Date: Thursday , June 27, 2013
The business climate for OCZ has been brutal since the departure of its previous CEO left the company in shambles. Recovering from the damage has been a journey for OCZ, and one that isn't entirely completed. Dealing with the realities of the SSD market has left OCZ in the center of a whirlwind of change as it fights to re-image itself in order to survive.
One of the saving graces for OCZ has been a clear direction since the restructuring began, with plans to eliminate many of the repetitive products in its portfolio and focus on high-margin enthusiast-class SSDs as it transitions to a more enterprise-centric company. While the move to focusing on upper level products helps to streamline operations, there is still the need to remain competitive in the mainstream market as well. With the NAND fabs elbowing way to the table the outlook has become increasingly dire for SSD manufacturers that do not produce NAND. Being at the whims of your competitors who hold the basic building block of your product is never a good situation. For SSD companies without fabs, to survive will require a unique product and internal IP to set itself apart from the crowd.
In retrospect, perhaps the demonized ex-CEO of the company orchestrated the best thing that ever happened to OCZ. In 2011, Ryan Peterson arranged for the purchase of both Indilinx and PLX Technologies, setting in motion the research and development required for constructing OCZ's own SSD controller. The Indilinx Barefoot 3 controller series emerged as OCZ's proprietary controller at just the right time for OCZ.
Owning its own controller gives OCZ a leg up in programming, design, and fabrication of SSDs, but also provides OCZ with a flexible building block that comes considerably cheaper than controllers it has purchased in the past from third parties. OCZ has also began to purchase NAND wafers and package the NAND ifself, which provides another layer of significant cost savings and helps to defray the expenses incurred when purchasing NAND.
Leveraging the new Barefoot 3 controller has allowed OCZ to consolidate all of its SSD products into three lines that are populated with OCZ's proprietary controllers. The scalable architecture of the new Barefoot 3 controller has allowed OCZ to build a new version dubbed the BF3-M10.
The Indilinx Barefoot BF3-M10 edition features a lower clock speed and an optimized clock generator for the Vertex 450 series. The Vertex series of SSDs is no stranger to different SSD controllers, having had the original Indilinx Barefoot, SandForce, and Marvell controllers parade through the Vertex series over the years. The BF3-M10 allows OCZ the ability to raise yield rates and provide a more economical alternative to the flagship OCZ Vector series with its full-featured BF3-M00 controller.
OCZ has also made the switch to 20nm Micron MLC NAND for the Vertex 450 Series of SSDs, which has resulted in lower performance for most manufacturers making the switch. The key to keeping good performance with 20nm NAND is optimized firmware, and with OCZ's in-house firmware team it has managed to deliver an SSD with great performance for the smaller NAND lithography.
The Vertex 450 sports solid specifications with sequential read/write speeds of 540/525 MB/s and random read/write IOPS of 85,000/90,000. These speeds are surprisingly competitive with the enthusiast oriented Vector SSDs, which only provide 10 MB/s faster read and 5MB/s faster write speeds. The Vector series kicks in a bit more high queue depth random performance with a top speed of 100,000 read IOPS and 95,000 random write IOPS, but in typical usage scenarios these high numbers will never be utilized.
One area of easily identifiable differences between the Vector and the Vertex 450 is the warranty period and endurance. The Vertex 450 is only warrantied for 3 years at 20GB of host writes per day, in comparison to the five-year warranty offered for the Vector SSDs. Many of the new SSDs featuring 19 and 20nm NAND are now coming with three-year warranties.
To date the enthusiast SSD market has been dominated by the Samsung 840 Pro and the OCZ Vector Series. The mainstream market features more competition with several controllers creating great price vs performance ratios. Bringing Vector-like performance to the mainstream market could end up as a major coup for OCZ, and today we will test the Vertex 450 against other competing solutions to see if the Vertex 450 can deliver.