The latest solid state drive (SSD) in our review line up is the OCZ Vertex 3 120GB. According to the specs this should be one of the fastest SSDs we've seen yet. Will our real world benchmarks confirm this? And, regardless of speed, is it the best SSD for notebook users? Read on to find out.
While other publications have reviewed this drive which was sent from OCZ, the SSD reviewed here was purchased in the field. This way the manufacturer has no opportunity to cherry pick the best drives for review. Here’s a quick photo of the Vertex 3 that was bought for this review.
Inside the nice looking box we found a bracket
for desktop users, a sticker and a small leaflet.
OCZ Vertez 3 120GB Specifications:
The Vertex 3 is marketed with very impressive specifications of 550 MB/sec read speeds and 500 MB/sec write speeds. It achieves these speeds thanks to real time compression. This means the quoted speeds are only reached during best-case scenarios when the data is fully compressible. When the SSD is confronted with data that cannot be compressed, performance will look very different, as we will see in our benchmarks.
To find out how the Vertex 3 performs we installed it in our test system, a Toshiba Satellite C660 with Sandy Bridge chipset, Core i5 2410m processor and 4GB DDR3 Memory.
As usual we ran Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 to get an impression of synthetic performance. This test provides a basic overview of the speeds at which the SSD can read or write files.
Crystal Disk Mark uses random data, which is not compressible by the Sandforce controller. The 475 MB/sec read speed still looks very good, while, as could be expected, the write speed is not getting close to 500 MB/sec. In the end it’s real world performance that counts though and that’s what we’re going to look at now.
Real world performance
To find out how the Vertex 3 performs in a real world setting we’re going to compare it to the following hard drives:
We installed Microsoft Office 2010, Adobe Photoshop CS5 and the game Need for Speed Shift after a clean install of Windows 7.
The Vertex 3 installs applications very fast, partly due to its very good random write performance. Photoshop and Office were installed a little faster than with the Crucial M4, the game NFS was installed a little slower.
Next we measured how fast these drives boot Windows 7 with the utility Boot Timer.
The Vertex 3 doesn’t do as well as we expected here. Crucial and Intel are slightly faster. Crucial manages to boot the system in 10.4 seconds, while the Vertex 3 took 11,6 seconds on average.
To get an accurate indication of file copy performance two folders were copied. The first folder contained many small program files, the second folder contained larger media files.
As could be expected the Vertex 3 is fastest with the easily compressible program files. With the media files that are mostly incompressible the Vertex 3 looses out to the Crucial M4 by a clear margin.
To get an impression of application launching performance we opened up a large TIFF image and Adobe Photoshop CS4 64 bit together. Next was Microsoft Word and a large document containing text and images. After that the game Need for Speed was started and the time it took to load the first level was measured.
The Vertex 3 is a little slower with opening the Word document. The easily compressible tiff image is perfect food for the Sandforce controller: Vertex 3 opens the image and Photoshop in an impressive 17.4 seconds, clearly faster than the competition.
To measure multi-tasking performance three different tests were run. The first was opening a larger jpg image with Photoshop while a virus scan was running in the background. The displayed time is the time it took to open the jpg image and Photoshop. The second multi task test involved decompressing a large rar file with a virus scan simultaneously. The time displayed is the time it took to complete both jobs. The last multi-tasking test consisted of three tasks ran simultaneously: a folder was copied, a RAR file extracted and a folder was scanned. The time displayed in the graph is the time it took to complete all three jobs.
The Vertex 3 proves to be a capable multi-tasker. Only in the first test it looses out to the Crucial M4. This was probably because the jpg picture was not compressible. In the other two tests the Vertex 3 is the fastest.
New in our benchmark setup is the overall performance chart. Overall performance was calculated by using a formula that weighed in approximately 1x install performance, 1 x file copy performance, 1.5x boot performance, 2x application launching performance and 3x multi tasking performance.
Vertex 3 and Crucial M4 are neck to neck, with the Crucial M4 grabbing victory. The difference was minimal though. Our formula was quite arbitrary, with a different formula different results would occur.
The SATA III drives are about 20% faster than the SATA II Intel X25-M. The 5400rpm hard drive is roughly 2.5 times slower.
To measure battery life I used the application Battery Bar. The notebook was set to browse the web, in balanced energy profile with low screen brightness. To simulate an active web browsing session, Chrome web browser was set to reload the home page of the Notebookreview.com discussion forum every 20 seconds. Since the average total power draw was around 8 - 9 watt, the hard drive can make quite a difference.
It’s clear the Vertex 3 isn’t a good choice for people looking to improve their battery life. Intel and Crucial did better. The Toshiba hard drive also had lower power consumption, this happens to be a very power efficient drive.
Performance after testing
To get an impression of performance we used AS-SSD compression benchmark. It turned out our real world tests had quite an impact on the SSDs performance. The first picture (left) shows the worst performance result we saw, right after the real world test. The second picture (right) shows the Vertex 3 in fully recovered state.
As can be seen in the pictures especially the write speeds can take quite a hit, even below 5400rpm hard drive levels. This degradation is caused by the Sandforce controller, which limits write speeds for incompressible data. The write speeds do recover after a while but one wonders if this kind of control is really necessary. Especially power users will not be happy with these artificial speed limits.
It’s important to know that the performance degradation seen in the above pictures is only witnessed after rather heavy usage in a short time frame. In a matter of a couple of hours we wrote more than 80 GB to the Vertex 3, which does not reflect the usage pattern of the average user. For the average user the Sandforce write throttling should not be any problem.
The OCZ Vertex 3 120GB offers overall impressive performance but there are some down sides to this SSD. Its performance is very dependent on the compressibility of the data used. Therefore the Vertex 3 is not a very good choice for people that work a lot with compressed video, images or music. For those people the Crucial M4 SSD is faster. Another downside is the relatively high power consumption. People looking to maximize battery life in their laptops are better off with other SSDs.
Long-term reliability is another question mark for the Vertex 3. It’s commonly known that the first generation Sandforce drives had quite a lot of problems. The new generation might be more reliable but there is no proof yet. There are some signs that reliability might still not be where it should be. Still, only time will tell how reliable these drives really are.
Looking at the price of the Vertex 3, starting at $245, we have a hard time recommending it for notebook users. The Crucial M4 128GB offers virtually the same performance and starts $30 cheaper. The Crucial is also larger and arguably has a better track record for reliability.
Next in our SSD review line up is the Kingston V+ 100 96GB. Can this budget SSD compete with the SATA III drives in this review? Check back soon to find out.