When OCZ released the Vertex 4 in April, it brought us excepionally great write performance. Based on OCZ's Everest 2 controller (Marvell IP with custom firmware), the Vertex 4 began OCZ's transition away from SandForce for its high-end drives. However, as we noted in our review, sequential read performance at low queue depths needed work in the launch firmware. 

Fortunately, OCZ was well aware of the issue and it only took them a bit over a month to come up with a firmware update to address low queue depth sequential read performance. We updated our Vertex 4s (including the 128GB model that was missing in our initial review) to the new 1.4 firmware and ran them through our suite. By the time we finished running our 1.4 tests, OCZ had already released an even faster 1.5 firmware, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine the two updates into one article. 

The 1.4 Firmware

With the latest versions of OCZ's Toolbox, you can now update your drive's firmware even if you have Intel's RST drivers installed. The toolbox actually downloads the drive's firmware from OCZ's servers before updating your drive, so you'll need to have an active internet connection. I have noticed that older RST drivers may trigger in a firmware file not found error during the update process, but the absolute latest RST works as well as Windows 7's standard AHCI drivers. The toolbox update is only possible on secondary drives, not the drive that Windows booted from.

Note: Upgrading to 1.4 firmware is destructive, meaning that your SSD will be erased in the process. Thus it's absolutely necessary to make a backup of your data before upgrading, unless you are fine with losing the data in your SSD.

  • Increased read performance at low queue depths
  • Improved sequential write performance for 128GB and 256GB models
  • Increased performance under specific workloads of mixed reads and writes
  • Improved host compatibility with dated/uncommon BIOS revisions
  • Improved stability when resuming from S3/S4 on older generation motherboards
  • Increased read performance on small file sizes (lower than 4K)
 
The release notes are promising. Read performance at low queue depths is exactly what needed fixing and 1.4 claims to address this directly. OCZ also published an updated performance table, which is below:
 
OCZ Vertex 4 with 1.4 Firmware Specifications
Capacity 64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
Sequential Read 460MB/s 535MB/s -> 550MB/s 535MB/s -> 550MB/s 535MB/s -> 550MB/s
Sequential Write 220MB/s 200MB/s -> 420MB/s 380MB/s -> 465MB/s 475MB/s
4K Random Read 70K IOPS 90K IOPS 90K IOPS 95K IOPS
4K Random Write 50K IOPS 85K IOPS 85K IOPS 85K IOPS

The 64GB model was introduced along with the 1.4 firmware and it will be shipping with the new firmware, hence only one set of performance figures. As for other capacities, sequential read performance is up by 15MB/s. That's not a significant increase, although it should be kept in mind that we are very close to the limits of 6Gbps SATA already. However, this data does not tell whether sequential read performance at low queue depths is what it should be. As we discovered in our review, increasing the queue depth lead to better results. 

Sequential write performance, on the other hand, is significantly improved in 128GB and 256GB models. The 128GB model had a fairly poor write performance at 200MB/s before the update, but the 1.4 firmware brings that to 420MB/s. That's over 100% increase, which is fairly abnormal but welcome for sure. The 256GB model is also getting a 85MB/s (~22%) boost in sequential write performance. Random read and write speeds remain unchanged for all models.

The 1.5 Firmware

Note: The 1.5 upgrade is destructive if upgrading from 1.4 RC or older. However, if upgrading from final version of 1.4 firmware, the upgrade is not destructive. We still recommend having an up-to-date backup of your data because something may go wrong and result in a data loss.

  • Improved sequential file transfer performance for 128GB, 256GB and 512GB models
  • Optimized idle garbage collection algorithms to extend the benefits of performance
    mode by enabling the feature across a greater percentage of the drive
  • Improved HBA / RAID card compatibility
  • Further improved compatibility with desktop and mobile ATA security features
  • Corrected a corner case issue where the ‘Remaining Life’ SMART attribute could be reported incorrectly

 

OCZ Vertex 4 with Firmware 1.5 Specifications
Capacity 128GB 256GB 512GB
Sequential Read 550MB/s -> 560MB/s 550MB/s -> 560MB/s 550MB/s -> 560MB/s
Sequential Write 420MB/s -> 430MB/s 465MB/s -> 510MB/s 475MB/s -> 510MB/s

The 1.5 firmware provides more incremental improvements compared to the 1.4 firmware. Sequential read speed is up by 10MB/s (~2%) and sequential write speeds are up by 2-10% depending on the capacity. Apparently, the 1.5 firmware does not provide any performance gains for the 64GB model. The other remarkable change in 1.5 firmware is enhanced garbage collection. This update actually relates to a unique performance mode OCZ introduced with the 1.4 firmware.

The Performance Mode

With the 1.4 firmware OCZ introduced a two operating mode structure for most capacities of the Vertex 4. As long as less than 50% of the drive is in use, the Vertex 4 will operate in a performance mode - delivering better sequential performance. Once you hit the 50% mark, the drive switches to its standard performance mode (similar to the max performance pre-1.4 firmware).

This mode switching is mostly transparent to the end user with one exception. When you cross the 50% threshold, the Vertex 4 has to reorganize all pages on the drive. During this reorganization performance is impacted. The entire process should only take a matter of minutes, and it only happens once, but it's worth keeping in mind. 

You may remember Intel did something similar (on the fly internal data re-organization) after the first X25-M firmware update, however that process took much longer. 

This isn't the only performance trick OCZ has up its sleeve, but it is something that is enabled by the fact that OCZ finally has full, low-level control over the Vertex 4's firmware.

The 128GB Vertex 4
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  • Flunk - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    It's not realistic to assume that users will really keep SSDs only 50% full, especially 128GB or 256GB drives. It seems like this feature is purely to benchmark better in reviews and that's low, even for hardware manufacturers. I'm sure that less well-informed reviewers will be tricked by this and publish misleading reviews.

    To clarify something, I'm not saying that this is a bad product, just that this feature is misleading. If I were set on buying an SSD from OCZ right now I would buy a Vertex 3 because of the price advantage, the performance is a real tossup.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    My 128 GB is closer to 80% full. However, at that usage any SSD suffers anyways. Reply
  • rs2 - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    I agree, this article should have included results taken with the drive "30% Full" and "75% full" in all benchmarks, to demonstrate what will happen in the real world when the 50% mark is passed. Reply
  • ratbert1 - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Tom's wrote an article about how writes are affected by this. Seems on the 128Gb drive they dwindle to 60-70MiB/s when you get over 50%. Interesting theory as to why.
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/vertex-4-firmw...
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    Yeah, stuff like that makes you think twice about buying a specific model of SSD, until you get a tough review of it. I don't want to read a softball review Kristian. I want to see worst case scenarios. Pit it up against a Samsung 830 in some real-world drive-packed scenarios. Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    The funny thing is that the OCZ people like Tony gave Tom's a lot of grief for that review, even though the review clearly had test results to back up their claims. The only speculation in the review was about how the performance mode worked on a low-level, but that was clearly labeled as speculation.

    OCZ is just the worst SSD company there is. They release gimicky products like the "performance mode" V4, and then when people try to give them a thorough review to see what the downsides may be, the OCZ reps whine and complain about the review being unfair or not typical of most usage.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    I don't have any Vertex 4s, Anand ran all the tests and I simply did the writing. This article was already weeks overdue so instead of pushing it back by another few weeks at least, we decided to have a "regular" review now and look at the performance mode separately.

    I do have Agility 4, though, so I can play around with it and see how it behaves.
    Reply
  • Laststop311 - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    for 95% of consumers the fact that it only runs in performance mode when 50% full will completely go by their head. It's a very dirty under handed tactic to get good benchmark scales by leaving it under 50% than the customer not knowingly gets screwed. I currently own a 7mm height 512GB Crucial M4 in my Asus UX32vd and it has a very steady performance all the way up to 85% used so far. And I only paid 384.99 free shipping and no tax. Takes me less then 8 seconds to do a full boot up and windows 8 will probably lower it to about 4-6 seconds to boot up from cold.

    I'm pretty sure the 512GB Vertex 4 doesn't come in 7mm height size and I'm damn sure you aren't going to find it for 385 final cost. Also crucial makes every single part of the solid state drive. The make their on nand, dram, controller, firmware. This allows them to take the cream of the crop of components and sell the slightly not as good ones off. Plus they make sure everything is totally compatible and working perfect together since they make EVERYTHING.

    Crucial are so solid rock reliable and everything on them works just perfect together and they have great trim and garbage collection and don't lose a huge performance drop at 50% capacity.

    Oh did I mention they are dirt cheap. You can easily find a 256GB crucial m4 for right around 180 or a little more. They ware way below $1/GB and perform like the top tier ssd they are.

    Did I mention reliable? The old 256GB C300 I have in the optical bay of my m18x works just as good as the day she was born. GO CRUCIAL DIE OCZ
    Reply
  • extide - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Actually, the Crucial C300's and m4's use Marvell controllers, which Crucial does not make.

    Samsung is (one of?) the only companies that make the entire drive, controller and all.

    That being said I own a C300 and a few m4's and they work very well, even after a long time.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Will just about 100% guarantee that marvel controller has 100% Crucial firmware on it.

    However, I am not sure which exact drive it was. But Crucial had an SSD that used a dual core ARM A9 MCU for a controller at one point.

    With all that said. I buy mostly Crucial only memory products when possible simply because of their business tactics. Simply, they are an old fashion American business. Who realizes their money comes from customers. Who they will bend over backwards for Within reason of course. Then, from the outside looking in. Crucial takes great pride in their product. Always doing the best they possibly can. After that, their customer service is second to none.

    Anyways. I am not saying I have never had a problem with a Crucial / Micron product. Because I have. The experience was nothing but pleasurable. Considering I had a problem with one of their products. Which I may add that in 15 years of dealing with Crucial has only happened once. Then since the product I returned was no longer available. They sent me a better product at no cost.

    Too bad other companies in the industry can not learn by their example.
    Reply

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