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Strontium Gamma Series 115GB Solid State Drive Review

The new kid on the block from Singapore, Strontium has come to show how it's done.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Wed, Aug 10 2011 12:36 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 83%Manufacturer: Strontium

Introduction

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Just recently we looked at the RunCore Pro V Plus, our first in house drive to use a SandForce SF-1200 paired with 25nm flash. You may remember this combination from a recent fiasco that revolved around OCZ Technology replacing their SF-1200 / 3Xnm Vertex 2 drives with the new 25nm models without changing the model number or name. The new 25nm drives are significantly slower than the old 3Xnm flash models and unsuspecting customers were up in arms over getting drives with less usable capacity that were also slower than what they expected.

OCZ Technology has remedied the issue by differing the model numbers, but now more manufacturers are jumping on the SF-1200 bandwagon with 25nm flash. The fact is that 25nm flash is abundant these days and IMFT 3Xnm flash is much harder to procure in any significant quantity. There are some new flash manufacturers rolling out their 3Xnm flash and we'll have the new SanDisk drive in house very soon to see if it performs as well as the IMFT flash.

Strontium is a new company on our radar based in Singapore. We like working with new companies because they are hungry and looking to make a name for themselves. This usually means aggressive pricing, extra accessory packages and extended warranties, but not so much this time. On the surface Strontium could be just about any other Team SandForce member without anything spectacular on display, so we'll have to take a close look and see what we find.

Let's start now.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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So if OCZ Technology was the bad guy for not telling you they used 25nm flash, then where does that leave Strontium for telling you on their product's specification page that they are using '34nm MLC NAND Flash for Fast Performance', the devil? To my knowledge, all of the new SandForce drives being marketed as 115GB instead of 120GB use 25nm flash, so I popped the top to see what is onboard.

I found sixteen Micron29F64G08CBAAA chips, AKA sixteen 25nm NAND chips on the Strontium Gamma Series 115GB drive. I'm not sure if this is an error on the page or a full on deception to customers, but the fact remains, it's wrong and our relationship with Strontium is off to a very bad start.

The rest of the specifications are pretty much the same with what we find from other SF-1200 / 25nm drives. The rated read speed is 280MB/s and the write speed is 270MB/s. IOPS are rated in random 4K write with a performance of 50,000 when 4K is aligned.

I took a look around and only saw Strontium products listed on their own website. The 115GB Gamma Series that we are looking at today lists for 200 USD. Strontium also has a special going on where you can purchase the drive with a free 8GB SDHC card and 8GB MicroSD card.

The Packaging

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I'm digging the Strontium company logo, it reminds me of the guys chasing you in Pac-Man. The color scheme is kind of nice with the yellow and red. On the front of the package we see the drives capacity and the drive series also clearly displayed.

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On the back we get some general information about the drive, but on a sticker we find a lot of detailed information. This is where things get interesting since it says on the product package that it's using 25nm flash instead of the 34nm shown on the product specification page. The thing is, you will only see this reference to 25nm after the drive has been shipped to you.

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The inner box adds a bit of class to the product. I really like the embossed logo on the inner packaging.

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On the inside we found the drive was packaged with a closed cell foam surround that protects the drive very well.

The Strontium Gamma Series 115GB SSD

The Strontium Gamma Series 115GB SSD SSD

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Here we get our first look at the actual drive. The color scheme is carried over and we see the product series as well as the capacity size.

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The back label gives us the same information and adds the product and serial numbers.

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On the side we found the standard mounting points and they are located where they should be.

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The SATA power and data connectors are also offset where they should be. It should be noted that the Strontium Gamma Series does not ship with a desktop adapter bracket.

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It's time to pop the top for the big reveal. Here we found the standard SandForce SF-1222 controller and sixteen 25nm Micron flash chips.

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There are eight NAND flash chips on each side which gives us a total of 128GB, but two are used for SandForce's propriety technology.

Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI, Corsair and Noctua.

You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.

Since the Strontium Gamma uses a SATA II interface, you don't have to worry about upgrading to a P67 or Z68 motherboard to get the full effect, but you should use a native SATA II port coming from your chipset and not an add-on chip.

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

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Strontium's specified performance rating of 280MB/s read and 270MB/s write seem to be spot on. We measured the same performance with our sample 115GB Gamma Series.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00

Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com

Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance

Info: shows detailed information

Health: checks the health status by using SMART

Error Scan: scans the surface for errors

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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There is a large divide on the chart between the Strontium Gamma and the OCZ Vertex 2 that we should be comparing it to. The Vertex 2s tested used the older configuration with 3Xnm flash and everything in between uses the new SATA III interface.

The other day we tested the RunCore Pro V Plus and it was actually slower than the OCZ Vertex 2. I was unable to open the top even after sacrificing my thumb with a nasty deep cut, but I suspect the RunCore drive used an eight flash chip configuration and not a sixteen chip configuration like Strontium uses. The more flash chips you use, the better the performance usually is. That rule isn't always right, but for the most part you can use it.

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The write test is where the RunCore Pro V Plus took a big hit, but here we once again see the Strontium Gamma outperforming the Vertex 2.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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This is the area where most users find the biggest difference when moving from a traditional platter drive to a solid state drive. Marketing companies like to talk about big numbers and there isn't really that much glamorous when talking about a number measured in thousandths.

The Strontium Gamma has very good read access times so your programs will open very quickly and in many cases before your mouse can even finish the double click stroke.

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The write access time is in line with what we've seen with SF-1200 controllers for a couple of years now, so everything is good in this area.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info

Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html

Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes

* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes

* Text copy

* Change dialog design

* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

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Now that you have the impression that everything is all unicorns and rainbows, it's time to stomp on your fairytale. Native Command Queuing performance takes a big hit with the Gamma due to the 25nm NAND and the issue scales right along with the number of commands.

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To make matters worse, the drive hits a brick wall when writing incompressible data right at around 80MB/s. This is going to be an issue when dealing with some file types like pictures and compressed music files.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/

Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

There is really not a lot of real world difference between the OCZ Vertex 2 and the Strontium Gamma when running day to day tasks on a fairly new state drive. Let's check out the real, real world variation of this test that we developed.

PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.

Brief Methodology

SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.

Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test

Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)

60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB

120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB

240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB

Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

I've never ran these tests on an OCZ Vertex 2 simply because I would have to dig through a pile of boxes to find them. The boxes are stacked up in a construction zone that I'm sorting through. I did actually bring something even cooler to the chart that is of even more interest, however.

Most people are aware of the other drives on this chart and know they are all SATA III except for the Strontium Gamma. I figure that most people keep their SSD about half full and I came up with that amount because that is usually where mine are at. The OCZ Agility 3 120GB costs about 200 USD, about the same as the Strontium Gamma 115GB drive. Both drives perform at almost the exact same speed when half full.

Benchmarks - AS SSD

AS SSD Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358

Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9

AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.

In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).

Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.

- Copy Benchmark

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If you look back at the CrystalDiskMark test where we observed a write limit of around 80MB/s, you can easily explain why the Strontium Gamma is limited to around 80MB/s when dealing with the compressed data tests in this series of benchmarks.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.

The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.

The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.

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The Strontium Gamma is a consumer model with multi-level cell flash, so it isn't going to find its way into the server environment. It is always fun to run these tests and see how things look nonetheless.

Final Thoughts

Strontium is a new company based in Singapore who specializes in flash memory based products, but I think this company has a future in the SSD market. At this time they are going through some growing pains while trying to establish themselves in the US and global market. I think if they can get past the initial growth spurt and start focusing on the details of what makes a company great, we'll hear a lot more from them. They sent over two products, the Gamma that we looked at today and another drive from the Matrix Series. You'll be able to read about the flagship Matrix Series drive within the next few days.

Taking a look back at the Gamma Series benchmarks, I see a drive that had a lot of potential six months ago, but with SATA III quickly gaining popularity and achieving really low price points this early, the Gamma's days are numbered. Users not looking to adapt SATA III will find the Gamma a really nice drive, but those are not exactly the types of users looking to add on a SSD. The fact is, those users are the ones who could easily benefit from an SSD upgrade since most are still running their OEM HDDs that are very slow.

When it comes to pricing, Strontium is in line with other company's offerings, but I'd really like to see the Gamma selling for around 180 instead of 200 just so they can get their name out there and offer a good product at a great price. With availability only coming from the company directly and most likely shipping from Singapore, there is going to have to be some incentive for users to purchase a drive from a company they haven't heard of.

Speaking of incentive, I'd really like to see the Gamma and Matrix drives shipping with a desktop adapter bracket to add some extra value. The Gamma at the time of writing does come with a special add on package that includes a couple of SD cards, but I think the promotion material is a bit removed for the intended audience. It would be better to save the promo goodies and just lower the price to the point where this is the lowest priced 115GB SF-1200 drive available on the market.

Other than the specifications typo, I found the total package to be acceptable for notebook users who don't need a desktop adapter bracket, but desktop users can find a drive with the same price that includes the bracket and ships from within the US or your home country.

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