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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  • ewood - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    You shouldn't feel cheated if you bought the drive thinking read performance was corrected. The increase in read performance does not go away when going from performance mode to storage mode; only write performance in affected. So if you chose to buy the drive when the read performance was corrected you should see those gains regardless of used capacity of the drive. And as a side benefit if less than 50% of the drive is used you also get increased write performance. Reply
  • MadAd - Wednesday, August 08, 2012 - link

    the point of a test is to create an environment to repeat runs and compare the differences between them, the fact it wasnt X full or Y empty isnt an issue as long as all drives are treated the same way

    we arent concerned if the tests dont reflect what a users drive looks like, users vary, what concerns us is if the tests can be used as a comparison from one drive to another, and we see that they can.
    Reply
  • althaz - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    I only keep my 240Gb SSD half full. I have Windows, Office, my browser, Broodwar and Starcraft 2 on it and that is pretty much all.

    I would suggest that most people don't actually put that much stuff on their SSD, unless it is in a laptop.

    On a 128Gb drive, though you are more likely to have it at least 3/4 full.
    Reply
  • doubledeej - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    But most people aren't buying excess capacity they don't intend to use. If you're never going to use more than half of your drive, why waste the extra money (nearly double in many cases) on space that is just going to go to waste?

    Most people will buy a drive sized appropriately for their needs, and nothing more, when it comes to SSDs. Especially since the prices just keep dropping and performance keeps improving. Buy what you need now, and upgrade later if you need to.
    Reply
  • mattlach - Monday, August 06, 2012 - link

    Exactly.

    I use an SSD for my operating system, programs, games and a few files I am currently working on. Everything else gets stored on my NAS.

    I opted for a 240GB SSD this time around as my old 120GB Agility was a little tight for this purpose, and I was running out of space.

    With my usage model, I will likely not come even close to filling the 256GB drive, but I'll likely go just over the 50% mark, which is why I am concerned.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    Sure, SSDs are faster when not fully loaded. But paying 2x as much for double capacity, just for this little performance bonus? Not a good value proposition. Reply
  • sequoia464 - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Any chance of filling the 128 model up over 50% and running the tests over again?

    Most of my drives are more than 50%, it would be nice to know what the final usage speeds will actally be for these drives once they get some of their capacity filled.
    Reply
  • mattlach - Sunday, August 05, 2012 - link

    I support this fully.

    It would be good to know what exactly we can expect once the drive goes past the 50% mark.

    Also, it has been stated that this is a once time calculation and reorganization of data. Does this mean that if you do a fresh install, or otherwise clear up space, you can never get the performance mode back?

    We need answers to all these questions.
    Reply
  • Bull Dog - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Did power consumption change at all? I'm always interested in this metric due to the impact it can play on battery life. Reply
  • lbeyak - Saturday, August 04, 2012 - link

    Yes, I thought in the previous Vertex 4 articles, it was mentioned that the high idle power usage would be addressed with this firmware update???

    Would be great to know.
    Reply

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