Final Words

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
Corsair Force 128GB 93.1GB $410 $3.203 $4.403
Corsair Nova 128GB 119.2GB $369 $2.882 $3.096
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.

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  • johnlewis - Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - link

    Thanks for another great article. I'm patiently waiting for a (decent) 512 GB SSD in my budget so I can just throw everything besides media files on it; 256 GB might work, if I wasn't so damn lazy. Plus, I'd rather have a half full 512 GB drive than a 90+% full 256 GB drive. Reply
  • retnuh - Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - link

    90%+ full 256gb, I hear ya. I've been digging over as many SSD reviews as I can in the last couple days. I WANT to replace my 256gb 5400rpm in my notebook, but just can't quite squeeze everything into 200gb. Reply
  • gadgetguy10 - Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - link

    I am waiting until the price is at least down to $1 per gigabyte for a decent ssd. I figure I can get by with about 128gb of space. Reply
  • retnuh - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    my problem is the ~120gb of development VMs, I can't get rid of them, but since I'm in vmware all day a SSD would be heaven sent for general performance. I'm keeping things pretty slim at ~190gb out of 256gb, but that 200gb mark is just too tight. I'd buy a 300gb agility 2 today if it existed. Reply
  • 529th - Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - link

    I thought the OWC controllers were discovered to have the SF 1200 controllers?

    Also, can we get a review on the 50g Vertex LE that are selling at New Egg, Thanks
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - link

    Those numbers are from the older OWC Mercury which used a limited run of SF-1500. The newer drives going forward are SF-1200 based. I'll be phasing them out of our graphs as a result.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • dmayes - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    When are we going to see benchmarks on the new intel driver that's faster than microsoft's driver and it supports trim with raid and we shouldn't go off of just prices MSRP but actual newegg prices and maybe even have a low to high # for example Intel X25-M Mainstream SSDSA2MH160G2R5 ($400 - $489). Also include the 80gb version specially since its around $215 - $225 Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    I agree on the prices... Street prices of OCZ's Indillix drives are much lower than that Corsair Nova for instance, since OCZ ALWAYS has $20-30 rebates going on their drives (and they're just cheaper to begin with)... OCZ's Nova equivalent, the Solid 2, is like $300 flat after MIR.

    Intel's newer SATA drivers don't enable TRIM in RAID, just w/RAID... You can have a SSD w/TRIM support and two HDD in RAID on the same controller with said drivers (something you couldn't do before), but you still can't RAID two SSD and retain TRIM support. AFAIK they didn't dramatically alter performance either but if you've got a link to tests that say otherwise I'd love to see it... I haven't bothered to install them yet.
    Reply
  • eaw999 - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    but you do have to admit it is strange that imsm 8.9 was used for the testbed instead of irst 9.6. 8.9 doesn't support trim at all! one has to wonder how this might affect (or not) the benchmark scores. Reply
  • dmayes - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    "The SandForce SF-1200 controller used in the A-DATA S599 with Intel’s latest RST 9.6 drivers is the fastest 2.5 inch solid state drive for Windows users at this time. This combination is able to outperform every other drive we have tested to date in all around performance." Source tweaktown but they compared it to another 1200 drive instead of using the same ssd with both drivers. This is what intel says "Is there TRIM support for RAID configurations?

    Intel® Rapid Storage Technology 9.6 supports TRIM in AHCI mode and in RAID mode for drives that are not part of a RAID volume.

    A defect was filed to correct the information in the Help file that states that TRIM is supported on RAID volumes."
    Reply

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