OCZ Technology Agility 3 240GB SSD Review

On the surface the OCZ Agility 3 has everything you want in an SSD, but a deeper look reveals a darker side.

Manufacturer: OCZ Technology
12 minutes & 50 seconds read time


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I started testing the OCZ Technology Agility 3 a couple of weeks ago, but before writing it up took a few weeks to reflect on my findings. While away, I saw one of the greatest finishes ever at the Indy 500 unfold right in front of me and my wife and I welcomed a new addition in our hearts. Even with all of these events going on around me, the Agility 3 was on the back of my mind.

On the surface the OCZ Agility 3 looks like a great bargain, just like the Agility 2. You get a SandForce SF-2281 controller, the same used in the award winning Vertex 3 and the same great 3 year warranty. When the Vertex 2 and Agility 2 were launched over a year ago, the differences were in the programming and the Agility 2 was great value given that you got the same level of performance once the high IOPS burst of the Vertex 2 passed.

The differences between the Agility 3 and the Vertex 3 run deeper than just programming this round. The Vertex 3 uses synchronized flash, but the Agility 3 doesn't. Async flash isn't new, the Vertex 2 and Agility 2 both used async flash and it's been the standard for more than a year now. Today we'll see how IMFT async flash works with the SandForce SF-2281 controller and see if the OCZ Agility 3 is as good a bargain as the Agility 2 was last year.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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The specifications sheet for the Agility 3 is impressive, almost as impressive as the Vertex 3. Per the spec sheets there isn't much different between the two. The Vertex 3 has a little higher read and write speed in the 240GB capacity size and a little higher IOPS rating, but most users aren't going to notice a few spare MB/s here and there.

The Agility 3 has a few extras not found on the Vertex 3. First off, the Agility 3 is available in 60GB, a capacity size omitted by OCZ with the flagship Vertex drives. Then there is the price; the Agility Series has always been priced better than the Vertex Series when it comes to cost per GB.

The current pricing from Newegg shows the 60GB Agility 3 at 134.99, 120GB at 279.99 and the 240GB that we are testing today at 489.99 USD. These prices are very similar to the Vertex 3 drives of the same capacity size.

What you don't get with the Agility 3 drives is a desktop adapter bracket and synchronized flash. With so few SATA 6G notebooks on the market, a majority of these drives are headed for desktop computers and without a desktop adapter bracket then you are going to spend some extra to make everything fit as it should. After adding in the cost of the adapter bracket, the Agility 3 gets closer to the price of a Vertex 3. As for the async flash, read on to find out.

The Packaging

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The Agility 3 retains the color scheme found on the Agility 2. OCZ put together a nice package for the new mainstream SandForce drives; on the front we see the capacity size and a quick rundown of features.

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On the back there is a brief statement that covers the Agility 3 products, but on the bottom right side OCZ has included an accurate specifications list.

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We've already spilled the beans on the desktop adapter bracket, you don't get one. What you do get is a well packaged drive with a paper manual and a sticker that proclaims that your SSD is bad ass.

The OCZ Agility 3 240GB

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Our sample Agility 3 drive shipped with the new but soon to be replaced plastic casing. This outer shell will soon be replaced with a new version that fits Lenovo and HP notebook caddies. You can read more about the issue here, but we've been told everything will be resolved any day now.

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The back of the current casing has all of the under mounting positions as it should.

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The side mounting locations are also where they should be.

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The SATA power and data connections are located where they should be once you overlook the angled edge that gave us so much of an issue with the Lenovo notebooks.

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Here's where things get interesting. The Agility 3 uses Micron flash, but not the same found on the Vertex 3.

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There are 16 Micron async flash chips on the PCB, eight on each side.

Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI, Corsair and Noctua.

You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.

In my time away from the office, several Agility 3 reviews surfaced. I haven't read all of them, but I've briefed over several. At this time I'm confident that most SSD reviewers are spending about as much time with their samples as I did reading their reviews.

As I stated previously, on the surface the Agility 3 appears to be great, but you are reading this because you don't want to know what is on the surface; that information is available all over the place; press releases, the product webpage and in forums. Let's break the surface and see what's really happening and what kind of performance you will see with the Agility 3 in your system.

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

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ATTO gave us some exciting insight into the Agility 3. On the read side we found the Agility 3 delivering more performance than stated by OCZ, a full 550MB/s, the same as the Vertex 3. The write speed also matched the Vertex 3, 500MB/s. We think OCZ is downplaying the ATTO performance numbers in order to distinguish the Agility 3 from the Vertex 3. Both drives give you nearly the same performance in this benchmark that has became the industry standard for measuring marketing performance.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00
Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance
Info: shows detailed information
Health: checks the health status by using SMART
Error Scan: scans the surface for errors
Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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Several of the synthetic benchmarks use the 'on the surface' testing approach, so you'll have to hang tight until we get to our custom tests that show what's happening. We use these synthetics to get some general performance information. When it comes to reading across the drive, the Agility 3 240GB performs at the same level as the Vertex 3.

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Writing data across the drive gives us the same conclusion, the Agility 3 is very fast when writing data to the drive, around the same performance as the Vertex 3 240GB.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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Access times are what make SSDs feel fast and the Agility 3 can access data very quickly. At the bottom of the chart is a very fast, 10K RPM spinner and you can see that the Agility 3 will get your data to you much quicker.

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The write access time of the Agility 3 is also very quick. This allows the drive to finish one writing task and get on to the next one much faster.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark


Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info
Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html
Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

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In CDM we look at 4K and NCQ performance. The Agility 3 has a lower 4K IOPS rating than the Vertex 3 and the differences show up in these tests. Here we see the Agility 3 running behind the Vertex 3 in all the 4K tests.

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When it came to a straight 4K write, the Agility 3 was actually a little faster than our Vertex 3, but when commands were stacked the Agility 3 was a little slower.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/
Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender
HDD2 - Gaming
HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery
HDD4 - Vista Startup
HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker
HDD6 - Windows Media Center
HDD7 - Windows Media Player
HDD8 - Application Loading

Now that we have the synthetics out of the way, we can get down to real world tests. The OCZ Agility 3 performs at the same speed as the Vertex 3 240GB in the default PCMark Vantage test. Unfortunately this is another 'on the surface' test. At one time we'd be impressed with these results, but that time has come and gone.

PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing, please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.

Brief Methodology

SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.

Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test
Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)
60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB
120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB
240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB
Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender
HDD2 - Gaming
HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery
HDD4 - Vista Startup
HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker
HDD6 - Windows Media Center
HDD7 - Windows Media Player
HDD8 - Application Loading

A few months ago I spent a considerable amount of time developing the Fill Test that places data on the drive and then a set of real world tests are ran. This test has been a nightmare for several companies, but allows us to see how a drive performs when the drive has data on it, just like it would in your PC.

This was the OMG moment for the Agility 3 240GB. With the drive empty the Agility 3 kicks all kinds of ass. It's just super fast and delivers a steady flow of data to your system. When the Agility 3 240GB has data on the drive, the performance is reduced significantly.

To put this into perspective, let's look at the 50% fill test. In our testing we found that the Agility 3 240GB performed at nearly the same level as the Silicon Power V20 120GB drive when both were half full. The problem is that the Silicon Power V20 is a SandForce SF-1200 based drive, the same as the OCZ Technology Vertex 2.

What this means is, if you keep 120GB of data on your Agility 3 240GB then you might as well buy a SF-1200 controlled drive and pocket the savings. At this time the Agility 3 is the only SF-2281 controlled drive paired with async flash, so we can't tell if all async drives will have the same issue.

Benchmarks - AS SSD

AS SSD Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358
Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9

AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.

In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).

Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.

- Copy Benchmark

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If the fill tests weren't enough, the Agility 3 with async flash has an issue with incompressible data. Your pictures, movies, audio files and ZIP / RAR files will move around slower with the Agility 3 when compared to the Vertex 3.

The compressed data issues really show up when transferring data around the drive in AS SSD's Copy Test.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.

The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.

The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.

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Our surface enterprise test is always fun to run just to see how a drive would perform in some of these intensive tasks. In our consumer product tests we just brief over these tests, which is what we are doing this time.

Final Thoughts

I was quite excited to hear that the Agility name would live on with a SandForce SF-2281 controller at first. Over the years the Agility Series offered great value to mainstream and even enthusiast users. OCZ has always managed to find a way to keep the Agility at near Vertex speeds, but with a reduced MSRP. The truth is, though, that the Agility hasn't always been the best value. OCZ has always been very aggressive with Vertex pricing and at times we've found the Vertex at a lower retail price than the Agility. At this time Newegg has the Agility 3 120GB at just two Dollars less than the Vertex 3 120GB. Given that you don't get a desktop adapter bracket with the Agility 3, the value just isn't there. When looking at the 240GB drives, the Agility 3 is 70 USD less than the Vertex 3 240GB. Over time I think the Agility 3 will see for quite a bit less than the Vertex 3 but right now the 120GB is a no brainer with the Vertex 3 and given the low performance when the Agility 3 240GB is half full of data, the Vertex 3 240GB should be your pick in that capacity size as well.

The real problem, though, is even with an Agility 3 that costs 30, 40 or even 50 Dollars less than a 120GB Vertex 3, would you really want one? The Agility 3 is a damn fast drive, but once you actually start storing data it slows at a much faster rate than the Vertex 3. We think this is a result of the async flash, but will have to wait for more async equipped drives like the Corsair Force 3 to know for sure. It's very possible that the performance profile could be a result of the programming or firmware, but an Agility 3 programmed with the same firmware as our sample isn't much faster than a Vertex 2 when 50% full.

If the pricing and dynamic performance aren't enough to send red flags, then the compressed data performance should. I have a theory on compressed data. When you have a larger drive you keep more movies, pictures, audio files and such on your drive. For most users the first 60GB of space is reserved for your standard programs like the OS, Office, ZIP / RAR programs, a few games and other software odds and ends. If you have a 60GB drive then there isn't much room left over for your media files. If you have a 240GB drive then you have quite a bit of left over space for your media files and that's when compressed data performance really comes into play.

Last year we were all hugs and kisses over the Agility 2, but the Agility 3 changed the recipe too much. The desktop adapter bracket is gone, the performance envelope is too dynamic and the incompressible data performance is not what you need in a large capacity drive. If you want SandForce SF-2000 performance then you need to get a proper SF-2000 drive. To do that you need to avoid the Agility 3 and get a sync flash Vertex 3.

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