OCZ Agility 3 SSD Review

Author: Chris Ledenican
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/OCZ_Agility_3/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The dynamic of OCZ has really changed over the last year, as the company transitioned from being primarily a DRAM manufacturer to one that focuses mainly on the SSD (solid state drive) market. This shift is driven by the market's 380 percent year-over-year growth of the SSD market, which is expected to increase further still. With their focus now being on SSDs, OCZ has been releasing many great drives, with the majority utilizing the SandForce controller.

The latest drive from OCZ is the Agility 3, a consumer-grade SSD that uses the latest SandForce SF-2281 processor along with a SATA 6Gbps interface. This allows the Agility 3 to support read speeds of up to 525MB/s, write speeds of 500MB/s and random Write 4KB perfomance of 45,000 IOPS. For the most part these specifications are similar to OCZ's Vertex 3, which uses the same controller and SATA interface. However, the two models have a key difference that allows the Agility 3 to have a more mainstream MSRP.

The difference between the two models is that the Vertex 3 uses synchronous NAND, while the Agility 3 uses asynchronous NAND flash. Essentially, this lowers the price of the of the Agility 3, which currently is offered in 60GB, 120GB and 240GB capacities and is priced at $149, $249 and $469 respectively. Even while these prices are lower than the more expensive models, they are still all priced at roughly $2 per gigabyte of storage.

Specifications
Availability
60GB, 120GB and 240GB capacities
Performance
Max Read: up to 525MB/s
Max Write: up to 500MB/s
Random Write 4KB: 45,000 IOPS
Maximum 4K Random Write: 85,000 IOPS
NAND
MLC NAND Flash
Interface
SATA 6Gbps / Backwards compatible 3Gbps
TRIM Support
Yes
Seek Time
.1ms
Design
Slim 2.5" design
dimensions 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm
Weight
77g
Operating Temp
0°C ~ 70°C
Ambient Temp
0°C ~ 55°C
Storage Temp
-45°C ~ 85°C
Power Consumption
 2.7W Active, 1.5W Idle
Shock Resistant
Up to 1500G
compatibility Windows 7, Vista, XP, Mac OSX and Linux
MTBF
2 million hours
Warranty
3 years

The Agility 3 comes packaged in a box that stays true to the roots of the Agility series by using the same green and black colors on the packaging. Besides the color scheme, the packaging is actually rather simple and only includes the drive's speed, storage capacity and model. The back panel of the box also lists additional specifications and gives the consumer a quick summary regarding the Agility series of drives.

The inner packaging is standard for an SSD, with a dense foam casing that can be opened like a book. Inside you'll find the SSD, a manual and a sticker that proudly states "My SSD is faster than your HDD". The only accessory missing is a 3.5" to 2.5" connector convertor, but since most cases can support a 2.5" drive now, this should not be a huge issue, especially for anyone that can afford drop nearly $500 on a hard drive.

Where this model differentiates itself is the latest SF-2281 controller. The new controller has all the same features as previous generation SandForce processing units, such as their DuraClass and RAISE Technologies, but the new controller can support blazing fast sequential read and write speeds of over 500MB/s and random reads of up to 60K IOPS.

Another main difference between the Agility 3 and other OCZ drives such as the enterprise grade Vertex 3 is the NAND modules it uses.  The Agility 3 includes sixteen internal 25nm micron asynchronous NAND modules. The benefit to the consumer here is that asynchronous NAND is cheaper and will effectively lower the price of the Agility drives, but there are some potential downfalls. Maximum performance will be limited to 50MB/s per channel, and unlike synchronous devices, asynchronous NAND does not sync with a host clock. The SF-2281 controller handles most of the operations for the drive though, so even while the Agility 3 does not use enterprise grade NAND, there should be no real impact on the consumer.

The Agility 3 SSD uses a SATA 6Gbs interface that allows for read speeds of up to 525MB/s, write speeds of 500MB/s and a random write 4KB performance of 45,000 IOPS. The SATA port on the device is backwards compatible, so the Agility 3 will work on the older SATA interface, but that will cap the performance at 3Gbps. Both the SATA data and power connectors are located next to each other, and in all the Agility 3 has a peak power consumption rating of 2.7W while active, and 1.5W while idle.

The physical appearance of the Agility series has only minimally changed over the years, and the Agility 3 is no exception. The outer casing of the drive includes a solid black plastic cover over that includes the Agility product sticker and a brushed aluminum base. The overall dimensions for the drive are 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm (3.9 x 3.7 x .3 inches), so any case should easily accomodate the Agility 3.

Test Setups

OCZ Agility 3 240GB

OCZ RevoDrive & OCZ Agility 2 60GB

Patriot Torqx 128GB, Corsair Force 120GB

Patriot Zephyr 128GB

 

Benchmarks Used

Since the drives were tested on two different platforms, we made sure that our benchmarks were not processor-bound. Hence why they are not exactly the same as in the OCZ Agility review.

File Copy

This test consists of copying our standard 100MB, 500MB and 1GB folder also used in our WinRAR test from one partition to the other, thus requiring reads and writes. The chronometer is started as soon as the "paste" button is clicked and is stopped whenever the window indicating the copy status disappears.

Out of all the SSDs that have entered the Neo labs, the Agility 3 is the first to transfer our largest 1GB file in under seven seconds. Still, even with the Agility 3 completing the transfer faster than any other drive, this test is somewhat limited due to the small size of our transfer files. The SandForce controller can transfer larger amounts of data with only minimal lag, but when transferring massive uncompressed data, the controller does lose some performance. For this reason we will be looking at adding larger transfer files into future review tests.

Windows 7 Boot & Shutdown

The title of this test says it all. The countdown starts as soon as we hit "Enter" in the boot manager, until the desktop has appeared and the LAN is connected.

Wow! That's about all that's needed to be said here.

Call of Juarez

This time, the score used is not the benchmark score, but rather the time it takes to load.

Far Cry 2

It's the same principle here for Far Cry 2's built-in benchmark.

The Agility 3 is just dominating all the SATA 3Gbps drives, as both games loaded in under ten seconds.

HD Tune

HD Tune is an application for benchmarking hard drives. This time, both the read and write tests will be run.

The Agility 3 achieved impressive results in the HD Tune read performance test, as it was able to maintain an impressive 491MB/s sustained read rating. The write performance, though good didn't quite hit the same level as the reads.

Write Amplification

What is measured here is the write performance loss due to the write amplification. As said on the first page, SandForce's DuraClass technology achieves a write amplification factor below one, so the write speeds should not suffer compared to some other drives which need a utility to be run on them to get the same performance. Since HDTune writes tests write speeds everywhere on the drive, running it twice in a row will force the drive to write on used sectors. The numbers reported in the following graph are the performance loss from the first run to the second, in percentage.

Like the other drives using the SandForce controller, the Agility 3 has little to no performance loss while using the drive for daily tasks.

Futuremark PCMark Vantage

PCMark is a benchmarking suite from FutureMark, who also make the renown 3DMark. It includes many tests to calculate overall system performance including hard drive performance. The hard drive suite performs tasks such as scanning for viruses, streaming, recording and more. It is a fairly good indicative of general real-world performance.

PCMark Vantage was the only program we used that saw the RevoDrive outperform the Agility 3. We believe the RAID array of the RevoDrive played a role here, and helped boast the total score in PCMark Vantage.

AS SSD

While most other storage benchmarks are designed with mechanical hard drives in mind, AS SSD, developed by Alex Schepeljanski, is built specifically for solid state drives. The application measure sequential and random read and write performance as well as access time. The first screen shot is of the OCZ Agility 3 then followed by the RevoDrive, Agility 2, Corsair Force, Patriot Torqx, and Zephyr drives.

The read scores in the AS SSD benchmark were very good, but it was the write scores that were the most impressive.

ATTO Disk Benchmark

The ATTO disk Benchmark, developed by a company of the same name, measures the storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. Once again, the first graph in order shows results from the Agility 3, RevoDrive, OCZ Agility 2, Corsair Force, Torqx, and Zephyr.

The Agility 3 had impressive performance across the board in our ATTO benchmark.

SiSoftware Sandra 2009

Sandra, by SiSoftware, is a tool capable of benchmarking about every component found inside a computer. In this case, we are using the physical disk tool, which measures read and write performance of a given drive.

The Agility 3 once again boasted excellent performance, as both the read and write scores were close to the drive's maximum transfer rating.

Going off the results of the OCZ Agility 3 SSD alone, it’s easy to say that this is one fast drive. Just looking at the performance increase from the previous generation Agility 2, we can see that the Agility 3 can at times double the performance of its predecessor, both in synthetic and real-world benchmarks. This led to incredible performance across the board, and is the direct result of the SF-2281 controller which allows this drive to support read and write transfer speeds of 500Mb/s. Additionally, the SATA 6Gbps interface allows the drive utilize the full potential of the new SandForce controller. Just remember to use this drive with the right SATA interface, or you will be sacrificing nearly half of the performance.

While testing the drive we watched for any instance where the asynchronous NAND had an impact on the overall performance of the Agility 3. While not all results will be the same, we can say that when the drive is used for standard tasks such as gaming, image editing, surfing the net, ect, there is going to be no impact on performance. So, for the average consumer the Agility 3 should perform equal to Vertex 3, but at a much lower price thanks to the asynchronous NAND memory.

Still, even while the Agility 3 is priced lower than the Vertex 3, it is still pushing $2 per gigabyte, which is a hefty price to pay for storage. Unfortunately, this is the current state of the SSD market, and the drives that are starting to be priced around $1 per gigabyte still use the older technology and will not yield results anywhere close to what the Agility 3 has to offer. So, for the time being, if you are looking for unparalleled SSD performance it is still going to cost you a premium. The Agility 3 does come in smaller capacities though, with the smallest 60GB model being priced at a relatively low $149.

In all, the Agility 3 is the fastest drive we have tested to-date, and an amazing product all around. It does, however, come with a higher premium per gigabyte than a traditional mechanical hard drive, but seeing how you can't even compare the two in terms of performance, we think the premium is well worth it.

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