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Three different takes on the SF-1200
SandForce has partnered with an impressive number of SSD vendors, including enthusiast heavyweights Corsair and OCZ.We have three drives in hand: Corsair's Force F100 and OCZ's Agility 2 and Vertex 2. The Force is a new SSD line for Corsair, but we've seen the Vertex and Agility names before from OCZ. The first generations of those drives were powered by Indilinx controllers and live on to this day using the new Barefoot ECO chip. Corsair does sell Indilinx-based drives, too, under its Nova line.

At first glance, all three of these SandForce-based SSDs look to be very similar. Each is wrapped in a nondescript metal casing that conforms to the 9.5-mm variant of the 2.5" mobile hard drive form factor. All three offer the same 100GB capacity, as well. In the next couple of weeks, OCZ will release firmware updates offering 120GB of capacity for Agility 2 and Vertex 2 thanks to 7% overprovisioning. At the moment, Corsair has no plans to offer a similar update for the Force 200.

Even today, firmware is the biggest difference between these drives and also a source of some controversy. Remember the firmware cap that limits the SF-1200's random-write performance to 10,000 IOps? It wasn't included in a 3.0.1 firmware release candidate SandForce supplied to its partners earlier in the year. The cap returned in version 3.0.5 of the firmware, which is the first rev SandForce deemed fit for mass-production drives.

Rather than shipping Force SSDs with SandForce's mass-production firmware, Corsair used the older 3.0.1 release candidate as the basis for its F100 firmware, which bears a 0.2 version number. You're essentially getting an extra 20k random-write IOps for free, which sounds like a pretty good deal. But not for OCZ, which has worked closely with SandForce for some time, and whose Vertex 2 was supposed to have exclusive access to a "Max IOps" firmware without the random-write cap.

When asked about the situation, SandForce rep Jeremy Werner indicated the company can't legally limit which firmware revisions are released by its partners. Corsair Technical Marketing Manager Robert Pearce told us his company has no plans to revise the Force's firmware in ways that might artificially cripple drive performance, either.

Should prospective Force buyers be worried about Corsair's 0.2 firmware revision? Probably not. Werner says not even a single failure has been reported on drives using mass-production firmware, but he could only point to one specific issue with the 3.0.1 firmware: a Mac hibernation problem that has since been fixed. I'm probably relying on Corsair's reputation for producing reliable enthusiast-oriented products a little here, but I expect the company has sufficiently tested the F100's 0.2 firmware to ensure that it won't compromise data integrity or otherwise brick the drive.

Those who would prefer to use firmware officially endorsed by SandForce will take comfort in knowing that the OCZ drives are both based on the mass-production 3.0.5 rev. The Agility 2 is a standard SF-1200 model with the 10k random-write cap intact, while the Vertex 2 uses the same firmware with the limiter removed.

OCZ's official pricing only separates the two drives by $10; the Vertex 2 costs $410, and the Agility 2 is slated to sell for $400. Already, though, Newegg has the Agility 2 discounted to $360. Newegg had the F100 listed for $410 a little while ago, which makes sense given the fact that it has the same performance ratings as the Vertex 2. Force SSDs have since disappeared from Newegg, but Amazon looks to have knocked their price down to $378.


Intel flash on the Agility 2...

And Micron chips on the Force (and Vertex 2)

I'm curious to see how pricing plays out for these drives, because they're very similar under the hood. Corsair's PCB layout looks a little different than OCZ's, but each populates the board with eight flash modules per side. On the F100 and Vertex 2, the chips are Micron-branded models carrying a 29F64G08CFABA part number. The Agility, on the other hand, uses Intel flash chips with a nearly identical 29F64G08CAMDB part number. Intel and Micron have a joint flash venture called IM Flash Technologies, so it's not surprising to see similar part numbers on chips from the two providers. The specifications for these chips aren't listed online, but like most of the flash modules popping up in new SSDs, they've been fabricated with 34-nm process technology.

Corsair and OCZ differ a little on the warranty front, with the former offering two years of coverage to the latter's three. The OCZ drives are also available at a lower capacity point than the Corsair. All three drives are offered in 100 and 200GB capacities, but only the OCZs are available in 50GB flavors.

Since I know the especially nerdy among us like to gawk at silicon just as much as silicone, here are a couple of extra nudies of the drives. Additional (and higher-resolution) images are also available in the gallery associated with this article.


The Agility 2's PCB looks exactly like the Vertex 2's

Corsair uses a slightly different design for the Force