|OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Storage|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 22 June 2011|
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OCZ Agility 3 SSD Review
Manufacturer: OCZ Technology Group, Inc.
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by OCZ.
It might not seem like SSDs have been around very long, but OCZ has been a pioneer in the technology for almost four years already. They've traditionally offered several different options for performance enthusiasts, from economic yet responsive storage to premium high-speed enthusiast solid state drive solutions. While their Vertex series deliver the fastest SSD's available, the more affordable Agility family accommodates cost-conscious builders and comes available in 60-240GB capacities. In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the OCZ Agility 3 SSD, model AGT3-25SAT3, which is based on the SandForce SF-2281 SATA 6Gb/s controller and IMFT-branded async-NAND flash components.
OCZ Technology first introduced their OCZ Agility series shortly after the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, which impressed consumers with an impressive blend of performance and value using the latest Indilinx Barefoot storage controller. Indilinx would go on to have a phenomenal year, and capture the consumer market with that same Barefoot controller. But market dominance is a short-lived success, and at the 2010 CES there was a new player in the market: SandForce Inc. This new company promoted the SandForce SF-1200 SSD Processor, which operated faster and more efficiently than the competition, and would be the foundation for OCZ's Agility 2 Solid State Drive. Like clockwork, OCZ debuted their next-generation enthusiast storage platform at the recent 2011 CES, and introduced their Agility-sequel to the market a short while later.
For many within the industry, SandForce was seen to control the 2010 market in much the same way that Indilinx did in 2009. The difference now is that SandForce's platform offers several technical benefits that the Indilinx platform was not capable of. Already into the Q3-2011, the landscape is approximately the same, but with some interesting new twists. OCZ Technology has recently acquired Indilinx, and while there's no word on any new project developments they've moved forward with the Agility 3 SSD based on the second-generation SandForce's SF-2281 SATA 6Gb/s controller. OCZ promises 80,000 combined IOPS from the Agility 3, with up to 525 MB/s read transfer speed. Benchmark Reviews confirms that they're keeping this promise with tests of the new storage device on a B3-stepping Sandy Bridge platform.
The second-generation SF-2281 SSD processor maintains all of the original core technology SandForce originally introduced in the SF-1200 series, but now improves SSD performance with 20% faster IOPS and 40% faster sequential read/write throughput. They've enhanced BCH ECC capability, and the new processor now supports ATA-7 Security Erase. Finally, the new SF-2200 series implements cost-effective 20nm-class NAND flash from all leading flash vendors with Asynch/ONFi1/ONFi2/Toggle interfaces.
Even after decades of design improvements, the hard disk drive (HDD) is still the slowest component in any personal computer system. Consider that modern desktop processors have a 1 ns response time (nanosecond = one billionth of one second), while system memory responds between 30-90 ns. Traditional hard drive technology utilizes magnetic spinning media, and even the fastest spinning mechanical storage products still exhibit a 9,000,000 ns / 9 ms initial response time (millisecond = one thousandth of one second). In more relevant terms, the processor receives the command and must then wait for system memory to fetch related data from the storage drive. This is why any computer system is only as fast as the slowest component in the data chain; usually the hard drive.
In a perfect world all of the components operate at the same speed. Until that day comes, the real-world goal for achieving optimal performance is for system memory to operate as quickly as the central processor and then for the storage drive to operate as fast as memory. With present-day technology this is an impossible task, so enthusiasts try to close the speed gaps between components as much as possible. Although system memory is up to 90x (9000%) slower than most processors, consider then that the hard drive is an added 1000x (100,000%) slower than that same memory. Essentially, these three components are as different in speed as walking is to driving and flying.
Solid State Drive technology bridges the largest gap in these response times. The difference a SSD makes to operational response times and program speeds is dramatic, and takes the storage drive from a slow 'walking' speed to a much faster 'driving' speed. Solid State Drive technology improves initial response times by more than 450x (45,000%) for applications and Operating System software, when compared to their mechanical HDD counterparts. The biggest mistake PC hardware enthusiasts make with regard to SSD technology is grading them based on bandwidth speed. File transfer speeds are important, but only so long as the operational IOPS performance can sustain that bandwidth under load.
Bandwidth Speed vs Operational Performance
As we've explained in our SSD Benchmark Tests: SATA IDE vs AHCI Mode guide, Solid State Drive performance revolves around two dynamics: bandwidth speed (MB/s) and operational performance (IOPS). These two metrics work together, but one is more important than the other. Consider this analogy: bandwidth determines how much cargo a ship can transport in one voyage, and operational IOPS performance is how fast the ship moves. By understanding this and applying it to SSD storage, there is a clear importance set on each variable depending on the task at hand.
For casual users, especially those with laptop or desktop computers that have been upgraded to use an SSD, the naturally quick response time is enough to automatically improve the user experience. Bandwidth speed is important, but only to the extent that operational performance meets the minimum needs of the system. If an SSD has a very high bandwidth speed but a low operational performance, it will take longer to load applications and boot the computer into Windows than if the SSD offered a higher IOPS performance.