When OCZ released the original Agility SSD last year, it opted to use the then-revolutionary Indilinx Barefoot controller to provide great performance. In order to bring prices below those of the Intel alternatives ruling the roost at the time, OCZ coupled it with somewhat slower NAND flash chips than those used in its flagship Vertex line.
Fast forward twelve months and the fastest SSDs are now based on Marvell and SandForce controllers, so it should come as little surprise that the Agility 2 is based upon the latter. As with its previous incarnation, the Agility 2 is aimed at a more price-conscious audience than the Vertex 2, though this time the NAND flash employed is the same full-speed variant used in OCZ’s flagship. The two instead differ in their controller, with the Agility using the SandForce SF-1200 chip and the Vertex using the pricier SF-1500.
In terms of actual silicon the two chips are seemingly identical, though the SF-1500 has a different firmware that allows for considerably better small file random write performance. While the Vertex boasts a Random Write 4k specification of 45,000 IOPS, the Agility is more than four times slower and delivers only 10,000 IOPs. The rest of the specification is otherwise identical. In order to see if this difference resulted in a tangible deficit in real world performance we carried out a few benchmarks.
In PC Mark Vantage’s hard disk test the two drives were equally matched, delivering a near-identical score of just over 16,000 marks. In our sequential read and write benchmarks the two drives also came out neck and neck; 266MB/s for read and 250MB/s write. When copying files, loading game levels and installing software the two drives performance equivalently once again, with a difference of less than 1 percent.
Only when we specifically engineered a situation in IOmeter to test for small file random writes did we detect a difference. While the Vertex 2 managed just over 160MB/s in a 4k random write test, the Agility managed just 44MB/s. Even this result is competitive with other drives on the market, however, matching the Intel X25-M and being more than 10x faster than the original Indilinx-based Agility.
We are confident that home users will not experience any performance penalty from opting for an Agility 2 rather than a Vertex 2. The discrepancy in small file random writes will be an important factor in certain enterprise and server roles, but for home desktop use we can’t imagine a situation where a limitation in this particular performance metric would cause a problem.
The Agility 2 has been priced competitively when looking at current drive prices. The 120GB version we tested can be purchased for £188, which works out to around £1.57 per GB. Intel’s slower X25-M is still coming in at over £2 per GB, making this something of a bargain.
Users still unconvinced by the scale of the benefits of using a solid state drive as their Windows boot partition are doing themselves a huge disservice. The hard disk has long been an immense bottleneck to the PC architecture and a fast SSD takes huge strides towards alleviating that. The only downside is that once you begin using the technology you’ll find conventional disk-based systems a chore, no matter how fast the rest of their specification.
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