OCZ Agility 4 256GB Review (Page 2 of 10)

Page 2 - A Closer Look, Installation, Test System

Before we move onto the fancy technical details about OCZ's Indilinx Everest 2 based solid state drive, let's briefly discuss the physical attributes of the SSD first. The OCZ Agility 4 256GB appears to be identical to every other OCZ drive we have reviewed in the past, with the exception of the sticker in the middle now modified to reflect this change. However, once you pick it up, you will notice where the difference is. Rather than the usual aluminum housing, the top cover is actually made out of plastic. Usually, aluminum is desirable because it is lightweight and dissipates heat well, but I don't see the Agility 4 running too hot during operation anyway, haha. On top of the flat plastic finish is a large label across the center to ensure the user will make no mistake that this is an OCZ Agility 4 drive. Measuring in at 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm, these are pretty much standard dimensions for a 2.5" internal drive. It is also a bit heavier than other SSDs though, with a manufacturer's specification of 101g. OCZ Agility 4 256GB drives will have no problems fitting into your laptop hard disk bay if you want to boost mobile computing performance, but if you want to use it in your desktop and your chassis has no 2.5" mount, then you will need to find your own solution. Fortunately, most modern cases have 2.5" drive bays, so that should not be too much of a concern.

Turning the SSD around reveals a brushed metal backplate. This is something users will come to expect from a solid state drive, as there are no exposed printed circuit boards like you would normally see with a traditional hard disk. The only thing that is common between the OCZ Agiity 4 256GB SSD and a traditional hard disk drive is its SATA 6Gb/s and corresponding power connector at the end. As shown in our photo above, you will find a large label with the usual series of certification logos, along with information on the brand, capacity, and serial number. In case you missed it, our particular unit is the OCZ Agility 4 256GB, haha. As with all OCZ SSDs, they are all made in Taiwan, and this one is no exception.

OCZ Agility 4's shell is attached to the metal backplate by four small screws. One of the screws has a warranty seal over it, so in order to take a peek inside the SSD, you will have to inevitably void your warranty. Therefore, to save you some trouble, I cracked mine open to take some photos of its internals for you to see. And by doing so, it is unsurprising to find how simple an SSD is inside compared to a traditional HDD -- it makes you almost wonder they cost would an arm and a leg to the end user (Yes, I understand NAND flash chips are still quite costly, haha). It is really nothing complicated -- just a small OCZ designed green printed circuit board, and that's it. Of course, there is more than what that meets the eye. The heart of OCZ's Agility 4 is the Indilinx Everest 2 controller. Yep, not a SandForce SF-2281, and this drive is made to replace the mainstream performance OCZ Agility 3. I know, it is weird to find a drive that is not SandForce. As the drive controller is fundamentally very important to any SSD, let's dig more into the details of this chip.

To go back into a little bit of history, OCZ purchased Indilinx for $32 million in March last year. Prior to this, while OCZ has been designing and building their own PCBs, there was nothing that really differentiated their products from the competition -- every drive consists of pretty much off-the-shelf hardware. Companies like G.Skill, Corsair, and Patriot has been doing this as well, and other than optimizations you do on the firmware level, they are all essentially the same thing under the hood.

With the release of the Indilinx Everest controller seen in the OCZ Octane 512GB, and subsequently, the Everest 2 found the Vertex 4 as well as our drive today, OCZ is now selling products developed completely in house -- so to say -- that sets it apart from the competition. The Everest 2 controller is not a 100% in house product developed by OCZ, but it is one step closer. This ambitious acquisition plugs OCZ into the ranks of being a genuine SSD manufacturer, and not just a run of the mill company slapping together parts available to every kid on the block. As Indilinx Everest 2 based drives are part of the company's performance line of solid state disks, and are intended to replace prior flagship SandForce units, the OCZ Agility 4 really has a lot of weight on its shoulders. Rated at 420MB/s read, 410MB/s write, and 85,000 IOPS over SATA 6Gb/s, these figures are pretty competitive. To see how it translates to numbers in our benchmarks, we will pit them against the big boys of this game to see how this new flagship steps up against SandForce based drives in the next seven pages or so.

Unsurprisingly, the Indilinx Everest 2 'IDX400M00' is an upgrade from the vanilla Everest 'IDX300M01' found in the OCZ Octane. A thermal pad on the bottom metal casing helps out in dissipating heat away from the controller. OCZ withholds quite a bit of information on the innermost workings of the chip, but from what I have gathered, the Everest IDX400M00 is a 400MHz ARM architecture dual core processor with a whopping 3.2GB/s of memory bandwidth. This multichannel NAND controller can address up to 1TB of flash memory, but at press time, no such SSD exists. It is also versatile enough to accommodate SLC, MLC, and TLC ONFI 2.2 compliant flash ICs.

While SandForce takes significant pride on their ability to do on-the-fly compression and the lack of need for external cache, the Indilinx Everest 2 does just the opposite. The Everest 2 controller is paired with 1GB of memory, in which we will take a look at in just a moment. Also, it does not compress information before writing, making performance identical regardless of the data written is compressible or not. Of course, you are going to sacrifice some speed (And possibly higher write amplification, but we have no information on that -- OCZ just says it has reduced write amplification compared to the Octane) when dealing with compressible data, but the speed and IOPS rating of OCZ's Agility 4 is still pretty competitive against SandForce units.

Finally, we have the usual array of features from the controller that works in the background, such as automatic garbage collection and TRIM. Indilinx's proprietary nDurance 2.0 technology takes care of the wear leveling algorithm. The IDX400M00 also has a BCH ECC engine capable of correcting more than 128 bits of data per kilobyte to ensure 20nm flash will work reliability in the future, along with a TGC OPAL compliant 256-bit AES hardware encryption engine.

A total of sixteen NAND flash chips are found on the OCZ Agility 4 256GB solid state disk, with eight on each side. The chips used are Micron 29F128G08CFAAA asynchronous flash memory, with a capacity of 16GB per integrated circuit chip. These are identical chips used in the OCZ Agility 3 240GB. These are multi-level cells manufactured on the 25nm fabrication process. Unlike SandForce based SSDs, there is no over-provisioning, so they all come together and make up for its 256GB storage capacity. You will see 239GB in Windows. Two Hynix H5TQ2G63BFR 512MB DDR3 chips are present for a total of 1GB RAM; used with the Indilinx Everest IDX400M00 controller to ensure smooth operation.

Our test configuration as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4.50GHz
CPU Cooling: Thermaltake Frio (Noctua NF-P12)
Motherboard: ASUS P8P67 PRO
RAM: Patriot Viper Xtreme Division 2 PC3-15000 2x4GB
Graphics: Gigabyte Radeon HD 6870 1GB SOC
Chassis: Lian Li PC-Z60 (Noctua NF-S12B ULN)
Power: Cooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1050W
Sound: Auzentech X-Fi Bravura
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64 SP1

Compared Hardware:
- OCZ Agility 4 256GB
- G.Skill Phoenix EVO 115GB
- Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB
- Kingston HyperX 120GB
- Kingston SSDNow V+200 120GB
- 2x Kingston SSDNow V+200 120GB RAID 0
- OCZ Agility 3 240GB
- OCZ Octane 512GB
- OCZ Vertex 2 160GB 25nm
- OCZ Vertex 2 60GB 34nm
- OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
- OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
- Patriot Pyro 120GB
- Patriot Pyro SE 240GB
- Western Digital Caviar Blue AAKS 500GB

Page Index
1. Introduction and Specifications
2. A Closer Look, Installation, Test System
3. Benchmark: AIDA64 Disk Benchmark
4. Benchmark: ATTO Disk Benchmark
5. Benchmark: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0
6. Benchmark: HD Tach
7. Benchmark: HD Tune Pro 4.60
8. Benchmark: PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0
9. Benchmark: PCMark Vantage
10. Conclusion