Do you find that today’s PCI Express SSDs are just too slow? Of course you, do what am I saying? Sequential read speeds of up to just 2.5 GB/s, write speeds that are even less. Come on guys this is 2016!
Thankfully someone has stood up and addressed this bandwidth crysis. Our saviour once again is Samsung. Forget about lousy 2.5 GB/s read speeds, if you aren’t pushing over 3 GB/s you might as well have a hard drive.
Okay so I am being a tad over dramatic. It’s hard not to take the mickey when you see a consumer grade storage device capable of 3.5 GB/s for reads, coupled with 2.1 GB/s write speeds. That’s right these are the advertised sequential read and write speeds for Samsung’s new 960 Pro series.
Replacing the now year old 950 Pro series, enthusiasts can look forward to much faster, much larger M.2 drives from Samsung.
Introducing the 960 Pro…
The new series features 512GB, 1TB and 2TB models, that’s right half a terabyte is the smallest option here. Powered by the new Samsung Polaris controller, which other than the codename has no relationship with AMD’s Polaris graphics architecture. When compared to the 950 Pro’s UBX controller which featured three-cores, Polaris has been beefed up to pack five cores. One of the five cores has been dedicated to host communication, while the other four cores are used for flash management.
Coupled with this new controller is Samsung’s latest 3rd generation V-NAND flash technology. Also known as 3D-NAND, it dramatically increases the number of layers present in each chip by stacking them vertically, thus increasing capacity without having to reduce the size of the fabrication process. The 950 Pro series used 32-layer NAND, the 960 Pro has been bumped up to 48-layers, enabling Samsung to offer the spacious 2TB version.
With real estate at a premium here, Samsung has employed an advanced packaging technology known as package-on-package. By stacking the DRAM cache on top of the controller, Samsung has free up valuable PCB space for the four NAND flash chips.
However packaging everything these densely together can cause other issues. One such issue faced by the 950 Pro series for example was heat. Other than the high-ish cost per Gigabyte, it was really the only other issue. Under heavy load the 950 Pro series did run a little too hot, forcing the controller to scale back, which ultimately reduced performance.
In the case of the new 960 Pro series, Samsung has taken several measures to reduce the regularity of thermal throttling. One such step was to include a small copper film heatspreader which is estimated by Samsung to improve thermal performance by around 30%. Also helping to address this issue is improved power efficiency, this is probably the biggest factor at play here.
These things combined should see the 960 Pro last around 50% longer under load before throttling can be seen. Lasting 50% longer is one thing, it is worth noting that in this time the 960 Pro should be able to transfer almost twice as much data, so the chances of it throttling are greatly diminished.
Samsung claims that under typical load the 2TB drive will consume 5.8 watts, 5.3 watts for the 1TB model and 5.1 watts for the 512GB model. Those are similar ratings to the 950 Pro series, though we are of course talking about a much faster drive here.
For data security hardware-based AES 256-bit data encryption is supported along with TCG Opal, while features such as TRIM, Garbage Collection and S.M.A.R.T are also supported.
Finally the 960 Pro series comes with the same five-year warranty as the 950 series. The endurance rating for the 2TB model has been set at a massive 1200 Terabytes of written data, 800 Terabytes written for the 1TB version and 400 Terabytes written for the pokey little 512GB model.
Okay so that all sounds mighty impressive, so how does it really perform? Let’s find out shall we…
AS SSD Benchmark Sequential
First let’s take a look at the sequential read and write performance with AS SSD Benchmark. Well damn the 960 Pro looks pretty mighty here reaching 2.7 GB/s for the read speed and 2 GB/s for the write speed. Compared to the 950 Pro this makes the 960 Pro roughly 25% faster for the read test and a little over 40% faster for the write test, impressive stuff here.
AS SSD Benchmark 4K-64 Thread
The 960 Pro absolutely blitzed the 4K-64 thread test and it was the write performance that was again most impressive. Reaching almost 1.3 GB/s, the 960 Pro was 80% faster than Intel’s SSD 750 Series and a little over three times faster than the 950 Pro.
AS SSD Benchmark Access Time
Given what we just saw I was expecting to see slightly better access performance, especially given what the 950 Pro produced. Still the performance here is solid and the 960 Pro is far from slow.
File Copy Test
Using two different data sets comprised of multiple files we measured on-disk copy performance. The game data which features a mixture of small and large, compressed and non-compressed files, allowed 960 Pro to move at an incredible 1094 MB/s. That was a staggering 68% performance improvement over the 950 Pro.
Although the 960 Pro only managed a throughput of 542 MB/s for the program test which is comprised of many small non-compressed files, it was still over 60% faster than the 950 Pro.
Okay so that last test we are going to look at is a large file extraction test using 7-zip. Here we have measured the time it takes to complete the file extraction along with the average transfer speed.
The 950 Pro extracted the data at a rate of 972 MB/s which was 28% faster than the 950 Pro and 91% faster than the Intel SSD 750 Series. It was also almost 5x faster than a high performance SATA SSD. This meant the test took just 39 seconds using the 960 Pro where as the best SATA SSDs take over 3 minutes.
As expected Samsung’s latest flagship M.2 NVMe SSD is fast, very fast. Performance wise it is a good step forward from the previous 950 Pro series, though most 950 owners won’t feel the need to rush out an upgrade just yet as Samsung’s last seasons M2 drive is still very capable.
On the other hand enthusiasts looking to build a brand new system or are just in need of a new SSD, well then you are in luck. As it stands there is no better option for those seeking maximum performance.
Pricing starts at $330 for the 512GB model and rises as high as $1300 for a 2TB version and yes we are talking US dollars for these MSRPs. The 1TB model that I have costs a cool $630, so 61 cents per gigabyte, the exact same cost per gigabyte as the 512GB 950 Pro. At this stage Aussie pricing isn’t yet clear, a direct currency conversion places the 1TB model at around $830. This makes sense as that is roughly twice the price of the 950 Pro 512GB.
So what do you guys think? Is the 960 Pro fast enough to justify the price? Please be sure to let me know what you think in the comments. This has been Steve from Hardware Unboxed and hopefully I have done a good enough job, sitting in for Matt on this one.