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About those BSODs
We've yet to encounter a BSOD error or stuttering with any of our SandForce SSDs, so it's difficult to determine whether the 2.15 firmware has been successful in resolving those issues. To get a better sense of how the firmware is affecting end users, we spent hours combing through hundreds of posts on the subject in OCZ's own forums.

The good news is that most folks seem to be happy with the firmware. There are roughly twice as many users who report no issues with the new release as there are those complaining of problems. Most of those outstanding issues seem to be related to momentary freezing, often during the Windows 7 boot process. The number of users reporting persistent BSOD errors with the 2.15 firmware is relatively small in comparison.

Interestingly, Forum Support Manager RyderOCZ suggests there could be unresolved bugs creating BSODs. In this post, he states that the 2.15 firmware only addresses "a BSOD case that SandForce was able to replicate in their lab." OCZ forum staffer Tony adds that "platform issues" may continue contributing to the problems some users are seeing.

We've heard from more than one source that some of the issues related to the SF-2281 can traced back to certain SATA controllers, including those from Intel. OCZ recommends updating motherboards to the latest BIOS to ensure that you've got the most recent Option ROM for your system's storage controller. You'll want to be running the latest drivers, of course, and there seems to be some confusion in the forums over whether it's best to be using the standard AHCI drivers built into Windows 7 or Intel's Rapid Storage Technology drivers (provided that you have a system with an Intel chipset, of course). Some folks report success with the AHCI drivers, but OCZ recommends the latest RSTs. Interestingly, a couple of users say their problems were only solved when upgrading to alpha RST drivers intended for Intel's upcoming X79 chipset.

For its part, OCZ seems to be confident that the 2.15 firmware addresses "the main BSOD issue." Director of Global Marketing Jessica Luken told us that the company's tech- and forum-support teams both agree with that assessment.

There are still users complaining of issues, of course. Some of their problems may in fact be caused by incompatibilities between the SandForce controller and specific system configurations. However, after poring over countless forum posts, I'm inclined to believe at least some problems are being incorrectly attributed to SandForce SSDs. OCZ at least seems to be doing a reasonably good job of following up with users who continue to have issues.

Where do we go from here?
Given their impressive overall performance, it's hard not to recommend SandForce-based SSDs. The asynchronous and synchronous configs that make up the Agility 3 and Vertex 3 have few peers, especially when one considers current prices. An apparent price war has broken out between SandForce drive partners, and we've been treated to some spectacular deals as a result. Corsair's asynchronous Force 3 120GB, for example, was last listed at only $140 before selling out at Newegg.

SSD prices seem to be changing on an almost daily basis, so we've combed Newegg for the latest prices on the drives we've tested. Here's how the landscape looks with one of our famous scatter plots, which tracks overall performance on one axis and the cost per gigabyte on the other. For simplicity's sake, we've only plotted the performance of the OCZ drives with the 2.15 firmware.

We're essentially looking at two tiers. The fastest drives all rely on synchronous SandForce setups, and as of this moment (noonish on November 2), the Vertex 3 is the cheapest of the bunch at just $190.

Tier two has a little more flavor, with the asynchronous SandForce SSDs joined by Crucial's m4 and Intel's 510 Series at roughly the same overall performance level. The 510 Series is far too expensive to be worthy of consideration, and the m4 is pricier than the Vertex 3, let alone its cheaper Agility cousin. With a $175 asking price, the Agility 3 looks like the cheapest of the asynchronous SandForce offerings you can actually buy. The Force 3 is still listed at $140 at Newegg, but it's out of stock there and more expensive elsewhere.

Obviously, SandForce SSDs continue to offer compelling overall value versus their competition. Given the apparent success of OCZ's 2.15 firmware, coupled with the fact that plenty of users haven't experienced any issues with the latest SandForce SSDs, we're confident in recommending them for desktop systems. However, I wouldn't be as keen on popping one into a notebook unless you can grab a recent BIOS update for it. While the makers of enthusiast-oriented motherboards can probably be expected to keep their BIOS code updated with the latest storage-controller firmware, I don't have the same faith in notebook vendors—especially for older systems. The stability of SandForce SSDs seems to at least in part depend on up-to-date SATA controllers.TR

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