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OCZ Agility EX Series SSD Review
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Date: Dec 28, 2009
Section:Storage
Author: Mathew Miranda
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Introduction and Specifications

When shopping for an SSD, consumers are confronted with two general options: single-level cell (SLC) or multi-level cell (MLC) flash memory based drives. The market is filled with numerous drives featuring MLC chips that are primarily aimed at more mainstream users. These products are typically less expensive and offer larger capacities than their SLC-based counterparts. On the other hand, drives featuring SLC flash memory offer increased performance and greater reliability, but cost much more as a result of these advantages. Due to the high asking price, single-level cell SSDs typically target the enterprise market where the extended endurance feature is an important consideration.    


OCZ Agility EX Series 60GB SLC Solid State Drive

Until recently, the price gap between SLC and MLC solid state drives has been massive. Single-level cell drives can cost anywhere from three to four times the price of multi-level cell SSDs of the same capacity. Even for the most extreme hardware enthusiasts, it made very little sense to splurge on an SLC drive considering the value, size, and continuous performance enhancements occurring in MLC products. But now, OCZ aims to fill the price gap with the release of the most affordable SLC drive on the market. The Agility EX Series SSD features a 60GB capacity, 64MB cache, and the popular Indilinx Barefoot controller. Advertised performance is expectedly impressive, with read speed up to 255MB/s and write speed reaching 195MB/s. By combining a new, lower price point with all the advantages of SLC technology, has OCZ finally produced the perfect SSD? Read on to find out how the Agility EX performs and if it deserves to be on your upgrade list.   

OCZ Agility EX Series SATA II SSD
Specifications and Features
  • Available in 60GB capacity
  • 64MB Onboard Cache
  • SLC NAND
  • Seek Time: < .1ms
  • Slim 2.5" Design
  • 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm
  • Lightweight 77g
  • Operating Temp: 0C ~ 70C
  • Storage Temp: -45C ~ +85C
  • Low Power Consumption
  • 2W in operation, .5W in stand by

 

  • Shock Resistant 1500G
  • RAID Support
  • MTBF 1.5 million hours
  • 3 year warranty

60GB Max Performance

  • Read: Up to 255MB/s
  • Write: Up to 195MB/s
  • Sustained Write: Up to 100MB/s

 



The Agility EX Series SSD only comes in one flavor. With 60GB of storage capacity, the drive also includes 64MB onboard cache which, in combination with the newer Indilinx controller, resolves the stuttering issues found in some previous generation SSDs. Physically, it is the same size as any other 2.5" solid state drive on the market and just as lightweight. The specifications of interest are the performance ratings the drive claims to be capable of. Boasting some of the fastest sequential read / write speeds we've seen from a SATA drive, the Agility EX promises to be a real performer. Let's take a closer look at the features and abilities of OCZ's latest solid state drive. 
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A Closer Look at the Agility EX Series

Without a doubt, OCZ has been one of the most active SSD manufacturers in the industry. They offer models at several price points and various performance levels, with additional products arriving like clockwork. Here, we list their current 2.5" SSD lineup with a quick summary of specifications for each drive.


At $400, the Agility EX Series is the most affordable 60GB SLC drive on the market. SLC is rated for 100,000 read / write cycles, compared to 10,000 for MLC products. Theoretically speaking, an SLC based drive should last about 10X longer. Although there's not a lot of storage available, the drive can easily fit an operating system along with a few key applications. Additional storage will likely be required for music, pictures, and videos, etc. 

 


OCZ Agility EX Series SSD Close Up

The images above give you a better look at the Agility EX Series SSD. It uses a 2.5" form factor and sports a black alloy housing with silver base that provides a lightweight and durable enclosure. Along with the SATA data and power connectors, there is a two pin jumper located at the edge of the drive. Although it is branded at a 60GB model due to its formatted capacity, it is actually a 64GB drive.

With the release of Windows 7, TRIM support on SSDs has become increasingly valuable. Agility EX Series drives from OCZ have been shipping with firmware 1.4 already installed and fully support TRIM. For those looking to update the firmware for this drive, files and directions are available on OCZ's technology forum here.

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Test System and IOMeter

Our Test Methodologies:  Under each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 920


Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme
(X58 Express Chipset)


GeForce GTX 280

6144MB Corsair DDR3-1333
CAS 7

Integrated on board

Western Digital Raptor - OS
OCZ Agility EX Series 60GB
OCZ Vertex Series 120GB
Corsair P256
Intel X25-M Gen 1 80GB
Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB

OS -

Chipset Drivers -

DirectX -

Video Drivers
-
Relevant Software:
Win Vista Ultimate SP2


Intel 9.1.0.1012

DirectX 10

NVIDIA ForceWare v182.50


Benchmarks Used:
HD Tach 3.0.1.0
ATTO ver 2.34
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra XII SP2
IOMeter
CrystalDiskMark


 IOMeter
 I/O Subsystem Measurement Tool


In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns; one with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and one with IOMeter's default access pattern of 2K transfers, 67% reads and 100% random access.

Its surprising to see where the Agility EX stands in comparison to our reference drives. In this benchmark, it falls in the middle of the pack and is easily outpaced by both of the Intel SSDs in the group. Also, the average response time of the Agility EX trails every other drive in this comparison.

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SiSoft SANDRA

Testing began with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSD's. The benchmarks were run without formatting and read performance metrics are detailed below. We also included SANDRA's graph so you are able to see how the drive performs over time along with the average rated result.

 SiSoft SANDRA 2009
 Synthetic Benchmarks

OCZ Agility EX Read Performance


OCZ Agility EX Write Performance



Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB


Intel X25-M Gen 1 80GB


OCZ Vertex Series 120GB


Corsair P256



Looking at read performance, the Agility EX performs well by almost reaching its maximum advertised speed. But Intel's X25-M Gen 2 SSD manages to beat out the Agility EX for the top spot. Admittedly, all the drives provided excellent results in the SANDRA benchmark. Let's take a look at some other tests to see what the Agility EX has to offer.

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO is a more straight-forward type of disk benchmark that measures transfers across a specific volume length.  It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart.  We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes over a total max volume length of 256MB.  This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with NTFS partitions in Windows Vista 64bit with SP2 installed.

ATTO Disk Benchmark - Read/Write Performance
Version 2.34


OCZ Agility EX Series SLC 60GB


Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB


Intel X25-M Gen 1 80GB 

 
OCZ Vertex Series 120GB

 
Corsair P256 256GB


As you can see, the Agility EX was not able to reach maximum performance until transfer sizes exceeded the 64kb mark. In this benchmark, the drive shows its capabilities by producing the fastest read performance of the group, although by a narrow margin. Nevertheless, the Agility EX produced a blazing transfer rate of 263.69 MB/s and exceeded the maximum read speed published by OCZ. In terms of write speed, it was second only to the 120GB Vertex Series drive. 

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CrystalDiskMark Performance

CrystalDiskMark is a new synthetic test we've started looking at that tests both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers.  It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with SSD performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers. 

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests


OCZ Agility EX - 60GB SLC SSD


Intel X-25M G2 - 160GB MLC SSD

The Agility EX provided superior results in the CrystalDiskMark test suite. At 258.7 MB/s sequential read speed, it actually surpassed its advertised performance once again. Furthermore, the drive turned in a blazing write speed of 193.5 MB/s. 4K reads were also strong, and 4K writes were good too, but the Intel drive's 4K writes were superior.
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HD Tach v3

Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

HD Tach v3
http://www.simplisoftware.com/


OCZ Agility EX Series SLC 60GB


Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB


Intel X25-M Gen 1 80GB


 
OCZ Verex Series 120GB

 
Corsasir P256 256GB



In HD Tach testing, the Agility EX produced the fastest write speed of the group by a wide margin, at 203.4 MB/s. It came in second place behind Intel's X25-M Gen 1 drive in read speed. Its clear that the Agility EX is a top performer when raw transfer rates are being measured.

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PCMark Vantage

Next we ran the OCZ Agility EX SSD through a battery of tests in PCMark Vantage from Futuremark Corp. We specifically used only the HDD Test module of this benchmark suite to evaluate all of the drives we tested. Feel free to consult Futuremark's white paper on PCMark Vantage for an understanding of what each test component entails and how it calculates its measurements. For specific information on how the HDD Test module arrives at its performance measurements, we'd encourage you to read pages 35 and 36 of the white paper.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance for its real-world application measurement approach to testing.  From simple Windows Vista start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel confident that these tests best illustrate the real performance profile of our SSDs in an end user/consumer PC usage model.

In these tests, the Agility EX came up a bit short as it trailed two out of the four drives overall in the comparison group. The drive performed similarly to the Intel SSD but a big surprise is the commanding lead that Corsair's P256 holds in these tests. 

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PCMark Vantage (Continued)

Our next series of Vantage tests will stress the current weakness of most SSDs, that being write performance. Applications like video editing, streaming, and recording are not what we would call a strong suit for the average SSD, due to their high mix of random write transactions.  We should also note that it's not so much a weakness of the memory itself, but rather the interface and control algorithms that deal with inherent erase block latency of NAND flash.  SSD manufacturers are getting better at this, but still today, there are issues to contend with.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

Here, the Agility EX redeemed itself by producing excellent results in this round of PCMark Vantage testing. It performed considerably well in the Media Center benchmark with a result of 199.03 MB/s, the fastest in this group. In the remainder of the tests, the Agility EX held a commanding lead over both Intel drives and the OCZ Vertex, but trailed Corsair's P256 SSD by a narrow margin. 

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Agility EX Series SSD performed well in our testing. Throughout the benchmarks, the average maximum read speed was 250 MB/s while average maximum write speed reached 197 MB/s. Although it never blew away the competition, the Agility EX consistently finished at or near the top in performance. Specifically, the drive turned in impressive scores during ATTO and CrystalDiskMark testing. But from these results, its clear that the performance advantage SLC drives once held over their MLC counterparts has been largely erased as both technologies as they are implemented in current SSDs are reaching the limits of SATA 3G transfer rates.

While we compared the performance of OCZ's SLC based drive to some of the fastest MLC SSDs on the market, price comparisons between the two types of drives are not as straightforward. At $400, the Agility EX costs over $6 / GB while the MLC drives we compare it to sell for half as much, about $3 / GB. While the price difference is considerable, its a lot closer than it has previously been. For example, the Vertex EX SLC drive runs over $10 / GB while Intel's X25-E sells for over $12 / GB.


The Agility EX is a fast drive, no doubt about it. But at 60GB, it won't take very long to fill up. After installing the operating system and a handful of important programs, there is not a lot of room left over. In addition, the market is already saturated with MLC based SSDs that can largely match its performance while providing more storage with lower prices. So the question remains, who wants this drive? This product provides an option for consumers who require the additional reliability that SLC memory offers. And as an aside, we'd like to give credit to OCZ for being the first to offer an affordable SLC based drive for the enthusiast market. While there are many options available for those who are looking to upgrade to an SSD, the Agility EX Series drive is a very attractive choice for anyone who requires the added longevity of SLC technology.

  

  

  • Superb performance
  • Least expensive SLC Drive 
  • Increased durability

 

  • Expensive when compared to MLC drives with similar performance
  • Low capacity


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