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Samsung 980 PRO Review

NVMe's New Best-in-Class Star

Christopher Coke Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

While it is a relatively new option, PCIe 4.0 opens the doors for incredible advancements in technology. As it is becoming a mainstream interface option, one of the more tangible spaces where we can catch a glimpse of the potential is in the arena of storage solutions. Today, we are going to be reviewing one of the breakout stars of the PCIe performance show, the Samsung 980 PRO NMVe drive. Offering best-in-class sequential read and write speeds, could this drive be a window into technological advances yet to come? 

Let’s find out together. 

Specifications

  • MSRP: $89.99 (250GB), $149.99  (500GB), $ 229.99 (1TB)
  • Controller: Samsung
  • Storage Memory: Samsung V-NAND
  • Bus: PCIe Gen 4.0 x4, NVMe 1.3c
  • Form Factor: M.2 2280
  • Sequential Read: up to 6,900 MB/s
  • Sequential Write: up to 5,000 MB/s
  • Warranty: Limited 5-years

If you are building a PC in 2020, there is no reason to overlook an M.2 NVMe drive in your build. The performance leap between a SATA-limited physical HDD and a solid state NVMe drive with broad access to your system bus is truly matchless. 

While this used to cost a significant amount, the barriers to access this technology are almost nonexistent today. Reliable drives from major players in the market can be found. Even if it only serves as a system drive and home base for your daily go-to games, the pairing of  PCIe lanes and flash memory gives these drives fast access to your files, improving boot speeds and reducing level load times.

On the other side of that spectrum, there are NVMe drives that exist to push performance, vying to be the best. Among the names warring for the crown is the industry juggernaut, Samsung. While the company is a household hand, Samsung is a leader in memory module production. 

With that in mind, it is no surprise that the 980 PRO is Samsung’s current crown jewel of NMVe performance. Offering staggering speeds of 7,000MB/s sequential read and 5,000MB/s write in their 1TB iteration, the 980 PRO is nearly two times faster on paper than last year’s behemoth, the Western Digital WD_Black SN750! While there are certainly a multitude of factors involved, this performance delta that we are seeing is held significantly by the difference in connection type: PCIe 4.0 versus PCIe 3.0.

What you are about to see will illustrate the generational leap and what that will mean to the future. 

Synthetic Benchmarks

As we dive into testing, let talk about our methodology. For these tests, we ran a series of synthetic benchmarks which gave us base-line performance numbers for the Samsung 980 PRO. To collect this data, we used CrystalDiskMark64, AS SSD Benchmark, and ATTO Disk Benchmark. Before we get lost in the data, here are the system specifications for our test bench:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 3800X
  • Cooler: Corsair Hydro Series H150i ELITE CAPELLIX (Closed loop cooler)
  • RAM: Zadak SPARK 32GB 3200MHz DDR4
  • Motherboard: ASUS Prime X570-Pro
  • GPU: NVIDIA RTX 3090 Founders Edition
  • Storage: 500GB Samsung 980 Pro, 1TB WD_Black SN750, 1 TB Seagate FireCuda
  • PSU: NZXT E850
  • Case: Corsair 4000X

As we look at test results, we will also be including numbers from a myriad of NVMe drives along with one of the strongest SATA-based SSD, the SK Hynix Gold S31. Since we brought it up earlier, we will be showing the performance the 1TB WD_Black SN750 as well as the 250GB WD Blue SN500, 250GB Samsung 970 EVO Plus, 256GB Patriot Scorch NVMe, and 1TB Kingston KC2500 drives referenced. 

On to the data!

In ATTO Disk, the Samsung 980 PRO tested at peak speeds of 6.31GB/s (read) and 4.89 MB/s (write). While not uncommon for this particular test, the 980 PRO does fall slightly short of its top end of the advertised read/write speeds, but remember: those are best-case scenario numbers. ATTO Disk Benchmark gives a bit more of a “real world” picture of the drive in use. This test will queue up chunks of data, all varying in size, then shows how the drive handles the data packets, recording read and write speeds. 

Moving on, in AS SSD the 980 PRO showed sequential speeds of 5556.19 MB/s (read) and 3867.16 MB/s (write). Comparatively, the WD_Black SN750 topped out at 2796 MB/s (read) and 2591 MB/s (write) with the Kingston KC2500 jockeying for position near it at 3024 MB/s (read) and 2591 (write). It is wild to look at the difference a generation in technology can make. Our final piece of synthetic data will give clarity to the contract.

If you look at the charts from our final test, CrystalDiskMark, you will see the Samsung 980 PRO toppling the highest-performing PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives. But there is a bigger story that this chart tells… which we will get to in the conclusion.

Real-World Performance

While synthetic benchmarks tell a story, they don’t tell the whole story. To give us a better look into the story the Samsung PRO 980 tells, we ran a few gaming tests to collect information on load times between scenes as well as the time it took to load into specific portions of a few games. 

Since getting into the action fast is always better, we also recorded cold boot times to show off how fast an NVMe drive can get to your login screen. For the Samsung PRO 980, we had a boot time of around 20 seconds from the push of the power button. This speed is not too dissimilar from what we have seen in other NVMe drives, but it’s still fast!

In the Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers benchmark at maximum settings in 1440p, we saw a total scene loading time of 9.152 seconds between. The five scenes that make up this test had an average load time of 1.83 seconds between scenes. Keeping it in the Final Fantasy family, the front end loading of the Final Fantasy XV benchmark took 10.36 seconds. The transitions between scenes were nearly nonexistent, taking under a second to load. Finally, loading from the director into Destiny 2’s Tangled Shore took 13 seconds.

Final Thoughts

In all of our tests, the Samsung 980 PRO had a clear advantage with PCIe 4.0, but, what we are looking at is a gigantic generational leap. When we look at drives like the Samsung 970 EVO Plus, WD_Black SN750, and Kingston KC2500, they are all utilizing four PCI lanes, whereas the Patriot Scorch and WD Blue SN500 are only using two. The delta between these sets of drives is very similar to what we are seeing between the top tier PCIe 3.0 drives and the Samsung 980 PRO on PCIe 4.0. 

Anecdotally (and to even the playing field), I looked at the numbers I collected from the Samsung 980 PRO  and compared them to two other PCIe 4.0 drives tested here at MMORPG.com. What I discovered is that the 980 PRO exceeded the performance of both. How much? Over 1000MB/s in both read and write tests… and that was against the 1TB and 2TB versions of those drives!

With all of that in mind, what we are looking at is both a huge generational leap and the Adonis of this current generation of NVMe drives: the pinnacle of NVMe performance to-date. Now, that performance comes at a bit of a premium. Comparatively speaking, the 500GB Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 runs $40 USD less than its Samsung 980 PRO counterpart. In case you are wondering what that $40 difference is, it is double the sequential write speed and a 38% increase in sequential read speeds.

And this is where the Samsung 980 PRO begins to reveal the exciting leaps in store for this technology. Not only are we seeing a huge uplift of performance from the previous generation, there is still room to grow with PCIe 4.0! Since competition tends to breed innovation, I am eager to see how Samsung’s latest entry into the NVMe market will help lead the way for what is possible with these drives.

If the aim of your PC build is to leave nothing on the table when it comes to performance, the Samsung 980 PRO is absolutely peerless at the time of writing this review. While it may cost more than its current competition, this is the best-in-class NVMe drive. The Samsung 980 PRO is a star performer in read and write speeds, making the most out of the speeds offered by PCIe 4.0.

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

9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Blistering PCIe 4.0 speeds
  • Huge generational leap in performance
  • Utilizes Samsung’s industry-leading flash memory and controllers
Cons
  • Premium performance comes at a premium price


GameByNight

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