OCZ's Agility 2 Reviewed: The First SF-1200 with MP Firmwareby Anand Lal Shimpi on April 21, 2010 7:22 PM EST
OCZ's Agility 2 marks the beginning of mass production availability of SandForce hardware. We're not talking about release candidate firmware anymore, this is final hardware shipping with final firmware. SandForce told me that it's not aware of any major, potentially data threatening bugs in the SF-1200 mass production firmware. While something could always crop up (as we've seen from both Crucial and Intel in recent history), SandForce is very confident in what its partners are shipping today.
Despite the sort of handicap throwing fully randomized data at the SF-1200 provides, real world performance of the Agility 2 and other SandForce drives supports the idea that the DuraWrite architecture actually does work. The ironic thing is that the drives work so well in traditional desktop workloads that it's tough to believe they were originally designed for use in enterprise applications (which are potentially more random in the contents of their data). If you do have a highly random workload (or workload that's not easily compressible), then you end up with a drive that performs worse than any Intel or Indilinx solution. Something I theorized back in the early days of looking at SandForce, but something we're able to prove easier with the Q2 2010 branch of Iometer. I don't believe the Iometer results we've seen thus far are indicative of the sort of real-world performance you can expect out of SF-1200 drives on the desktop, but they're important to understand. Remember that SandForce itself found that installing Windows + Microsoft Office 2007 resulted in less than 50% of the data actually being written to the drive. Desktop usage models appear to work very well with SandForce's architecture.
Looking at the Agility 2 itself, you're not paying a tremendous premium for SandForce here but it is more expensive than anything from Intel or Indilinx:
|SSD Pricing Comparison|
|Drive||NAND Capacity||User Capacity||Drive Cost||Cost per GB of NAND||Cost per Usable GB|
|Crucial RealSSD C300||256GB||238.4GB||$680||$2.656||$2.852|
|Intel X25-M G2||160GB||149.0GB||$489||$3.056||$3.282|
|OCZ Agility 2||128GB||93.1GB||$379||$2.960||$4.071|
|OCZ Vertex LE||128GB||93.1GB||$394||$3.078||$4.232|
In our real world tests you're looking at roughly a 5 - 10% performance increase over Intel/Indilinx in typical use cases, and obviously much more if you're doing a lot of sequential writes compared to Intel. Do the drives "feel" faster than Intel's X25-M and other Indilinx offerings? It's tough to quantify, but I'd say they do. Everything seems a bit snappier than on machines I've configured with an X25-M G2. If you're looking for the absolute fastest SSDs on the market today you really only have two options: SandForce or Crucial (you can always just RAID two X25s together as well).
Then there's the issue of what SF-1200 based SSD to buy. With the Agility 2 you'll get the standard SF-1200 performance, while the Vertex 2 and Corsair's Force drives will give you a bit more in random write IOPS. Given the small price premium I'd almost recommend the Vertex 2 over the Agility 2. However as we've seen from our real world performance results, the performance impact is negligible. While I'm still testing all of this in actual systems, I presently don't believe the Vertex 2's additional performance is necessary for desktop use.
That brings us to the Corsair Force. Corsair's drive effectively gives you the performance of the Vertex 2, however there's the concern that we have no idea what the future firmware upgrade path will entail. As we've shown though, the standard SF-1200 performance isn't far off at all in the real world for desktop use.
I'll have to end this review with my usual words of caution. This is the first drive we've tested with SandForce's mass production firmware. While I've done my usual and put these drives in my own personal systems to test long term stability it's going to be a some time before we know how reliable these drives are going to be in the long run. I'm very pleased with the performance we're seeing here today, but we're just going to have to wait and see how the drives do in the field before making a blanket recommendation. Just be aware of the potential for problems that I haven't encountered in my review to crop up. As always, I'll keep you posted with anything I find.