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Frontpage Slideshow | Copyright © 2006-2010 orks, a business unit of Nuevvo Webware Ltd.
Friday, 13 February 2009 19:29

OCZ?s new ?Apex? SSD series is super-fast

Written by Sanjin Rados
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Review:
120GB very fast 2.5 Flash 

 

SSD (Solid State Drive) has recently dropped in price and thus started finding its way to non-enthusiast customers. While a year ago an 60GB SSD disk would set you back more than €500, now you can get it for only €130, and the €500 can now get you a 250GB SSD. Still, as much as the price may drop, it’s still a bit pricey as €80 can now buy you a 1000GB hard disk. On the other hand, SSD drives feature much higher read and write speeds compared to regular hard disks. Another upside is the quiet operation, and shock resistance is not to be ignored either.

The mere phrase Solid State Drive might scare an average user, but you should know that SSDs are 100% compatible with traditional disks. This means that installing one or replacing your old disk with an SSD one will be a breeze. SSD disk will boost your access speeds, save some money on electricity, lower the weight of your rig, and provide you with inaudible operation and much better durability, as it lacks the moveable parts found in regular hard disks.

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The picture shows the Apex SSD 120GB with a box, weighing in at 77g.

Solid State basically means there’re no moveable parts inside. If you’re wondering how is that possible the answer is simple – flash memory.

This type of memory is quite common (although some might not be aware of it) but its price per GB for SSDs is quite high. Flash memory is also found in memory cards, CompactFlash cards, memory sticks, etc.

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The back of the box features some information on the product. The disk’s dimensions are 99.88 x 69.63 x 9.3mm, meaning that this is a 2.5’’ disk.

Laptop markets have practically been begging for SSD technology and now its time has come. Compatibility with the older, 2.5 inch disks is a great thing and it means that replacing your old disk won’t be a problem. Lower consumption should reflect on battery life but since the processor, the graphics card and the monitor are regular culprits for low battery life, the storage device will have only a minor effect on it. Due to mechanical components, regular hard disks consume more energy, as a motor has to turn the heads and such in order to read/write. These mechanical components, fortunately, are not needed in SSDs.

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SSD disk is quite a durable component, and you’ll sooner break your laptop than inflict damage on the disk itself. We, however, do not recommend trying any of the above.

OCZ has a couple of SSD disks in their offer, divided into three series. The Apex Series, whose 120GB version we’re testing today, is positioned in the middle and with aggressive pricing and internal RAID design, OCZ plans to offer some nice performance to mainstream users.

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It’s wrapped in foam and covered in protective plastic, all to protect the device until it reaches the customer. MTBF is 1,500,000 hrs.

OCZ Core series offers cheaper, budget SSDs, whereas premium quality is reserved for the Vertex series. Although all of us use flash memory, there are some differences in controllers of choice and memory organization. OCZ 120GB Apex, that we’re testing today, features internal RAID 0 architecture and in the best case scenario, read speeds of 230M/s and write speeds of 160MB/s.

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Apex series, apart from the name and quality, differs from Vertex and Solid series by the orange color of the sticker. 

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JMicron controller chip is in charge of the I/O on the disk, but a newer JMF602B version is used – the Apex series actually features two controllers running side by side featuring RAID technology.

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We opened our SSD by unscrewing four screws, something we would never advise doing with traditional hard disks.

On the left side (as well as on the back of the PCB) you’ll see two columns of Samsung’s K9HCG08U1M-PCB00 IC memory controlled by two JMicron SSD controllers. You can see they’re placed around the middle of the disk, whereas on the right you’ll find the JMB390 RAID controller handling the SSD controllers and linking them into a Raid 0 striped array. Each of the JMF602B controllers features 16KB on-die cache memory in order to improve write latency performance.

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One of the important things is the lack of vibration and the crackling sound we’ve all heard numerous times while the head is busy reading or writing within a traditional hard disk. The following picture also shows WD’s 2.5’’ 320GB hard disk, which we took out of our MSI GX620 laptop and replaced it with OCZ’s Apex 120GB SSD one.

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Proving that SSDs perform better than hard disks is not a difficult task, so we resorted to practical measures and used MSI’s GX620 laptop where we replaced the MSI’s supplied WD 320GB disk with OCZ’s Apex 120GB SSD. We used a couple of standard disk-testing apps, and then checked how it performs when writing data, meaning copying files on disk.

First up are PCMark Vantage results, which prove beyond doubt that SSD is superior.

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However, results are not favoring SSD disks in all the tests, and one of those is Windows Movie Maker ones. You can see the differences in the following two slides.

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The HDD Windows Vista Start Up measures disk performance (measured in MB/s) during Vista Ultimate startup. Our MSI GX620 laptop with Vista Business edition didn’t show significant speed advantage, but 4 seconds can sometimes mean a lot. We installed the system on both disks and measured the time needed for the system to boot up and become fully operational. 

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Now we’ll show results we’ve measured by testing both disks on the GX620 laptop, where we’ve seen that our today’s OCZ Apex 120GB SSD scores 83MB/s better than its mechanical test-mate. The SSD disk did run at higher temperatures, but only slightly.

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In ideal scenarios, the Apex series can get to 230MB/s, but such scenarios are a rare occurrence. Still, the difference is evident when using a different OS or another chipset. A Vista Ultimate desktop system running on MSI’s P45D3 Platinum motherboard resulted in OCZ’s better scores, most notably in much better minimum thresholds.

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WD's 320GB HDD on the other hand, didn't benefit much from a better system, and only the burst rate went up from 73MB/s to 110MB/s.

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Atto disk benchmark also recognizes SSD's better performance compared to regular hard disk. Results are not that great in reading and writing very small files, but later on we see the Apex 120GB SSD scoring as much as 221MB/s read speed.

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Up to 160MB/s write speeds at least with files bigger than 4MB are also possible while generally the drive likes bigger files and can write ultra small ones sometimes much slower than WD mechanical hard drive.


Our write tests are quite straightforward. We measured write speeds in seconds, while copying video and other files onto OCZ's SSD disk and then on WD's HDD. Note that we did this on a desktop system, where the two tested disks were used exclusively for data storage.


Testbed:

Motherboard: MSI P45D3 Platinum ( Provided by: MSI );
Processor: Intel Core 2 QX9770 Extreme edition na 3.6GHz ( Provided by: Intel );
Memory: Corsair Dominator 12800 7-7-7-24 ( Provided by: Corsair);
HDD: WD VelociRaptor 300G 10,000RPM ( Provided by: SmoothCreation );

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Finally, we show you how Vista rated the disks we've tested today.

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Conclusion

The SSD technology is still pricey, but the prices are coming down at a reasonable pace. An Apex 120GB SSD will set you back about $300 in USA or €330, which is still a lot, but note that this money buys a disk that’s almost three times faster than a traditional HDD.

The future favors the SSD and we, as well as some people from the memory industry, think that super advanced users will, apart from a couple of TB on traditional mechanical disks, have an SSD of 100 or more GB where they’ll store their OS, a couple of games and their favorite programs. The rest can always take the cheap path – a much cheaper and slower, but larger HD.

With realtime read and write speeds three times better than traditional HDDs, such an investment starts making sense. If you decide on a 30GB Apex, it will set you back about €100 but will provide instant and noticeable benefit. 

Apart from the stunning speed, we were quite happy to find that the SSD technology brought the “golden silence” to the table. We often found ourselves working in the university library and thinking that our crackling traditional HDD surely must bother someone. SSD thankfully changed that.

The third reason as to why you should go with SSD is data security. While mechanical drives stand a fair chance of corrupting your data if your laptop drops from your hands, SSD keep them safe.

The technology is still expensive and while we’re aware of other 120GB SSD disks priced at about €230, we’d still choose this one for its far superior speed. So, with speeds in mind and 120GB for a reasonable buck, we’ve no choice but to dub this a “Fudzilla Recommended” device.

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Last modified on Friday, 13 February 2009 21:39
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