Strontium HAWK Series 120GB SSD Review

Strontium looks to lift your computing experience with the new low-cost HAWK Series. This is the first time we've published a SandForce based drive with Hynix 26nm flash. This is also our first public outing with FW 5.0.4. Many firsts today, this will be interesting.

@TweakTown
Published Wed, Sep 19 2012 12:09 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 90%Manufacturer: Strontium

Introduction

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In August 2011, we published two SSD products from Strontium. The first review to go live was the Gamma Series, a SandForce SF-1200 product paired with 25nm flash. The Gamma performed well in our tests and we found it priced competitively at the time. Just a few days later, we published the Matrix Series SSD review. The Matrix Series was based on Micron's C400, which really wasn't very exciting at first glance. The Matrix Series did ship with the latest firmware installed on the drive; firmware that was just released prior to our sample arriving. In addition, Micron's C400 was a rare drive since Micron held this model for the OEM market forcing Crucial to use m4 as the product brand.

Strontium has two SSDs based on SandForce's SF-2281 controller, HAWK that we're looking at today and Python, a drive we know very little about. Strontium appears to be working a high / low scheme like several Team SandForce companies. The Python Series is priced higher than the HAWK Series, but HAWK isn't another lame asynchronous flash drive, like we've seen several other companies use.

HAWK uses SK Hynix 26nm synchronous flash. This is actually the first time we've tested this combination, SF-2281 with Hynix flash. The Strontium specs for the HAWK lead us to expect slower performance from this product than what we've seen from IMFT flash. We've seen misleading specs before since performance on SandForce controllers generally comes from the firmware more than it does the flash when using synchronous NAND.

Before testing the Strontium HAWK 120GB SSD we pressed the company to provide us with up to date firmware with working TRIM. On the last day of Intel Developers Forum we received our new firmware, 5.0.4. Just before leaving for IDF we received 5.0.4 from another company and while at the event we had a mini flood of companies sending the new firmware over. At this time, everything is testing 5.0.4, the successor to 5.0.3 - a.k.a The TRIM Fix Firmware.

This will be the first time we've published a drive with 504, but given the four drives we've tested with it, we expect it to roll out to end-users in the next few weeks.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Strontium specs the HAWK Series 120GB model at 510MB/s sequential read and 470MB/s sequential write speeds. This is lower than the Python Series; Strontium's other SF-2281 based SSD. The HAWK Series is priced lower than Python, but we'll get to that a little further down. Random read performance is quoted as 50K IOPS while the random write performance is 38K IOPS.

The HAWK Series uses a 7mm z-height which will interest ultrabook users. Strontium also claims Macbook Pro (MBP) compatibility, but we haven't tested the drive in older MBPs that seem to take issue with SandForce firmware. Some MBPs only support SATA II, but downgrade SandForce drives to SATA 1.5Gbps speeds.

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Strontium lists the HAWK Series pricing on their own website and as far as I can tell their website is the only place that sells these drives. The 120GB HAWK lists for an even $100 and the 240GB lists for $170. Both prices are very good and well below the magic $1 per GB mark. The Python Series is also included in the price list we have above, but those drives cost $5 more for the same capacity size. The Python also has higher performance specifications, something that I personally would spend an additional $5 for if the Hawk Series doesn't perform to our expectations.

When it comes to accessories and add-on goodies you don't receive any with the Strontium HAWK. The drive ships in an attractive package, but you do not get a desktop adapter bracket or data migration software. Strontium does back their products with a standard three year warranty.

Packaging

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The HAWK package is nearly identical to other Strontium products we've tested.

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Strontium does list performance specs and some general features on the back of their package, but without a retail outlet, these aren't making it to store shelves.

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The drive is secured in the middle of the package, but without an accessory pack, there isn't really anything to keep the drive protected.

Strontium HAWK Series 120GB

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Strontium isn't doing much to hide the fact that this drive is actually a SK Hynix SH910 SSD. I know for some of you that will increase your interest in this review. The SK Hynix 910 Series was first spotted for sale in Korea back in June. These drives are advertised in four capacity sizes - 120GB, 128GB, 240GB and 256GB. The larger capacity sizes are most likely free of RAISE.

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Keeping with firsts, I'm pretty sure this is the first time we've seen a white SSD. The finish of the paint is really nice and even. The case finish actually makes the drive feel like it's made of ceramic and not aluminum.

Several of the 7mm drives we've tested feel flimsy, but the HAWK is a solid drive that doesn't flex when you breathe on it like the Corsair Neutron we tested last month.

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Here we see the 7mm z-height. All of the standard 2.5" form factor mounting points are where they should be. They don't change till we get to 5mm next year. That means you can use the HAWK Series in your desktop with an adapter bracket (not included) and your regular notebook.

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The SATA power and data connectors are offset to where they should be.

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There isn't much happening on this side of the PCB other than the SandForce SF-2281 controller and a couple of surface mount components.

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The SF-2281 is an 8-channel controller and Strontium populated all of the channels with 26nm Hynix synchronous MLC flash.

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Here is a close up of the flash that's labeled H27QDG8VEBIR.

Benchmarks - 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, 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.

In order to fully utilize SATA III you need a system with native SATA III support. P67, Z68, Z77 and X79 systems are preferred, but AMD has made advances in their newer SATA III systems as well. Older X58 systems with Marvell based SATA III ports do not deliver the same high levels of performance, so we recommend newer systems when available.

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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So much for Strontium's low performance claims on the HAWK spec sheet. In our baseline testing with ATTO we pulled a 558MB/s read speed and nearly 535MB/s write speed. I'd bet SK Hynix or Strontium tested their drive and then took data for the spec sheet in a degraded state with TRIM broken.

It makes me laugh when some reviewers say the firmware doesn't make a performance difference.

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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Reading sequentially across the drive with a single request produced an average speed of just over 413MB/s.

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Writing sequentially across the drive with a single request (i.e. no NCQ) we achieved an average speed of 414MB/s. This is just a little over the read speed and makes the Strontium HAWK a very balanced drive when working with compressible data. We'll look at incompressible data a little further on in the review.

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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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Latency is where I thought the Hynix NAND would show something different from the IMFT and Toshiba Toggle flash we often see in review products, but I was wrong. Here we see a .13 millisecond average, which is in line with other SandForce based drives we've tested in the past when TRIM is working.

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The same was true for the write latency. In this test, we recorded an average latency of .17 milliseconds.

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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With latency a wash as far as the Hynix flash bringing anything new to the table, we move on to CDM. I didn't expect CDM to show a difference, but once again, I was wrong.

In this chart we see the incompressible data reads. Starting from the bottom of each group up we have sequential read performance. The Strontium HAWK is down quite a bit when compared to the other SF-2281 drives in this test, around 100MB/s. Let's skip the 512b test since it is nearly the same as the sequential read test.

The Strontium HAWK is also down a bit on the 4K read speed, just 25.6MB/s, down from the 35ish we see on the Intel 510 Series and OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS. Then we get to the NCQ tests where the HAWK jumps right up with the other SF-2281 drives with a solid 62MB/s. The QD32 test shows the HAWK still scaling, all the way up to 205MB/s. We haven't see a 120GB drive with a SandForce controller do that in a very long time. The last time was when we tested the Vertex 3 Max IOPS and that was on firmware 3.3.4.

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The real difference can be found on the incompressible data write side of things. This is an area where we know the flash can really make a difference since we observed really large gains when testing SLC drives.

We often talk about the SF-2281 120GB 'brick wall' when writing incompressible data. Some drives stop at 160MB/s, some at 190MB/s and a very small number of drives manage to push through the boundaries as if nothing were there to stop them. The Strontium HAWK is in the last group.

The Strontium HAWK is the fastest SF-2281 / MLC incompressible data writer we've tested to date. The incompressible sequential speed is over 305MB/s, a new record for SandForce 120GB MLC. The single 4K write is on average with the other Team SandForce MLC drives at 130MB/s, but the native command queuing performance scales well past the traditional brick wall. QD4 delivers an amazing 253.2MB/s and QD32 takes it to just over 260MB/s.

We can attribute this to the flash and programming because we have firmware 5.0.4 on a couple of other 120GB drives and they all still have the brick wall affect.

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

In PCMark's Vantage we get to see how a SSD performs in real-world, daily use activities.

This test shows the performance with the drives empty, we prefer to talk about the total scores with data on the drives on the next page.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

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

Using the 50% capacity full test as a marker (the center blue line in the chart) we see the Plextor M3 Pro and Intel 520 Series still leading the 120GB class of drives. Both of those products cost considerably more than the Strontium HAWK 120GB and the difference isn't very large.

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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Data copy performance is an area that gains relevance when we start talking about larger SSDs since people tend to use the extra capacity to hold more data. Most of this data is incompressible and in the form of movies, music and pictures.

The HAWK is middle of the road in these tests, but that shouldn't detract from your decision to purchase one. Doing anything above 250MB/s can't be considered slow by any means.

Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: BETA 11

So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.

Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.

The software can be used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.

Fill Compressible Data

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Incompressible Data

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As with all SandForce MLC drives incompressible data performance slows the drive down. The HAWK seems to take a larger than normal hit when reading incompressible data, but at the same time, it takes less of a hit when writing incompressible data.

QD32 Random Read

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SandForce's 5.0.3 and 5.0.4 have another small bug that we found while testing a large number of drives. Here we see the high queue depth random read performance at just over 35K IOPS. This is an issue that was reported to SandForce and they are looking into a fix for the next firmware. Hopefully we see this test shoot back up to 50K to 60K IOPS with FW 5.0.5.

QD32 Random Write

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The high queue depth random write performance is still over 90K, which is a very high result for a consumer product.

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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I haven't seen either Strontium or SK Hynix advertise this specific drive as an enterprise model, but I know some of you are using consumer SSDs in your enterprise environments. Because of that we like to still run these tests for comparison.

Final Thoughts

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Strontium has one of the best looking SSDs available on the market today. The white finish looks great and the 7mm package adds to appeal for ultrabook and future ultrabook users. Unfortunately, Strontium didn't do much, actually anything for an accessory package and stuck to a fairly standard three year warranty.

Those issues aside, the Strontium HAWK does have some strong features that distinguish it from most of the other Team SandForce SSD offerings. The first is the high write performance with incompressible data. I think it's safe to say that we all work with large batches of incompressible data. You might be into music, pictures or movies, which is all incompressible data and all very common data types that most of us have a passion for, even if it's just one. The Strontium can write that data very quickly, much like the 240GB MLC drives with SandForce controllers. Going tick for tock again, the HAWK tends to read that type of data a little slower than other SF/MLC drives.

At this time we really have to group 7mm z-height drives in their own special niche category. Newegg lists a total of 108 120/128GB capacity size SSDs at the time of writing, but very few fit the 7mm height requirement for ultrabooks. Taking out 9.5mm z-height drives and SSDs using asynchronous flash we found two low cost competitors. In the 128GB size Newegg shows the Samsung 830 128GB model for roughly $110 (but it has a write IOPS rating of only 30K, which is very low) and in the 120GB size the Corsair Neutron (non-GTX) for $110 as well. The Strontium HAWK beats both of those products in price by $10 and matches them in form factor.

Even though we didn't review it today, the HAWK 240GB model might be even more appealing to our readers. We can't comment on performance because we don't have one, but we can look at the pricing since it's listed on the site. At $170 the HAWK 240GB matches the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe, Newegg's lowest priced 240GB drive with synchronous or Toggle flash (anything but async please). The main difference being the HAWK will fit in your 7mm limited ultrabook and the Chronos Deluxe won't.

The only real thing holding Strontium back right now is their distribution. We've seen three of their products and liked all of them, but at this time, Strontium doesn't have a large global presence. To get the HAWK 120GB to my home in Indiana I have to order through their website. The drive has to ship from Singapore which tacks an additional $30 to the price and at that point the great value 7mm drive just becomes another Team SandForce drive without an accessory package. Hopefully the company picks up some distributers between now and the next time we review one of their products.

Strontium is in Singapore so our readers over there and around Asia have an advantage and should look at this drive for their notebook and especially ultrabook upgrades.

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