A general rule in the world of commerce: You can tell how successful a certain product is by the number of different ways you can buy it.
For example, when you look at a car maker’s lineup, you can often tell which model sells the most by the one offered in the most colors. Solid-state drives (SSDs) and cars may not be 100 percent comparable, but it sure seems like it, at least when it comes to Samsung’s world-beating, venerable SSD 850 EVO line.
When this SSD family first arrived in December of 2014, it was an instant success, both commercially and critically. To this day, almost two years later, it’s still one of the most recommended SSDs around (even by us), due to its rare blend of high performance, high endurance, and low price.
It’s clearly been a highly successful SSD series for Samsung, because not only was it updated post-launch to a whopping 2TB capacity, but the company has updated it in 2016 a second time, rolling out an incredible $1,599-MSRP 4-terabyte (4TB) model. That’s the highest-capacity Serial ATA SSD on the market, and the SSD 850 EVO as a whole has become the most enduring, capacity-tweaked line of them all.
The move to 4TB came about because of memory-technology advancements on Samsung’s end that have emerged between the time the drive was first released and now. Back in the early days of 2014, the SSD 850 EVO was created using Samsung’s second generation of 3D TLC V-NAND, which had 32 layers. (See our SSD-lingo primer for an explainer of NAND types and much more.)
Specs Core Tech: The Basics
If you’re just catching up with that stuff, prior to the SSD 850 EVO series, SSDs used NAND flash that was laid down in a single flat plane. That was all fine and dandy for a few years, but as the memory cells were continually reduced in size to increase capacity (packing in more using increasingly advanced manufacturing processes), performance became an issue, as did endurance. After all, you can make areas that hold data only so small before you begin to run into limitations. So Samsung, followed later by other flash-memory manufacturers, created a NAND die with multiple vertical layers, stacked one atop another. This allowed Samsung to make its flash chips physically larger on SSD circuit boards and just pile up the NANDs instead.
When the SSD 850 EVO launched back in 2014, Samsung was using its second generation of 3D V-NAND, which had 32 layers. It used this technology for all of the original capacities of the SSD 850 EVO (120GB, 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB), as well as the 2TB version that came later. However, Samsung is now producing third-generation, higher-capacity 48-layer NAND, and thus the 4TB SSD 850 EVO was born.
This new model recycles a lot of the parts from the 2TB model, including its MHX controller and PCB. (The 1TB and smaller drives used a different controller.) But it now has a staggering 4GB of DRAM cache, plus new firmware. (The 2TB drive had 2GB of DRAM cache.) Despite the audacious boost in capacity, the rated performance specs for this drive remain unchanged from the previous capacities. This performance-claim flatline is a teeny bit surprising, given that SSDs in a given family typically perform better as the capacity increases, all else being equal. (More chunks of memory allow for increased parallelism.) But in the case of the Samsung SSD 850 EVO, it seems like it was already as fast as the SATA interface previously allowed.
What this means: Currently, all of the Samsung SSD 850 EVO drives have the same specs in terms of sequential reads and writes, 540MB per second and 520MB per second, respectively. Some of the other specs (such as random read and write speeds) vary according to capacity, but not by much.
Surprisingly, one specification that the 4TB drive shares with the 2TB model is write-endurance. At both capacities, the drives are rated to be able to write up to 300TB of data. That is four times what the 120GB and 250GB drives are capable of, and double what the 500GB and 1TB drives offer. It’s a decent step up from the lower-capacity drives, though it is surprising that we didn’t see an increase in endurance when doubling the capacity from 2TB to 4TB. For what it’s worth, 300TB is more than a typical end user, under ordinary workloads, will ever write to a drive in a lifetime, so it’s not a major concern. It’s just odd that the rating didn’t change, given the fact that the drive has twice as much NAND flash. That’s the usual order of things as you go up an SSD maker’s stack.
The 4TB SSD 850 EVO still includes a five-year warranty, like the other capacities, which is the longest of its class, as most “value” drives include only three years of coverage. It also includes Samsung’s excellent Magician software, which we’ve covered many times previously. (Hit the link for a review of the 500GB SSD 850 EVO, and more detail on Magician.)
The thing is, this is the lone 4TB Serial ATA SSD on the market, so the Samsung SSD 850 EVO doesn’t have any like-capacity competition. And since Samsung has tagged it with a whopping $1,599 list price (with the drive actually selling for $1,400 to $1,500 at this writing from various e-tailers), it exists in some seriously rarified air, for sure. It also levies a cost-per-gigabyte premium over the 2TB SSD 850 EVO, which was selling in the low $600’s at this writing.
One interesting “bonus” to note is that, at press time, Samsung was offering a free download of the game Watch Dogs 2 with the purchase of any qualifying Samsung SSD (or monitor), and that includes the 4TB version. That’s nice if you’re an avid PC gamer, but given the cost of this SSD, it’s likely way more of an incentive with lower-capacity SSDs.
If you’re new to the world of SSDs, a few things are worth noting when it comes to performance.
For starters: If you’re upgrading from a standard spinning hard drive, any modern SSD will be a huge improvement, speeding up boot times and making programs launch faster. Most of today’s high-end 2.5-inch SSDs make use of a specific interface, SATA 3.0 (also called “6Gbps SATA”), to achieve maximum speed versus older, but still common, SATA 2 ports, which top out at 300MB per second. We test all our SSDs on a SATA 3.0-equipped test-bed PC to show their full performance abilities. To get the most speed possible from modern drives, you’ll need a system with SATA 3.0 capability, as well.
If your system is based on an Intel chipset later than those supporting 2nd-Generation “Sandy Bridge” processors (or one of the newer AMD chipsets), your laptop or desktop probably has this interface. Be sure before buying, though. If your system is creaky and doesn’t have SATA 3.0 support, there’s little point in paying a premium for a drive with the maximum possible performance. SATA 3.0-capable drives will work just fine with previous-generation SATA ports, and there’s scant reason to pay extra for drive speed that your system can’t take advantage of. Any basic current SSD will work just as well, in that SATA 3.0-less scenario. That said, you don’t have a lot of alternatives if you want or need 4TB in one SATA drive, so this point is partially moot in this SSD’s case.
PCMark 7 (Secondary Storage Test)
The Secondary Storage Test is a subtest of Futuremark’s larger PCMark 7 benchmarking suite. It employs a different approach to drive testing than pure speed tests like AS-SSD, which we’ll get to next. PCMark 7 runs a series of scripted tasks typical of everyday PC operation and disk accesses. It measures app launches, video-conversion tasks, image import, and more. The result is a proprietary numeric score; the higher the number, the better.
This score is useful in gauging general performance versus other drives. Note that, like with our 10GB File Copy Test, we secure-erase all SSDs before running PCMark 7’s Secondary Storage Test.
In our first contest, the SSD 850 EVO 4TB topped all previous SATA drives on our leaderboard, making it the fastest 2.5-inch SATA SSD we’ve seen thus far by a mild margin. This isn’t a huge surprise, as SSD performance typically scales with capacity. What is surprising is that the 4TB drive even beat the 1TB version of the Samsung SSD 850 Pro, which uses MLC NAND and is generally considered the fastest SATA drive money can buy. It’s also noteworthy that Samsung drives occupy four of the five top spots in this competitive set.
AS-SSD (Sequential Read Write Speeds)
The benchmark utility AS-SSD was designed specifically to test SSDs (as opposed to traditional hard drives). This setting within AS-SSD measures a drive’s ability to read and write large files. Drive makers often quote these speeds, as a theoretical maximum, on the packaging or in advertising.
Sequential speeds are important if you’re working with very large files for image or video editing, or you play lots of games with large levels that take a long time to load with traditional hard drives. We secure-erase all SSDs before running this test.
Most of the SATA drives are in the same ballpark when it comes to sequential-read speeds, with a few notable exceptions. The SSD 850 EVO wasn’t quite as fast as the competition in this test, however, finishing mid-pack alongside its smaller-capacity sibling. It’s a bit surprising to see the 4TB and 500GB drives score exactly the same, however, as 4TB is such a big capacity boost that we thought it would translate to at least a small uptick in performance on this test.
TLC-based drives such as the Samsung SSD 850 EVO are known to have some issues with write operations, though Samsung utilizes a workaround in the form of a “pseudo SLC” cache. In this design, some empty cells are treated like SLC NAND for the purpose of caching writes more quickly, thereby improving performance. When the drive is idle, the cache is flushed to the TLC NAND, so it’s transparent to the user.
As you can see from this chart, this approach is quite effective, and though the 4TB SSD 850 EVO didn’t take the top spot, it’s right next to the SSD 850 Pro, which doesn’t have any special write-speed technology other than good, old-fashioned MLC NAND. And that’s the point of the pseudo-cache: to make a TLC drive perform more like an MLC drive, and it works. That said, the 4TB drive performed admirably despite not landing on the top rung of the chart. The differences among the top-third drives here are modest at best.
AS-SSD (4K Read Write Speeds)
This test, also a part of the SSD-centric AS-SSD benchmark, measures a drive’s ability to traffic small files. Often overlooked, 4K performance, particularly 4K write performance, is important when you’re talking about boot speed and program launch times.
When booting up your system or launching programs, many tiny files get accessed and edited frequently. The faster your drive can write and read these kinds of files (especially dynamic link library, or DLL, files in Windows), the faster your OS will “feel.” Since these small files are accessed much more often than large media or game-level files, an SSD’s showing on this test will have a greater impact on how fast it feels in ordinary use.
Once again, the 4TB version of the SSD 850 EVO scored almost exactly the same as the first version we reviewed, which has but a mere 500GB capacity. (Seems quaint now, eh?) Its score was enough to earn it a decent fourth place in this competitive set, making it one of the faster drives we’ve tested at both small and large capacities. That’s quite an achievement for the smaller SSD 850 EVO drive, if a fine but not stunning showing for the larger one.
In this test, the 4TB drive earned the distinction of being the fastest drive in the large and growing SSD 850 EVO family, which is quite an achievement. It was just 15MB per second slower than the fastest drive, topping out at 110MB per second overall. This places it into the upper echelon of SATA drives we’ve tested, however, meaning it has more going for it than capacity alone.
Anvil’s Storage Utilities
Anvil’s Storage Utilities is, like AS-SSD, an SSD-specific set of drive benchmarking tests. We’ll report here the Overall Score, which is derived from the test’s Read and Write scores with the utility run at default settings.
The 4TB SSD 850 EVO landed in the runner-up spot in this test, delivering an impressive 5,072 score. That’s just a gnat’s eyelash away from the top spot, once again making the 4TB drive the fastest of the SSD 850 EVO family in this test. It even beat the 1TB SSD 850 Pro by a smidge, which is like a souped-up Honda Civic beating a stock Acura at the dragstrip. There’s not much else to say, other than that the 4TB drive is clearly fast.
Crystal DiskMark (QD32 Testing)
Crystal DiskMark uses incompressible data for testing, which stresses most modern SSDs quite a bit since they rely on data compression to achieve their maximum level of performance. This particular test is designed to replicate the duties of an SSD located inside a Web server, asked to perform a smattering of small reads. While it’s reading these files, a queue of 32 outstanding requests is lined up. That’s typical of a high-volume Web server, which has to fulfill requests flying in all at the same time from various clients.
The 4TB Samsung SSD 850 EVO showed some of its “value” roots in this test, as it wasn’t quite up to the rigorous demands of being hit with this constant queue of read requests. The drive finished in the lower half of this benchmark set. That’s not unexpected for a budget-oriented drive, though surprisingly the 500GB version of the drive performed better this time around. This test also clearly highlights the difference between the EVO and Pro models of the 850.
The 4TB version of the EVO finished near the same spot in the write tests that it did in the read test this time around, about the middle of the rankings. This isn’t surprising for a midrange SSD, but the 500GB version once again finished well higher in the rankings. We could not pinpoint exactly why there’s a discrepancy here, but it was clear on both tests, and we verified it on two different test-bed systems we tried for a reality check.
There’s a reason why Samsung keeps churning out new versions of this drive: It’s a very solid platform that offers everything people need in an SSD, namely speed and endurance at an affordable price per gigabyte. It’s not a complicated equation, yet given all the variables surrounding SSD technology, it’s a tough mixture to get just right. But Samsung has proven it can do it, time and time again.
Despite the newer and faster SSD 960 EVO and SSD 960 Pro drives recently arriving, they likely won’t topple the SSD 850 EVO from its popular-choice pedestal any time soon, since the SSD 960 models are M.2 PCI Express drives, which most people can’t make use of since their desktop or laptop motherboards don’t support them. Therefore, it’s likely that the SSD 850 EVO will continue to be a best-seller for many years to come as we begin as a species to migrate away—slowly—from the aging SATA interface.
As far as the 4TB version of the SSD 850 EVO goes, though, it’s unsurprisingly similar to the previous versions of the drive, in that it’s one of the fastest SATA drives available while offering a superb software package, robust endurance, and not-outlandish pricing given its capacity. You certainly pay a premium when compared to buying four separate 1TB SSD 850 EVO drives, which would run you about $1,200. But a multi-SSD array is a whole different animal, workable only on a desktop PC, and requiring you to mess with a RAID array or address four drives as discrete drives. If you want to upgrade a laptop, you have just one shot and one bay.
Overall, the 4TB SSD 850 EVO is certainly lustworthy, and if you can afford and install it, you won’t be disappointed. We’re withholding an Editors’ Choice award on this 4TB version, though, since at its price it is a specialty item and quite expensive; we’d have liked to see a “volume discount” on gigabytes here, not a premium tax for the mega-capacity. We doubt many people will actually need an SSD this roomy and buffed-up, but for those that do, it’s both the only and the best game in town.
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