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Written by Olin Coles   
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3
Closer Look: OCZ Agility 3 SSD
SandForce SF-2281 SSD Controller
Features and Specifications
SSD Testing Methodology
AS-SSD Benchmark
ATTO Disk Benchmark
CrystalDiskMark 3.0 Tests
Iometer IOPS Performance
EVEREST Disk Benchmark
PCMark Vantage HDD Tests
OCZ Agility 3 SSD Conclusion

SandForce SF-2281 SSD Controller

Illustrated below is the printed circuit board of a SandForce SF-2281 solid state drive, which is used for illustration purposes as it looks nearly identical to the OCZ Agility 3 as well as previous SandForce PCBs. Eight topside NAND flash modules sit in ranks behind the second-generation SandForce SF-2281 SSD processor, and plenty of electronics fill the remaining space in-between. Another benefit of SandForce's SF-2200 architecture is that all data recorded to the SSD remains on the NAND grid and removes the need for a separate cache buffer DRAM module. Once the SandForce SSD board is turned to expose the underside (image below), SandForce's efficient "DRAM-less" design features DuraClass technology to negate a separate memory buffer chip and enables a more flexible compact design. The result is a faster transaction, albeit at the expense of total storage capacity.

Previous SandForce SSDs utilized an over-provisioning technology, which allocated a portion of NAND for data storage and the remainder reserved for transaction and cache buffer space. Their latest controllers still use this technology, however SandForce claims that the 2200 series has a 0% minimum over-provisioning improvement, which could open up additional storage space if the remaining capacity made it necessary to complete a write cycle. Greater levels of over-provisioning are used by their SSDs built to sustain Enterprise duty cycles.

SandForce-SF2281VB1-SSD-PCB.jpg

SandForce introduces their new second generation solid state drives to both consumer and enterprise segments, with seven different models to choose from. On the consumer (retail) side you've got models using the older SATA 3Gb/s interface as well as the latest SATA 6Gb/s interface, while all enterprise drives utilize the 3rd-generation SATA 6Gb/s interface. More than any other factor, it's the Flash Channels/Byte Lanes configuration that these separate models. SandForce's SF-2000 series of SSDs continue to feature up to 8 data channels organized into 16 Byte lanes; similar to the previous generation of SF-1222/SF-1565 series SSD controllers, but now some models are scaled down for usage scenarios not requiring massive IO activity.

SandForce second-generation SF-2200 and SF-2100 SSD processors aren't just SATA 6Gb/s on paper - they actually require the bandwidth afforded to the host interface to deliver sustained sequential read/write performance up to 500 MB/s. SandForce DuraClass Technology is still a staple part of their feature set, but now include Trusted Computing Group (TCG) Opal-compliant Self Encrypting Drives (SEDs) support with AES-256/128 and double encryption. SF-2200 and SF-2100 SSDs also utilize high-speed ONFi2 and Toggle flash interfaces in single-level (SLC) and multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash families from all major suppliers. The last major difference is the reduced minimum over-provisioning requirement, which continues to use an integrated buffer but returns more capacity for storage assignment.

SandForce-SF2281VB1-SSD-PCB-Bottom.jpg

On the OCZ Agility 3 SSD, a new SATA 6Gb/s SandForce SF-2281VB1-SDC processor is part of their SF-2200 family of retail SSD controller chips, although and identical SF-2181 processor exists for older SATA 3Gb/s connections. Offering 8 flash channels with 8 Byte lanes configured (one lane per channel), the SF-2281 maintains a BGA-256 package whereas the top-end SF-2282 delivers two lanes per channel on a BGA-400 package. More detail is available in our SandForce SF-2000 Series SSD Processor Overview article.

All SandForce SSD controllers offer native TRIM garbage collection in supporting Operating System (such as Microsoft Windows-7), Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with 32 command slots, and basic Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology (SMART) command set. SandForce built the SF-2200 series to produce 500 MB/s Sequential Read and Write bandwidth with 60K (burst)/20K (sustained) IOPS Random Write (4K transfers).

SandForce-SF2281VB1-SDC-Controller.jpg

The SF-2200 SSD processor provides enhanced ECC with BCH data protection, and also includes SandForce's unique RAISE (Redundant Array of Independent Silicon Elements) technology. RAISE provides the protection and reliability of RAID on a single SSD drive, thanks to flash architecture, without the significant write overhead of parity. The SandForce DuraClass technology automatically stores data using Trusted Computing Group (TCG) OPAL security with 256-bit AES encryption and automatic, line-rate double encryption with a drive-level password, preventing data extraction directly from the physical flash memory modules.

Micron-29F128G08CFAAB-Flash-NAND.jpg

SandForce enables support for advanced 30nm- and 20nm-class NAND flash from all leading flash vendors with Asynch/ONFi1/ONFi2/Toggle interfaces with data transfer rates up to 166 Mega Transfers per second. Their latest generation of controllers also offers advanced ECC engine correcting up to 55 bits per 512-byte sector to assure high data integrity and support for future generations of flash memory. On the OCZ Agility 3 SSD, sixteen multi-layer cell Intel 29F128G08CFAAA NAND flash modules are joined to the SandForce SF-2281 controller. Consumer-level SandForce SSDs generally allocate 7% capacity over-provisioning and 128GB devices will yield 120GB of usable storage space.

Because the SandForce SF-2200 SSD processor is a non-exclusive component available market-wide, Benchmark Reviews expects to see several new solid state storage products using this same controller in the very near future. Please continue on to the next section for details on this particular model, and performance SSD test results...



 

Comments 

 
# RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Robert17 2011-06-22 14:12
Good review Olin.
I note in your rating under "cons" that you say "some manufacturers offer 5 yr warranty"; in the section for specifications OCZ lists "5 yr consumer life cycle". Is there something I don't understand? Is there or is there not a 5 yr warranty?
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# Only 3-Year WarrantyOlin Coles 2011-06-22 14:18
ocztechnology.com/ocz-agility-3-sata-iii-2-5-ssd.html
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# Fix the imagecubebomb 2011-06-23 11:16
The title and the image are different

#i.imgur.com/2qaBU.png
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# RE: Fix the imageOlin Coles 2011-06-23 11:19
Sure enough, they are. I'll fix that right now.
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# conssadegh 2011-07-27 09:45
why dont you mention to the weak firmware & frequently hang & freeze of this bad new ssd & just advertising this!!!!!!!!!!
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# RE: consOlin Coles 2011-07-27 09:53
Did my benchmark result give you the impression that this SSD had weak firmware? Did I ever mention freezing or crashing?

I can't just make things up out of thin air; I only report what I experience first-hand.
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# RE: RE: consReza 2011-08-03 11:20
I agree with @cons!
I had a Corsair Force 3 series (120Gig) that uses this controller and for one week i tested this and re-installed windows thinking it was a driver problem or mobo or something else. I realized it was the Disk.
It didnt last more then 1-2 day or sometimes 1h before Windows froze. Also the installation refused to create the System partition on it for some reason when i had a second disk connected.
so yes this controller is very bad and i recommend people staying away from it until its confirmed its fixed.

I now use an Intel 510. It worked right away. System partition no problem, stability = rock solid.

You can find more info about my nightmare and what i tested here:
##tomshardware.co.uk/forum/294888-12-corsair-system-freeze#t2002139

Tomshardware (@jaquith) was extremely helpful and gave lots of useful tips on the matter but sadly this is a hardware issue rather then software.
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# Makes Me CryGrrr Power 2011-08-01 23:09
Loved the speed and convenience of my Agility 3.... until it crashed, and wouldn't be detected on boot. A cold power-out reboot fixed this, but this happened at least once every 24 hours.
I sent it back. Within 48 hours of my second one, the same thing. OCZ recommended upgrading the firmware. Tried it. Wouldn't work. They recommended another whole bunch of steps, but frankly, I'd just like to buy something and have it work. I already built my own system, I don't want to spend hours or days messing with this stuff.
Tried system with a different drive, worked fine. Ran my SSD in a friend's system- same result. Sent it back to my supplier.
Received a replacement. Installed it on Sunday, crashed last night. I will never buy an OCZ product again.. sorry guys.. :(
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# RE: Makes Me CryOlin Coles 2011-08-02 08:00
Thank you for reporting your experiences with this product!
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# RE: Makes Me CryReza 2011-08-03 11:21
Read what i said above and

##tomshardware.co.uk/forum/294888-12-corsair-system-freeze#t2002139

The problem is the Disk and not your pc sadly :(
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# RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3David Ramsey 2011-08-02 08:05
Gee, mine's working great. So far.
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# Machine dependent freezing....Neil 2011-09-09 01:08
Installed Ubuntu on a 60gb OCZ agility ssd installed in a Compaq mini cq10 netbook, then transferred the drive to an Acer Aspire L350. Worked fine for a day but had one or two unexpected reboots, not specifically related to playing a movie that I noticed. I don't recall if a video had been running at the time, but I was just highlighting files to copy from an external WD Passport drive at the time it first rebooted. Seemed to work excellent for several hours after that, without any other signs of problems.


Put the ssd into my netbook. Worked fine for the entire duration of visiting a friend and copying about 30 gb of files to it. Put the ssd into my Acer .... Worked fine for a few minutes, but crashed about thirty seconds to a minute into watching a video. Reboots, then same again each time. Seems to work fine until I start watching a movie. Tested whether it was just that video that caused the reboot, but it wasn't the case. Other videos did the same. So I installed a different video player. I still hung after about thirty seconds or so with a different player. Took it out of the Acer and connected it to a sata to usb adapter, with external power source..... Worked long enough to copy off the movies to the other drive. Still seems to be working as an external drive, and for the netbook, but the real # is that I bought it specifically for the acer....


I think I'm going to use it where it seems to want to work properly, namely in the netbook, and start pricing an Intel 510. I've seen other similar good reviews of the 510 to what Reza mentioned above, but I didn't bother to look into it before taking the ssd leap of faith with OCZ. I was hoping the bad press OCZ has been getting was just a vocal minority. I might be joining them.....


Something about the Ubuntu installation just doesn't like the ssd running in my Acer, but has no problems with the netbook. Next thing to try would be to reinstall with the drive in the acer, but a live usb of Ubuntu won't boot on the acer, and I don't have a cd drive at the moment, nor an install disk.

I'm going to have to get an external CD drive, and a burnt copy of Ubuntu Live before I can try that.....
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# Machine dependent freezing....Neil 2011-09-09 01:34
Ignore, or delete that last comment....

The acer just rebooted while playing 30 seconds of a video from a regular hdd. Different copy of Ubuntu, different drive... leaves only the Acer itself to blame.

Guess that I'm not going to be shopping for an Intel 510 until after I get a new machine.....

The process of elimination solved that mystery. The ssd is still working fine.

You'd think that would be good news....
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# RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3David 2011-10-14 09:53
I have an Agility 3 60GB. I've had it in my acer slim desktop for the past 12 hours and I've not had a problem. I'm currently running Windows 8 Developer's Preview build 8102 (official pre beta release) I'm pretty happy with the performance of even faster booting due to the OS and the SSD. I'll eventually get around to installing win 7.
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# RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Howard 2012-02-13 02:54
Just pulled the trigger on buying the 120GB version of this drive. I was waiting to get my first SSD when the price went to $1.00 per MB. After reading the thorough review, (thanks Colin) and the posted feedback, I hope I'll be one of the satisfied ones. I will be doing a fresh, Windows 7, install on older hardware and will check and update the firmware immediately. I had read something on another site about the SATA driver on the motherboard and plan to get the latest BIOS and drivers as well. Thanks for the review and feedback.
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# RE: RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Howard 2012-02-13 02:58
Sorry, Olin, for the misspelling of your name!
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# RE: RE: RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Olin Coles 2012-02-13 07:24
It happens a lot, Howard... I curse my parents. OCZ recently published a firmware update, so it could be the last update we see for this drive for quite a while (which is a good thing). I really think you'll enjoy the SSD!
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Howard 2012-02-13 09:07
Olin,
Thanks for the reply! I am really looking forward to the drive. I have a question, if you don't mind. I am currently running XP and am planning to install the new SSD to my systemas a second drive, temporarily, to perform the firmware update before installing Windows 7 on it. From what I read on the OCZ website it states that you can't perform the update running XP. I created an Ubuntu Linux CD and tried it out. When I downloaded the Linux firmware update instructions it looks like it is not very user friendly, (no GUI,) and may be beyond my comfort level. As a firmware update is not supposed to lose data, should I install Windows 7 on the SSD first and then upgrade the firmware? Any downside that you can think of? Thanks again for your great review of the drive and any assistance you can provide.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Olin Coles 2012-02-13 09:16
As much as I love and miss Windows XP, I admit that it's not the best fit for a SSD. I highly suggest Windows 7, if not for the added TRIM garbage collection and improved AHCI support, at least have it for DirectX 11 graphics support in games. As for the firmware update, the Linux version is actually pretty easy if you follow the instructions. Please visit the OCZ forum for more details and firmware update guides.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: OCZ Agility 3 SSD AGT3-25SAT3Howard 2012-02-13 09:23
I don't plan to use the SSD on XP, only to upgrade the firmware and then load 7. If it's important to upgrade the firmware before loading 7, I will follow your advice and try to muddle through the Linux steps and see what happens. I had read about trim, etc, and know that it is not supported in XP. Defrag turned off as well! Thanks again!
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# Easier if SSD is not the boot driveBruce Bruce 2012-02-13 09:22
Are you hooking the OCZ Agility up as a secondary drive in a running system? I've had the best luck doing it that way....
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# RE: Easier if SSD is not the boot driveHoward 2012-02-13 09:26
Bruce Bruce, Yes, but only to upgrade the firmware. Then I am planning to do a fresh install of Windows 7 with a standard drive to hold programs and data.
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