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Samsung SSD 980 NVMe SSD Review

DRAM-free and impressively fast

Matthew Keith Posted:
Category:
Hardware Reviews 0

Ever pushing the boundaries of consumer-friendly storage, Samsung is attempting to raise the bar once again with the introduction of the SSD 980 NVMe M.2. Built for the PCIe 3.0 generation, the 980 aims to push the limits of this generation’s SSD experience. After a week of tests, gaming and number crunching, the results are in and it’s time to give a verdict on just how powerful the 980 really is. 

Specifications

  • Pricing (MSRP):
    • 250Gb: USD $49.99
    • 500Gb: USD $69.99
    • 1TB: USD $129.99
  • Interface: PCIe Gen.3.0 x4, NVMe 1.4
  • Form Factor: M.2 (2280)
  • Storage Memory: Samsung V-NAND 3-bit MLC (TLC)
  • Controller: Samsung In-house Controller
  • Capacity: 250Gb, 500gb, 1TB
  • Sequential Read/Write Speed (1TB model): Up to 3,500/3,000 MB/s 
  • Random Read/Write Speed (QD32): up to 500k IOPS/ 480K IOPS
  • Management Software: Samsung Magician

Redefining the Standard

With PCIe Gen.4.0 being the new up and coming in regards to NVMe speeds one would think that the current generation of NVMe drives had given all they had to give. However, Samsung had one more trick up its sleeve and it comes in the form of the SSD 980. Built from the ground up to push the limits of what we can expert from Gen.3.0 performance, the 980 changes the game on what a 3rd Gen PCIe SSD can do. 

Boasting read/write speeds of up to 350/3000 Mb/s respectively, the 980 is a fast drive. For the purpose of comparison, I ran my benchmarks and real-world tests with both the 980 and the Kingston A2000 NVMe 1TB. Both run on a 3rd generation PCIe infrastructure and have similar power needs. The short version (more details later on) is that the 980 destroyed the Kingston in all tests.

This is achieved by a new system that Samsung uses with the SSD 980. Most consumer NVMe SSD’s use a DRAM system to push the speed at which data is accessed. In the case of the 980, Samsung has opted to remove the DRAM system. Traditionally SSD’s that ran with only the flash memory for storage were cheaper to build and physically smaller but were much slower to access data. 

Enter the Host Memory Buffer technology, which is essentially a pipeline to the host processor’s DRAM. This gives you the best of both worlds; smaller and cheaper to build with all the power of your processor’s DRAM. This new system, when coupled with Samsung's sixth-generation V-NAND and the company’s proprietary controller gives the 980 a serious edge on the competition.

Another important feature of the SSD 980 is its sustainable write speeds. The wizards over at Samsung have imbued the drive with the Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0. This little piece of onboard firmware works nonstop to assure sustained write speeds. This is accomplished by essentially making more buffering space available for files to write to while a data transfer is taking place. 

The 980 also takes advantage of the Samsung Magician software which allows you to manage, benchmark and tweak the drive. It also includes a new “Full Power Mode” that drives the SSD to work at peak performance while running a game. This, in theory, allows for a smoother play experience. My personal experience with the new mode didn’t yield any new and impressive results. However, the Magician Software itself is amazing to use and can manage all the drives on your system.  

Synthetic Speed Tests

So how does the SSD 980 perform? It’s insanely fast. As mentioned, I ran the 980 against the Kingston A2000 for all of the benchMarks to get a feel for what Samsung's newest entry could do. In the ATTO Disk Benchmark tests, the 980 outperformed Kingston in every test. In fact, it almost doubled the write speed of the Kingston while more than doubling its read speed. 

The CrystalDiskMark tests gave me similar results with the read/write on the 980 clocking in at 3499.11/2804.54 Mb/s respectively. The Kingston was left behind at 1538.35/1538.02Mb/s read/write speeds. I was blown away at the difference in speed between the two drives. 

My one caveat with the 980 is that I was never able to produce the speeds that the spec sheet stated it could reach. This isn’t a huge issue but it would be nice to see those kinds of numbers consistently on a benchmark.

For further comparison, I pulled up my benchmarks on the Samsung 870 Evo review I did a few weeks back. At the time of review I stated that “the Samsung 870 EVO maintains its spot as one of the top-tier SSD for its class,” and I stand by that statement. Obviously, the speeds of an NVMe drive are going to be faster than a standard SATA SSD. 

What I found interesting though when comparing those numbers with the SSD 980 was not so much what the drives could produce for speed but how consistent the transfer raters were. In this regard, The Samsung line of hard drives, be it SATA or NVMe, feels like it is ahead of the competition when compared to other hard drive companies. 

Real-World Performance

The reality is that benchmarks only tell part of the story. In order to get a good idea on how hardware is going to perform it’s important to put it through its paces. To accomplish this I ran the 980 and the A2000 through a series of data transfers, measuring for transfer speed and overall transfer time. 

Two folders were sent to both drives one at a time. The first file to make the trip was DOOM Eternal. With a file size of 55.7GB it's no slouch in the size department. The 890 performed exceptionally well averaging 930MB/s and taking 59 seconds to finish. There are a couple of interesting points to note from this test. The transfer speeds from beginning to end were some of the most consistent I’ve seen in a data transfer. From the moment I dropped the file in the folder until it was complete, there was little change in the speeds. 

Similarly, the second transfer, World of Warcraft (71.3GB), was found to have the same consistent read/write speeds throughout the process. Interestingly the average speed was higher with WOW, presumably because of the larger file size. For the record, it took only 80 seconds to move the entire 71.3Gb of files.  

The Kingston A2000, on the other hand, didn’t fare quite so well. DOOM Eternal clocked in at 103 seconds which is only slightly faster than the 870 EVO at 110 seconds. World of Warcraft didn’t fare much better clocking in at 145 seconds. The 870 performed the same task at 151 seconds. In regards to transfer speeds, the Kingston was able to produce and (for the most part) maintain a little over half the speed of the SSD 980 with 485MB/s on DOOM and 465MB/s on WOW. 

What Does It All Mean? 

If you’re thinking to yourself, “but I’m a gamer, what does it all mean to me?”, well you're not alone. I ran a quick series of load time tests with DOOM Eternal and WOW and noted that there is a slight decrease in load times between the SSD 980 and the A2000. I was able to shave about 3 seconds off the DOOM Eternal level load time and 2 seconds off the WOW level load time. In the grand scheme of life, this load time difference isn’t why I’d buy the SSD 980. 

This drive shines on its consistency and read/write speeds. For gamers, who routinely move huge files around on their system, the 980 almost halves the transfer time for files. This, coupled with a TBW (Total Bytes Written) score of 600 on the 1TB model, makes it a reliable, fast choice for gamers.

If you’re a content creator you’ll find the SSD980 to be great to save recordings to. Faster read/write speeds mean less potential for data loss, frame drops and audio/video miss-syncing. This becomes especially important if you’re recording your audio through an audio controller and syncing it to the video after. 

Final Thoughts

The Samsung SSD 980 NVMe M.2 feels like a swan song to the PCIe Gen.3.0 era of NVMe drives. It pushes the boundaries on what we’ve come to expect from this generation of SSD. From the new HMB system to Samsung’s Intelligent Write firmware, everything about this drive is quality designed and built. Throw in a pretty solid price point for all the 980 has to offer and you really can’t go wrong with this upgrade. For more information on SSD 980 head on over to their site

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. 
9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Impressive and consistent speeds
  • Well priced
  • Innovative design
  • Magician Software offers a lot for free
Cons
  • Was never able to get it to spec read/write speeds in the benchmark


Nexfury

Matthew Keith

Hailing from the Great White North, Matt's been playing games since the Sega Master System was new. About 20 minutes after picking up his first controller he discovered he had an opinion on the matter. Ever since he has been looking for ways to share it with others! Matt's a pastor, gamer, writer, geek, co-host of @Rollthelevel podcast, husband, father, and loving every minute of it!