AGI AI818 2TB SSD Review: Doesn’t Put the AGI in Agile

AGI is a memory technology brand we’ve heard of but never tested… until today. The AI818 isn’t the fastest drive AGI makes, but neither is it the slowest. It’s positioned somewhere in between to act as an inexpensive, PS5-compatible PCIe 4.0 SSD. Ultra-budget SSDs often cut corners by using less expensive components — controllers and flash — but can be an affordable way to add relatively fast secondary storage to existing systems, or as a last resort upgrade for an older system. Even the slowest NVMe SSD is an improvement over an HDD, or in many cases over a SATA SSD.

Many drives in this category are outright slower than the AI818, at least on paper. This includes the Kingston NV2 and drives like it, as well as PCIe 3.0 drives like the Teamgroup MP34. The latter is now using a Realtek controller, like our AI818 sample. Realtek controllers often feel last-generation and can run hotter, but offer a way to add more capacity at a lower cost. Unlike the MP34, though, our 2TB AI818 is using QLC NAND, which is being used on many budget PCIe 4.0 drives including the NV2 and the Silicon Power UD90 — but not all, as the Teamgroup MP44L is one exception. As TLC cannot be guaranteed in most cases, caution is warranted on this class of drive.

Some of our results for the AI818 are surprising, and often not in a good way. We also don’t think this drive is the best choice for a laptop. However, it’s not the worst drive we’ve ever tested, and if you can find it at the right price it can get the job done. With this drive, budget is the name of the game.

Specifications

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Product 512GB 1TB (43) 1TB (44) 2TB
Pricing $42.99 $68.99 N/A $124.99
Form Factor M.2 2280 M.2 2280 M.2 2280 M.2 2280
Interface / Protocol PCIe 4.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4 PCIe 4.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4 PCIe 4.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4 PCIe 4.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4
Controller Maxio MAP1602 Realtek RTS5772DL Maxio MAP1602 Realtek RTS5772DL Previous: Maxio MAP1602
DRAM N/A (HMB) N/A (HMB) N/A (HMB) N/A (HMB)
Flash Memory 128-Layer YMTC TLC
(X2-9060)
144-Layer Intel QLC 128-Layer YMTC TLC
(X2-9060)
144-Layer Intel QLC Previous: 128-Layer YMTC TLC
Sequential Read 5,000 MB/s 4,700 MB/s 5,000 MB/s 5,200 MB/s
Sequential Write 2,600 MB/s 2,800 MB/s 4,500 MB/s 4,700 MB/s
Random Read N/A N/A N/A N/A
Random Write N/A N/A N/A N/A
Security N/A N/A N/A N/A
Endurance (TBW) 300TB 600TB 600TB 1,200TB
Part Number AGI512GG44AI818 AGI1T0G43AI818 AGI1T0G44AI818 AGI2T0G43AI818
Warranty 3-year 3-year 3-year 3-year

The AGI AGI818 is available in multiple capacities from 512GB to 2TB. There are two 1TB SKUs, although only one is available at the time of review. Currently the drive is priced at $42.99 (no longer available), $68.99, and $124.99, all priced to move. We did see some lower pricing initially, but SSD prices in general are trending upward now.

The AGI818 is rated for up to 5,200 / 4,700 MB/s for sequential reads and writes. IOPS are not explicitly listed, but the controller in use is normally capable of up to 1,000K / 800K random read and write IOPS. AGI backs the drive with a 3-year, 600TB of writes per TB capacity warranty, which is shorter than average but has a correspondingly higher drive writes per day rating of 0.55.

Considering this drive can use TLC or QLC, that’s rather high, but we don’t expect it to be used for write-intensive workloads. We suspect this was listed for the original controller with TLC, however.

Software and Accessories

AGI does not appear to offer any direct software downloads on its site, but there are free alternatives. We recommend CrystalDiskInfo for basic drive information including SMART health status. For imaging and cloning, Clonezilla should do the trick.

AGI AI818 — A Closer Look

It’s not the worst label we’ve ever seen. The drive is at least single-sided, which means it could work with a wider range of laptops. It should also be fine in the PS5. However, we suspect a heatsink might be desirable, which makes it less palatable for a laptop. The label is supposedly graphene-based, which may help keep it from overheating in airy desktops at least.

We weren’t too sure what flash to expect on this drive as it launched with YMTC’s 128-Layer TLC (X2-9060), at least at some capacities. There are two 1TB SKUs and one of them uses QLC instead. The drive launched with the Maxio MAP1602 controller, down-bussed to 1,600 MT/s to match that particular TLC flash. It’s possible this drive will have other variations in hardware but we’re looking at what is being delivered today, which certainly is an interesting combination.

With the flash, the “29” tells us that this is Intel- or Micron-made, but the end of the string gives it away as being QLC. The “K” after that “Q” indicates generation, in this case 144-Layer. This is the same flash used on the Intel 670p and many other drives, although the DRAM-less PCIe 4.0 nature of the AGI818 makes it more closely matched with the Solidigm P41 Plus. While this flash is quite good, and as good as any QLC on the market except for maybe YMTC’s 232-Layer in the HP FX700, it’s also pretty old at this point.

As for the controller, the drive we received uses the Realtek RTS772DL in place of the MAP1602. This is likely to accommodate the 1,333 MT/s QLC flash, as you need an eight-channel controller to reach the marketed speeds. Solidigm’s 192-Layer QLC would work with the MAP1602, but for now that’s being used in enterprise products. We don’t know much about this controller otherwise but historically Realtek controllers have run hot, especially with an eight-channel configuration. It’s also DRAM-less, which is to be expected of a budget drive, but HMB should be sufficient for the drive’s intended use.

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Comparison Products

First up, we have several QLC-based drives to compare to the AI818. These include the Crucial P3 and P3 Plus, the Solidigm P41 Plus, and the Corsair MP600 Core XT. A good stand-in TLC drive for the mid-range is the WD Black SN770. We’ve also included the newer Crucial T500 and PCIe 5.0 T700 to see how the AI818 fares against some of the latest — albeit more expensive — champions. Rounding out the list are our favorite PCIe 4.0 performers, the Solidigm P44 Pro, the Samsung 990 Pro, and the WD Black SN850X.

Trace Testing — 3DMark Storage Benchmark

 Built for gamers, 3DMark’s Storage Benchmark focuses on real-world gaming performance. Each round in this benchmark stresses storage based on gaming activities including loading games, saving progress, installing game files, and recording gameplay video streams. Future gaming benchmarks will be DirectStorage-inclusive and we include details of that where possible.

The AI818 performs poorly in 3DMark, though we weren’t expecting miracles. This drive would still work fine as a secondary drive dedicated to games, with perhaps slightly slower load times. We wouldn’t recommend it if you’re future-proofing for DirectStorage.

Trace Testing — PCMark 10 Storage Benchmark

PCMark 10 is a trace-based benchmark that uses a wide-ranging set of real-world traces from popular applications and everyday tasks to measure the performance of storage devices.

The AGI AI818 also does pretty poorly in PCMark 10. We wouldn’t recommend this drive for a primary or boot disk, though it can still get the job done if necessary.

Console Testing — PlayStation 5 Transfers

The PlayStation 5 is capable of taking one additional PCIe 4.0 or faster SSD for extra game storage, with some requirements. Launch models could not take 8TB drives but this limit has since been removed. While any PCIe 4.0 drive will work, Sony specifies drives that can deliver at least 5,500 MB/s of sequential read bandwidth are optimal.

The PS5 does not support the host memory buffer (HMB) feature but DRAM-less drives will still work. PCIe 5.0 SSDs with the latest firmware can work fine, though there’s no advantage in putting such a drive in the PS5, especially as they may require additional cooling. Please see our Best PS5 SSDs article for more information.

Our testing utilizes the PS5’s internal storage test and manual read/write tests with over 192GB of data both from and to the internal storage. Throttling is prevented where possible to see how each drive operates under ideal conditions.

One of the best places to use the AGI818 is probably in a PlayStation 5. Its performance is adequate to give a relatively normal experience. We would recommend installing a heatsink if possible, though the Sabrent PS5 heatsink is a great and inexpensive option.

Transfer Rates — DiskBench

We use the DiskBench storage benchmarking tool to test file transfer performance with a custom, 50GB dataset. We copy 31,227 files of various types, such as pictures, PDFs, and videos to a new folder and then follow-up with a reading test of a newly-written 6.5GB zip file. This is a real world type workload that fits into the cache of most drives.

QLC is not the best when you’re shooting for better transfer speeds. This is true of the P3, P3 Plus, and P41 Plus, and it is also true of the AI818. Its performance is possibly worse because of the controller being used. Its performance is still better than SATA and older NVMe drives, though.

Synthetic Testing — ATTO / CrystalDiskMark

ATTO and CrystalDiskMark (CDM) are free and easy-to-use storage benchmarking tools that SSD vendors commonly use to assign performance specifications to their products. Both of these tools give us insight into how each device handles different file sizes and at different queue depths.

ATTO sequential performance is smooth with writes, but less consistent with reads. There’s a notable drop around the 512KiB block size, possibly a facet of this controller when paired with this flash given the superpage size in an eight-channel configuration. Performance as a whole here is weak, but it can push more bandwidth than a PCIe 3.0 drive like the P3. Sequential performance in CDM is fair and certainly good enough for a budget drive.

Random performance is a different story as 4KB latencies are relatively high. Reads aren’t that bad, but writes have a long latency and we know this flash can do much better. It’s possible this controller isn’t quite up to the level of the competition. It feels last-generation in many ways, but a fair point to make is that a budget drive purchased just to add capacity doesn’t need much more than even baseline PCIe 3.0 technology.

Sustained Write Performance and Cache Recovery

Official write specifications are only part of the performance picture. Most SSDs implement a write cache, which is a fast area of (usually) pseudo-SLC programmed flash that absorbs incoming data. Sustained write speeds can suffer tremendously once the workload spills outside of the cache and into the “native” TLC or QLC flash.

We use Iometer to hammer the SSD with sequential writes for 15 minutes (usually longer) to measure both the size of the write cache and performance after the cache is saturated. We also monitor cache recovery via multiple idle rounds. This process shows the performance of the drive in various states as well as the steady state write performance.

We never expect much from QLC when it comes to sustained writes, so we’re not too disappointed here. The 2TB AI818 writes in pSLC mode at 4.8 GB/s for about 118 seconds. This means the cache spans the entire extent of the drive’s flash, so it will be about one-fourth the capacity of the drive. The drive then hits a folding QLC state at over 200 MB/s.

This isn’t too terrible, all things considered. As the cache is large and dynamic, recovery is attempted rapidly and eventually produces a steady state write speed over 300 MB/s. While this is weaker than what we see with hybrid cache drives with this flash — like the 670p or P41 Plus — it’s better than others with comparable QLC, like the P3 and P3 Plus. The AI818’s eight-channel controller potentially helps here when given enough flash to work with at 2TB.

Power Consumption and Temperature

We use the Quarch HD Programmable Power Module to gain a deeper understanding of power characteristics. Idle power consumption is an important aspect to consider, especially if you’re looking for a laptop upgrade as even the best ultrabooks can have mediocre stock storage. Desktops may be more performance-oriented with less support for power-saving features, so we show the worst-case.

Some SSDs can consume watts of power at idle while better-suited ones sip just milliwatts. Average workload power consumption and max consumption are two other aspects of power consumption but performance-per-watt, or efficiency, is more important. A drive might consume more power during any given workload, but accomplishing a task faster allows the drive to drop into an idle state more quickly, ultimately saving energy.

For temperature recording we currently poll the drive’s primary composite sensor during testing with a 21C ambient. Our testing is rigorous enough to heat the drive to a realistic ceiling temperature.

As we expected above, the use of an eight-channel controller with potentially an older design is going to hurt when it comes to power consumption and thermal output. The AI818 is quite inefficient, very much feeling like a standard PCIe 3.0 drive. We wouldn’t recommend it for laptops for this reason, but for light desktop use or for us in a PS5 it should be fine.

The thermals also prevent it from being a good laptop candidate. We hit 80C during testing, which is not as bad as it sounds as this drive’s sensor pulls from the controller which doesn’t throttle until 100C. Still, we would recommend a heatsink if possible, even if it’s just an M.2 covering from your motherboard.

Test Bench and Testing Notes

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We use an Alder Lake platform with most background applications such as indexing, Windows updates, and anti-virus disabled in the OS to reduce run-to-run variability. Each SSD is prefilled to 50% capacity and tested as a secondary device. Unless noted, we use active cooling for all SSDs.

Bottom Line

We were tempted to give the AGI AI818 a lower score, but then we remembered that other drives in the ultra-budget category include the Kingston NV2. Drives like that built on DRAM-less PCIe 3.0 technology, or PCIe 4.0 technology that is effectively PCIe 3.0, still exist. The AI818 actually offers a little bit of uplift over those due to its eight-channel controller. That has the downside of making the drive less efficient with more heat output, but that’s fine for a secondary or gaming SSD. The extra speed also puts it over the line for the PS5, but we wouldn’t recommend using this in a laptop.

Performance results are all over the place as sometimes the AI818 actually outperforms other QLC drives in its class like the P3 Plus and MP600 Core XT. It’s surprisingly not so awful in sustained writes, either. On the other hand, its marks in other areas make it tough to swallow if you want something cheap as your primary storage device. There’s an argument to be made that it still beats many PCIe 3.0 options, which is true, but you’re only looking at this class of drive as a last resort. This might play to its favor for older PCIe 3.0 systems, too.

As such, it’s best to position this drive on your list around cost. If it’s the least expensive drive you can find, or in that ballpark, and you need something to upgrade an old machine or only need something basic for a secondary gaming drive, then this is satisfactory. It could run fine without any modification, but a heatsink might be desirable in warmer environments, so that may have to be added to its cost as a factor. If you’re already looking at drives like the NV2, which are usually QLC at 2TB, then the AI818 is certainly a competitor. Its eight-channel controller cuts both ways but at least it uses decent QLC. Given current retail pricing, however, we’d generally look at the Crucial P3 Plus for a budget option.

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