OCZ’s New Era Truly Begins
Being on the cutting edge of the consumer SSD sector was always a risky proposition for OCZ. It seemed to work well for them through the early years with the Indilinx Barefoot powered Vertex drive, and they were always the first out with high performing drives based on SandForce controllers.
However being the first and most popular drives with new technology means that if there is a problem, it is going to very noticeable. That seems to be what happened with the Vertex 3 series drives – we really enjoyed the performance they offered, but looking at reviews at various retailers reveals that quite a few people had problems with them. These problems have been addressed with firmware updates, but OCZ finally started moving away from SandForce after buying Indilinx in 2011.
The first “Indilinx Infused” drive since the acquisition was the Vertex 4, a drive which we found to perform very well, and doesn’t seem to have too many complaints on retail review forums. However the Vertex 4 was something of a stop-gap product, using a standard Marvell controller with custom Indilinx firmware rather than all new hardware. The true next generation OCZ SSD is the Vector, which we are reviewing today.
The Vector comes in a thick, solid casing that is heavier than any SSD I’ve tested – including the Enterprise level Intel DC-S3700 SSD. It’s a 7.5mm low profile case, which makes it suitable for thin notebooks, but the weight may actually be a factor. If you’re using an ultra thin notebook, the extra 80+ grams compared to some drives may be an issue. Still, I like the solid feel in a desktop system, and the full-coverage sticker makes it the best looking SSD we’ve reviewed since the Kingston HyperX 3K, in my opinion.
Unlike the Everest 2 controller used in the Vertex 4, which was simply custom firmware flashed to a standard Marvell controller, the Barefoot 3 is a grounds-up Indilinx/OCZ creation.
Inside the Barefoot 3 package sits an ARM Cortex processor, which is supplemented by a custom coprocessor dubbed “Aragon”. Unfortunately OCZ is tight-lipped about the actual functionality of the chip, but one would assume that it is used for some of the controller’s custom functions. A DDR cache helps with this, as well as attempting to maintain consistent performance as long as possible.
The flash controller supports both ONFI and Toggle flash – the Vector using the former (MLC, synchronous – the good stuff). It also has ECC and encryption engines, the latter of which is disabled on the consumer level Vector. I doubt many people will complain about this missing feature, which is presumably reserved for an upcoming enterprise lineup using the same controller.
Barefoot 3 communicates with NAND through 8 channels, which is the norm for contemporary performance consumer SSDs.
Let’s crack open the Vector, to see what’s going on inside in more detail: