OCZ’s latest solid state drive, the Vector 180, offers the speed of the company's Radeon R7 SSD, plus power failure protection and less performance degradation over time. It's hard to argue with those kinds of improvements.
It also employs the same Barefoot 3 M00 controller the company introduced this last year and the Toshiba (OCZ’s parent company) A19 NAND utilized previously in the Vertex 460 series. All good, right? Not quite: The TBW (TeraBytes Written) rating is low for the larger-capacity drives, limiting the drive to a purely consumer audience.
Features and pricing
Probably the most important new feature in the Vector 180 is power failure management—one that will endear it to anyone who lives where the weather occasionally proves cantankerous. When the AC fails, the Vector 180 takes care of any outstanding business (writes in progress, etc.) with the power stored in on-board capacitors.
OCZ also claims it’s taking the same approach that Intel and most other mainstream vendors do with their enterprise SSDs, i.e., optimizing for real-life read/write scenarios instead of flat-out sequential read or write speed. The company says the Vector 180 will retain the greater part of its performance over time. I'm guessing this means the drive does the necessary maintenance on a more regular schedule instead of deferring it until forced into it (e.g., secure erasing), as many older SSDs did.
Note that while OCZ has added enterprise-class features, the Vector 180 is a consumer drive. Using it in servers is verboten in terms of the warranty.
Though I didn’t experience it, the firmware that shipped with most review drives was prey to slow formats after heavy usage. It seems that the cell maps were updated after every TRIM. If there were stacked TRIM commands, this resulted in a very long wait. To its credit, OCZ killed the release until they had updated firmware that fixed the issue, despite its being of little consequence to the average user. Good job.
The Vector 180 is an affordable drive given its advanced management features. It’s available in 120GB/$90, 240GB/$150, 480GB/$275, and 960GB/$500 flavors, which works out to 75 cents, 62 cents, 57 cents, and 52 cents per gigabyte respectively. That’s quite good for an SSD of this type, but only middling for the general market, where drives such as Crucial’s super-affordable MX200 and the Samsung EVO compete.
The Vector 180 proved a very good performer, though the CrystalDiskMark results jumped around a bit more than normal on the 480GB version I tested. I saw a relatively normal 472MBps to 495MBps reading the 4MB file, but from 413MBps to 486MBps writing—a fairly large range. The same phenomenon occurred with the 512KB random writes, which ranged from 353MBps to 472MBps, with the reading remaining about 390MBps during all passes.
4KB random reads and writes were around 30MBps and 80MBps un-queued, and around 375MBps and 350MBps with a queue depth of 32. In my 20GB data copy tests using the Vector 180 and an OCZ RevoDrive as the source, write/read speeds were consistently around 453MBps/445MBps with a single large file, and 408MBps/314MBps with the smaller file/folder mix. There were no large fluctuations in my tests, as there were with CrystalDiskMark.
Software and warranty
The Vector 180 comes bundled with Acronis True Image for cloning your existing drive onto the SSD and an adapter bracket. Those are perks not everyone will need, and most vendors no longer offer, but they're very handy for those that have the need. Useful to everyone is the OCZ Toolbox utility that lets you upgrade the firmware, manually TRIM the drive, and get info on its status.
After my initial hands-on, OCZ released Toolbox's replacement—SSD Guru, which ships as Windows and Linux executables, and a bootable ISO. Little seemed new beyond a somewhat classier appearance, and info no longer pops up in a secondary window. Still, it's a nice improvement on the prior, slightly clunky app.
OCZ touts its ShieldPlus support, which basically says the company won’t hassle you if you want to return a drive that died within the 5-year warranty period. You get a new one, and OCZ pays the shipping cost. However, that supposes a normal consumer/client computer, not server usage. If you've exceeded 90 terabytes written (TBW), i.e., the 50GB a day OCZ talks about in the warranty, the company reserves the right to review the case.
The problem with that warranty is that while 50GB a day/90TBW is a good rating for a 120GB drive and okay for the 240GB model, it's about half what you'd expect for the 480GB and 960GB models, which, with far more cells, should be able to write considerably more data before failing. Most companies promise 175TBW to 180TBW for their larger capacity drives, though that's also a whichever-comes-first (years/TBW) guarantee. If you want a warranty that's longer in years or data-writing maximum, spend a bit more and go for a pro-level drive.
The Vector 180 is a nice addition to the OCZ portfolio. It offers good speed, decent pricing, and promises data safety during power outages as well as performance over the long haul. OCZ says it's never rejected a customer whose drive failed within the warranty period, but I'd say something slightly more legally binding on the 480GB and 960GB models would be nice.