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I knew I was switching to LED, but I didn't know which light to get.
I had it narrowed down to four, all of them 1000 watt HID equivalents. I was replacing the two 1000 watt MH and HPS lights in my 4 by 8 foot tent. I've been happy with HID, but was tired of dealing with heat. I also like the idea of spending less on power and not needing to change bulbs.
Before my (weeks of) research, I already knew of California Lightworks' stellar reputation in the industry and expected the SolarSystem 1100 (link to product page) to be one of the top contenders. It's one of the few "1000 watt equivalents" that actually matches 1000 watt HPS yields in real growing situation.
But is it the light for me?
In the end it wasn't. Not quite.
Note: This light is part of California Lightworks' SolarSystem series of lights, which also includes the 550 and the 275 . Apart from the numbers, everything in this review is true for those lights as well.
Table of Contents
(click a title to jump ahead)
The SolarStorm 1100 is billed as a 1000 watt HPS equivalent and unlike most LED lights, growers have actually reported yields equal to, or even greater than, HPS with California Lightworks lights (see this story, for example).
That said, many growers still report lower yields, though much of that is due to the differences in growing with HPS light and with LED light. Once you've gotten used to the differences, you can expect yields that beat a 1000 watt HPS bulb. The quality will be higher, too.
The actual power draw is 800 watts when run at maximum output. The optional controller (sold separately) gives you full control over the spectrum, allowing you to dim the reds, the blues and the white LEDs separately. This means you can conserve power when you don't need to full output.
I love that you can reduce power consumption and save money during the vegetative stage, when your plants don't need as much light. But when you compare this with the customization offered by Cirrus in their lights via their smartphone app, the SolarSystem series falls short, since they require you to purchase a separate controller. That said, you only need one controller for up to 1000 lights. And the Cirrus costs much more.
The SolarSystem series gives you a mix of red, blue and white diodes for a full spectrum light. The non-veg units have a ton of red spectrum light and a bit less blue spectrum light. This is what it looks like at full power:
And remember that you have full control over this spectrum with the optional controller. That means you can change the ratio of reds to blues to white as you see fit.
Does the SolarSystem spectrum work?
Yes. CLW lights are some of the only LED grow lights that have matched, and even exceeded, HPS yields when used in actual grows. These lights are proven to work and the company enjoys a stellar reputation in the industry as a result.
CLW provides PPF (PAR) values for their lights, but not a footprint. Single values are mostly useless, since they only give you the reading directly below the light. A fixture could focus all its light onto a single spot and achieve a huge rating, but have a coverage are of a few square inches as a result.
That said, we know that is not the case with the SS 1100, so I don't know why they don't provide a PAR footprint. The overall PPF for the SolarSystem 1100 is 1284 umol/s.
The PPF for all SolarSystem lights is quite high given the wattage they use. They definitely outperform their HPS equivalents, but it would be nice if CLW could provide some footprints, so that we can see the exact performance throughout the coverage area.
What we do know for sure is that the SolarSystem 1100 provides light intense enough to flower a 4 by 4 foot area. For vegging, it can cover a 8 by 8 foot area. What's more, it achieves a deeper canopy penetration than most LED lights, so your plants grow buds further down and yields increase.
I want to take a minute here and applaud CLW for their honesty. They plainly state that we can't expect this light to adequately flower an area larger than 4 by 4. This is another reason for CLW's good reputation.
Many competitors claim their lights cover 5 by 5 for flowering, but that is not actually the case. They get 5 by 5 plants with low light requirements, but not for cannabis or other plants that need lots of light. Only a handful of lights can actually cover a 5 by 5 area and still be effective.
If you are growing in a tent or other area with reflective walls, however, this light can cover a 5 by 5 area, since the light reflecting off the walls will light up the outer parts of the coverage area.
While this light would work great in a 3 by 3 tent as well, you could save some money and go with the SolarSystem 550 instead. It's basically the same light, but less powerful and more than enough for a 3 by 3 area.
California Lightworks outfits their SolarSystem lights with 5 watt Osram diodes. These are some of the highest quality diodes available and they are rated for 50,000 hours.
The main advantage of the 5 watt Osram diodes is power. They simply shine brighter than other diodes. To be exact, they emit 10 to 15% more light, while consuming the same amount of power as the competition.
What I find most amazing is that CLW have managed to keep the heat in check. 5 watt diodes run much hotter than 3 watt diodes, which is why most manufacturers use the smaller diodes or a mix of 3 watt and 5 watt diodes (like CLW's closest competitor, Kind LED).
Yet somehow, CLW have designed a unit using all 5 watt diodes that emits around the same amount of heat as competing fixtures using 3 watt diodes.
They have achieved this by outfitting their fixtures with extremely large heatsinks (more on that below) and by only using metal-core printed circuit boards (MCPCB) that were specifically designed for the diode's layout. Combined with ceramic packaging on the LEDs, this draws heat away from the diodes, extending their life.
That's impressive, but it should be said that Black Dog also uses 5 watt diodes—more of them in fact—making their heat management even more impressive.
As mentioned above, California Lightworks manage to keep the heat output of their lights in line with their competitors, despite using more powerful 5 watt diodes than most of the competition. The 1100 puts out 2550 BTU.
If you've got your 1100 in an enclosed space, you're going to have to ventilate in the hot summer months, but compared to HPS, cooling requirements are minimal. On the flip side, you may have to heat your grow room a bit in the winter, if you live in a cold climate.
One concern I came across a lot in my research was noisy fans. The fans in the 1100 are low velocity and very quiet. They run constantly when the unit is in operation and basically emit the same level of noise as a standard computer fan. I should also note that the fans are rated for 50,000 hours of use. This is pretty standard
Despite being low-velocity, the fans are able to suck in a lot of cool air and direct it onto the heat sinks and out the side vents. Speaking of heat sinks, these things are massive. They use two to three times more aluminum than the competition, which allows CLW to drive their diodes harder, since they are kept nice and cool.
Check out this factory tour video to see the huge heat sinks, as well as all the other components mentioned in this review:
As mentioned above, you can fully control the spectrum using the optional controller. Unfortunately, you do have to buy it separately and it costs an additional $179.
You don't need this controller to use the lights, but you do need it to take advantage of the customizability. The nice thing is that one controller can run up to 1000 lights, so you only need to spend this money once (this is why it is sold separately; no sense in making you pay for one every time you get a new light).
The following video explains the features and operation of the SS 1100 in a bit more detail and the video after that shows the controller in action.
Getting this light set up and operational is incredibly simple. Hang it, plug it into any outlet and start growing (or program it, if using the controller). Of course many of us will be running our lights off 240 volts (like me), so we would actually need to get a separate cord (it ships with a standard 110/120 volt cord). Here is some info you might need (more specs on the product page):
The SolarSystem 1100 measures 18 by 18 by 4 inches and is relatively light at 26 pounds. The weight surprises some people when they first pick it up, since it is quite a bit lighter than most comparable lights.
When you buy an 1100, you also get a standard 110/120 volt power cord and a data communications cable, which you use for greenhouse or grow room applications. You can run this light at up to 277 volts, but you would need to buy a separate power cord.
CLW SolarSystem lights come with a 5 year warranty that guarantees you will be able to get your light fixed for free.
They also offer a full 90-day money back guarantee, but you have to pay for return shipping as well as the original shipping cost and provide the reason for the return. This is for informational purposes; there are no reports of them rejecting a return for any reason (assuming the light is in as-new condition). They also charge a 15% restocking fee, which is now standard in the industry.
The SolarSystem 1100 costs $1444 after discount. This price is very comparable to most of lights I was considering (the Kind K5 XL1000 at $1440 after discount is applied, the Black Dog Phytomax-2 600 at $1394 after discount and the NextLight Mega Pro at $1147 after discount). But I would want the controller, which would bump the price up an additional $179.
The SS 1100 is a great light and California Lightworks is a great company with one of the best reputations in the industry. Their lights actually deliver on the claims they make and the 1100 is one of the few 1000 watt equivalent lights that delivers yields that beat HPS in terms of amount. Naturally, the yields are also superior in terms of potency.
In the end, all the positives weren't quite enough for me. I went with the Black Dog Phytomax-2 600 (link to review), mainly because of the better performance. I also didn't really want or need a customizable spectrum. The Black Dog was more expensive back then, but they have since cut their prices drastically, making their lights even better bargains.
Should everyone choose Black Dog over California Lightworks?
I chose Black Dog, because their lights deliver the most power and give you a large coverage area, but if you don't need that, or if you want the ability to control and modify the spectrum and output, then the 1100 might be a better choice for you.
It really comes down to which features are more important to you.
Check out the product page to learn more.