Toshiba OCZ VX500 512GB & 1TB SSD Review
Right now the mainstream SSD market is an interesting place. The SATA 6Gbps interface has long since been saturated so even some of the most affordable drives have hit a performance plateau and more advanced interfaces have either completely failed to gain traction (the now-defunct SATA-Express) or are just a bit too new to have achieved more affordable price levels (NVMe and other PCIe-based standards). As a result, many companies like OCZ are striving to focus upon one area perceived as a major limitation of solid state storage: longevity.
With the current interface limitations, OCZ’s (now a division of Toshiba) lineup has perfectly mirrored the market realities. At the high end is their all-conquering RD400 while the value segment is serviced by the TR150, an SSD once called the Trion 150. The mainstream product used to be the VT180 or the artist formerly known as the venerable Vector 180 but with many newer and more capable entrants into its price point, it was high time that Toshiba looked towards updating it. This is where the VX500 gets factored into the equation.
As you might expect, the new VX500 isn’t being launched to blaze a new performance trail (it is limited by that pesky SATA interface) but rather to satisfy the need for longer-lasting drives in one of today’s most popular storage segments. It’s that enhancing NAND endurance which OCZ is hoping will distinguish them from the countless other competitors vying for buyers’ money.
Now while it may use the same interface and standard as the VT180 this new model actually utilizes a new controller. Rather than the OCZ Barefoot 3, which never caught on outside of OCZ models, the VX500 uses Toshiba’s TC35 controller. Very little is known about this piece of silicon and Toshiba are being quite tightlipped about it (and we did ask multiple times), but it nonetheless it seems to be quite potent and prioritizes long term stability over short term performance. In other words, it takes a page from the Barefoot 3’s playbook by not focusing purely upon synthetic benchmarks numbers yet is optimized for long term usage.
More importantly this controller comes with tons of onboard cache. That means the secondary RAM cache isn’t even needed on lower capacity 128GB and 512GB models!
In terms of raw throughput, the VX500 will either match or poll slightly behind the outgoing VT180 at least on paper. That’s nothing to be concerned about since OCZ claims real-world usage scenarios will see these drives literally running neck and neck with one another. Two areas of differentiation do however allow the newer VX models to shine. Not only can these drives offer up to FIVE TIMES the NAND endurance of their predecessors but due to internal wear leveling algorithms, a portion of the drive’s overall capacity doesn’t have to be set aside for those “rainy day” situations. This means the top level 1TB model offers a full 1024GB or capacity vesus the VT180’s 960GB while the 512GB model offers a serious step up over the 480GB VT-series of yesteryear.
This move to a Toshiba branded controller was to be expected but it is still interesting to see them handily avoiding 3D NAND technologies. Instead, the OCZ division has taken a much more conservative approach by utilizing the latest (and possible last) '2D' planar NAND which Toshiba manufactures. The VX500’s 128GBit 15nm Toggle Mode MLC NAND ICs may not be cutting edge technology right now but they do offer a shockingly good combination of performance and pricing.
On the surface this is certainly going to be controversial to some laymen as '3D' is all the rage lately but planar MLC NAND does have a lot to offer. It isn’t as “fragile” as the TLC 3D NAND -the only 3D NAND available right now in mass qualities- and its performance characteristics are well known to OCZ's firmware team so optimizations should be well in hand by day one. Best of all, its durability and longevity aren’t in question.
This is why Toshiba's OCZ's division can offer a 5-year hassle free warranty for the VX500 and can offer a Total Drive Write specification that puts 3D TLC NAND to shame. The VX500 512GB model has a TDW rating of 296TB, while the massive 1TB model boasts an impressive 592TB. Compare and contrast this to the Crucial’s new MX300 series and its TLC modules and the difference is quite impressive.
I already mentioned the VX500 is targeted at mainstream consumers who may have a higher budget than entry level users but budget still plays a critical role in their decision. This is why the VX500 can offer a 512GB model that only costs $152.52 (or 30 cents per GB) and a 1TB model with an asking price of only $337.06 (or 34 cents per GB). That is one hell of a sales pitch to say the least.
Going hand in hand with these changes is an entirely new design for the VX series. As you can see it has a very unique look with an almost diamond tread pattern on the outer case. On closer examination this pattern is not just for aesthetics since its actually made up of rather are small (but numerous) ventilation holes. For those who follow such things this is the same chassis that Toshiba uses in their Toshiba-branded devices (like the Q300 Pro) and has proven itself to be as effective at cooling as it is easy on the eyes.
Yes, OCZ are taking heat seriously and want to make sure that their VX500 is as cool running as possible. As we all know heat kills and the cooler the NAND and controller run the more durable these critical components will become.
Further reinforcing this idea of long term stability is the interior layout. is if you so choose to crack the case open and peak inside you can expect to find a single sided 3/4 length PCB that uses heatpads on all the major components (excluding the RAM IC on the 1TB model). Basically OCZ has turned the metal enclosure of the VX500 into one massive heatsink. That is rather impressive and something that most manufactures still do not do.
The only minor issue with this layout is that OCZ still relies upon a mainly firmware-based solution for data loss protection. Instead of using onboard capacitors to safely flush its cache to the NAND in the event of a power failure, the VX500 simply flushes its buffer on a frequent basis and thus only needs to back up a small amount of data to the NAND in the event of unexpected power loss.
This is a bit disappointing but in testing it does work, and more importantly, this flushing doesn’t noticeably impact real world performance. More importantly, constant backups are better than what most manufacturers still rely upon but its main competitor –Crucial’s MX300- does indeed have physical data loss protection.
So without any more preamble lets put both theVX500 512GB and cavernous 1TB models under the microscope and see if this new series has the performance chops to make its competition beg for mercy or if this is a model that should have been released 6 months ago before the '3D NAND Revolution'.
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