For as long as I've been writing about SSDs, two issues are played back about the technology. It costs too much and the capacity is not enough. Your record is broken, throw it out. It's time to put your money where your mouth is. For the last few months high quality SSDs have reached the $1 per GB mark. You really can't ask for more than that. For those of you still holding out, let me tell you about the OCZ Agility 4.
OCZ Technology's Agility 4 hit the market at less than $1 per GB. Based on the Indilinx Infused, next generation Marvell SATA III controller and unknown 25nm flash, this SSD is one of the best value drives on the market today for mainstream users. While writing this article Newegg had the 256GB model that we're looking at today for $189.99. That is a very attractive price for a 256GB, SATA III SSD that is capable of over 400MB/s in some benchmarks. Then there are all of the people saying that price just isn't good enough. Well, with coupon code HARDOCPX8X1A you save another 15% which takes off another $28.50 so the price goes down to roughly $161. Did I mention we are talking about a 256GB SSD?
I think that takes care of the price issue. Now we have capacity. To take care of your capacity concerns open My Computer, then look at how much data you actually have on your spinner right now. If you are not using 200GB then you can pull that drive and tuck it away for another day. If you are using more than 200GB then that is fine too. On a desktop you can install several drives and give them drive letters. Your current C drive becomes your new D drive when you reinstall Windows on a new SSD. At that point just save your movies, music and photos on the D drive and it will actually keep your new SSD C drive running faster.
All is not roses and rainbows with the OCZ Technology Agility 4, though. Even though we would love to tell you to run out and get a really low-cost SSD, we can't. In our testing, the first drive died in testing, around 15 minutes into testing. We see a lot of SSDs and this is not the first SSD we've killed. I don't take offence when I kill a drive because I'm abusing them as soon as the system boots up.
What I don't like seeing is when regular users start blowing up drives. At the time of writing, Newegg had 29 user reviews of the OCZ Agility 4 256GB, the same model we have in for testing today. Of those 29 reviews, 11 scored the Agility 4 with a single egg. In the text portion of the user reviews most of the 11 complained of corrupt files, failed Windows installs and BSODs. We love reviewing SSDs, but wish every product could be tested for a year before we give it our blessing. That isn't going to happen. Our benchmark testing is more of a snapshot than it is a portrait when it comes to reliability, something that should always be considered when reading SSD reviews.
Even though we give the disclaimer, we have to hold onto the facts. Fact number one is the OCZ Agility 4 appears to have a very high failure rate, at least when it comes to Newegg users. Fact number two, this isn't OCZ's first troubled product that falls into the low price category.
The Petrol, another low cost SSD coming from the OCZ stable has a very poor user rating at Newegg as well. I'm not prepared to speculate what the problem is with these low cost offerings from OCZ, but I'm going to give it a shot anyhow.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
OCZ is churning the Agility 4 out in four capacity sizes - 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB. Both the read and write performance scale with the capacity, but eventually top out at 420MB/s sequential read and 410MB/s sequential write speed for the two largest capacity sizes, 256GB and 512GB. The 64GB model achieves 300MB/s sequential read and 200MB/s sequential write speeds. The 128GB capacity size achieves the top level 420MB/s sequential read, but just 300MB/s sequential write speed. IOPS performance differs as well.
The NAND controller is the same Indilinx Everest 2 used in the flagship Vertex 4. Both the Vertex 4 and the Agility 4 use the same firmware which is now up to version 1.5. In our review today we've updated both the Vertex 4 and the Agility 4 with the latest 1.5 release.
The difference between the Vertex 4 and the Agility 4 is the flash. The Vertex 4 uses 25nm synchronous flash from Intel in most cases (OCZ is now producing a special Micron version with lower performance). The Agility 4 uses "2Xnm Asynchronous MLC Flash", quoted directly from the official product specifications. It's the 2X that has us scratching our head, but at the same time the light bulb is going off. The reason why is that Hynix manufacturers 26nm flash. We've yet see any in a SSD state side with labeled 26nm Hynix flash (but we do have a Hynix branded SSD on the way from Japan and it has 26nm Hynix flash). Another option might be SpecTek, a division of Micron. SpecTek is kind of like low budget Micron flash, think Dollar Store. The thing is, with the Vertex 4 doing so well in user reviews and Agility 4 doing so poorly, the issue has to be with the flash... but then again it could be something in the programming as well. If it is a programming issue, the underlying code that resides under the firmware, it can be fixed in customer drives with a firmware flash.
Since I started writing this article I learned that OCZ is also shipping Agility 4 drives with Micron branded flash. A few pictures have tipped up online with Micron 25nm asynchronous flash. The images are from other 256GB capacity drives so it isn't like OCZ is just using Micron flash on other capacity sizes. It seems we just pulled the short straw with our sample. What we'd really like to know is what is shipping to customers and what the ratio is, more Micron or more OCZ rebranded flash.
A much nicer topic to discuss is the price; hopefully OCZ gets the issues taken care of so the price can move back to the spotlight. At the time of writing Newegg had the following prices, $64.99 (64GB), $99.99 (128GB), $189.99 (256GB) and finally $379.99 (512GB). Both the 256GB and the 512GB receive the additional 15% off with the coupon code HARDOCPX8X1A.
OCZ backs the Agility 4 with a three year warranty that includes toll-free tech support and 24 hour forum support. The Agility 4 does not ship with a desktop adapter bracket or mounting screws, which are accessories included with the flagship Vertex 4.
The OCZ Agility 4 ships in a plastic blister pack.
The back of the package lists some general information about the Agility 4 and also covers some of the Indilinx exclusive features.
In the retail package you get the drive, a paper manual and a SSD sticker.
OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD
On the outside, the drive itself isn't much different than Vertex 4 other than the sticker.
The model and serial number are located on the back. There is also a warning about not dropping the SSD or pressing on the case.
OCZ uses a plastic case design now, most likely a lower cost option, so the drive is not as strong on the outside as aluminum SSDs. I don't think anyone is intentionally dropping their SSD, so this isn't a big issue.
All of the mounting points are embedded in the metal portion of the case.
The SATA power and data connectors are located where they should be.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
In order to fully utilize SATA III you need a system with native SATA III support. P67, Z68, Z77 and X79 systems are preferred, but AMD has made advances in their newer SATA III systems as well. Older X58 systems with Marvell based SATA III ports do not deliver the same high levels of performance, so we recommend newer systems when available.
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.
As claimed by OCZ in the specifications, the Agility 4 achieves just over 422MB/s read and 411MB/s write speed in ATTO.
While slower than the Vertex 4, the price is going to come into play with just about every benchmark. At the end of every benchmark results I see dollar signs that easily make up the difference.
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
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.
We quickly learned that the Indilinx Infused Everest II platform is unlike anything we've seen before with the Vertex 4. Both the V4 and A4 limit QD1 read performance to much less than the advertised peak performance. The Vertex 4 when released only produced around 200MB/s sequential read with a single request, but that was later increased to around 300MB/s with firmware updates.
The Agility 4 produces around 170MB/s sequential read performance with a single request. If you do a lot of file transfers one at a time, this is not the drive for you. Moving a single large lot of movies, photos, audio files or for that matter any file transfer where you select your files then copy/cut and paste will result in a single transfer at just roughly 170MB/s or less.
Writing files to the drive is a different story. Here we see a sequential write speed that averages 383MB/s. Both the Vertex 4 and Agility 4 have a massive dip at roughly 70% through the test. This dip has been there since we first started looking at the Everest II platform. That dip is where the minimum speed comes from.
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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.
Everest II started out with the very best access times we've ever seen, but the firmware updates have increased the latency a bit. The Agility 4 has a little higher read latency than the Vertex 4, but both are still within the limits of a good user experience.
The write access remains amazingly low with both the Vertex 4 and Agility 4 which makes sense since both of these drives have very good IOPS performance.
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.
* 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.
In CDM we get our first look at incompressible data performance. The Agility 4 has a slight drop off of performance when working with incompressible data, something we'll see when looking at the Anvil Benchmark data further down in this review.
For now let's focus on 4K and NCQ performance. The Agility 4 achieves a 22MB/s read 4K QD1 speed, but ramps up in a linier fashion to QD4, nearly 80MB/s. At 32 depth we hit just over 266MB/s. These are solid performance numbers especially from a drive using asynchronous flash.
Write performance in everything other than the sequential and 512kb test nearly mirrors what we achieved on the Vertex 4.
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/
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.
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
The real-world testing of the Agility 4 with PC Mark Vantage leave us searching for the point in this product. With such low single queue depth read performance, the OCZ Vertex 2 (a SATA II drive with a previous generation SF-1200 controller), manages to outperform the Agility 4 256GB in daily use tasks.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
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.
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
As if the initial performance wasn't bad enough, the OCZ Agility 4 256GB loses performance when data is on the drive. This isn't anything new; nearly all SSDs lose performance when data piles up on the flash (other than the Corsair Performance 3). The Agility 4 does not lose as much performance as many other drives, but the loss is still there.
The OCZ Agility 4 does do a really good job with TRIM as you can see here. Our sample recovered very well and delivered the same amount of performance as we started with before adding large amounts of data to the drive.
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
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
AS SSD's File Copy benchmark simulates data coming from one partition of an SSD and moving it to another. The data never leaves the drive, an unlikely scenario for most end-users.
A group of SSD reviewers are working on a better method of showing file copy performance, one that uses single and multiple queue depths. We should have the new benchmark ready for next month, but until then we have AS SSD.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: BETA 11
So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.
The software can be used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
Fill Compressible Data
The OCZ Agility 4 loses a little performance when working with incompressible data. The drop off isn't as drastic as the SandForce based drives, but there is a minor discrimination that favors compressible data.
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.
OCZ isn't advertising the Agility 4 as an enterprise solution, but we still like running these tests to see if a drive might be a good price vs. performance replacement for some server tasks. Not this time.
In the introduction of this article I talked about the two major complaints that seem to stick to solid state drives - price and capacity. There is another one and this one brings fear with it - reliability. There has yet to be a single company that hasn't released a product they wish they could take back, at least for a short period of time. Even Intel with their industry leading validation process released code that was less than acceptable. Before that we had a bunch of JMicron drives that just sucked at everything they did. Last week I wrote about LSI SandForce's firmware TRIM troubles and right now I'm putting the OCZ Agility 4 in the same category.
I've seen images of a retail Agility 4 and images from another review sample. Both of those products shipped with Micron flash. The retail purchased drive is what we are more interested in. The drive was purchased at the Santa Clara Microcenter in California and was used in a review at RWLabs. Since it was plucked right out of a retail store we can't say that OCZ only released Agility 4 drives with Micron flash and OCZ branded flash is the only thing in the channel.
When OCZ released the first Agility product many years ago they stated that the Vertex brand was built with a specific build of materials list (BOM). The difference between the Vertex and the Agility was the Agility's BOM was ever changing. Users would get a drive with different components depending on what was available at the time and when I say available, I mean available at the lowest cost. For the first series products this worked out really well for consumers because many of the Agility drives performed the same as the higher priced Vertex model and had identical components for much of the production run. Flash was still being binned at the time, but not like it is today.
Looking at the Newegg reviews we have to point out that most people do not leave a positive review for a product if it does what it's advertised to do. Even in this world where a person gets an award for coming in last place, consumers tend not to go around touting that their SSD does what it's supposed to do. On the other hand, people who get a drive that breaks in two hours tend to be a little upset about it and are the first to go rant on forums and user reviews. I'm sure someone has done a study on this topic, but I've yet to find what percentage of satisfied users leave user reviews on Newegg. All we can say is the user review system is not a true one to one representation of every product sold.
So, sticking with what we know from a sample size of three, if you purchased an OCZ Agility 4 and it has Micron branded flash inside you have a 2/3 chance of the drive being fine, at least not dying in the first hour of use. Also, with the same sample size of three, if your Agility 4 has OCZ branded flash, you have a high probability of failure. With a sample size of only three we are making some big conclusions without a lot of data, but that is what the data tells us.
Given what we think is going on and the Newegg data, you shouldn't buy an OCZ Agility 4 unless you are feeling lucky. If you are feeling that lucky take the money to Vegas, turn it into more money and then buy a proven SSD like the Vertex 4 or better yet a Vertex 3 that has already went through reliability issues and is now a reliable SSD. With that out of the way, we can say that the OCZ Agility 4 has a very low price point. OCZ did a really good job on the price. We've even heard from other manufacturers that OCZ is really disrupting their product releases and prices, shaving the margins to little slivers of profit. Other manufacturers are the only people who can complain about OCZ's pricing on the Agility 4.
Then there is the performance. In a single user environment where low queue depths make up the majority of the reads, this drive is, well... it's just pretty bad. The low 170MB/s limits imposed for a single read request is very low for a modern day SATA III SSD. In our testing we had the Agility 4 coming in behind an aging Vertex 2 in the real-world single user tasks. This is something that enthusiasts and power users will notice when trying to work with large files.
That said, for many mainstream users, 170MB/s is enough to get the job done. Your Facetwit account isn't going to notice the read speed limit. If you are not working with massive pictures or editing large files, you will be fine with a working Agility 4. Given that OCZ claims this is a mainstream product, enthusiasts and power users are already warned. The low access times and high IOPS performance means the Agility 4 can even sneak into a power users system and feel fast until you try to do certain tasks.
Still though, until OCZ gets their reliability up, this drive needs to sit on store shelves.
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OCZ strives to offer the industry's best SSD products, delivering high performance, reliability and increased value for all our customers. The Agility 4 SSD Series was designed specifically for mainstream applications and all AG4 drives utilize high quality Micron NAND, which consists of either Micron branded NAND or Micron Wafer that has been packaged by OCZ. We have not experienced an increased return rate with this product, and as with all of our solutions should customers experience any issues, require any support during setup or operation, or simply have any concerns whatsoever, they are encouraged to please contact our customer service team which will be more than happy to provide support and/or replacement. We highly value our customers and appreciate their business and always will do whatever we can to ensure a positive experience with both our products and service.