OCZ Core Series Affordable SSD Hands-On

We all know that It’s only a matter of time before the last mechanical hard drive whirs its way into a landfill mound, right next to a Tandy cassette drive and a giant pile of Zip disks. But we’re all waiting impatiently, because SSDs still cost too much and store too little. Update: We now have in-depth tests of the OCZ Core Series. A couple of weeks ago, OCZ announced its Core Series, a family of low-cost, high-performance SSDs that is intended to make solid -state storage affordable for the masses. The Core Series is expected to retail for $169 (32GB), $259 (64GB), and $479 (128GB) while offering read transfer rates well over 100MBps and seek under 1ms. In a world where high-performance SSDs typically cost hundreds of dollars more — the 64GB Samsung SATA II we’ve been testing retails for well over $800 — OCZ’s advertised numbers are impressive. Today, an attractive package arrived in our office, containing an OCZ Core Series 64GB. We immediately installed the highly-anticipated hard drive in our current testbed, a Gateway T6828 with 3GB of RAM and Vista Home Premium. While we’re still running a variety of additional tests on the drive, we’ve seen enough to say that this drive has a lot of potential. But, without further exposition, let’s go to the tests. Synthetic Read Tests We immediately tried read tests in Sisoft Sandra and HD Tach. Sisoft Sandra returned an impressive average read rate of 112.4MBps and a seek time of 1ms. HD Tach, which has to be run in Windows XP-compatibility mode under Vista, gave us an average read score of 89.5MBps with a seek time of .5ms. These numbers are really strong, considering that a standard 5,400rpm notebook hard drive, like the Western Digital Scorpio Blue our testbed came with, gets around 46MBps with a seek time of over 17ms in HD Tach. OCZ’s published read transfer rate for the Core Series is 120MBps and indeed, in both test benchmark programs, it occasionally hit burst speeds exceeding that number, but no drive we’ve ever tested in HD Tach or Sisoft Sandra has gotten the exact published spec transfer rate as an average read rate. Perhaps published transfer rates are meant to be maximums not averages. But enough of synthetic benchmarks, let’s see how this thing performs in real-world applications. Boot Time We measured the amount of time it took to cold boot into Windows Vista Home premium. To be as acccurate as possible, we pointed a camera at the screen and then went back and counted the amount of seconds it took from the moment our finger hit the on button to the moment the last tray icon appeared. We then compared the results to some other drives we’ve tested in the past with the same exact system.

It’s interesting to note the very small difference in boot times between the drives we tested. Only one, the low-performance SanDisk SATA 5000, did significantly worse than the others. We think it’s fair to say that boot time isn’t helped a great deal by SSD, at least not in our case. The 2.3 second difference between the OCZ Core Series and our test bed’s original 5,400rpm drive is almost insignificant and could be pure randomness or dumb luck.

The other thing to keep in mind about boot times is that a huge chunk of time is taken up by the BIOS’s posting process. In our OCZ Core Series boot test, we noted the different stages of the boot process and that we had to wait a full 15.6 seconds before the little green Windows status bar appeared, then 17.2 more seconds for the Windows desktop to appear, and finally another 3.5 seconds for our very minimal set of tray icons to show up. This suggests that an upgrade to any SSD would do very little to speed Windows boots over a 5,400rpm hard drive. However, we’re sure a painfully slow hard drive or SSD would slow down boots.

File Copy Test

To test the read/write speed of the drive, we took a folder filled with 5GB of mixed media files (images, videos, sounds, docs) and copied them from one folder on the hard drive to another. The results on the OCZ Core Series were a bit better than the default 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive, a lot better than the embarrassingly-slow SanDisk SATA 5000, but unfortunately double the time of the Samsung SATA II.

To be fair, the Samsung SATA II is a more expensive drive, based on more costly SLC memory so we expect better write times if not better read times as well.

We also think the Western Digital drive shown here may be better than some other 5,400rpm hard drives. Just this week, for example, we tested a Thinkpad SL400 with a Hitachi 5,400rpm hard drive that gave a time of 6:36, though it was in a different system so we can’t use it on our chart here. We’ll be doing more file tests very soon.

Photoshop CS3 Launch Time

Here you can see a significant difference between the two high-performance SSDs and the mechanical hard drive. The old school SanDisk drive is such a slow drive, it doesn’t really belong in this test, but it is an example of a previous-gen SSD.

PDF Open Time

We also took a rather large document, the 500+ page 911 Comission Report, and opened it using Adobe Reader 8.1.2 on all the drives. As you can see, all the SSDs, even the slow-going SanDisk, blew away the mechanical hard drive. We suspect that the lower seek times of all the SSDs were more important than transfer rates for this test.

Firefox 3 Launch

We tried launching Firefox to a blank Web page (loading a site would test our net connection and the server on the other end, rather than the hard drive). Since this is a fairly light application, the time differences were small.

Word 2007

Believe it or not, on a slower hard drive, it can actually take a fair amount of time to open Word 2007, even if you’re just creating a new blank document. All of our drives here were fairly close, but we’ve seen other 5,400rpm drives on other systems that took as long as 10 seconds. In this case, the OCZ Core series delivered the best time by a tiny margin, but all the SSDs were tangibly better than the hard drive.

Future Directions

We’re continuing to test the OCZ Core Series and plan to go back and run additional tests on some of the other units we still have around. Expect to see a full review from us in the days ahead, along with a discussion about whether the less-expensive MLC memory found in the Core Series is any worse in practice than the SLC type you see in $800+ drives like the Samsung SATA II.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Dave Farquhar Says:

    It’s good to see this. I’ve been really looking forward to the OCZ Core, since it promises better performance than the inexpensive Super Talent MLC-based SSDs, and also in light of the number of people having issues with the Super Talents dying after about a month. It’s good to see how it performs in real-world tasks.

  2. KJ Says:

    Nice preliminary review. I am very interested in SSD with my netbook. Please have a look at techreport.com because it seems that SSD’s with slow write speeds (i.e. less than 40MB/s) have a dramatic impact on overall performance at least in typical benchmarks. So, in what applications do SSD’s benefit? I am hoping a netbook (MSI WIND) with a OCZ Core Series SSD will be very fast. Yeah, so do SSD’s realy help in day to day usage: web browsing, email, office, multimedia playback.

    KJ

  3. Rick Huizinga Says:

    My Super Talent MX 120GB SSD died on me after 5 weeks of use. I RMA’d the drive, and today got a note that they can no longer get more of the drives and have issued me a full refund.

  4. Solinx Says:

    Like KJ, I’m interested in getting a MSI Wind equipped with a OCZ Core SSD.

    If the Wind is no longer available to you, continued use of the WD Scorpio Blue as reference drive would be great.

    Also, if possible, could you test the power usage of the OCZ compared to the WD Scorpio?

    Many thanks in advance :)
    Solinx

  5. Jake Says:

    Interesting review, quite frankly the test system is very fast… I’ve never seen word 2007 open in less than 7/9 second on a system with a 7200 HD and a decent dual core. Btw you did erase vistas super prefetch cache so you’re sure no part of the program was already in RAM when you run the test?

  6. nev Says:

    I gotta say… $169 (32GB) is a bargain since paying $400 for 16GB.

    But about performance…

    I have a Mtron 16GB on desktop with Vista and there’s a significant boost in speed when compared while there is anti-virus installed. (or any HD resource hogging background jobs)

    XP on Dell Insp. 6000 (1.6Ghz/2GB ram/250GB WD) was faster then EEE (4GB SSD)… BUT when anti virus installed… the Dell went into a crawl while the EEE was just slightly slower booting and opening programs.

  7. Ken Hoang Says:

    Ok so I have the 128GB version of this drive and I’m going to have to get rid of it. Startup and boot is very fast but real world application use is painfully slow. Especially if you use Outlook. Not sure why by I’m going back to the 320GB WD Scorpio Black since it’s molasses with Outlook to the point that it slows down the whole computer. Sucks…

  8. Christopher Says:

    You didn’t consider – as someone put it – chipset flaw. I mean , there was test on one website that showed that Intel chipsets cant really support sustained transfers above 80-90MB/s when same SSD was tested on NVidia chipset with ST SATA 2 controler and … bang … tansfers reached 110 MB/s … the they installed PCIe card with proffessional controller and … another Bang … 120 MB/s from single drive up to … 564 MB/s for RAID of five such disks. But again .. they changed controler – to super expensive and …. 1,2 GB/s from 9 disks.
    Conclusions … laptops (maybe except Centrino 2 – I don’t know) doesn’t have as fast controler in chipsets to use SSD…

  9. Stephen Says:

    all the real-world performance is nice to ses…

    but this:

    http://www.alternativerecursion.info/?p=106

    really explains what is going on in the drive.

  10. Nate Says:

    Please refer to the following page for how POOR the OCZ CORE SSD’s performance on Intel Chipset is !

    http://www.alternativerecursion.info/?p=106

    Please note that even official guide use
    Core2 Duo E6300, 2GB DDR on
    “South Bridge: NVIDIA 680i” instead of Intel ICH7, ICH8, ICH9 where mainstream desktop use.
    why? The reason is self-evident.

    The real performance on Intel chipset is so poor. The frequent 2+second freeze makes this SSD simply not usable !

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