If you are building a PC in 2019, the available options for storage solutions can be overwhelming. Do you choose something in the NVMe family or stick with a SATA-based connection? If you go SATA, do you choose the capacity of a mechanical drive or sacrifice a bit more drive space (and dollars) for performance?
While your answer to this question largely depends on your needs, your budget, and the fluctuation in flash memory costs, larger capacity NAND flash drives are becoming far more appealing in a space once solely occupied by HDDs. While other first-party contenders like Samsung and Intel already occupying this space, flash memory heavy weight SK hynix enters the race. This is our review of the Gold S31 SSD by SK hynix.
Let’s take a look under the hood.
- MSRP: $49.99 (250GB), $77.99 (500GB), $123.99 (1TB)
- Form Factor: 2.5 Inch Internal Drive
- Controller: SK hynix Controller
- Storage Memory: 3D NAND
- Bus: SATA-III
- Sequential Read: up to 560 MB/s
- Sequential Write: up to 525 MB/s
- Available in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB
- Endurance: up to 600 TBW
- Warranty: 5 years
If you have used any modern technology, you have seen the advantages of flash memory. Whether it’s a cell phone or thumb drive, if it has any storage capacity, you own products that run off of flash memory. What is seldom apparent is that the lion’s share of flash memory is manufactured by one of six major companies with SK hynix running 10.3% of the market according to Q2 statistics by data platform Statista. With their extensive pedigree and market share, it would be an understatement to say that this Korean-based company is a heavy-hitter!
With the Gold S31 SSD serving as a first part, consumer grade offering, SK hynix is able to provide a blueprint for just how their flash memory should perform when pushed to its limits. Offered directly to consumers in European and North American markets via Amazon, this is the first drive in the SuperCore series SK hynix is releasing with gamers in mind.
But how does it perform in the real world? Let’s take a look at how the Gold S31 holds up under the microscope.
To begin, we ran a series of synthetic benchmarks to give base-line performance numbers for the SK hynix Gold S31 SSD. To collect these, we ran AS SSD Benchmark, CrystalDiskMark64, and ATTO Disk Benchmark. Before we get into
- CPU: Ryzen 5 2600X
- Cooler: Corsair Hydro Series H100i RGB Platinum SE (Closed loop cooler)
- RAM: 16 GB Patriot Viper Gaming RGB, 16 GB Silicon Power Gaming Turbine
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X470 AORUS Gaming 7 WiFi
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition
- Storage: 1TB WD Black SN750, 1 TB SK hynix Gold S31 SSD
- PSU: NZXT E850
- Case: NZXT H510 Elite
For these tests, we will be drawing comparisons with the 1TB SK hynix Gold S31 SSD, the 256GB Patriot Scorch NVMe drive, and the 640GB Colorful Technology SATA III SSD. However, we will be mainly focusing on the comparison in performance between the Colorful Technology SSD as the closest proxy.
Important notes: an NVMe-based SSD will outperform any SATA-based offering. It is the nature of the protocols themselves. This information is included to anecdotally highlight the speed difference between SATA and NVMe protocols - that is all. Each drive was tested in the same system configuration with one minor variance - the GPU. This should have no impact on the data presented.
On to the data!
In the first round of tests, we put the SK hynix Gold S31 SSD through ATTO Disk to give us some baseline for its performance numbers. The G31 capped out at 539.58 MB/s (read) and 506.37 MB/s (write). This is a bit shy of the advertised speeds, but it is not uncommon for numbers to be off slightly. Remember: advertised numbers are “best case” numbers.
Next up in AS SSD. This tool gives us sequential read/write data as well as an of how all three perform dealing with small chunks of data (4K). In this test, the SK Hynix Gold S31 SSD showed sequential speeds of 521.54 MB/s (read) and 479.32 MB/s (write). Comparatively, the Colorful lagged ever so slightly behind with read speeds of 494.98 MB/s and write speeds of 450.15 MB/s.
The final synthetic picture we get is from CrystalDiskMark. The SK hynix Gold S31 SSD performed much closer to those “best case scenario” numbers as it is advertise, once again outpacing the Colorful SSD by a slight margin. This graph also highlights the contrast between the SATA and NVMe protocols, even with the Patriot Scorch only running on 2x PCIe 3.0 lanes versus the more standard 4x.
However, before simply looking at the synthetic scenarios, it is world diving into day-to-day performance.
The SK hynix Gold S31 SSD does what any flash-based drive NVMe or SATA - it launches things with a quickness! The S31 cold boots into Windows 10 in around 18 second. Again, this is pretty standard across the board with each flash-based drive tested, but it is no less impressive. When testing launch speeds within games, we see equally speedy load times, minimizing time spent on splash screens.
In the Final Fantasy XV benchmark, the front end loading took 22 seconds with scenes transitioning with nearly non-existent delays in between. It is interesting to note that this process took ~19 seconds within our review of the Patriot Scorch. In the Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood benchmark, running at maximum settings at 1440p, we saw a total scene loading time of 17 between the six scenes it plays out. And finally, loading from the character screen into the Tangled Shore in Destiny 2 took 25 around seconds. For extra, anecdotal context, the WD_Black SN750 only shaved 5 seconds off of that last number.
While it still lags far behind NVMe options in transfer speeds, the Gold S31 by SK hynix showed us that it is possible to eek just a bit more performance out of the SATA-III protocol. This drive is well built by a manufacturer with a wealth of experience in the enterprise market and a passion to drive the technology forward. You may pay a bit of a premium for that experience, but all NAND flash is not created equally nor are their paired controllers. The first-party experience offered by SK hynix means that these parts were designed to work together. Theoretically, this means less opportunity for failure.
The biggest question is this: is it worth it?
The answer to that question comes back to your use-case. If you are looking for raw mass storage, HDDs generally offer larger capacity at lower costs. However, a large capacity SSD will offer faster data transfer speeds, application launch times, and system booting if they serve as your primary drive. However, if you have the PCIe lanes for an M.2 NVMe drive, one would offer you better data transfer speeds with a myriad of comparable options at each price point the S31 occupies. Remember, as highlighted above: boot and load times are only going to be marginally better with the NVMe versus a SATA SSD - at least, in their PCIe 3.0 form!
If you are looking for a SATA-based SSD option for storage, the Gold S31 is a highly competitive option in its field, especially as a larger drive. In its 1TB form, with first party NAND flash, controller, and on-board DRAM, the SK hynix Gold S31 makes a solid case for itself.
- First-party controller and NAND flash memory
- High performing SATA-based SSD
- Solid build quality
Cost-to-performance versus comparable NMVe options may cause the Gold S31 to be overlooked
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.