Note: This article was first published on 18th October 2016, but it's now re-published in January 2017 as the product is now widely available in retailers.
For the past few years, Samsung’s annual Global SSD Summit meant one thing: a new flagship consumer SSD. Last year, it was the SSD 950 Pro, which also won our Tech Awards for this year’s best SSD. And the year before that, it was the SSD 850 Pro, which was the first SSD to make use of V-NAND. Like its successor, the SSD 850 Pro was also crowned the Best SSD at the 2015 Tech Awards. Do you see a pattern here?
If it isn’t obvious to you, Samsung is the world’s leader in flash memory. According to market watchers, Samsung is the runaway leader in terms of market share, garnering something between 30% to 40% of the market. In a distant second is Toshiba, with around 20%; followed by SanDisk with 15%; and then Micron with 13%. And it’s not just in terms of market share. Samsung was also the first to put 3D-NAND into SSDs, and their drives have a reputation for being the fastest in the market.
Speaking of speed, this year’s new SSD 960 Pro promises the biggest improvements in performance we have seen in speeds since SSDs started adopting the faster PCIe 3.0 x4 interface. Samsung is claiming sequential read and write speeds in excess of 3GB/s and 2GB/s respectively, and random read IOPs in numbers that have never been seen before in a consumer SSD. So does the SSD 960 Pro live up to expectations? That’s what we are here to find out.
Currently, the Samsung SSD 960 Pro is only available in the M.2 2280 form factor. There’s no plans for a PCIe add-in card version, but Samsung did say that if there is demand, they will certainly consider offering it.
As you might therefore expect, the SSD 960 Pro is really small, like the stick of a gum. The biggest update to the SSD 960 Pro is the new Polaris controller. According to Samsung, the big improvements in performance can be attributed to this new controller. On the memory side, Samsung is using its latest 48-layer MLC V-NAND, which has a memory density of 256Gbit, and allows for a maximum of 512GB per NAND package.
Endurance is unchanged, with the 512GB variant of the SSD 960 Pro rated good for 400TBW or roughly 200GB of writes per day- the same as a 512GB SSD 950 Pro. The larger capacity SSD 960 Pro drives enjoy even greater endurance, with the 1TB variant rated good for 800TBW (438GB/day), while the 2TB variant has a rating of 1200TBW (657GB/day).
Unfortunately, Samsung hasn’t revealed much to us about this new controller. All we know is that it plays a big part in the SSD 960 Pro’s blistering performance; and that it’s a 5-core processor with one of the five cores dedicated for host communication, the other four cores manage the flash memory. The controller also supports 256-bit AES hardware encryption and TCG Opal for security.
The nifty thing about the controller is that Samsung has designed it such that it can allow the DRAM cache to be mounted directly on top for it. This saves precious space on the M.2 form factor, allowing Samsung to fit up to four NAND packages on a single drive. Samsung calls this a "package on package" design. It’s also thanks to this design, that Samsung was also able to offer a 2TB version of the SSD 960 Pro.
M.2 drives can be prone to heat soak and to avoid this, the SSD 960 Pro features Dynamic Thermal Guard protection. It’s a technology that debuted on older Samsung drives and what it does is that it cuts back on performance to reduce power consumption and heat until the temperature of the drive falls back within safe confines. Essentially, this is thermal throttling and it is the same practice is used in CPUs and GPUs as well.
To reduce the occurrence of thermal throttling, Samsung has added an adhesive label to the back of the SSD 960 Pro. Within this label is thin piece of copper, which Samsung says improves thermal efficiency by around 30%. In their tests, they found that throttling in the SSD 960 Pro occurs roughly about 50% later in sequential read workloads, and over 220% later in sequential write workloads. What this all means is that thermal throttling will be a less likely issue in the new SSD 960 Pro.
With all the ingredients in place, here’s a table to show what users can expect in terms of performance from the SSD 960 Pro. Compared to the last generation SSD 950 Pro, the improvements are simply incredible and we can’t wait to showcase what the SSD 960 Pro is capable as we put it through its paces over the next few pages.
|SSD 960 Pro (1TB)||SSD 960 Pro (512GB)||SSD 950 Pro (512GB)|
|Sequential Read||Up to 3,500MB/s||Up to 3,500MB/s||Up to 2,500MB/s|
|Sequential Write||Up to 2,100MB/s||Up to 2,100MB/s||Up to 1,500MB/s|
|Random Read (4k, 32QD)||Up to 440,000 IOPs||Up to 330,000 IOPs||Up to 300,000 IOPs|
|Random Write (4k, 32QD)||Up to 360,000 IOPs||Up to 330,000 IOPs||Up to 110,000 IOPs|
Finally, Samsung will also introduce a new version of Samsung Magician with the SSD 960 Pro, which will come with a redesigned interface and some new features. One of the new features that was revealed to us at the Global SSD Summit was secure file erase. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to get a copy of the new Magician software for this review.
Time to dig in to see what this speed demon of a drive is capable of, so read on and check out its performance in the following pages.