Save your money, it’s not time to upgrade to a new laptop, it’s time for OCZ’s Agility 2 Solid State Drive. The performance boost after installing OCZ’s 100gb SSD into my Macbook was astronomical. Spinning hard drives should already be a thing of the past because Solid State Drives (SSDs) are faster, safer, cooler, quieter, and more energy efficient. OCZ has been one of the key players in manufacturing and mastering this game changing technology that is SSD. OCZ makes several series of SSDs. Their Vertex series is generally focused on performance and enterprise driven markets, while their Value series is a SSD most suitable for newbies with its affordable pricing. The Agility II which we review here, is made of a durable and lightweight alloy housing, comes with a 3 year warranty, and it is aimed at booth the mainstream and those driven by performance. OCZ’s Agility 2 Solid State Drive is still pricier than similar sized Hard Disk Drives (HDDs), but it offers significant benefits and is an easy way to greatly improve computer/laptop performance. Read on to find out how and why.
Hard Drives 101 – HDD vs SSD
Every laptop and computer has a hard drive. Hard Drives come in various sizes, speeds, and storage capacities. We’ve all been using Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) for years to store all of our digital stuff; whether it’s movies, music, pictures, or documents. HDDs have magnetic discs, or platters, inside of them. They spin at very high speeds and there is a needle (think turntable) inside of the drive reading our data from the spinning discs. Because there are moving parts inside of HDDs, they are very fragile. If a laptop is dropped the needle can bump against the spinning discs and you can easily lose all of your data. Older iPods always skipped, or stopped playing, when you ran with them because of the moving parts within the small HDD. iPods now use flash memory, which is much like a Solid State Drive (SSD). Solid State Hard Drives do not have any moving parts (hence “solid state”). This makes them much more durable, but also much more energy efficient. They are also MUCH faster than HDDs, which are limited to the speed that the internal discs can spin. So Solid State Drives are faster, safer, cooler, quieter, lighter, more energy efficient, and can offer almost as much storage. The drawback? They’re much more expensive…but they have been coming down in price greatly over the past couple of years.
Here is a list of “key” features for the Agility 2:
• Implements SandForce 1200 Controller
• Cost-effective 34nm MLC flash with enhanced reliability
• 28% over-provisioning for optimal performance and endurance
• SandForce controller makes MLC flash viable for some enterprise applications
• Small File Random Write IOPS: 10,000 (4KB Aligned)
• Bundled with 3.5” mounting bracket for desktops
OCZ’s Agility 2 is a 2.5” hard drive, a size that is extremely common to laptops. Agility 2 is packaged with a 3.5” bracket adapter to help ensure compatibility with all desktops. It uses a SATA II interface, which is also extremely prevalent in computers and laptops built in the last 5 years or so. OCZ’s Agility 2 is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, Mac OS X, and Linux. So if your laptop supports SATA II and uses a 2.5” or 3.5” hard drive (there is a very good chance it does) then you are good to go.
Installation is going to vary depending on the computer or laptop. Apple makes the swapping of MacBook hard drives very simple, although you will need a Torx T6 screwdriver. Not a lot of people will have Torx screwdrivers laying around their house, but thankfully all hardware stores sell them for just a few dollars. With the Torx screwdriver and a small philips head screwdriver, the process took just a few minutes and is rather simple for any type of user. Your computer should recognize SSD just like it would any hard drive. You will be able to easily format it and install a fresh operating system. If you’re using a Mac you can easily restore it with a Time Machine backup. You will first need to format the drive using Disk Utility as “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)”, that will only take a minute or so. Installing an operating system, or any software, on your Agility 2 is much faster than what you’re used to.
OCZ also sent us their upcoming OCZ Toolbox software which they plan to soon include with future SSDs. OCZ Toolbox for Windows allows you to get a little more value out of your SSD, although it probably won’t be extremely useful for the end-user. The utility includes a few neat features like locking your SSD with a password or conducting a secure erase of the drive. Your SSD cannot be your primary drive running Windows if your are securely erasing it. The toolbox also allows you to download new firmware to your drive, revert it to factory defaults, set the drive’s worldwide name, or format it to optimize the sector alignment for your operating system. One of the more useful features OCZ offers is the ability to view the drives diagnostics and SMART information. This includes power-on hours, power cycles, error rates, bad blocks, etc.
OCZ’s Agility 2 SSD has read and write speeds far beyond the traditional HDD. Fast read and write times will greatly improve performance when it comes to installing and launching applications, saving files, opening files, transferring files, and starting up and shutting down your computer. It will not have much of an effect on processing power like working with large excel files, gaming or 3D modeling, but it will definitely give your computer an overall zippier feel. All of my tests were run on freshly formatted drives. Snow Leopard, iLife, iWork, MS Office, Photoshop CS5, Chrome, and Firefox were installed on one hard drive and cloned to the other. No applications were running in the background during my tests. Keep in mind my Toshiba HDD was freshly formatted before running any of these tests, so it was running MUCH quicker than it does when it’s filled to capacity (as it usually is). While SSDs will also slow down as you fill it up, the change in performance is not quite as substantial as HDDs.
Personally, I find that the above chart speaks volume about the performance that the OCZ Agility 2 has to offer. But many hardcore users out there want to see some good old benchmarks too, so I also tested with HD Tach, a popular hard drive benchmark program for windows.
When copying a 1GB file my old Toshiba HDD took 21.4 seconds, and the OCZ Agility 2 took just 4.8 seconds.
CrystalDiskMark is another app for Windows that is becoming a more and more popular tool for benchmarking SSDs. Below are the results with CrystalDiskMark.
Finally, I also ran some tests using QuickBench for Mac -
But in addition to crazy speed improvements, I loved that the OCZ’s Agility 2 is completely silent. There are no spinning or whirring noises, which are usually very apparent when moving my laptop around. My laptop seems to be running cooler too, especially in the area that my hard drive sits. Even though the solid state drive is much lighter than the hard disk drive, my laptop feels just as heavy.
The performance boost using OCZ’s Agility 2 Solid State Drive versus your regular HDD is night and day. Your computer will run much faster, cooler and quieter. Since it’s much more efficient on energy you will get more usage out of a single battery charge. Also you will not have to worry about small bumps or shakes from destroying all of your personal data. It’s better than a traditional rotating hard drive in every way imaginable, you just have to pay a bit extra for all of the amazing benefits. I reviewed OCZ’s Agility 2 100gb hard drive which can be purchased for under $350 – and currently Amazon is offering the drive for just $338 after a $10 rebate. The 50gb Agility 2 can be purchased for under $200. Agility 2 is available up to a 480gb capacity. Keep in mind, Agility 2 can easily last you years and span the lifetime of more than a couple laptops and computers. The Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is 2 million hours, that should give you a solid 228 years.
Good: Fast, quiet, cool, more durable and energy efficient
Bad: Cost per gigabyte is much higher than that of traditional hard drives