SSD Performance Hands-On

Posted by Scott


Vertex SSD installed and ready to go

After all my recent hyping of SSD’s (Solid State Drives) I thought it was time to jump in and try one out first hand so I went downtown to Central Computers this afternoon and got an OCZ Vertex 120. I decided to post up my initial reactions and findings after dropping the Vertex into a Macbook Pro Unibody and installing OS X today. If you’re not really a technical person, still have a quick read through the numbers at the bottom because if you use a computer for anything creative (or for anything at all actually) and are looking to significantly boost performance, SSDs should be on your radar. If you have no clue what an SSD is, here’s a brief primer from an earlier post.

After a lot of research on the various SSD manufacturers I came to the conclusion that OCZ’s drives have the best performance/quality-to-dollar ratio. I went with their Vertex 120 drive not only because it’s very fast, but also because it uses the Indilinx Barefoot controller. The concept of an SSD controller may seem a bit esoteric, but it’s very important at this relatively early stage in the development of SSD technology. Inherent to all SSD drives is a tendency to build up “garbage” which can slow performance over time (if you want to know more about SSD “garbage”, read this). The Indilinx controller has a built in mechanism to deal with this garbage and keep the drive running at optimal speeds. The garbage collection runs while the drive is idle and is completely transparent to the OS or user. This capability makes the OCZ Vertex and other drives that run the Indilinx firmware arguably the most advanced SSD’s available at this time. Only firmware 1.30 and up supports this feature but luckily the Indilinx controller supports updates. The drive I bought came with firmware 1.10 but I was able to flash it to the latest 1.30 with relatively little hassle. Apparently all new Vertex drives are shipping with 1.30 stock; mine must have been a couple months old. Here’s the method I used to update the firmware: Bootable Free-DOS for Mac ISO w/ 1.30 FW update.

While the Vertex 120 is not by any means cheap ($389 for 120GB), it is much less expensive than many comparable drives from other manufacturers. It’s the first I’ve seen that offers this kind of performance for anywhere near this price. Of course, 120GB isn’t a lot of room, so you’re going to sacrifice storage space for the speed unless you want to put up the $720 for a 250GB model. I’m not too concerned with that as I’m using the Vertex for my MacBook Pro and I don’t store most of my media and large files on there. I typically use it for live shows where I just need very high read speeds and about 20GB of space. If you’re using a desktop computer, you could alternatively keep your large standard drive and use an SSD as the OS drive.

Bare drive - same form-factor as a normal 2.5" SATA drive

Bare drive - same form factor as a normal 2.5\

So I opened up the MacBook Pro and swapped out the old drive for the new SSD. This was very easy on the new unibody MBP and only took a few minutes. I then did a fresh install of OS X and booted up. Even after all the hype about SSD performance I was still amazed by the marked improvement in overall system performance I experienced. I could go into the minutiae of interacting with OS X running on the SSD, but suffices to say it is incredibly quick and surprisingly enjoyable.

So, on to the numbers: I did some really basic measurements to gauge the basic performance of the new drive and compared them to the original drive that came with the MBP. First I timed how long it took from power on to login screen. I chose this method so that the amount of startup items and installed apps on either particular machine wouldn’t effect the time.

Power On to Login Screen – MacBook Pro OS X
With standard drive: 75 seconds
With Vertex SSD: 28 seconds

The boot time for the SSD was nearly triple the speed of the standard drive. But this doesn’t tell the whole story, boot times are dependent on a lot more than raw hard drive speed so even though the difference is impressive, it’s still not telling of how fast this drive really is. For that we need hard numbers. I used the free Xbench to measure the drive speeds and give a better picture of the wide chasm that separates these two drives.

Original Drive Scores (Stock Mac Hitachi 320GB)
Overall Score: 34.13

Sequential Read: 43 MB/sec
Sequential Write: 54 MB/sec

Random Read: 17 MB/sec
Random Write: 22 MB/sec

SSD Scores (OCZ Vertex)
Overall Score: 229.2

Sequential Read: 202 MB/sec
Sequential Write: 169 MB/sec

Random Read: 154 MB/sec
Random Write: 176 MB/sec

As you can see, the SSD destroyed the standard drive in every conceivable way. The speeds I am seeing are nearly comparable to my RAID0 system which has 3 drives and a highpoint controller and cost me over double the amount I paid for the Vertex SSD. Throw in the fact that the Vertex uses hardly any power (great for notebook battery life) and has no moving parts to break down and you’re looking at a bargain. If you’re looking for a way to speed your rig up I highly advise looking into getting a SSD. Just keep in mind that SSD is a very nascent technology in the grand scheme of computing. If you don’t really need a drive now I would hold off a little and wait for the industry to develop. Prices have been falling very steeply while performance and disk space has steadily increased. If there’s one thing that consumer computer technology has taught us it’s that this trend will most definitely continue until SSD drives become the norm.

If anybody currently has an SSD let us all know your experiences in the comments.

33 Comments Leave A Comment


Drew says:

August 25, 2009 at 4:24 am

Yeah will wait like a year probably when i can get 500GB for like 150 heh, but exciting! The performance stats are impressive.


Scott says:

August 25, 2009 at 5:18 am

I doubt you’ll get 500GB at that price within a year, but I would bet the 250GB would be down around the $350-$400 mark by that time and it would probably boast better read/write speed too.

I think my next SSD will be another Vertex to serve as my Windows drive for my main desktop machine. Even a drive as small as 60GB would be fine for that purpose.


Rob says:

August 25, 2009 at 6:45 am

I’m tempted to pick up a 60GB expresscard one… boot off it for gigs… I wonder how the transfer speed compares?


John says:

August 25, 2009 at 6:59 am

I had the 250 GB OCZ Vertex for a while. All I can say is that you should keep good backups.

I’ve had four of the drives fail on me. They are amazingly fast, but all of them ended up suffering severe corruption after less than a month of use. Even the ones that were working well had mysterious 30 second stalls every once in a while. The disk is fast, but anything that causes large amounts of write to the disk (i.e. copying an iLife DVD & installing MS Office at the same time) caused a hard crash and corruption.

I had to disk-warrior repair the directory structure on all the drives at one point or another just to boot the system again. The fairly regular firmware updates are nice, but as far as I can tell, very poorly tested, and the installation process can be death defying.

The price on the drives is great, and the speed is profound, but after a few rounds of very slow RMAs from OCZ, I won’t be getting another one of these. The price was right, but, so far, the aggravation has not been worth it. Once I ran into problems, their support for Mac was sorely lacking as well. The company suggested I try installing windows on the drive, since that works better. Of course, since I have no particular interest in running windows, that really wasn’t very helpful.

Anyway, good luck with yours, and don’t forget to keep Time Machine running. Frequently.

– 250 GB OCZ Vertex in MBP 15″


Marius says:

August 25, 2009 at 10:04 am

Very nice write-up on this SSD Drive.

I have been using a Warp SSD for a long while as they came out. I recently picked up the Corsair P256 which was, after a long period of reading and comparing, my favorite choice. It uses the latest Samsung controller and a 128MB Cache.

My system seems to be quite similiar to yours and I have to say I don´t use a desktop anymore. The MBP is connected to the 24″ LED from Apple and it´s significantly faster then my old Mac Pro. I think upgrading, especially on a notebook, the item and money you invest should be well chosen.

As for me the SSD saves me a lot of waiting time and it´s cost is soon forgotten after finishing two new projects with it. I am very happy with the 8GB Ram and this SSD Drive. Great to see a professional like you Scott posting your thoughts and your move to these new drives with so many details.


Matthijs says:

August 25, 2009 at 11:54 am

SSDs are by far the best enhancement to current computers. I upgraded my mbp memory to 6GB and it is worth – but only it in some situations. Upgraded an old 2ghz Mac Mini with an Intel 80 SSD and it feels ridiculously fast, all the time ( see )

Data corruption might happen in the future, but don’t we all backup our files regularly :-)


Scott says:

August 25, 2009 at 12:39 pm

when did you own the drive and what firmware did you have running? Many people had similar issues with the pre-1.10 FW. Now that they’re on 1.30 it seems like the reliability issues have been addressed. Thanks for posting your experiences though, I’ll definitely be backing up often and keeping an eye out for any weird behavior. But like I said, this is, after all a very new technology. Early adopters pay a price, we’re the guinea pigs but at the same time we get to enjoy new technology before everyone else. to me the trade-off is worth it, especially if you time it just right.

no, I don’t think that’s out until friday right? I like to stay a little behind the curve on OS X updates. I use this machine primarily for live shows and that’s not really the right environment to be testing out how new OS updates play with your software.


Jared Shenson says:

August 25, 2009 at 4:20 pm

You mention in your post and obviously many advocates of SSDs have also similarly said that the drives sip power and therefore give you longer battery life. Have you benchmarked this? I’m curious what types of increases you’re seeing.


Scott says:

August 25, 2009 at 7:57 pm

I’ve only had the drive in there for a day so it’s hard to say at this point. I did take a look at the battery life indicator when it was about 85% charged and it said 5hours:20mins left, I’ve never seen it that high even on a full charge so I am assuming it lasts a bit longer.


Austin says:

August 25, 2009 at 10:49 pm

I really want to pick up the new 80GB Intel SSD with Snow Leopard, but want to wait and see how stable SL is. Hopefully it’s solid right out of the gate.


Jayson says:

August 26, 2009 at 8:05 am

I think you’ve pretty much sold me on this. My next desktop upgrade will be an SSD. Makes me want a second one as a scratch disk too.


Scott says:

August 26, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I really can’t say as I don’t now that drive but at this stage, it seems to me that the most important part of picking an SSD is making sure it has a good controller (Indilinx, Samsung, etc.). OCZ seems to be the only manufacturer who has been able to reach these prices and still maintain quality.

yeah that’s the only real problem with this, once you use one you can’t live without it. I want to upgrade my desktop now but will have to wait until the prices fall. I am thinking 1 drive for the OS (windows 7) and 2 drives on the RAID card in a RAID 0 array for photoshop swap.

Yeah, it was pretty easy. All I did was drop the drive in (it’s eactly the same as a normal laptop drive) and boot from the OS X DVD. then I used disk utility to format/partition it and I installed. it took about 30 minutes.


Dan says:

August 26, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Using an Intel 2nd-gen 160GB in my MBP. System boot time is bogglingly fast. Every app opens with one bounce. Photoshop CS4 is open and usable in under 3 seconds. This SSD represents the single most-noticeable upgrade I’ve ever made to a computer. Plus it’s silent and light on power.

Basically, they’re magic.


Scott says:

August 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm

seriously, magic. This is the single biggest shift in hardware I’ve seen in my life. Everything else has been incremental, this is like five levels ahead. But it’s still not where it could be. Once they come out with a new, higher bandwidth SATA spec. it would be great to see SSD’s of at least 500GB running at 1000MB/s for under $500. I could see that happening in the next few years and it will definitely change everything.


Tim says:

August 27, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Considered upgrading to a SSD when I first purchased my MBP but didn’t. Now I’m wishing I would have. Thought my system was pretty fast until I saw these numbers.

And Scott, I’ve heard you mention preferring Windows over OS X for mostly everything you do, why is that? Maybe a future blog. Would be interested in your opinion as it pertains to design, music, and what ever else you get yourself into.


Aman Fahimullah says:

August 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm

This Solid State Drive is awesome Scott, good investment. I have the same exact drive in my 15″ Unibody, and it runs fast!. Probably the most noticeable upgrade from Ram, CPU, GPU. Wait till you run this in Snow Leopard. Its too fast. Its never crashed on me. Maybe 250GB has a different firmware or something. All I can say is running this in Snow Leopard and 64 Bit, will make your system on FIRE basically. Check the review on my site. LOL. Have Fun! Looking forward to some awesome Music. Have a great day.


blackabee says:

August 27, 2009 at 11:31 pm

amazing results. I will wait for the technology to progress a bit more before making the leap, but thanks for the review!

On future projects like this you should contact the company and try and get them to allow you to do a test review for free. Just tell them your hit stats and most companies will jump at the opportunity to give you a free product in exchange for a review to your audience.


Zach says:

August 31, 2009 at 11:46 pm

I installed a Vertex 120 in my MBP about 2 weeks ago, and can attest to the very noticeable leap in performance. I do general graphics work for films, and I have been using a MBP as my primary workstation for the past 3 years. I ran into issues with my stock 7200 RPM 320 GB drive while working on some 1 GB plus PSDs, so I sprang for the SSD to see if it would make a difference. It definitely did, but with files this big, I am wishing I had a proper tower setup.


Mac SSD Guy says:

October 14, 2009 at 7:03 pm

There’s just no going back once you’ve experienced OSX on an SSD. 2009 was the year spinning platter drives got left in the dust – especially for laptops. Oddly, SSD prices didn’t really budge much this year: Still hovering around $3/Gb – but performance made good 30-40% gains at the same price points with the new Indilinx and Samsung controller chips with more onboard cache. All I can say is in a quarter-century of computing NO other upgrade has been more worthwhile than an SSD! Period.


c.MacLennan says:

November 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm

MacBook Air purchased May 2009 with 128GB SSD drive.
Drive failure with loss of data October 2009.
Needless to say …. not impressed with SSD at the moment.
Any help appreciated finding a Data Recovery service located downtown Toronto!


Jack says:

December 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Ok Folks,

I upgraded my wifes intel macbook to snow leopard and dropped in a 64GB Runcore SSD. All important data is stored on our NAS (I have never been a fan of storing important data on client machines).

The results? Well boot up takes less time than it does to pwer on my TV. Shutdown is basically instantaneous. Applications Like Openoffice take next to no time to fire up.

We hav ebeen running with this for over a month now and the machine is just flying. For a long time now Disk I/O has been the bottleneck. Now the bottleneck is being moved to the SATA standard (and after that it will be somewhere else.


phidelity says:

July 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Hey Scott,
Thanks for the great article.
I was wondering if you could give an update on your thoughts now that several months have passed. Has the garbage been an issue at all? Any data loss or corruption?