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Samsung 970 Pro NVME M.2 SSD: The Reigning King of NVME SSDs

By Christopher Coke on July 03, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Samsung 970 Pro NVME M.2 SSD: The Reigning King of NVME SSDs

Since their release nearly three years ago, Samsung’s NVME M.2 SSDs have dominated the high performance storage market. Competition has been glacial in their attempts to catch up, but as they finally do, Samsung has returned to defend their title with the 970 series. We were lucky enough to get our hands on a 970 PRO NVME M.2 SSD. Let’s see how it fared in our tests.

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $499.99 (1TB), $229.99 (512MB)
  • Capacities: 1TB (reviewed), 512MB
  • Interface: PCIe Gen 3.0 x4, NVMe 1.3
  • Storage Memory: Samsung V-NAND 2-bit MLC
  • Controller: Samsung Phoenix Controller
  • Sequential Read: Up to 3500 MB/s
  • Sequential Write: Up to 2700 MB/s (1TB), 2300 MB/s (512MB)
  • Endurance: 1200 TBW (1TB), 600 TBW (512MB)
  • Idle Power Consumption: Max 30 mW
  • Data Encryption: Class 0 (AES 256) TCG/Opal v2.0, MS eDrive (IEEE1667)
  • Features: TRIM support, S.M.A.R.T. support, Device Sleep Mode, Auto Garbage Collection Algorithm
  • Warranty: 5-Year Limited Warranty or TBW Limited Warranty

The 970 series of SSDs enter a market that’s more challenging than ever before. With competition like the WD Black nipping at the 960’s heels, the 970 line has something to prove if it wants to retain its place as atop the mountain of consumer mindshare. Samsung seemed keenly aware that their competitors were drawing in and in some cases even surpassing the 960 series in performance, thus with the quoted specs, release window, and last minute price drop all seem calculated to undercut the competition and defend their place in the market.

It’s not all pricing and flying high on reputation, however, as the 970s bring with them core improvements over the 960. Foremost is the new Phoenix Controller. The controller features five cores, like the 960, but one is dedicated to increasing the speed of communications with the PC while the others feature higher clock rates to deliver a solid performance boost. The PRO also features new 64-layer 3D flash to improve latency and reduce power consumption.

As a result of this, the 970 PRO offers quoted speeds of 3500 MB/s for sequential reads and 2700 MB/s for sequential writes (2300 MB/s on the 512MB version). Last generation’s 1TB PRO quoted the same read speeds and only 2100 MB/s for writes but the new Phoenix controller should result in higher overall performance in both areas thanks to its refined core functions. Random access speed quotes are also quite impressive at 500,000 IOPS with a queue depth of 32. The 512MB model also offers respectable random access performance at 370,000 IOPS.

One of the most striking improvements comes in endurance. The 1TB model we tested is rated for 1200 TBW (terabytes written). This would allow you to completely fill the drive every day for over three years, which is obviously far more work than the average user would ever subject the drive to. It’s also double the endurance of 2016’s 960 PRO. The 512GB model also features an endurance bump of more than 30% from the same capacity 960. Each drive is also backed by a 5-year limited warranty.

A drive of this caliber makes it a multi-purpose workhorse. While our primary focus is on gaming, users working with large files, such as 4K game captures, will find a particular benefit as the speed of working with those files is increased. It does come at a premium, however, with the 1TB drive coming in at $499 and the 512MB following at $229.99. At the moment, there is no 2TB PRO version, though the capacity is offered with the 970 EVO.

Benchmark Testing

Test System: Intel Core i7-8700K at 4.7GHz, ASUS Z370 Maximum X Core motherboard, 64GB DDR4-3200 Ballistix Tactical Elite, WD Gold 10TB Mass Storage, NVidia GTX 1080 Ti (SLI), Corsair HX1050 - 1050 Watt PSU, Noctua DH-14 Dual-spire/Dual-fan CPU cooler, Fractal Define R6 Case.

When testing SSDs, we first begin by looking at synthetic benchmarks to cross check the manufacturers claims on speed. We then move into real world file copy tests using a large, heavily modified Skyrim directory. Finally, we look at game loading times in a variety of popular MMORPGs. Since MMOs, particularly in capital cities where our tests are conducted, require large first-time, no-cache loads, this makes for a particularly good test of real world performance implications.

Beginning with synthetic tests, we put the 970 PRO through its paces with ATTO Disk Benchmark. For real world use, these figures aren’t exactly representative as the majority of users will spend more time engaging in random reads and writes than sequentials; however, it does represent a kind of “best case scenario” for a drive’s performance - which is why manufacturers often quote tools like ATTO in their marketing materials. Here, we see the 970 PRO actually surpass the quoted speeds, which is great to see.

Next, we turn to CrystalDiskMark. Unlike ATTO, CDM assesses both sequential and random performance at multiple levels. CDM tends to be a bit harder on drives in its sequential testing, so we typically see speeds drop across the board.

If ATTO provides the “best case” scenario, CDM provides us with the worst in its 4KQ1T1 tests. These benchmarks assess random access with a Queue depth of one, meaning the drive in unable to prepare for future bits of data to increase its speed. This is a valuable assessment to explore both ends of the spectrum. As the Queue depth increases to 8 and 32 bits, speeds increase to provide us a more realistic approximation of the kind of performance we’ll see on a day to day basis.

In this benchmark, we can see the 970 PRO holding a significant lead in sequential read speeds - as it should - though falling slightly behind the WD Black (2018) in sequential writes. For random access, however, the 970 PRO leads the pack, which is an excellent indicator for its competitiveness in actual use.

From synthetics, we move into our real world and game-based testing. Our file copy test marks the minimum, maximum, and average transfer speeds of a large, multi-directory folder copy. Note that the maximum times generally indicate the initial speed burst whereas the minimum is often drawn from the valleys mid-transfer.

Compared against the other NVME drives we’ve had in to benchmark, the 970 PRO is the hands-down winner. The high initial burst, higher minimum speed, and overall average transfer speed trump ever other drive we’ve looked at. As the synthetics indicated, the drive absolutely delivers on its premium pedigree.

Finally, we come to our MMO load time comparison. As mentioned in the beginning of this section, MMOs are particularly well-suited for this testing due to the higher than average load demands when logging into a capital city for the first time. With a one-second exception in the case of World of Warcraft, the 970 PRO ties or surpasses every other drive we’ve had in for testing in real-world game loads.

Final Thoughts

With the 970 PRO, Samsung has again set a high water mark for consumer NVME M.2 SSDs. In both synthetics and real world tests, it consistently met or trumped the drives we tested against. As most of the performance storage industry moves toward TLC NAND, it’s interesting to see Samsung stick it out with MLC and to do so as effectively as they have here. If the $499 doesn’t scare you off, the 1TB 970 PRO is a compelling option that gamers and creatives should be considering.

Pros

  • Excellent performance in synthetics and real world scenarios
  • Incredible 1200 TBW endurance rating
  • The new Phoenix controller is a great revision that delivers on its promise

Cons

  • Limited capacity options

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.