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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

OCZ Revodrive 3 X2 480 GB Mini-Review

One of the new toys arrived today. The latest revision of the acclaimed Revodrive line from OCZ, a Revodrive 3.

The particular model I purchased (RVD3X2-FHPX4-480G) is the X2 version with 480 gigabytes of capacity. For those not familiar with the Revodrive line, these units integrate multiple SSD units, multiple controllers, and the VCA (Virtualized Controller Architecture) hardware specific to OCZ, effectively giving you a raid SSD system on a single PCI-E card. No sata cables, power cables, separate raid card, configuration, etc. required!

The unit arrives in a compact, if not luxurious (for this kind of money, it would be nice to feel a bit more coddled) box. Included in my example are a tiny user guide (ample, considering the ease of installation) including information on where to retrieve the current drivers. A sticker bragging about the device is supplied, for those needing to make their PC case look like a weathered steamer trunk.

The card itself comes in the ubiquitous anti-static bag, with the appropriate warning to use caution to avoid static discharges that might have a deleterious effect on the unit. The unit is pictured below.
We can see the flash NAND banks on the right, two of the four (X2 models only) controllers (the latest and greatest Sandforce SF-2281), with the OCZ SuperScale controller acting as the commander in chief. The latter component, new to the Revodrive 3 line, provides the PCI-E to SAS mapping, and implements OCZ's VCA, with optimized queue balancing and DMA access. Utilizing both tagged and native command queue balancing, OCZ achieves linear scaling in a raid-like (not raid, but a proprietary array architecture, according to OCZ) fashion. VCA also provides TRIM and SCSI UNMAP (the SCSI equivalent of TRIM) that help stabilize and maximize performance while minimizing write amplification. Do note - the current OCZ drivers do not currently support Windows TRIM, but OCZ promises a solution in the future.

The performance claims are impressive (from OCZ):
  • Read: Up to 1500 MB/s
  • Write: Up to 1250 MB/s
  • Max Random Write 4KB (Aligned): 230,000 IOPS
This is performance at an enterprise device level, equaling and in some cases exceeding devices I have owned (e.g. Fusion IO-Drive) at a small fraction of the price.

Installation in my case took all of three minutes: open PC case, remove PCI slot cover, insert and secure the card, close the PC case. All that is required is one PCI-E 2.0 x4 (or better) slot. Driver installation takes another minute or so. That's it. If installing Windows 7 (is anyone really still using older Windows?) directly to the device, the appropriate files can be placed on a USB drive, or on an existing hard disk in the machine, and accessed when at the initial installation device selection screen for the Windows installer via the driver load option.

I installed windows (seemed a snappy install, but I didn't bother timing it), and a game I play known for lengthy load times (ARMA II / OA). As with the windows install, the game install seemed swift, but again, I did not bother timing it.

Windows black screen "Starting Windows" to the login screen takes scant seconds on my small gaming rig (2600K @ 4.8 GHz, 16 GB Ram, Z68 MB, dual GTX 580 in SLI, etc.), quite comparable to my rigs with dedicated external multi-SSD raid setups. The actual initialization of the Revodrive bios adds a few seconds (5 or so) to the wait.

ARMA certainly loads as fast as I've seen it short of a RAMdisk. Comparing it side-by-side to a high specification machine with a single high performance SSD, the Revodrive allowed me to get to the "ready" state several seconds more quickly. Not a huge increase, but I didn't expect one - this game shows a big jump in load speed going from even fast hard drives (think Velociraptor) to even a mid-range SSD. Other confounding factors result in less than linear load speed improvements with drive throughput improvements. The bottom line, however, is that the Revodrive 3 X2 equaled the performance of my dedicated 8 SSD hardware raid system in load times for the game, at roughly one-quarter of the cost. Impressive, to say the least.

On more strenuous tests, the drive really shines. Imagine running multiple installations of windows in a virtual machine (Oracle's VirtualBox for my tests) and seeing Windows 7 boot in under eight seconds, and getting a Windows Experience disk score of 7.7 in the virtual machines including the overhead and inefficiencies of the virtualized I/O! The Revodrive makes running multiple instances of high-I/O applications and virtual machines trivial and a real delight.

I won't bore the reader with extensive benchmarks, as these can be found elsewhere in droves. Suffice to say, a quick ATTO benchmark shows my device exceeding its specifications nicely:

A most impressive achievement for the price of admission.

In addition to outstanding performance as a storage or boot device, the Revodrive driver exposes a device that Windows (Vista, 7) sees as ReadyBoost capable. This will allow for using part of the Revodrive as a cache for your system hard disk (this assumes, obviously, that you choose to use the Revodrive as a fast storage device, and not as the system device).

This provides benefits à la Intel's SRT (Smart Response Technology) found as an option in Z68 based motherboards, but without the restrictions of requiring a Z68 chipset and a 64 GB cache size limit. I plan on investigating the benefits of this kind of configuration in the future: after all, few boot their machines so often that the few seconds off of boot time using an SSD for the system drive really becomes crucial, yet letting Windows intelligently cache hard disk activity, along with being able to use the same SSD as fast storage for selected files regardless of cache candidacy seems quite attractive and interesting. I don't expect huge benefits considering capabilities of the typical gamer's PC, but my curiosity has me planning some tests.

Do note: There has been some confusion regarding the availability of a 240 GB Revodrive 3 X2 at a much more palatable price point. This appears to have been the result of a misprint in the OCZ pre-release information, further promulgated by various pre-release reviews. At this time, however, OCZ is not releasing an X2 in this capacity. The non-X2 Revodrive 3, utilizing a configuration lacking the mezzanine card containing the extra set of controllers and flash NAND, still offers respectable gains over the prior generation of 240 GB units, just not the extreme performance of the X2 series.

Should the avid gamer purchase a Revodrive 3 X2? Only you can decide what fits your own needs and budget. At $1650 to $2300 currently on-line, it is a pricey proposition. You could get roughly equivalent performance by purchasing a dedicated quality raid card and four fast dedicated SSDs and save a few bucks. But, you'd give up TRIM support, and the solution, with all the additional cables and configuration, would clearly lack the plug-an-play, "it just works" elegance of the Revodrive. For the green readers, the Revodrive should also be more frugal in its power requirements.

If you want the current top-of-the-hill performance at this price level, the Revodrive 3 X2 480 GB (or its more capacious 960 GB bigger brother) are the only game in town at this time. You simply won't find anything else that combines the performance, footprint, and elegance of this product for now. A logical and close second option is the 240 GB Revodrive 3. At ~$650 on-line, it presents most of the performance of the X2 line (likely little subjective difference for the gamer) at a price that is most attractive.

Either choice will net the hardware enthusiast performance that was only dreamed of not long ago, and was priced at $10,000 and up just a few years ago. And neither is likely to be a bottleneck for game level loading.

Edit (07/29/11): It appears, from the Global Marketing staff at OCZ, that as of now, there is a 240GB X2 version getting ready for release. Part RVD3X2-FHPX4-240G, expect a price somewhere north of $700. Looks like stupid fast storage just got more affordable for the dedicated gamer!

Well done, OCZ!


1 comment:

  1. Nice review...unfortunately, at $1600 it is still an expensive luxury that I personally cannot afford. Lets hope that other companies see this product and begin to offer similar products and drive the prices down. That being said, I know I would see a huge performance boost.

    Stop reviewing hardware, you make me want to spend money I don't have!