Essential v4 256GB vs. OCZ Agility 4 256GB SSD Shootout

It's been a great year for potential SSD buyers as pricing finally becomes more convenient for system builders and consumers. When browsing our reviews from last year, most of the higher capacity models were prohibitively expensive for the "mainstream" enthusiast.

The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB was priced at $ 500 ($ 2.08 / GB) last spring, while the Crucial m4 256GB came out at around the same time for $ 1.95 per gigabyte and the 830 series came out at around the same time debuted by Samsung later in the year for around $ 1.66 per gigabyte.

By mid-2012, SSD prices had dropped through the floor, costing roughly half the previous year.

Admittedly, this is nowhere near as economical as standard hard drives. Therefore, in addition to their high-end series, companies continue to offer affordable solutions to increase sales volume. Such is the case with the OCZ and Agility 4, a price-conscious counterpart to the Vertex 4, which uses cheaper NAND flash memory.

Similarly, we recently saw the arrival of the Crucial v4 series. Compared to the m4 series, the v4 has a different controller and storage, and it is not a SATA 6Gb / s complaint that significantly reduces the maximum read and write performance. So in this particular case, the v4 isn't exactly a castrated version of Crucial's flagship drive.

Since both the Agility 4 and Crucial v4 for 256GB models are priced at just under $ 200, we seem to have what it takes to be a value-driven shootout …

OCZ Agility 4 Series

Let's take a closer look at Agility 4 first, as I'm sure many of you are familiar with your big brother. Like the Vertex 4, the Agility 4 is available with capacities of 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB.

The smaller 64GB and 128GB models will perform more slowly than the 256GB and 512GB versions. For example, the 64 GB model offers a read / write throughput of 300/200MB / s, while the 128 GB model is much faster at 420 / 300MB / s.

Compared to the read performance of 560 MB / s with the Vertex 4 drives with 128 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB, however, the Agility 4 series is at least 25% slower on paper because it uses asynchronous storage instead of synchronous storage. The cheaper unit also has a modified DRAM cache. Instead of two Micron DDR3-800 512 MB chips for a DRAM cache capacity of 1 GB, the Agility 4 has a pair of smaller Hynix DDR3-1333 256 MB cache chips for a total capacity of 512 MB.

Apart from these changes, Agility 4 and Vertex 4 are practically indistinguishable and have the same Indilinx Everest 2 IDX400M00-BC controller on an identical-looking circuit board.

The Agility 4 includes features that supposedly only apply to the Indilinx controller, including latency reduction technology to improve system responsiveness and enable instant startups (according to OCZ, access times are just 0.02 ms), as well a "Fast Boot" technology that supposedly provides faster boot times compared to existing SSDs. When you combine these with no data compression restrictions like SandForce drives do, you can expect better performance on certain operations involving media files and the like.

There's also proprietary NDurance 2.0 technology which increases the life of NAND flash memory by two times, from the 3,000-5,000 PE write cycles currently seen on 20nm NAND drives up to that Range from 6,000 to 10,000 that we saw with 30nm NAND.

Despite NDurance 2.0, OCZ only gave the Agility 4 a MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) rating of two million hours, which is identical to that of the Vertex 4. Regardless of this, the Agility 4 grants a respectable three-year guarantee, which is also chargeable – free technical support and 24-hour web support in the OCZ forum.

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