Although things may not seem that way at the moment, we’re still hoping that the statement by a representative of one of the largest memory manufacturers in the world, saying that SSD prices will drop down to 1€/GB by the end of the year, will come true in the end. Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s clear that the industry is moving in that direction, and that the moment where the majority of users would have an SSD in their PCs isn’t that far away. Another thing that speaks in favour of such prospects is Intel’s Z-68 chipsets, which openly promotes SSD as one of the best ways to speed up your system.
All this has a secondary consequence as well, which is the growing number of manufacturers themselves joining the race. Those who started first, such as Intel, Kingston and OCZ, have provided a significant advantage for themselves. A fresh example thereof is Western Digital, who, despite presenting the fantastic SiliconEdge SSD, and due to the fact that they don’t have run-in assembly lines and the ability to manufacture in large quantities, struggle to make their prices competitive, which leaves their products at the (lacking) mercy of the aforementioned sharks who don’t suffer from all the mentioned problems, having produced SSDs for a number of years now. The happy few have recently been joined by Verbatim as well, and their latest has come in together with one of OCZ’s newer models - Agility 3.
Although we first saw Verbatim SSDs back on this year’s CeBIT, we had to wait a bit until it could hit retail. The model we’ve received for testing has a capacity of 128 GB, which is the mid-range choice of the series, as there are also models with half and twice that capacity. The typical 2.5” casing is made of ground aluminium, with a significantly thicker lower plate, which makes the device very tough. The bundle contains the 3.5” adapter, as well as a corresponding power cable.
March this year brought the acquisition of the Indian company Indilinx by OCZ, and it’s Indilinx that signed this Verbatim’s controller. Internal RAM has a capacity of 64 MB, signed by Elpida, and the chip in question is the familiar S51321DBH-5ATS-F, already seen in OCZ’s Vertex and many other drives. The very combination of Indilinx’s chip and this memory is tried-and-true, as it’s already been used by OCZ, Patriot, G.Skill and others. The SSD itself consists of Intel’s chips, the specifications of which are still unknown, as they’re held secret by Intel itself, but the formula certainly works wonders.
Verbatim has declared this drive’s speeds to 250 MB/s for read and 220 MB/s for write, which is actually close to what you’ll get out-of-the-box. Of course, it’s clear that these declared numbers have been obtained by using the ATTO Bench application, which tests the maximum theoretical capabilities of the device rather than providing real-world conditions. This means that you’ll never see these speeds in practice, but you’ll definitely be able to boast around with benchmark results, confirmed by synthetic benchmarks such as ATTO Bench.
The insignificant oscillations in HD Tune’s read test results can be explained by something that tends to happen with certain SSDs, but as far as writing is concerned, Verbatim’s model sticks to 216 MB/s stubbornly, with no intention of reducing speed in any scenario. AS SSD yields similar results, and the number of I/O operations is at an acceptable level, with just slightly underachieving values under high load; this is hardly something that an average user will feel the impact of, though.
After the fantastic rise to stardom of Vertex 3 and the new SandForce controller, before the flagship model comes in, we’ve received the somewhat more modest Agility 3, with a capacity of 240 GB. Before getting to the drive itself, a few words on the famed SandForce SF2000 controller are in order. Firstly, the SF2000 family has a total of eight members, based on the same platform, but with different capabilities and characteristics. The star of the family and the “sweet spot” of the mid-range, namely SF-2281, is conveniently situated inside the model that we’ve received for testing. Security improvements are in place as well, with these models supporting 128-bit (CTR mode) and 256-bit (XTS mode) AES encryption. Even the ECC (error-correcting code) has grown from 24 bits per 512-byte sector to an entire 55 bits, which does wonders for error control and correction.
You’ve certainly noticed the “bizarre” capacity of 240 GB, instead of the expected 256. Agility 3 actually is a 256 GB SSD, with 16 chips of 16 GB each. However, OCZ has opted to use a trick in order to increase the maximum number of I/O operations (IOPS) and extend the lifetime of the SSD. One 16 GB chip is unavailable for free use, and serves as extra storage space when the disk is full and data needs to be re-assigned, as well as a replacement chip in the case of “worn-out” or “dead” cells. Another important aspect of this chip has something to do with the SandForce controller itself. Unlike the vast majority of controllers that don’t perform any compression when writing data, the SF2000 series does that in real time. This means that there’s less data to write into cells, which in turn causes less wear-and-tear, as well as lower controller load when internal cleaning needs to be done (TRIM or ITCG). Adding up all these technologies results in claims that SF2000-controlled SSDs offer a cell lifetime up to a hundred times longer than those in conventional SSDs.
If you think it through, all this compression has a secondary consequence, since the system components required to write data to the SSD are differently stressed. Up to now, only the NAND cells have been a bottleneck, which made their speed the decisive factor in overall disk performance. However, compression passes a great deal of total load to the controller, which is by all means much faster than the cells, therefore removing the bottleneck. Furthermore, the smaller amount of data that needs to be written makes the controller access a smaller cell sector, which effectively reduces the number of cycles and the load on the controller itself, therefore increasing speed even further. One direct consequence of this approach is a complete lack of an additional cache memory chip in SSDs with the SF2000 controller - yet another form of savings. Of course, since the data is compressed, the possibility of data loss due to some component “dying off” is increased, but this is where the updated ECC concept kicks in, compensating for this potential issue.
All this said, it’s clear that our expectations from the freshly arrived SSD were huge, and we’ve been expecting some serious numbers that needed to be justified. The packaging of this drive is much more Spartan than Verbatim’s, which means that the only thing you’ll find enclosed is the accompanying CD; no 3.5” adapters, SATA or power cables, extra software and so on. In our opinion, all these “bonuses” make for a significant percentage of the final price, and since most of it stays in the box forever, we can’t say that we disapprove of OCZ’s behaviour, and it seems to have beneficially impacted the price as well.
The metal black and grey casing looks very firm and has a stylish OCZ sticker on top, which has a surprisingly positive effect on the overall appearance of the device. The inside hides the mentioned SF-2281 controller (supporting up to 512 GB, by the way) working in conjunction with 16 of Micron’s 16 GB memory chips manufactured in 25 nm. Unlike the significantly more expensive and faster Vertex 3, Agility 3 is using asynchronous NAND chips, while the former contains the much more expensive synchronous NAND chips.
The numbers that follow Agility 3 essentially make it an “almost Vertex”, in every sense of the word. Tests have shown that it’s indeed not that far away from the company’s flagship model. HD Tune has given us consistent results, but not without some effort on our part. The compression, defragmentation and similar actions (OS installation, data transfers) have caused the test to yield very strange results, especially with disk section which are impacted by data transfer the most, but with all issues disappearing after the data would be deleted using OCZ’s secure erase application. This has led us to the conclusion that the SandForce controller requires some time to perform internal defragmentation after data has been written, so it’s possible that you’ll experience degraded performance if you’re very hard on your SSD and read, write, install or test a lot. The upside of the story is that everything goes back to normal after a while, as the tests are showing.
Synthetic benchmarks have given more than 530 MB/s for read and 460 MB/s for write, especially in operations which require a large number of I/O queries, which is basically home turf to Agility 3. One direct example of this is ATTO Bench results when the queue depth (QD) is set to 10 instead of the default value, simulating a large number of I/O queries.
AS SSD has confirmed the splendid I/O results, while speeds during sequential read/write are fantastic, regardless of file size: small, medium or large. The overall impression is that this is a very high-quality drive in all aspects. Another thing worth being noted is that OCZ is very up-to-date on new firmware revisions, which cause real and measurable performance jumps.
|Verbatim 1SSD128 128 GB||OCZ Agility 3 240 GB|
|HD Tune 4.61 PRO|
|Read (min / avg / max) [MB/s]||173 / 193.8 / 225.3||394.1 / 396.8 / 403.4|
|Write (min / avg / max) [MB/s]||203 / 216 / 216.5||331.8 / 350.8 / 374.6|
|Random Access time read/write [ms]||0.069 / 0.04||0.033 / 0.095|
|ATTO Bench 2.34|
|Read QD4 0.5 / 4 / 8 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||10,799 / 49,556 / 75,646 / 247,405||18,503 / 148,553 / 237,596 / 538,066|
|Write QD4 0.5 / 4 / 8 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||10,825 / 77,789 / 124,631 / 249,707||16,429 / 208,494 / 320,881 / 461,682|
|Read QD10 0,5 / 4 / 8 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||11,108 / 50,319 / 76,205 / 247,405||34,434 / 253,550 / 357,179 / 539,267|
|Write QD10 0.5 / 4 / 8 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||11,235 / 79,624 / 125,559 / 249,707||27,648 / 242,703 / 333,138 / 458,864|
|AS SSD Benchmark 1.5|
|Read 16 MB / 4 K / 4 K-64 Thrd / 512 B [IOPS]||14.5 / 6,375 / 14,085 / 7,865||13.3 / 5,230 / 33,458 / 10,700|
|Write 16 MB / 4 K / 4 K-64 Thrd / 512 B [IOPS]||13.7 / 11,983 / 11,428 / 11,386||14.9 / 24,205 / 48,780 / 4,385|
|Read Seq / 4 K / 4 K-64 Thrd [MB/s]||231.7 / 24.9 / 55||212 / 20.4 / 130.7|
|Write Seq / 4 K / 4 K-64 Thrd [MB/s]||215.4 / 46.8 / 44.6||238.4 / 94.55 / 190.6|
|Access time read/write [ms]||0.127 / 0.088||0.093 / 0.228|
|Copy Benchmark ISO / Program / Game [MB/s]||148 / 111.3 / 110.5||149.24 / 119.62 / 132.67|
|HDD Test Folder|
|Read small / medium / large files [MB/s]||15.7 / 158 / 230.3||17.2 / 402 / 399.7|
|Write small / medium / large files [MB/s]||18.3 / 164.8 / 200||19.2 / 356.4 / 385.6|
|Test machine: AMD Phenom II X6 1100T, ASUS M5A99X EVO, 8 GB Kingston HyperX T1 DDR3 2133 MHz, CoolerMaster UCP 900W, Windows 7 64-bit|
Although these SSDs are very dissimilar, they both provide excellent performance in their respective price range. That is, if we turn a blind eye to the somewhat higher price of Verbatim’s model, one which will have to drop very soon, because it’s unrealistically high for today’s market conditions, but not unexpected; after all, this is their first venture into the SSD market. The real question is whether Verbatim has the potential to “bite” into this market properly. It’s clear that the only thing that comes from Verbatim itself is the sticker, as all parts are outsourced by other manufacturers, and consequently available from many (the same combo of controller, RAM and memory), which again isn’t negative in itself. If production is amassed, the price will definitely drop and give the competitors something to worry about, as Verbatim is a well-known player in the market that has loads of experience in the storage business.
On the other side, by using a somewhat slower memory, OCZ have renamed Vertex 3 into Agility 3, presenting a marginally slower SSD with a much more accessible price. It’s a very good buy and an SSD the performance of which will make for a perfect system disk, regardless of tasks you put in front of it. The price for higher-capacity models is still high, but consistent with performance this disk provides.
And while Verbatim will have to invest additional effort to get things right and really challenge the competition, the sages in OCZ are continuing to present excellent SSDs with a golden formula, which makes their relatively recent decision to scrap the RAM business and switch over to SSDs completely a potentially ingenious one. As for Agility 3, if you think 128 GB is not enough, look no further, as any competition, such as Intel’s 510-series models, is completely blown out of the water by the new SandForce controller that beats it to a pulp in all fields.
|Verbatim 1SSD128||OCZ Agility 3 240 GB|
|Capacity||128 GB||240 GB|
|Technology||MLC (multi-level cell)|
|Controller||Indilinx IDX110M01-LC||Sand Force SF-2281|
|Interface||SATA 6 Gb/s|
|Price per GB||2.18 €||1.62 €|
|Price||280 €||390 €|