OCZ's Agility 2 and the SF-1200

Relegating Indilinx to the bottom of the pyramid for now is a bold move for OCZ. Considering how much business OCZ has given Indilinx over the past year I don’t expect that they are very happy over this move.

SandForce’s architecture is on a different level from what we’ve seen from Indilinx. While the Vertex could be viewed as an Intel alternative, OCZ’s Vertex 2 and Agility 2 are designed to offer better-than-Intel performance and as such they actually command a higher dollar-per-GB rate.

Both the Vertex 2 and Agility 2 are based on SandForce’s SF-1200 controller. I’ve described the differences between this and the SF-1500 in detail here. It boils down to a bunch of enterprise class features missing and lower sustained small file random write speed on the SF-1200 vs. the 1500.

The Vertex 2 retains the small file random write performance of the SF-1500, while the Agility 2 is a standard SF-1200 implementation. According to SandForce, the Agility 2 is representative of how all other SF-1200 based SSDs will perform using the 1200’s current mass production firmware (more on this later).


Note the missing super cap, that's a feature of enterprise SF-1500 designs

OCZ sent in their Agility 2 for review, arguably the more interesting of the two since we already have an idea of how the Vertex 2 will perform. Similar to previous Agility drives, the new A2 shaves a small amount off the retail price of the Vertex 2 in exchange for lower performance:

OCZ SandForce Drive Pricing (MSRP)
  50GB 100GB 200GB
OCZ Agility 2 $204.99 $379.99 $719.99
OCZ Vertex 2 $219.99 $399.99 $769.99

The Agility 2 ships with a 2.5" to 3.5" drive sled for use in desktops. If you use this sled the SATA ports won't line up with drive trays in systems like the Mac Pro.

Inside the drive itself we find SandForce’s SF-1200 controller and no external DRAM. SandForce’s architecture attempts to solve the issue of NAND write amplification by simply writing less to the drive through compression/deduplication techniques. With less data to keep track of, a large external DRAM isn’t necessary - assuming the data being written is easily reduced by SandForce’s algorithms.

SandForce also claims that its reduced write amplification could enable the use of cheaper NAND on these drives. It’s an option that some manufacturers may take however OCZ has committed to using the same quality of NAND as it has in the past. The Agility 2 uses 34nm IMFT NAND, presumably similar to what’s used in Intel’s X25-M G2.

The Agility 2 sample OCZ sent had the first SF-1200 mass production firmware (v3.0.5) from SandForce on it with full TRIM support. The Agility 2 should begin shipping to etailers later this month.

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  • ogc - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    That file 512mb in size which compresses 1000x seems to simply full of zeros, so it represents best case performance for sandforce. On the other hand pure random writes are not expected in typical computer usage so they also are not very meaningful. Any chance to feed iometer with data from your storage bench for example? Reply
  • arehaas - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    I actually think random writes with compressed files are meaningful.
    JPEG files are highly compressed - you can gain only 1-3% by zipping them. Those who work with such files a lot - write to the disk or move around jpegs or similar compressed graphic and video files - should be paying most attention to these new tests for Sandforce. It may be a good idea to add the results for all (most) drives to the page with random writes chart as another chart "Random Writes - Compressed files".
    Reply
  • arehaas - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    Thanks to the new tests, it appears the charts of rnd or seq writes are currently misleading with respect to Sandforce, if most of your important files (e.g., for a graphic designer) are compressed. The charts are easier to read than text. Currently, one has to flip pages to and from the "Random Data performance page" in order to get the true picture. Maybe Anand can add a bar with "Corsair with compressed data" to the read/write charts? Thanks. Reply
  • davepermen - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    I guess that drive is not that well suited for video editing, where you have mostly random data (compressed and uncompressed, both look rather random to the drive). it wouldn't be bad in any way, just lose it's peak performance. Reply
  • FragKrag - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    Up until about a week or two ago I was set on an Intel X25-M G2 80GB, but now I'm not so sure anymore. If I got a Vertex 2/Agility 2, it would be a 50GB version... decisions decisions.

    Oh, and prompted by this article, I looked for the pricing of the Vertex Indilinx on Newegg, and I found this 50GB Vertex LE at $200
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    never knew they had a 50GB run of Vertex LEs...
    Reply
  • willscary - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    After my problems last week, I ended up going back to the Crucial M225 series with the Indilinx controller. It is not quite as fast, but it does have a 5 year warranty. I paid $325 for the 128GB drives and a very low $579 for a 256GB drive from Newegg.

    I have been using these drives in several machines since the beginning of the year. They all support TRIM and I have had no problems. They are very fast in daily use. I had hoped the Sandforce drives would be faster, but I guess I will have to wait for a later date to find out (I will be purchasing another pair of computers in July after the new fiscal year begins...perhaps I will purchase the Sandforce SSDs at that time).
    Reply
  • Look09 - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    What happens when you use TrueCrypt to encrypt your OS.? Does it then random-write everything and indilinx is better? Does it make the Vertex 2 much better? Or no difference? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    Encrypted data should look like random noise, and as a result should have very little compressibility. I haven't used TrueCrypt, but it's my understanding that it writes garbage data to whatever part of the hidden partition isn't in use, so the whole thing should largely be uncompressible and match our random data performance. Reply
  • semo - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    I'm interested in encrypted testing also. These controllers are beginning to look like very fast consumer drives rather than enterprise (if the SATA interface wasn't a big enough hint already).

    I'm also wondering why are they getting a more substantial performance hit when writing compressed random 4k writes compared to 2MB sequential writes (74.4% vs 57.4%).

    Just to re instate, why are all these SSD makers coming out with SATA drives and calling them enterprise? AFAIK, Intel and Hitachi are working on an SAS SSD but I'm not aware of any other reasonable company doing the same (i'm totally ignoring what the military might have because costs there are nuts).
    Reply
  • Mugur - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    ... Too bad that the price is still high so I'm very interested for the low-end 40 GB ones, but with good random 4k writes. I have 5 machines at home waiting for this upgrade as the boot drive. :-)

    Allow me to thank you, Anand, for your dedication and work.
    Reply

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