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OCZ Agility EX 60GB SSD Review

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AkG

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OCZ Agility EX 60GB SSD Review




Manufacture Page: OCZ Agility EX Series SATA II 2.5" SSD
Part Number: 60GB - OCZSSD2-1AGTEX60G
TechWiki Info: OCZ Agility EX 60GB SSD - TechWiki
Warranty: 3 years



Over the past year we have looked at numerous SSDs and while some were merely OK, others really stood head and shoulders above the competition. Believe it or not, many of the first SSDs released onto the market still look quite good due to their use of high performance Single Layer Cells (SLC) but were hobbled by their use of less than optimal controllers. Unfortunately, price and an insatiable appetite for more capacity is what keeps less efficient Multi Layer Cell (MLC) units going strong. As such, SLC-based SSDs have traditionally been much more expensive than their lower-performing brethren…until today.

Today we are going to look at one of OCZ’s latest offerings: the Agility EX 60GB SSD. This little drive seems to have everything we would want in an SSD: a high-end Indilinx controller and SLC NAND. While it is new, finding it at retailers and e-tailers is a bit difficult but as we have said in the past: since it is an OCZ drive, we expect availability to be widespread shortly. If you can find it, it goes for about $400 which is about what you can get the MLC-based 120GB Vertex for. This may not sound like such a hot deal considering the $199 the standard Agility goes for but before making any assumptions, we suggest reading through the rest of this review.

We really can’t wait to see what this drive can do and we are very curious about how it is going to perform. After all, the Agility line holds OCZ’s traditionally mid-tier products and is supposed to focus on bang for buck performance. This to us poses the question: is the so called “decreased” power version of SLC NAND going to kick some major butt when compared the top of the line MLC based SSDs? If so, is the increase cost per GB (an area where SSDs don’t exactly shine) going to be worth it? To put it bluntly we can see ourselves “giving up” half the size of a drive only if it blows the doors off its MLC brethren.



 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications





<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AgilityEX/AgilityEX_SSD.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
 
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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



In typical OCZ fashion, the Agility EX comes in a black clad box with silver font. However, to help distinguish it from other OCZ products, there is a funky green piping on it, much like you would see a racing stripe on a high performance muscle car. It definitely helps highlight the box and helps it stand out from the crowd while still conveying a sense of speed that surprisingly works.


As expect the box has a picture of the Agility EX on the front and a good PR blurb on the back. Also in keeping with OCZ traditions, there are a few basic performance specifications listed on the back and while it may be on the sparse side at least it’s there along with performance numbers from other OCZ drives. This allows for an easy “apples to apples” comparison which will help first time buyers choose the right product for their needs.


Carrying on the traditions OCZ seems to have embraced, the internal protective packaging is just as good as the others we have looked at. The Agility EX comes safely nestled inside a foam and cardboard book-like package, with the drive itself wrapped in an anti-static bag.


Unfortunately, the traditional OCZ list of accessories is extremely sparse and consists of nothing more than a short information and installation pamphlet. This is their mid-tier product so on the one hand we can understand the reasoning behind not including any extras. On the other hand, this is a premium priced SSD and costs almost twice as much as OCZ “enthusiast” Multi-Layer Cell class SSD’s so an SATA cable would have really been a nice touch.
 
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A Closer Look at the OCZ Agility EX 60GB

A Closer Look at the OCZ Agility EX 60GB



If there is one thing that makes all OCZ’s Solid State Drives stand out, it is their iconic two tone colour scheme. This Agility EX may have improved internals but the outside is purely old-school OCZ. The “bottom” of the drive is done in a nude metal / silver colour and the rest of the drive is finished in pure black.

As with all SSDs we have reviewed in the past, you can mount this lightweight kit with either the more typical side screws or the alternate bottom screws. While these drives are designed to be hidden away, one thing is for certain: this one is down right handsome and it is a crying shame that you probably wont be able to show it off when it is installed.


The label which, as usual, resides on the top of the drive is very colourful. It seems the "racing stripe" green on the exterior packaging was only a taste of what was to come. Besides adding a splash of colour to this already beautiful drive, the label clearly states who manufactured the Agility EX along with its model and size.


Flipping the drive over we come to the other label, the label which is actually more important and useful than the colorful top one. This is where you will find the serial number of your Agility EX, the various standards it meets and most importantly: the maximum power draw of the unit. This unit is rated to draw 0.35A off the 5v line. This translates to a miserly 1.75 watts.

To put this in perspective a typical 2.5” high performance 7200rpm drive uses about 3 watts of power (about 0.6A on the 5v line) and the more “typical” 5400rpm uses about 2.4 watts (about .48A on the 5v line). One and a quarter watt does not sound like much, but if you are looking for the most energy efficient product, every bit counts. This goes double for laptop users, as this should translate into a slight or maybe even moderate improvement in battery life.


Moving on to the end of this drive we come to no surprises as this is a properly designed Indilinx unit and as such has two small jumper pins on the end for firmware updates. The importance of these pins is becoming less and less important for OCZ and other tier 1 Indilinx Solid State Drive manufacturers, as the last couple of firmware updates have been jumper-less ones. To us this small feat does not undermine the importance of these pins but it does show that OCZ takes the time (unlike some other companies) to get even the "little things" right. It really is better to have them and not need them…then to not have them and need them.
 
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AkG

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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions



As expected, the PCB itself and its layout are classic Indilinx. All in all you get: 16 flash chips (8 per side), one RAM chip and one Indilinx Barefoot controller chip….just like all the other Indilinx units we have looked at in the past. However, this drive did have an interesting surprise waiting for us. Let’s look at the controller chip and its ram first and then get to this intriguing twist on the typical Indilinx drive.


The I/O controller chip is of course none other than the Indilinx “Barefoot” IDX110 controller. Also as expected, this modern SSD comes with the Indilinx IDX110M00-LC version which is the latest and greatest of this mighty powerhouse. As noted in previous reviews, the Indilinx IDX110 is an ARM based, 4 channel controller with native SATA 3.0Gb/s, and supports capacities of up to 512GB.


The RAM which graces this board is made by Elpida and this was completely expected as every Indilinx SSD we have looked at uses Elpida modules. To be specific this single 64MB SDRAM chip is listed as S51321CBH-6DTT-F, though the actual Elpida part number is the EDS51321CBH-6DTT-M-F. This 1.8v ram chip runs at 166MHZ at CL3 and is rated for an operating temperature range of -20°C to 85°C.


Now we get to the interesting twist. Unlike every other Indilinx based SSD we have looked at, this drive does not use Samsung NAND chips. To be precise the Agility EX 60GB uses Intel 29F32G08FANC1 Single Layer Cell NAND chips. While Intel is not exactly as free with their specifications as Samsung is, what we do know is these chips are 50NM 32gigaBIT (4GB) chips. We also know that OCZ uses mixed batches in the same drive as ours had 090415 for the back 8 chips and 090815 for the front eight chips. This is not the first time OCZ has used Intel NAND chips as their MLC Agility model is also purported to use Intel but it is interesting that OCZ felt the need to outsource to Intel considering their supposedly strong relationship with Samsung.

These SLC chips are the secret sauce that sets this model apart from the regular Agility line. You have to remember that OCZ’s Agility Line is their mid grade line, yet we believe that this middle of the road SLC-based unit is going to eat the high end MLC Vertex for lunch. We feel comfortable making this prediction as Single layer NAND have only two states: on and off. Multi Layer NAND has 4 states: on, quarter on, half on & off. While MLC is cheaper and denser than SLC, SLC can perform writes MUCH faster as each bit (1 or 0) gets its own cell. This alleviates the need to erase a cell, put in the other bit of data which was stored their previously and then (and only then) write the new one. This should give this SLC drive one heck of an advantage. When it comes to reads we expect things to be a bit more even but as we all know it’s the write speed that separate a great Solid State Drive apart from a merely good one.
 
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TRIM, & Firmware

TRIM, & Firmware




For anyone wondering if the wiper.exe program works on SLC Indilinx’s drive like the Agility EX, the short answer is yes. The wiper program is not concerned about what kind of storage is being used since it sends the commands to the Barefoot controller and lets it deal with how to go about carrying out the commands. The easy way to think of this is like diesel and gasoline cars. Both have accelerators and all you have to do is push the pedal to make your car go. You don’t care how it does what it does, just that you get from point A to B.



However, the wiper.exe has just become a foot note for most users. This drive shipped with the latest and greatest firmware: 1.3. On the surface this looks like it’s a pre 1.4 firmware and thus has no Native OS TRIM abilities (ATA8 ACS2 TRIM) but looks can be misleading as the OCZ SLC versions of the Indilinx SSDs came out after the MLCs and thus are further ahead on the firmware curve. What this means is that 1.2 on an EX model is 1.3 on the standard MLC versions and more importantly, SLC firmware version 1.3 is the same as 1.4 on MLC based drives. This means that this drive supports TRIM right out of the box. With the advent of TRIM there is no need to run the wiper program. (EDIT: OCZ in a fit of wisdom has changed the naming scheme for the EX drives to avoid confusion. e.g. 1.3.1 is now called 1.4.1. IF you are running 1.3 / 1.3.1 there is no need to "update" to 1.4 / 1.4.1)

In an interesting move, Indilinx removed the more aggressive second generation NAND Launderer / Idle Time Garbage Collection from the new TRIM capable firmware BUT if you are like many and prefer it to TRIM (as it is supposedly faster but harder on the cells) they ALSO released firmware 1.3.1 / 1.4.1. You can easily switch between 1.4 and 1.41 with no ill effects as it is a non destructive firmware update. This is very good news, and does add an extra level of flexibility as not everyone will be using these drives with an OS that can issue TRIM commands (and even if you are you can try out both versions to see which one suits your needs better). In a nut shell, for all you die hard XP users who will not be upgrading to Windows 7 right away, 1.41.is the firmware you want to use. Bravo OCZ for meeting and beating our expectations.
 
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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a hard drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for SSDs to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the XP load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a WD 320 single platter drive.

For these tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HDTune, Cystal Disk Benchmark, h2benchw, SIS Sandra Removable Storage benchmark, and IOMeter for synthetic benchmarks.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long XP startup took, Adobe CS3 (w/ enormous amounts of custom brushes installed) took, how long a single 4GB rar file took to copy to and then from the hard drives, then copy to itself. We also used 1gb of small files (from 1kb to 20MB) with a total 2108 files in 49 subfolders.

For the temperature testing, readings are taken directly from the hottest part of the drive case using a Digital Infrared Thermometer. The infrared thermometer used has a 9 to 1 ratio, meaning that at 9cm it takes it reading from a 1 square cm. To obtain the numbers used in this review the thermometer was held approximately 3cm away from the heatsink and only the hottest number obtained was used.


Please note to reduce variables the same XP OS image was used for all the hard drives.

For all testing a Gigabyte PA35-DS4 motherboard was used. The ICH9 controller on said motherboard was used.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

Processor: Q6600 @ 2.4 GHZ
Motherboard: Gigabyte p35 DS4
Memory: 4GB G.Skill PC2-6400
Graphics card: Asus 8800GT TOP
Hard Drive: 1x WD 320
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):
G. Skill Titan: 0955
G.Skill Falcon: 1571 (AKA FW 1.3)
OCZ Apex: 955
OCZ Vertex: 1.3 (AKA FW 1571)
Patriot Torqx: 1571 (AKA FW 1.3)
Corsair P64: 18C1Q
OCZ Summit: 1801Q
A-Data S592: 1279 (AKA PRE 1.1 FW)
OCZ Agilit EX 60GB: 1.3 (AKA 1.4 for MLC Indilinx Drives)

Please note: The "G.Skill 64GB" listed in some of the graphs (the one with incomplete data) is the very first SSD we here at HWC reviewed. It does not have a name but its model number is FS-25S2-64GB and here is a link to our review of it.
 
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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture.

We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and this goes double for SSD based drives. The main reason we include it is to show what under perfect conditions a given drive is capable of; but the more important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.



Considering the fact that 60/64GB versions of all Indilinx drives have much lower performance specifications than the 120/128GB models, all we can say is WOW. As usual the “burst” numbers are wonky but this mighty little power house comes within striking distance of its much larger MLC-based brethren.


Write Performance


For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.


Wow, that is fast. We really hope and wish that OCZ will release a 120GB version of this beast as we can’t even imagine how much faster that would be. As it stands this drive lands firmly in first place and beats all competitors easily. Heck, with the exception of the Vertex, it down right destroys the other Indilinx’s SSDs in this test!
 
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Crystal DiskMark / Random Access

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5. When all 5 tests for a given section were run Crystal DiskMark then averages out all 5 numbers to give a result for that section.

Read



What is truly remarkable is not the sequential or 512k results but that amazing 4k result. Those numbers are down right scary good. Overall, in small 4k reads and sequential reads this drive lands firmly in first place. When it comes to the mid size 512k test the numbers place it in third, which is very good considering this "mid tier" drive is up against flagship performance models.


Write



As with the reads, the write performance in the 512k and sequential tests are extremely good, but once again the real standout is the small file write speed. It’s a solid second place and is darn near triple the speed of the other Indilinx’s in this test. Making this even more impressive is the fact that usually 60GB versions of Indilinx drives are not as fast as their larger brethren, so once again we really have to wonder how powerful a 120GB version of this beast would be. All we can say is we are very impressed with this little guy.


Random Access Time


To obtain the absolute, most accurate Random access time, h2benchw was used for this benchmark. This benchmark tests how quickly different areas of the drive can be accessed. A low number means that the drive space can be accessed quickly while a high number means that more time is taken trying to access different parts of the drive. To run this program, one must use a DOS prompt and tell it what sections of the test to run. While one could use “h2benchw 1 -english -s -tt "harddisk test" -w test” for example and just run the seek tests, we took the more complete approach and ran the full gamut of tests and then extracted the necessary information from the text file. This is the command line argument we used “h2benchw 1 -a -! -tt "harddisk drivetest" -w drivetest”. This tells the program to write all results in english, save them in drivetest.txt file, do write and read tests and do it all on drive 1 (or the second drive found, with 0 being the OS drive).


Just when we thought we couldn’t get any more impressed with this drive it goes and surprises us again. Even though the Agility EX uses the exact same controller as all the other Indilinx SSD’s we have reviewed, it beats them by a full .01ms (or 10%). Remember this guy is “only” OCZ’s mid-tier drive and thus has “slower” Single Layer Cells than the Vertex EX. If this is “slow” sign us up because slow never looked so good.
 
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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drive’s read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.

Read



Interestingly enough, this drive starts out slightly better and ends slightly better than the other Indilinx units, buts its mid-tier numbers are worse. If we were to hazard a guess, we would say that this is because of the difference in size of the drives tested. It is a known fact that right now the 120/128GB versions are the "sweet spot" for the Indilinx controller.


Write



Now this is very interesting. It appears that ATTO + Intel ICH10 + Agility EX is not a great combination. This drive rocks in other synthetics….but isn’t doing too well in this test. We are going to put this down as nothing more than a “zinger” or “outlier” and leave it at that.
 
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