OCZ's high-capacity solid-state disk 'a solid choice'

In my quest to test all of the latest high-capacity consumer solid-state disk (SSD) drives, I came upon OCZ Technology's Apex SATA II SSD and was impressed not so much with its performance — though you will see a boost when using it — as with its price.

OCZ describes the Apex laptop SSD series drive as a "midrange offering for system builders and mainstream computer users". It's available in 60GB, 120GB and 250GB capacities. I tested the 2.5-in., 120GB version, since drives of that capacity and larger tend to be faster when writing data than 60GB models.

You can buy the 120GB version — the one I tested — for $US295 at Newegg.com and the 250GB model for $675. For those of you who are bad at math, that's between $2.46 and $2.70 a gigabyte, which is pretty good for SSD. For comparison purposes, the 256GB Samsung SATA II SSD that I recently reviewed has a retail price of $500.

Using a Dell Latitude D830 laptop with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor running Windows XP Professional SP2, I connected the drive using an adapter in my laptop's optical drive bay. I then tested it using ATTO Technology's ATTO Disk Benchmark v2.34, and Simpli Software's HD Tach v3.0.4 benchmarking utilities. While I was able to successfully test both read and write performance with the ATTO app, HD Tach had problems properly measuring write performance. So, I only have read performance measurements from that utility.

ATTO indicated the OCZ drive had a 233MB/sec. average read speed and a 153MB/sec. average write speed — not far from OCZ's claims of 230MB/sec. read and 160MB/sec. write speeds.

Next, I tested the drive using HD Tach. Normally, the results are similar to those reported by ATTO; in this case, they were way off. I tested and retested and got virtually the same results every time. The average read time was around 156MB/sec., the burst speed was around 230MB/sec. and random access time was an excellent 2 milliseconds. CPU utilization was a respectable 7 per cent.

Boot time for Windows XP was excellent: From a cold start, it took just 22 seconds; with a restart, it took 25 seconds. (Normal boot time with a 7,200-rpm laptop drive is 70 seconds.) And for Mac users, the same drive boots Mac OS X 10.5.6 on a late model MacBook in 23 seconds from start-up chime to desktop.

When comparing 2.5-in. consumer SSDs, I consider Intel's fast X25-M SSD to be the gold standard. The 80GB X25-M has so far beaten the competition when it comes to performance because its more sophisticated, 10-channel architecture and firmware that takes advantage of Native Command Queuing (NCQ). That allows the controller to prefetch data in order to access it more quickly from inactive NAND flash chips. (It's analogous to having a grocery list before going to shop.) The drawback to the X25-M is its much higher price — $595 retail, $365 on sites such as Pricegrabber.com -- despite the comparatively lower 80GB capacity.

Like Intel, OCZ's SSD is based on multi-level cell NAND flash memory, which means it packs two or more bits per cell vs. the more efficient, but lower-capacity, single-level cell memory, which only lays down one bit per cell. The drive also has a dual 8-channel achitecture, which offers 16 channel for high througput.

I also compared SSDs with one of the fastest hard disk drives going: Western Digital's 10,000-rpm Velociraptor, which has a 250.2MB/sec. burst speed and 105.6MB/sec. average read through HD Tach.

Like most SSDs, OCZ's drive is lightweight. It weighs just 2.7 ounces, and the factory-stated meantime between failure is 1.5 million hours. OCZs Apex comes with a two-year warranty.

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