HyperX’s Savage Exo 480-GB external SSD reviewed

Storage is likely one of the last stops for gamers looking to convert dollars into fun. One might expect that games would at least load faster on more expensive drives, but our testing over the years has repeatedly disproved that theory. But that doesn’t stop manufacturers from trying to seduce the gamer market with outlandishly named and styled SSDs. Even with that in mind, would any company be crazy enough to attempt to sell gamers on external solid-state storage? Hold HyperX’s beer.

The HyperX Savage Exo joins the ranks of the plethora of portable SSDs we’ve reviewed in recent months. However, the Exo is differently-shaped than the rest, with a footprint of 4.9″ x 1.9″ x 0.4″. Its weight is still negligible at a mere 1.98 ounces (or 56 grams), but its length lends it an oddly bulky feel when handled alongside other drives. Nonetheless, the Exo is still far smaller than your standard flagship smartphone and easily fits into a pocket. There’s no bead-blasted aluminum or pricey magnesium here—the Exo is clad in hard gray plastic with a similar feel to that of Adata’s SE730H.

That gamer claim to fame isn’t so insane once you read who HyperX thinks this drive is for. The company promises to get your games “patched, installed, and booted faster” over the drive’s USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface and touts broad compatibility across PCs, Macs, PlayStation 4s, and Xbox Ones. Here lies the most logical market for a drive like this. Both Microsoft and Sony continue to hobble their consoles with spinning rust, and the average gamer may not be intrepid enough to crack open his expensive system to do a drive swap. Neither console supports USB 3.1 Gen 2, but even over USB 3.0’s 5-Gbps constraints, the Exo should run rings around external hard drives. 

Speaking of cracking things open, the Savage Exo didn’t yield without a fight, but my array of spudgers eventually overcame its defenses. Laid bare, our 480-GB sample revealed a full M.2 2280 gumstick attached to an ASMedia ASM235CM USB bridge. The M.2 SSD is powered by Marvell’s 88SS1074 controller and Kingston-branded NAND packages which are really 64-layer Toshiba BiCS flash in disguise. Sound familiar?

The Savage Exo doesn’t offer encryption acceleration, but it does come backed by a three-year warranty. HyperX helpfully includes both USB Type-A and USB Type-C cables in the box. You can purchase the Exo 480 GB for $128 directly from the HyperX website or from Amazon. If you hate money, Newegg has it for a bit more. $128 isn’t bad at all for a fast external storage device, but plummeting SSD prices have made for some pretty juicy deals on portables of late. HyperX’s external SSD will have to have to prove its chops in our test suite before we deem it worthy of the dosh.

 

IOMeter — Sequential and random performance

IOMeter fuels much of our latest storage test suite, including our sequential and random I/O tests. These tests are run across the full capacity of the drive at two queue depths. The QD1 tests simulate a single thread, while the QD4 results emulate a more demanding desktop workload. For perspective, 87% of the requests in our old DriveBench 2.0 trace of real-world desktop activity have a queue depth of four or less. Clicking the buttons below the graphs switches between results charted at the different queue depths. Our sequential tests use a relatively large 128-KB block size.



Sequential read speeds at both queue depths are great. Sequential write speeds, however, are sorely lacking. We won’t write the Exo off just yet, since we know that some portables just don’t cooperate well with IOMeter.



Random response times are good across reads and writes. Nothing extraordinary, but serviceable for this kind of drive.

The Exo is off to a reasonable start, except for the open question of sequential writes. Let’s see what RoboBench can uncover with its real-world file transfers.

 

TR RoboBench — Real-world transfers

RoboBench trades synthetic tests with random data for real-world transfers with a range of file types. Developed by our in-house coder, Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, this benchmark relies on the multi-threaded robocopy command build into Windows. We copy files to and from a wicked-fast RAM disk to measure read and write performance. We also cut the RAM disk out of the loop for a copy test that transfers the files to a different location on the SSD.

Robocopy uses eight threads by default, and we’ve also run it with a single thread. Our results are split between two file sets, whose vital statistics are detailed below. The compressibility percentage is based on the size of the file set after it’s been crunched by 7-Zip.

Number of files Average file size Total size Compressibility
Media 459 21.4 MB 9.58 GB 0.8%
Work 84,652 48.0 KB 3.87 GB 59%

RoboBench’s write and copy tests run after the drives have been put into a simulated used state with 30 minutes of 4KB random writes. The pre-conditioning process is scripted, as is the rest of the test, ensuring that drives have the same amount of time to recover.

The media set is made up of large movie files, high-bitrate MP3s, and 18-megapixel RAW and JPG images. There are only a few hundred files in total, and the data set isn’t amenable to compression. The work set comprises loads of TR files, including documents, spreadsheets, and web-optimized images. It also includes a stack of programming-related files associated with our old Mozilla compiling test and the Visual Studio test we run in other SSD reviews. The average file size is measured in kilobytes rather than megabytes, and the files are mostly compressible.

Let’s take a look at the media set first. The buttons switch between read, write, and copy results.



Reads again look great. But oh dear, the writes. Looks like IOMeter was right on the money this time. Despite sharing the same technological underpinnings as the SanDisk Extreme Portable, the Savage Exo lags far, far behind it. Either SanDisk’s firmware knows something that Kingston’s doesn’t, or the HyperX drive allocates too little space as pseudo-SLC cache.

Perhaps a less sequential workload will be easier for the Exo to handle. Let’s see how it fares with the work set.



Read rates are still reasonable, but writes are still a thorn in the Exo’s side. The differences are less stark than in the media set, but the Exo just can’t give us good write performance.

The Savage Exo offers strong real-world read performance, but our RoboBench write tests, well, savaged the drive. The next page will break down our test methods, with the conclusion to follow.

 

Test notes and methods

Here are the essential details for all the drives we tested:

Interface Flash controller NAND
Adata SE730H External SSD 512GB USB 3.1 Gen 2 Silicon Motion SM2258 Micron 3D TLC
HyperX Savage Exo 480GB USB 3.1 Gen 2 Marvell 88SS1074 64-layer Toshiba TLC
Intel X25-M G2 160GB SATA 3Gbps Intel PC29AS21BA0 34-nm Intel MLC
Patriot Evlvr 1TB Thunderbolt 3 Phison PS5008-E8 64-layer Toshiba TLC
Samsung Portable SSD T5 1TB USB 3.1 Gen 2 Samsung MGX 64-layer Samsung TLC
Samsung Portable SSD X5 1TB Thunderbolt 3 Samsung Phoenix 64-layer Samsung TLC
SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD 1TB USB 3.1 Gen 2 Marvell 88SS1074 64-layer SanDisk TLC

The SATA SSDs were connected to the motherboard’s Z270 chipset. The portable SSDs were connected via the motherboard’s USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port.

We used the following system for testing:

Processor Intel Core i7-6700K
Motherboard Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5
Firmware F10B
Memory size 16 GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 at 2133 MT/s
Memory timings 15-17-17-35
System drive Corsair Force LS 240GB with S8FM07.9 firmware
Power supply Rosewill Fortress 550 W
Operating system Windows 10 x64 1803

Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the system’s motherboard, to Intel for the CPU, to Corsair for the memory and system drive, and to Rosewill for the PSU. And thanks to the drive makers for supplying the rest of the SSDs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

  • IOMeter 1.1.0 x64
  • TR RoboBench 0.2a

Some further notes on our test methods:

  • To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before every component of our test suite. For the IOMeter database, RoboBench write, and RoboBench copy tests, the drives were put in a simulated used state that better exposes long-term performance characteristics. Those tests are all scripted, ensuring an even playing field that gives the drives the same amount of time to recover from the initial used state.

  • We run virtually all our tests three times and report the median of the results. Our sustained IOMeter test is run a second time to verify the results of the first test and additional times only if necessary. The sustained test runs for 30 minutes continuously, so it already samples performance over a long period.

  • Steps have been taken to ensure the CPU’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the frequency at 4.0 GHz. Transitioning between power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1920×1200 at 60 Hz. Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

Conclusions

HyperX’s Savage Exo performed well in all of our read tests. On the other hand, it suffered from some pretty severe writer’s block. We don’t expect it to make waves when it hits our rankings. We distill the overall performance rating using an older SATA SSD as a baseline. To compare each drive, we then take the geometric mean of a basket of results from our test suite.

Though the HyperX lands right behind the SanDisk Extreme Portable in our rankings, there’s a substantial performance gulf between the two. It’s crazy to see such similar drives yield such different results. Pricing could be the one thing that brightens the Savage Evo’s outlook, but SSDs are practically being given away lately. In the graph below, the most compelling position is toward the upper left corner, where the price per gigabyte is low and performance is high.

The Savage Exo is hardly asking you to break the bank with its $128 price tag. Even so, it just doesn’t represent a good value today. Samsung’s Portable SSD T5 1 TB and SanDisk’s Extreme Portable 1 TB each give you noticeably more performance for a lower per-gigabyte cost. The 500-GB versions of both of those drives are cheaper than the Savage Exo in absolute terms, too.

Still, Kingston might be onto something by pursuing the console gamer crowd with this product. Though any USB drive will work with the PS4 or Xbox One, mass-market gamers seem to respond well to targeted advertising and things with names like “Savage Exo.” HyperX has deep experience in this market—the Cloud headset lineup that TR has reviewed extensively is marketed heavily to PC and console gamers alike. And though there may be better alternatives to the Savage Exo, there’s no doubt that it’s vastly superior to the hard drives that ship inside the Xbox One and PS4. Both systems seem to make it easy for users to move games to external storage, though I have no personal experience to relay here. You can pry my Nintendo Switch and its 32 GB of Toshiba eMMC out of my cold, dead hands.

We would have liked to see stronger write performance and a lower price from the HyperX Savage Exo. A focus on read performance might not be the worst thing in the world for a drive that’s going to sit next to a console and load games the majority of the time, to be fair. As it stands, though, this drive might serve as a fine gateway for some console-only gamers to experience solid-state speeds, but anyone with a modicum of PC hardware experience can sit tight on this one until HyperX issues a firmware update or the drive’s launch prices settle to Earth a bit. The high performance of similar hardware in a different shell suggests the Savage Exo has promise—it just needs to level up a bit.

Comments closed
    • SecretSquirrel
    • 1 year ago

    It would have been interesting to pop the bare drive in a system and see if the performance changed much. What impact does the USB bridge have on performance?

    • Voldenuit
    • 1 year ago

    What about TRIM support?

      • Chrispy_
      • 1 year ago

      It doesn’t matter because nobody who understands what TRIM is will touch this drive with a ten-foot pole.

      Tony has to be diplomatic in how scathing he is of this disaster drive, because if he slates it with the scorn and brutality it deserves, TR will stop being sent further drives to review.

      We are not bound by those delicate politics, and can freely call it the miserable PoS that it is; It’s an overpriced, underperforming failure that is being targeted at ignorant people who don’t read reviews.

      The only thing that needs TRIMming here is the Savage Exo from Kingston’s portfolio.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    It’s a turd.

    The primary point of a portable SSD is sequential copy performance and this one sucks at that.

      • Voldenuit
      • 1 year ago

      This. I’m considering getting a BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and an external SSD to write out 4K video streams to. A 4K RAW stream is around 250-270 MB/s, and this HyperX is wholly inadequate to the task.

        • Chrispy_
        • 1 year ago

        You probably want to find an older MLC drive like the 860 Pro.

        These cheaper, newer TLC and QLC drives are fast for short benchmarks but once the SLC cache runs dry they’re no good for 4K RAW. 150MB/s is about what the NAND delivers in most configurations, whilst the MLC drives will hit steady state at closer to 300MB/s.

        It’s a shame Tony’s not doing steady-state/sustained testing on these external SSD reviews, since sustained one-way transfer rates are probably more representative of the typical use case than anything involving 4Kb random or concurrent mixed read/write tests.

          • Voldenuit
          • 1 year ago

          True. Also, Samsung’s current generation 97x series are known to use more power and produce more heat than the 96x series, so I wonder if thermal throttling will become an issue if you’re writing a 4K video stream to a 970 drive for 30 minutes (or hours).

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