Introduction, Design Features
Samsung has made quite a reputation for itself in the solid-state-drive (SSD) sphere over the past five years, starting with its SSD 830 Series drives and really hitting its stride with the SSD 840 series that followed.
The SSD 840 EVOSSD 850 EVO, which again featured an all-new type of NAND memory: 3D TLC NAND. It was essentially the same type of memory as in the previous drive—TLC NAND flash—but stacked vertically, one layer atop the other, instead of laid down side by side. This allowed for higher densities and better endurance, as well as a further cost reduction.
Though we don’t have exact sales numbers to back it up, it seems like the SSD 850 EVO was the biggest success of all, as it offered blistering performance along with the longest warranty in its class, making it a best seller and arguably the best all-around SSD available for most of the past two years. In fact, it’s still being made and sold now, more than two years after its launch. That’s a tough act to follow, but Samsung has finally delivered the successor to the SSD 850 EVO, and the company is once again taking the SSD world to new heights with the unsurprisingly named SSD 960 EVO.
Though the new drive isn’t as groundbreaking in terms of technology as the previous drives in the series, it’s definitely state of the art, incorporating every bit of the latest technology available. As such, it’s poised to repeat the success of the previous drive, offering class-leading performance and endurance at a very reasonable price. Just know that you’ll need a fairly recent desktop or laptop if you want to use it, given the form factor and interface that it uses.
Buying a Solid-State Drive: 20 Terms You Need to Know.)
The reason for all this backstory is that the Samsung SSD 960 EVO supports both of these new technologies, so it’s referred to broadly as a PCI Express NVMe SSD. This means it attaches to the PCI Express bus, and has NVMe behind the scenes controlling its traffic. In other words, with these two key technologies in place, SSDs can finally reach their true potential.
In terms of numbers, that means where SATA drives are limited to around 550MB per second for sequential transfer speeds due to the bandwidth of the interface, the SSD 960 EVO is capable of up to 3.2GB per second in sequential-read speeds, and 1.9GB per second for sequential writes. That’s gigabytes per second, not megabytes, so this drive is roughly six times faster in reads (and almost four times faster in writes) than a speedy SATA-based SSD. It’s able to crank out more than 400 percent more IOPS in random read and write operations than the SATA-based SSD 850 EVO, as well. That’s an incredible amount of progress from one drive series to the next. We’ve been used to minimal gains, at best, in the SATA-drive world for a few years now, as they’ve slammed up against the limits of the aging interface.
Since the SSD 960 EVO rides the PCI Express bus, it uses the gumstick-like M.2 form factor. It also carries the number “2280” as part of its specifications. This signifies that the drive is 22mm wide and 80mm long. The M.2 slot actually accepts a number of different lengths of M.2 SSDs, which was one of the reasons the format was adopted: More chips (and therefore capacity) can be added to a drive simply by extending its length. Or, if not much capacity is needed, an M.2 drive can be made shorter to fit in smaller spaces, like in tiny, slim 2-in-1 convertibles or very compact desktops.
As with other high-end SSDs these days, the SSD 960 EVO uses four PCI Express lanes, also referred to as an “x4” configuration. This type of interface is supported only on recent motherboards (typically Intel Z170 and X99 chipsets, though upcoming Z270 and some AMD AM4 motherboards will presumably support these types of drives, as well). But if you have a desktop, you can alternately add one of these drives to your system via a PCI Express adapter card, provided your motherboard has a spare PCI Express x4 or x16 slot. If you have an older Z97 board, it might have an M.2 slot, but those are typically SATA only, and so won’t work with this drive. But check your motherboard’s manual to be sure.
To deal with all the extra data that this drive is capable of slinging on a per-second basis, Samsung also had to create a new controller, dubbed Polaris. In case you’re wondering, there’s no relation to AMD’s recent graphics architecture of the same name, found in cards like the AMD Radeon RX 480Samsung SSD 960 Pro, the costlier model of Samsung’s new M.2 lineup, which uses multi-level-cell (MLC) flash, rather than the TLC used by the SSD 960 EVO we’re looking at here. In the SSD 960 EVO drive, the new five-core Polaris controller interfaces with the also-new 48-layer, third-generation 3D V-NAND made by Samsung. For context, the SSD 850 EVO uses the company’s second-generation flash memory, which topped out at 32 layers. So this is a decent bump in capacity, from that perspective.
The SSD 960 EVO is being offered in 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB capacities, and the rated endurance increases as you add more flash to the drive, naturally. Compared to the SSD 850 EVO, the endurance ratings have increased slightly at each capacity. The listed endurance is up 25TB over its lifetime for the 250GB drive, for a total of 100 terabytes written (TBW). The 500GB drive is good for 200TBW, and the 1TB can handle a whopping 400TBW, up from 300TB on the previous model.
Despite these sky-high endurance numbers, the drive is offered with a short three-year warranty, which is two years shorter than the SATA-based SSD 850 EVO. We’re not sure why Samsung shortened the warranty here, as the previous five-year warranty was one of its biggest selling points, granting it the status of having the longest warranty in its segment of the market. If you do want the longer warranty in this form factor, you’ll have to step up to the more-expensive SSD 960 Pro, which ships with five years of coverage.
On the software front, Samsung has promised a new “5.0” version of its Magician software, but it wasn’t yet available when we wrote this. Though we have always enjoyed using the previous versions of the Magician software, it makes sense that the company would revamp it for its new flagship NVMe drives. The updated software will reportedly offer a new interface and some new features, but we’ll have to wait to find out what they are. Samsung also makes drive-migration software, so you can transfer your files and/or operating system from an old drive to your new Samsung drive.
Like the SSD 850 EVO, the SSD 960 EVO includes hardware encryption, in case you deal in sensitive data, which also makes this drive an excellent upgrade option for laptop users concerned about data security.
As far as pricing goes, we looked online and saw the following numbers. Pricing for the SSD 960 EVO when we wrote this was $129 (for the 250GB capacity), $249.99 (for the 500GB), and $479 (for the 1TB version). The highest capacity wasn’t yet available in stock when we were wrapping up this review, with most stores listing it as arriving in the early days of 2017.
Those prices are definitely higher than you’d pay for a mainstream SATA drive at each capacity, but they are quite a bit less than the current going rate for the SSD 960 Pro, which starts at around $330 for the lowest-capacity (512GB) model, and sells for about $630 for the 1TB model. The SSD 960 Pro model also comes in a 2TB capacity, but at $1,299, you’ll really have to need that much fast storage to splurge on a drive that costs more than most complete PCs do.
For comparison purposes, let’s take a look at one of the best budget-priced SATA-based SSDs when we wrote this, the Crucial MX300. It’s available in both the M.2 form factor and a standard 2.5-inch drive, and it sells at the same price points, no matter which you choose. When we wrote this in late December 2016, the MX300 was selling for just $85 for the 275GB capacity, around $130 for the 525GB capacity, and $259 for the 1TB model.
That means (at least for the two higher-end models) you can get about twice the capacity for the same price by opting for a SATA drive. But if your system supports PCI Express NVMe drives, it may not support a SATA drive at all in its M.2 slot, so be sure what works for you before buying. And while SATA drives are still far more affordable, even the best of them can’t come close to catching the SSD 960 EVO in performance, as we’re about to see.