Solid state drives have become practically mainstream in today’s market – they’re built in or available as an upgrade to nearly any notebook you can buy today. As flash memory costs continue to decrease, they’re becoming more popular by the day, and the reasons why are pretty clear: They offer a tremendous performance increase that leaves spinning hard drives in the dust. As SSDs become more popular, competition between manufactures also increases, making it more difficult to choose the best drive for your needs.
OCZ’s latest SSD aims to help make the choice of which SSD to buy a little easier, by completely redesigning it from the ground up with speed, durability, and performance in mind. We’ve reviewed a number of SSDs in the past, including OCZ’s Vertex 3 MAX IOPS (review), the OCZ Vertex 4 (Review) – and today, we’ll match them all up against the OCZ Vector and see which drive comes out on top.
With the Vector, OCZ has taken their SSD design back to the drawing board, changing almost every detail of the drive from the inside out. The Vector uses a brand new SSD controller (called Barefoot 3) built in-house by OCZ to maximize performance. OCZ has also redesigned the appearance of the Vector, which is encased in a metallic enclosure significantly thinner than previous OCZ offerings – the Vector is a mere 7mm thick rather than the usual 9.5.
I don’t commonly spend much time talking about the design of an SSD – but in the case of the Vector, it merits some discussion. The Veector feels significantly more solid than the Vertex 4 or the Vertex 3, largely due to the new metal enclosure, and has been designed to look just as great on the outside as it will perform inside your device. It’s a new direction in SSD design and marketing for OCZ, and the effort shows.
Benchmarks and Performance
As with almost all SSDs you can buy today, the Vector is built around the SATA III connector, which can transfer data at up to 6Gb/s bidirectionally. To my delight, I found that the Vector comes closer to maxing out that SATA III connection than any other drive I have ever tested. It’s one serious speed demon. According to the official specs, the Vector is capable of read and write speeds of up to 550MB/s and 530MB/s, respectively (for the 256GB model). Our benchmarks will put that claim to the test.
Test Method / Setup
My usual hardware setup for reviewing SSDs is a MacBook Pro 15-inch with the SSD in the main hard drive bay, as well as a traditional hard drive for storing files, which I keep in the optical bay using a caddy (in this case OWC’s Data Doubler). To run the benchmarks, I booted the MacBook with a fresh install of OS X Mountain Lion running on an external SSD. Using a boot drive separate from the MacBook’s internals provides as accurate of results as possible, and separates the SSD from any files or programs on my regular drives.
As usual when I test an SSD, I used several different benchmarks to measure the Vector’s performance – both “common benchmarks” such as file transfer times, booting, and app loading scenarios, as well as formal testing using BlackMagic Disk Speed Test to capture raw read and write speeds. All formal benchmarks were conducted from an external drive. File transfers were between a LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt SSD and the Vector.
– Common Benchmarks
I began my testing using common benchmarks. These involved a Photoshop CS6 launch test, a system boot test using a fresh install of Mountain Lion (after Spotlight had finished indexing), and transferring a test batch of 83GB of files of various sizes (made up of MP3s on the small side, and 6-8Gb video files on the large side). In the CS6 launch test, I timed how long it takes the machine to fully boot a fresh install of Adobe Photoshop CS6.
The Vector was able to load CS6 entirely in just 1.1 seconds – faster than any SSD I have tested before. The Vector also set a new record for total system boot time into a fresh install of OS X Mountain Lion – just 5.9 seconds (booting the MacBook from a powered off state, with auto login enabled).
Finally, I tried the Vector in some file transfer tests – and once again, the Vector performed extremely well.Transferring the 83GB batch of files to the drive took only 3 minutes and 21 seconds, with a time of 3 minutes and 28 seconds on the return trip.
– Formal Benchmarks
Testing the Vector with formal benchmarking tools yielded the sort of impressive results I would expect based on it’s common benchmark performance. Using BlackMagic’s DiskSpeedTest to perform a speed analysis, I was able to achieve max write speeds of 499.2 MB/Sec and max read speeds of 511.5.
Using a seperate benchmarking tool (DiskTester from the DigLloydTools Suite), I was able to achieve maximum results of 536MB/s read write speeds and 557MB/s read speeds, which slightly exceed the manufacturer’s listed maximum rates.
The SSD Difference
While I’ve reviewed a number of SSDS, I always like to include a little piece about the advantage of using an SSD over a traditional hard drive. In comparison to a traditional hard drive, SSD’s really do offer a tremendous boost in both speed and performance. The hard drive is usually the performance bottleneck in modern computers – and an SSD changes that in a big way by increasing how quickly you can move data.
The difference is quite dramatic – measuring boot times and file transfers in seconds rather than minutes is a beautiful thing. Make no mistake about it – installing an SSD in your Mac will provide a serious boost in performance, which makes sense considering that a traditional 7200RPM hard drive can operate at a max of around 105MB/Sec, whereas a SATA 3 SSD can operate at over 5 times that rate.
In the long run, I consider the OCZ vector to be the overall fastest and strongest performing SSD I have tested – and it’s definitely the most immaculately designed drive, especially in comparison to OCZ’s prior offerings. The Vector is a powerful drive that doesn’t cost a fortune, and the benefit of a 5-year warranty provides just enough protection to justify the slightly higher purchase price over competing drives.
With the Vector, OCZ has completely rethought their SSD design both inside and out, and the difference is clear from the moment you first handle the drive to a long evening working and transferring on large media files. OCZ’s extra effort has definitely paid off.
Rating & Information
The Vector is a stunning drive. It looks great, it feels great, it performs like a rock star, and it offers a solid value for the money. For its many, many merits, and its significant improvement over previous OCZ solid state drives, I award the OCZ Vector a full five out of 5 stars. It’s become my new go-to SSD.