ioSafe Solo Hawk, the indestructible external drive review

The Solo Hawk is an external SSD that is a bit more rugged, a bit bigger and heavier than most of the competition’s products. It’s crushproof, waterproof, chemicals proof and more.

If you’ve ever been out filming or photographing in harsh environments, you’ll be aware of the risks for electronic equipment and I’m not just referring to your camera. Laptops, tablets, smartphones and storage media need to be handled with care or be ruggedised. Many vendors claim their devices certify for submersion in 30cm deep water for 15 minutes and can withstand a drop from 1m, but what if you get to work in hazardous environments also? Then the commonly used watertight silicon plugs will be gone in a second. In those environments, you need something like the ioSafe Solo Hawk.

The Solo Hawk is an external SSD, Windows pre-formatted, that is a bit more rugged, a bit bigger and heavier than most of the competition’s products. It doesn’t use silicon plugs or rubber bumpers on the outside of its crush-resistant aluminium shell (up to 1200kg; or over 1 tonne). Instead it uses HydroSafe technology to waterproof its SSD in submersions of up to 9 metres for 72 hours. It’s designed for use in extreme environments, including full immersion in diesel fuel, oils, hydraulic fluids and more. Oh, and if you’ll occasionally be filming or photographing in the Sahara or the Antarctic, you’ll be happy to know the Solo Hawk was also designed for continuous exposure to UV, blowing sand, blowing dust, rain, salt fog, ice and freezing rain.

Finally, it comes with two years of ioSafe’s Data Recovery Service (five years of coverage is also available). Should a product fail, DRS provides data recovery with no questions asked. You get to receive the two years service by simply registering the Hawk and from that same web page you can register for the optional and paying five extra years of coverage.

With specifications like these, it’s no wonder the device stands up to Military Standard specs for the portable external storage drive market. But specs are one thing, the real world might be another. If it lives up to expectations, the Hawk would be a perfect match for photo and freelance TV journalists who cover war zones, extreme weather conditions and disasters. More uniquely, even if you’re shooting job on board of an oil rig, you’d feel totally laid back.

To test all this, I tightened a 10m rope around the Solo Hawk and as I was in Antwerp over the holidays, threw the thing in one of our docks which are known for all kinds of things except clean water. It felt awfully uncomfortable to see the Hawk quickly disappear in the oily sludge and I was convinced I would witness the unit that has no plugs on the USB connector of any kind to be a total loss. After half an hour in the freezing cold (3 degrees Celsius), I pulled up the rope and dried the unit with a towel. The slightly recessed connector looked dirty so at home, I used some kitchen paper to wipe off and out the sludge, inserted the USB plug and first tested it using a Brymen industrial multimeter to see if there weren’t any short-circuits that could fry my iMac.

No silicon plugs here…

The Brymen fed back a reassuring silence. I plugged the unit into the Mac and… it mounted as if nothing had happened. The following days I submerged the unit again, this time to clean it in some lukewarm soap water. Again, it worked fine afterwards. To cut a long story short, the next few days I had some fun doing stuff I normally don’t do when testing a drive. I ran over it with a 670kg heavy car and I dropped it on a stone tiled floor while standing 2m high on a ladder (to be honest, I did pack it in part of an old T-shirt for this test to avoid scratching it as I love the etched Hawk on the top and side, but it was too thin to have any effect on the impact force itself).

The only thing I didn’t do was put a torch to it, soak it in fuel or expose it to the blazing sun — there wasn’t any; rain there was plenty of. I also couldn’t put it to the dust test or the altitude test (it should keep working fine on the Mount Everest).


Of course, all that violence thrown at a drive doesn’t mean anything at all if it’s dead slow. The Solo Hawk isn’t going to shatter speed limits but it’s no slouch, either. Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test reported a write speed of 512MB/sec and a read speed of 560MB/sec. DriveDx reported a Seagate SSD inside. After reading some of the technical reports that have been written on the specific SSD, I learned that it’s quite fast but that it has some trouble maintaining its maximum throughput when you’re moving very large files — say between 5 and 10GB or so — because the controller that’s been used is an older Phison version.

So, you’re not going to be using the Hawk to directly write your 8K footage onto it. That’s not what it is intended for. It’s intended to backup your 8K footage and with an offloading app like Hedge, the speed is sufficiently high to copy your files without getting a nervous breakdown.

What’s even more likely to avoid a nervous breakdown is that, as soon as you’ve copied those files, they’ll be safe no matter what nature, industrial activity or a stupid mistake will throw at it.