Top positive review
144 people found this helpful
Solid improvement in my system
on July 29, 2012
A month since the last update and still going strong! Zero problems so far, still have 100% drive life remaining (according to S.M.A.R.T.), and I've stopped even considering the possibility that anything bad is going to happen to this drive. My notebook may be heavy and chunky compared to today's ultrabooks, but with my Vertex 4 in it it's a true road warrior and I've been commuting with it to campus now that school has started up again.
I'll see you again at the six month mark if all goes well!
It's been over a week since installation and I haven't had a single problem. Any issues I mentioned in my review seem to have been one-offs and have not repeated themselves. As a result, and as promised, I'm bumping my rating up to 5 stars. I've also changed the title from "Solid but not overwhelming improvement in my system" to "Solid improvement in my system", along with a few references to the title in the review itself.
I notice the price of this drive decreased by about 13% (my inventive way of indicating a price shift without getting filtered by Amazon) since I bought it about ten days or so ago. I'm not surprised since Samsung's 840 Series drive at this same capacity recently dropped in price to where this Vertex 4 is now. The SSD market is highly competitive, and as drives get ever cheaper there's less and less of an excuse not to pick one up.
In the past week I got around my instrument loading problem by switching to a mode that allows me to only load the attack portion of each sample to RAM and stream the remainder from the drive. Since SSDs excel at rapid access times (around 0.2 ms read access for the Vertex 4, versus around 9 ms for a standard desktop HDD) and random reads, this works far better than it did with any HDD I tried it on and gives me performance parity with simply loading the entire huge file into memory. Since I couldn't have reasonably done this before I got my Vertex 4 I can't in honesty say I have any complaints about my new drive.
Note that I just received and installed this drive several days ago, and that this review is based on that experience. I plan on updating this space as time goes on.
EXPECTATIONS & GOALS
I bought this drive, after over a week of intensive research, so that I could hopefully load virtual instruments (VSTs) in my DAW faster. On a standard notebook HDD this can take over a minute depending on the instrument. Apart from that, I was interested in the usual benefits commonly associated with SSDs:
-Faster program launches
-Snappier performance (e.g. smoother multitasking, better UI responsiveness, etc)
-Faster Internet page loads
-Faster program installation
-An overall feeling of improved feedback and responsiveness (kind of everything listed above rolled together)
We'll explore how well the Vertex 4 accomplishes all these points.
I'm using this drive in a 2009-era HP dv6-1355dx, which came with the following:
-4 GB of DDR3 RAM (updated concurrently with the drive to 8 GB)
-2.2 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 processor
-500 GB Fujitsu 5400 RPM 2.5" HDD
-Intel 4 Series Express chipset
-Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
This system is definitely a bit long in the tooth, but it's probably typical of what a lot of folks might have, and it should give a good indication what kind of improvement can be expected from a SSD.
The Vertex 4 comes nicely packaged, with the drive seated in a protective layer of thick foam. In the box you'll find a 2.5"-to-3.5" adapter plate, four mounting screws, a quickstart guide, a fun "My SSD is faster than your HDD" sticker, and of course the drive itself, sealed in a stiff translucent plastic wrapper. If your box didn't come with all this, assuming OCZ hasn't changed its packaging for this drive, you might want to check with OCZ or the seller to make sure everything is okay.
Installation was simple. I had no trouble swapping the Vertex 4 for the HDD, and I was done in a little over a minute. The system POSTed with the drive installed, so all was well.
Here's where I met my first wrinkle. OCZ provides two separate utilities for updating the firmware on their drives: The OCZ Toolbox, which runs from within Windows, and OCZ Tools, which is a bootable Linux-based tool. Since I planned to do a clean install of Windows 7, I had already burned the OCZ Tools utility to a disc before I began. Loading this utility worked fine, but for some reason it couldn't connect to OCZ's server to download the latest firmware. Confusingly, it stated that there was no newer version available, when I knew very well that this was not true. The drive shipped with firmware 1.4.3, and the latest version (as of this writing) is 1.5.
Once I had Windows installed, updated, and had all my hardware configured properly, I attempted again, this time with the OCZ Toolbox. It also couldn't update, producing a generic "file not found" type error. Several hours later I tried again, and this time I succeeded. I can understand servers being down. It happens. But I think OCZ should make it a little clearer in their utilities when it's an issue with accessing and downloading the file, instead of confusingly stating that no newer file is available or generically stating that the file can't be found.
Before we continue, let me explain why I was so adamant about updating the firmware. SSD makers in general and OCZ in particular often release updates that radically improve performance or stability or both. SSDs are still a young technology, and it's difficult at this stage to get it right the first time with the hardware. Over time these sorts of things settle down, but for the time being pay attention when your SSD manufacturer updates your drive's firmware. As we'll see in just a moment, it can be very important.
GENERAL IMPRESSIONS IN WINDOWS
As my title suggests, I have seen a solid improvement in my overall system performance. My own informal benchmarking shows that the drive itself is performing as well as I could expect on an SATA II interface (my laptop was made before SATA III was adopted). Let's go through the list.
Bootup speed is noticeably improved. The Starting Windows animation often doesn't even complete before the Login screen pops up. Benchmarking reveals that the startup time to the login screen is 9 seconds, with an additional 8 seconds between login and a fully loaded desktop. I'm happy with this result, though it's not quite the blazing startup time others have claimed from SSDs in general. No doubt a new system would unleash unused potential.
Program launches are a mixed bag. Overall nothing launches slower than before, and in the case of Firefox and Thunderbird the reductions are around 5 seconds apiece. However, if you're expecting instant launches for all your programs, that might be a little over optimistic. Also, my music program, Foobar2000, seems to hang on occasion when launching, though this is likely a specific program issue. EDIT: This seems to only happen the first time the program is launched after a reboot or if it hasn't been used in a while.
Responsiveness improvements scale with workload. I can load up all the programs in my Taskbar at once, fire up Windows Update, play some music in Foobar2000, and load some websites all at once, and while the individual tasks might take longer than they do separately, the UI remains responsive throughout, which is a clear improvement. When single-tasking or only doing a few things at a time, I don't notice too much of a difference from before.
Aside from loading tabs faster, Internet browsing in general is noticeably improved. This could be for a variety of reasons, one of which being that page caching is now more effective since an SSD will load stored information more quickly than a HDD and will do so regardless of what else it's doing at the time, thus eliminating a bottleneck. Also, SSDs are much faster than HDDs on small, random writes (~4-128 kb), which is the majority what your browser is creating when you surf the Internet.
Program installation is difficult to quantify. I'm inclined to say there was an improvement here, except that most of my programs are reasonably small and already installed fairly quickly on a standard HDD. Windows updates seem to complete faster, except for the infamous .NET updates, which seem to take forever regardless of what hardware you have. I certainly didn't see anything that would indicate that I lost performance here.
Finally, loading virtual instruments might be the only real disappointment I've had. EDIT: After my first review update, this is no longer an issue. See the update at the top for details. (I've left the original text for full disclosure.)
As I keep saying, there is a noticeable improvement--load times seem to be cut by around half--but it's not quite what I was hoping for. I'm not going to blame the Vertex 4 too much for this, as I had (incorrectly, I suppose) assumed that the instruments were big, monolithic files (for example, all the samples in my largest instrument are packaged in a single container file) that would benefit from the high sequential read throughput SSDs are famous for. Whatever. The load time has gone from interminable to nearly bearable, and I'll take what I can get.
Remember when I said that firmware updates are important? Well, when after using the drive for a few hours I got the first BSoD (Blue Screen of Death) I've ever seen in my life, I was reminded of this fact. That was when I was still stuck on firmware 1.4.3 and was what prompted me to check again to see if I could update. I'm on 1.5 now and haven't had any problems. I'll check in from time to time to report any issues.
Apart from that, as I mentioned earlier Foobar2000 has had some issues. I've had the interface hang, controls fail to operate, and audio occasionally skip when streaming off my server. However I've had the latter happen before I installed the drive, and the other two issues are infrequent and seem to have happened when I was still using 1.4.3. Definitely check your firmware and update as soon as possible if you don't have 1.5 when your drive arrives. So far I haven't had any BSoDs when waking from sleep, on either 1.4.3 or 1.5, so if you've read earlier reviews of this drive it would appear that particular issue is behind us.
Overall, the BSoD still concerns me, but I've been up and running solidly ever since the firmware update without any problems.
There are many guides for optimizing Windows 7 for a SSD. Search around and you'll find one you like. Pay particular attention to the following, which appear in several of the guides I've read:
-Turn off the Indexing Service and Windows Search
-Deactivate Prefetch and Superfetch
-Eliminate the Paging File
-Turn off System Restore (if you're comfortable doing this; I use my computers as clients to my home server, so a system reinstallation only costs me time, not important data)
-Anything else that reduces unnecessary writing to the drive
-Make sure you're running in AHCI mode (in BIOS and in Windows)
SSDs have a limited number of erase cycles before they wear out, and anything that writes unnecessarily to the drive will shorten its lifespan (SSDs cannot overwrite data, so they must completely erase a block before they can write to it). Also, DO NOT DEFRAGMENT A SSD! Fragmentation doesn't impact a SSD's performance, and a defragment operation will create a ton of writing and will contribute wear to the flash cells.
As you can see, I've had a mostly positive experience so far with my Vertex 4. The five year warranty gives me peace of mind, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I don't see another BSoD. I'll hold off on saying whether or not I'd buy another OCZ product or recommend one to a friend until I've had more time with my drive, though at this point I haven't seen anything that would dissuade me from doing either.