Stepping Up the SSD: OCZ Agility 3
I have for some time been a big advocate of SSD drives. In fact 2 years ago literally was when I first reviewed an SSD, so I guess it is fitting on the anniversary of that show we do a review of an SSD again. Over the last two years I have had some time to really play around with SSDs and reach the conclusion that normal benchmarking does not apply. You see normal drive benchmarking is about data throughput, how much data can be moved between the PC and the drive in a period of time. While this may seem important it is not the most important part of drive performance.
You see in day to day computer use, be you a light basic user to an advanced gamer the data moved is not one big file but rather a ton of small files constantly being changed. This means that the single big pipeline that is so often shown as the speed of a drive is not used. What is important is the access time, the time it takes for the drive the find the particular file and then send the data to the computer. THIS is where SSDs rule the world because they are nearly instantaneous in access time when compared to spindle or standard hard drives.
Since SSDs are so amazingly fast at this particular function of a drive by the vary nature of the basic construction they all share the result is in every day use there is little distinction between expensive, so called fast SSDs and less expensive ones. We have seen this from the various models that I have seen over the last two years. So with the move of so many SSDs to SATA3 I was skeptical of how much of a performance boost the real world would see. OCZ however stepped up to that challenge and send me the Agility 3 to let me see for myself if the next generation SSD was just more of the same in the real world.
This testing actually works out well for me as I have access to all three generations of the Agility drive. So with all three drives in hand I fired up my Sandybridge system, for testing I am using an i5 2400 overclocked to 3.9 Ghz with 8 gigs of RAM on a Gigabyte Z68X-UD3H motherboard. I did a fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64 and used the base Microsoft ACHI drivers. I reversed the normal testing process this time around and had the Agility 3 be the first system that was used and then moved to the Agility and then the Agility 2.
Now I have to tell you that I did not expect anyone to really tell this difference. The move between various drives before had produced a computing experience so close to being the same that no one could really see a difference. Remember the comment I made above, the king of SSD speed is the access time and all SSDs have pretty much the same access time. I had to change my expectations however once the testing began.
The Agility 3, when running on an SATA III connection delivered a much snappier system, so much so that just everyday computer use made it noticeable. The difference I think comes in to play because of the speed capabilities of SATA III. You see the Agility in it original form was delivering around 190 MB/s and the Agility 2 was hitting around 220, so it should be pretty clear why these two drives did not have big differences. In fact even looking at other drives we have looked at I have seen speeds for slower SSDs of around 170 so it is easy to understand why the throughput did not come in with each new generations.
Now fast forward to SATA III and we see the Agility 3 throw throughput numbers in the area of 500 MB/s. This is a better than 200% jump in throughput and it showed. It seems the interface, well and the controller chips to make use of it where what was holding back the SSD speeds.
Now we could not let this theory go without confirmation so we dropped the drives down to a SATA II connection and sure enough all three drives performed so close to the same that it was impossible to tell the difference.
What this means for consumers is this, if you are upgrading a laptop the good news is that you find the cheapest drive in the size you need for a reliable company. (OCZ is one of the best in the SSD market) If you are upgrade a system without SATA III the same applies. However if you are putting together a new system and have access to SATA III then you should make sure you get an SATA III enabled drive and the Agility leads the way.
For those of you still on the fence about getting an SSD, I cannot stress enough how much they change the computing experience. It is easily one of the single most significant upgrades you can do and the OCZ Agility 3 has taken that performance boost to whole new levels.
OCZ is one of the leaders when to comes to SSDs today. In fact they are so excited about the future of SSDs that they dropped their RAM division and put more focus on creating SSDs. This shows in the quality and performance of the SSDs they have produced. If you are looking for an SSD today I personally would put OCZ at the top of my list and the Agility series as my first choice.
Agiliy 3 Review Aired Live 10 July 2011