bring the price down by the time it shipped. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

Instead of the Vertex 2 Pro, OCZ will be shipping the regular Vertex 2 based on SandForce’s slower SF-1200 controller. This SSD will carry a pricetag similar to present day Vertex drives, but hopefully offer better performance. For enterprise customers OCZ will ship the Vertex 2 EX based on the SF-1500 with SLC flash and a ginormous, quarterly-budget depleting pricetag (to be determined). The consumer MLC SF-1500 based Vertex 2 Pro is gone forever.

Here’s where the Vertex Limited Edition comes in:

Despite its name, the Vertex Limited Edition is an MLC SandForce SF-1500 SSD (technically it's a SF-1200/SF-1500 hybrid like the Vertex 2 Pro, but that's a separate issue entirely). It's basically the Vertex 2 Pro with one big caveat - there are only a limited number of these drives being made - 5,000 to be exact. Once they're all gone, that's it.


My Vertex LE is Serial #1. Ebay, here I come!

OCZ apparently got a sweetheart deal on an early batch of SF-1500s. This is the same controller from the Vertex 2 Pro in December, but with an updated firmware (RC1). These are the first drives shipping with RC1 of the SF-1500 firmware and will presumably not die on you after a couple of weeks. While I’ve heard that they may not be enterprise worthy, they are apparently fit for desktop use. OCZ has said that in its internal testing there haven't been any cases of a bricked Vertex LE. The same was not true during the Vertex 2 Pro test period. Now here comes the problem.


The OCZ Vertex Limited Edition. That's a SandForce SF-1500 controller under that OCZ logo in the middle.

I literally just received my drive 24 hours ago. Just like its ancestor, this thing will be put through the wringer for the coming weeks and months. However long it takes to make sure it is worthy of your dollars. The problem is that these drives are limited in quantity, chances are they will all be gone by the time I figure out whether or not they are worthy of a glowing recommendation.

What makes the Limited Edition so special is that because of OCZ’s great pricing on the SF-1500 the 100GB Vertex LE will be selling for $399 ($829 for the 200GB version) - roughly the same price as a 128GB Indilinx based Vertex drive. And in case you’re wondering, yes it performs identically to the Vertex 2 Pro I previewed last year:

  OCZ Vertex LE 100GB OCZ Vertex 2 Pro 100GB
4KB Random Write 51.2 MB/s 50.9 MB/s
2MB Sequential Write 252.7 MB/s 252.0 MB/s
4KB Random Read 52.0 MB/s 51.3 MB/s
2MB Sequential Read 265.3 MB/s 265.3 MB/s
PCMark Vantage Overall 16827 16767
PCMark Vantage HDD 39288 39970
AT Bench - Light 884 IOPS 890 IOPS
AT Bench - Heavy 701 IOPS 705 IOPS
AT Bench - Gaming 319 IOPS 319 IOPS

 

For roughly the same price per GB you’d pay for an Intel X25-M G2, you’re getting a much faster drive. The only issue is that its reliability is unproven. To calm your fears, OCZ is selling the Vertex LE with a 3 year warranty.

Barring any unforeseen issues, the drives will go on sale next week. Risky business.

I should note that we’ve seen vendors get quite opportunistic with hot SSDs in limited quantities before. There’s always the chance that these Vertex LEs will sell for more than their MSRP.

The nifty OCZ Toolbox I showed in my Vertex 2 Pro preview presently doesn’t work with the Vertex LE. The application looks for SandForce in the controller id, which is absent from these unbranded SF-1500 controllers that SandForce unloaded. By the time the drives ship though there should be a custom version of the OCZ Toolbox ready. TRIM is supported and works perfectly under Windows 7.

Unlike the Vertex 2 Pro sample I tested, the Vertex LE doesn’t have the ungodly expensive capacitor on its PCB. As I mentioned before, these aren’t designed to go into servers and thus the supercap won’t be missed. Performance on the drive is great and I haven’t had any issues thus far in my testing, but there’s a long road ahead of me.

The RC1 firmware is brand new to me. I’ll be putting the drive through its paces but given that the units will go on sale next week I decided to share my initial thoughts today rather than wait.

OWC - Hot on OCZ’s Heels
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  • anikolayev - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link

    I just bought an OCZ Agility based on your benchmarks, the ones suggesting the drive is capable of 160MB/s writes. However it has been confirmed by several other customers that the current batch being shipped by NewEgg uses different chips in the OCZ lottery which comes up with 100-130MB/s writes. This is very significant for people buying this drive for video capture related purposes, since 100 is hardly any better than the average 70 on a standard HDD.

    The Agility's random writes that you show in the charts and latest article are also almost double of the drives being shipped right now. After countless tweaks I can barely do 7MB/s, forget 12.

    I understand the Agility is a dated drive, but it's still very popular due to recent sales ($130 for 60GB) and I think it would help your readers to take a look at updated performance numbers that are more realistic to what they will actually get.

    Also there's no refunds with SSDs, so anyone buying into these charts will just have to live with what they get.
    Reply
  • v12v12 - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    FYI... 100 vs 70 is THIRTY PERCENT FASTER DUH? 30% is HUGE in regards to technological competition/advancements. Where have you been all these years? Show us a 30% performance gain (aside from SSD beta testing and new releases) in 1-2 mechanical HD generations... Umm you CAN'T>.< Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - link

    > FYI... 100 vs 70 is THIRTY PERCENT FASTER DUH?

    Duhhh it's 43% :)
    Reply
  • hardwareguy - Saturday, February 20, 2010 - link

    If you want and SSD that's fast and cheap the agility is hard to beat. If that last bit of performance is important you can buy one of the vertex turbos or an intel drive but it quickly gets un-cheap. Even a 3/4 speed agility is still 10x better than a spinning metal drive. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, February 20, 2010 - link

    Hmm, what size drive do you have? I tested the 120GB Agility I believe which has higher read/write specs than the rest.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link

    They've admitted that they are building only a limited number of drives, so how will they honor the three year warranty? It's unlikely they will be able to replace a dead drive with another OCZ Vertex Limited Edition, since there won't be any more. Will they replace with an equivalent drive? If so, what would the equivalent drive be?

    I continue to be skeptical of SandForce's controller technology. I would be interested in seeing some more rigorous testing done on these drives, such as repeated and random simulated power outages during writes, to ensure that the drive doesn't brick itself if power is lost at an inopportune time (especially as this version does not have the supercap).
    Reply
  • Exelius - Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - link

    Typically what they would do is either hold back a percentage of production for warranty replacements. Once they run through these they'd just offer you an equivalent current product. Reply
  • LazerFX - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link

    Someone's not read the article...

    From the "Final Words" page, reproduced here so that anyone else reading the first few pages can get the answer:

    "If you’re willing to take the risk, the Vertex LE appears to be the best SSD you can buy at $399. It is a difficult proposition simply because we have had such limited experience with the drive and the controller/firmware have a completely unproven track record. It really boils down to how much of an early adopter you are. At least OCZ as a company tends to take care of its customers, so even if you do take the jump and something does go wrong you won’t be SOL. The Vertex LE will ship with a 3 year warranty and if your drive dies you'll get another LE (OCZ is putting some aside), Vertex 2 or other equivalent in its place.

    OCZ’s CEO Ryan Petersen and I could always get into another yelling match if you aren’t taken care of."

    So... there you go.
    Reply
  • Kibbles - Saturday, February 20, 2010 - link

    even if they run out of those they put aside. they still have the enterprise versions. Reply
  • bji - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link

    Absolutely right, my answer was there and I posted before reading all the way to the end. Mea culpa.
    Reply

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