Testbed and Methods
Our SSD testbed is based on a mainboard with Intel H67 chipset which provides two SATA 6 Gbit/s ports we connect the SSDs to.
The OCZ Octane 512 GB will be compared to three SandForce-based products that differ in their configurations: an OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB (32nm Toggle NAND), a Corsair Force Series GT 240 GB (25nm synchronous flash) and a Corsair Force Series 3 240 GB (asynchronous flash). We’ll also throw in a 256 GB Crucial m4 which is based on a Marvell controller.
We usually compare SSDs of the same storage capacity, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have a 256 GB Octane to test. However, the performance specs of the 256 and 512 GB Octane models are almost identical, so we guess the comparison with the 240/256 GB competitors is going to be valid.
Overall our testbed was configured as follows:
- Intel Core i5-2400 (Sandy Bridge, 4 cores, 3.1 GHz, EIST and Turbo Boost turned off);
- Foxconn H67S mainboard (BIOS A41F1P01);
- 2 x 2 GB DDR3-1333 SDRAM DIMM 9-9-9-24-1T;
- Crucial m4 256 GB system disk (CT256M4SSD2);
- Tested SSDs:
- Corsair Force 3 Series 240 GB (CSSD-F240GB3-BK, firmware version 1.3.3);
- Corsair Force GT Series 240 GB (CSSD-F240GBGT-BK, firmware version 1.3.3);
- Crucial m4 256 GB (CT256M4SSD2, firmware version 0309);
- OCZ Octane 512 GB (OCT1-25SAT3-512G, firmware version 1.13);
- OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240 GB (VTX3MI-25SAT3-240G, firmware version 2.15).
- Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 Ultimate x64
- Intel Chipset Driver 126.96.36.1999;
- Intel Graphics Media Accelerator Driver 188.8.131.5222;
- Intel Rapid Storage Technology 10.8.0.1003.
Besides the controller and flash memory, firmware is a highly important component of each SSD. Firmware algorithms can affect performance as well as stability of an SSD and we know a number of examples when firmware enhancements helped substantially improve SSDs that had been released long before. We can also recall examples when firmware flaws led to malfunctioning, data loss or even an untimely death of an SSD.
OCZ is one such example. Some of the company’s SandForce-based SSDs used to provoke problems in Windows due to firmware flaws, leading to negative user reports about the Vertex 3 and Agility 3 series. The situation has been rectified by now, yet OCZ has tried hard not to repeat the same story with the Octane.
Fortunately, the Octane came out stable and reliable, so the developers could focus on optimizing firmware for performance instead of finding and eliminating bugs. Based on an ARM processor, the Indilinx Everest controller is flexible and allows changing even its basic operation principles through firmware.
The version 1.13 firmware, released a couple of weeks ago, can serve as a good illustration of our point. With its modified addressing algorithm, it brings about a substantial performance boost. The next table shows you how the official specs have been changed:
Increasing the speed of random-address writing was the main goal the new firmware was meant to achieve because the Octane series was inferior to competitors in this respect. Well, the Octane remains slower than SandForce SF-2281 based SSDs even now, yet the improvements are obvious anyway. Unfortunately, the speed of sequential access has lowered with the top-capacity models, but OCZ thinks that’s an acceptable tradeoff.
To check out the effect of the new firmware we used AS SSD. It is a good preliminary benchmark.
OCZ Octane 512 GB. Old firmware version 1412.
OCZ Octane 512 GB. New firmware version 1.13.
Well, the practice agrees with the theory. The speed of sequential reading and writing has become somewhat lower but the writing of 4 KB data blocks has improved greatly, up to 65% at a long queue depth. The Octane could be viewed as optimized for large amounts of sequentially placed data (this could come in handy in video editing applications, for example) but now it has become more versatile, even though still breaks no performance records.
You should be warned that the firmware update process is destructive in the sense that it destroys all user data. But it is surely worth the trouble.
In the practical tests of the OCZ Octane below we will use firmware version 1.13, the latest version available at the current moment.