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Samsung 960 EVO M.2 SSD: Incredible Speed in a Tiny Package

Christopher Coke Posted:
Hardware Reviews 0

Last month, we took a look at ZOTAC’s solid state drive flagship, the Sonix 10 Year Anniversary Edition. We were quite impressed by how it performed on our tests. You told us loud and clear: there were M.2 drives on the market giving the ZOTAC a run for its money. We got in touch with our friends at Samsung and they were kind enough to send over their new 960 EVO 500GB for us to test out. It’s smaller, cheaper and, according to Samsung, should even faster. Let’s see how it made out.

First things first: unlike most SSDs you’ve probably seen, the 960 EVO is an M.2 drive, not a 2.5 SATA enclosure. Appearance-wise it resembles a RAM chip, but smaller and requires your motherboard to have an appropriate M.2 slot in order to work. Most new motherboards include one or more, but it’s a good idea to have double check just in case. Since M.2 drives utilize PCI Express lanes over the lower bandwidth of traditional SATA, and non-volatile storage (hench, NVMe), the benefits to transfer speeds are profound.

To put that statement into context, Samsung’s 850 PRO, the last 2.5 inch enclosure before the current series, peaked out at 550MB/s and 520MB/s read and write speeds. The 960 EVO we’re looking at today boasts impressive 3200MB/s and 1800MB/s reads and writes. It’s a massive bump. Those speeds do come at the expense of PCIe lanes, which could conceivably cause an issue for some older chipsets running multiple graphics or expansion cards, but most users on Intel Skylake or above shouldn’t have any issue.

One thing the 960 EVO has over the ZOTAC Sonix and Intel’s line of NVMe SSDs is that, as an M.2, it doesn’t require a free PCIe slot. Many gaming boards feature multiple expansion slots; however, in cases where you’re running Crossfire or SLI, full NVMe cards can not only choke off needed air intake but also reduce your PCIe slots into a reduced performance mode of 8x4x4 instead of the 8x8 needed for SLI. Our test system only has a single graphics card, but the prospect of future SLI opportunities essentially demanded that we move away from an expansion card to an M.2. Given the premium price on these drives, if SLI or Crossfire is something you even think you may do, an M.2 like the 960 EVO should be a clear contender.

Test system: MSI Z270 Gaming M7, i7-7700k at 4.5GHz, 16GB DDR4 G.Skill RAM at 3200MHz, GTX 1080Ti Founder’s Edition, Samsung 960 EVO 500GB SSD, 1TB Seagate 7200RPM HDD, 2x 500GB WD 7200RPM HDD, Corsair HX1050 PSU,

Author’s Note: In this review, we compare performance against our last NVMe SSD, the ZOTAC Sonix 10 Year Anniversary edition. As a gaming centric site, we do not have a stable of competitor hardware to compare against. We highly recommend visiting our friends at Anandtech for drive by drive comparisons.

The first test we ran was Samsung’s own benchmark, Samsung Magician. We wanted to see how it would compare to the stated speeds of 3200MB/s and 1800MB/s sequential read and write. With an operating system running at the same time, we did expect results to be slightly lower than these stated benchmarks. Magician returned a read speed of 3059MB/s and write speeds of 1649MB/s. Respectable, while also running Windows 10.

Next, we turned to ATTO benchmark tool. This is used throughout the industry, often by hard drive manufacturers as a means of coming up with theoretical peak speeds. It’s not representative of real world performance, as the data being ran is sequential and compressible, whereas most use will be random and incompressible. As a means of comparing against the manufacturer’s stated speeds, however, it has its purpose. Here we found speeds of 3220MB/s and 1663MB/s respectively.

AS SSD’s copy tests give some insight into transfer rates in real world situations. Again, some impressive results. Click to enlarge

To get an idea of real world performance, we turned to CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD. CrystalDiskMark’s 4K32 test results are much closer to what we found in our copy tests, showing read speeds of 777.8MB/s and write speeds of 517.7MB/s. It also validated the sequential reads of ATTO, coming in at 3257MB/s and 1653MB/s. AS SSD provided similar results, with lower sequential reads.

Synthetic benchmarks only count for so much. We wanted to see how Samsung’s 960 EVO would compare against the ZOTAC Sonic 10YA in real world scenarios.

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Turning to boot times first, we can see an excellent 33% improvement from the ZOTAC Sonix and a 75% improvement from the Seagate platter drive.

Next, we looked at a typical copy paste scenario, going to and from a platter drive, as well as on the 960 EVO itself.

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As you can see, the times are close but the EVO certainly has an edge due to faster peaks at the start of file transfers. Do note that the peaks and valleys immediately level off, so they don’t represent consistent performance.

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Turning to game load tests, we opted to look at MMORPGs since they tend to have a large amount of data to load in and have significant first zone-in wait times. As you can see, with the exception of Black Desert Online, the Samsung 960 EVO edges out the ZOTAC Sonix but is also similar enough to fall within our margin of error for all but Mass Effect: Andromeda.

As our tests show, the Samsung 960 EVO is a high performing drive that boasts some impressive transfer speeds. Compared to our last SSD, its real world performance is better almost across the board. Its MMO results are similar, but coming in at $219 as of this writing, it presents an incredible value stood against similar NVMe drives. Gamers looking for an upgrade should absolutely be considering the Samsung 960 EVO.


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight