OCZ Vertex 4 256 GB Solid State Hard Drive SSD Review

The Vertex 4 is a departure from OCZ's tried and true model of using third party controllers and firmware for its SSDs. Taking control of the firmware with the Vertex 4 gives OCZ the ability to tune the SSDs for speed and performance at lower queue depths and optimize for low latency. We test to see if the Everest 2 Platform delivers.

OCZ Vertex 4 Basics

Today we review the fourth version of the venerable OCZ Vertex Series of SSDs. The OCZ Vertex 4 brings the significant step of utilizing OCZ proprietary firmware as a step towards OCZs goal of developing its own SSD controllers.

The original OCZ incarnation of the Vertex SSD was a huge success and probably did more to introduce enthusiasts at large to the world of SSDs than any other release at the time. The Intel SSDs that were the primary competitors at the time were very expensive, effectively putting those out of reach for the majority of users. OCZ delivered the high performing Vertex Series at a much lower price.

This has been the story of OCZ over the last few years as it strives to bring SSDs to the enthusiast and casual users alike. OCZ eventually totally immersed the company in the SSD market, spinning off almost all of its other products in favor of focusing on what has become its core competency; SSDs. For a company that doesn't own a fab, that was quite a gamble. Focusing entirely on the SSD market paid off in a big way for OCZ, as it is now among the largest SSD manufacturers in the world.

As OCZ grows and expands into the enterprise space one of its oft-stated intentions is to develop its own SSD controllers. The current model of using other company’s controllers and NAND relegates OCZ to being a re-brander of technology. Purchasing controllers and paring those with NAND, while a lucrative industry, does little to set it apart from the growing bevy of contenders in the SSD market. The SSD controller is also the most expensive part of the SSD, and controlling the margins is much easier when the manufacturer owns the controller. As OEMs come into the market competition is becoming stiff, and OCZ producing its own proprietary controllers can be a huge boost in the fight against the "big boys."

In the past, not having direct control over the hardware and firmware that it uses to manufacture its products has left OCZ in unfortunate positions when bugs and problems arose. The freedom of controlling the most sophisticated component on the PCB, the controller, is key to overcoming these challenges. To that end, OCZ purchased Indilinx who also happened to produce the controller for the very first Vertex Series SSDs.

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When the Vertex 4 was initially launched OCZ touted it as its own Indilinx architecture, though OCZ was very careful in its wording and never directly claimed that it was its own controller. Termed as the "Indillnx-Infused Everest 2 Platform," the Vertex 4 was released into the wild with the assumption that it was OCZs first foray into releasing its own SSD controller. Soon after, it came to light that it was in fact a re-branded Marvell controller which was merely running Indilinx-developed firmware. While re-branding the controller is certainly a common practice in the SSD market, specifically in the enterprise sector, many felt that OCZ had fallen short of its goals with the Vertex 4.

This isn't entirely true. Any SSD is only as good as the firmware that is running on the controller. The most efficient and powerful processor can be a failure if the firmware is lacking. By developing and tuning the firmware for the Vertex 4, OCZ can have a much larger impact on the performance of the SSD than it did in the past. This also gives OCZ’s Indilinx division experience and a framework for its next line of processors.

Make no mistake; OCZ will have its own controller soon. Until this next generation of OCZ Indilinx powered SSDs come along, we have the intermediary OCZ Vertex 4. Sporting radically different performance than any other SSD on the market in many respects, the Vertex 4 is another story unto itself. Let’s take a look and see what the Vertex 4 has to offer.