960 evo ssd


Samsung 960 EVO NVMe SSD Review

Update: We've updated our original review, which included the 1TB and 256GB capacities, by adding the results and analysis of the 500GB capacity 960 EVO.

Samsung's EVO series has dominated the consumer SSD market for the past several years. The series has balanced performance and price, but NVMe is an industry-wide reset. Today we see if Samsung will dominate for another product generation.

The Samsung 960 EVO is the mantle in the NVMe room. In many ways, the EVO series has historically been the focal point because they are the SSDs by which we judge every other drive. The EVO series is never the fastest, and it isn’t even the cheapest. Samsung continues to position the EVO right in the middle, and this is by design. The company is the only SSD manufacturer to make a purpose-built mid-tier product. The strategy is just as complex as it sounds. Users gain a great deal of performance for a few dollars more than entry-level products. If we separate the market into four tiers, the EVO series pricing fits right in the middle, but the performance is 3/4th of the way up the scale. Samsung's 3D TLC V-NAND sells for the same price as other NAND manufacturer's planar (2D) 2-bit per cell (MLC) flash. To put it simply, you get more for less; the EVO is a true bang-for-your-buck product. 

The strategy worked well for Samsung with performance-limited SATA products, but NVMe is the top-fuel class. The protocol runs on the high-performance PCIe bus, which doesn't have an effective ceiling for today's consumer flash technology. The EVO series utilizes 3-bit per cell (TLC) NAND flash that performs well enough to hide behind the limited SATA bus, but we easily see the limits of the technology over the PCIe bus. For the EVO to continue as the industry standard, Samsung has to mask the native TLC performance. That is very difficult without the SATA performance constraints, especially when other companies are chasing it with faster MLC flash. That sets the stage for an interesting battle between the SSD giant trying to maintain a leadership position and every other company that had to fight for market share scraps over the last five years. NVMe opens the door for the competition, but the EVO is still the bouncer holding the rope.

Technical Specifications

The 960 EVO will appear first in three capacities that range from 250GB to 1TB. The initial release ships with 48-layer V-NAND using 256Gbit (32GB) die for the two largest capacities. The 250GB model uses Samsung's older 32-layer flash with 128Gbit die (16GB). We expect the series to grow when Samsung releases 64-layer V-NAND with 512Gbit (64GB) die in 2017. For instance, the 850 EVO that we recently tested went from a 1TB ceiling to a massive 4TB as NAND density increased.

Samsung’s 5-core Polaris controller that came to market in June on the OEM-specific SM961 NVMe SSD serves as the heart of the 960 EVO. We first learned about the Polaris controller in early 2016 when Samsung held a small briefing for Asian OEM customers in Japan. We didn't have many details about the controller until last month when Samsung hosted storage media in South Korea for the unveiling of the retail 960 series.

Samsung publishes the expected speeds-and-feeds data, but most of the measurements are dependent on the platform and test software, so the results are open to interpretation. Samsung achieved the extremely high sequential performance, which reaches a maximum of 3,200 MB/s read and 1,900 MB/s write, under conditions that are unrealistic with today's software applications. Samsung also publishes queue depth one (QD1) performance specifications that it generated using a Z170 motherboard. We crushed Samsung's QD1 numbers using an ASRock Z97 Extreme6 motherboard with a direct-to-CPU PCIe M.2 channel. There is such a wide delta between Samsung’s published data and our measured performance numbers that we list the claimed performance here, but focus on our test results later in the review. 

Advanced Features

Samsung attacked thermal throttling from several angles. The Polaris controller runs cool during general desktop use, but it has a high thermal ceiling. Samsung highlights the thin copper strip that it embedded in the 960 EVO's label, but we have our doubts about its effectiveness. For what it is worth, there is a thin copper strip between the adhesive layers and printed layer on the label. The company placed several copper layers under the black paint, and the printed circuit board also features a larger, thicker copper layer that is in closer proximity to the heat source.

Throttling seems to occur in stages to minimize the impact on the user experience. The 960 EVO can operate a full 16 seconds longer than the 950 Pro before the dynamic thermal guard (DTG) triggers and reduces performance to maintain a safe thermal envelope. That allows 60% more data to transfer, which is a full 253GB of data during sequential reads on 512GB-class products.

We also received Samsung's NVMe Driver 2.0 with the 960 EVO. We know very little about Samsung, or any other company's, custom NVMe drivers. We know that installing Samsung's driver clears the high hurdle of Window's data flushing command, which increases data write performance. The driver also increases performance beyond what Windows provides with the flush limit turned off. We cover the driver in more detail later.

The 960 EVO supports full disk encryption, but only with Trusted Computer Group compliant software. The 960 EVO does not currently support Microsoft's eDrive, but Samsung is considering adding support. The 960 EVO would not be the first Samsung retail product to ship without eDrive support initially, but then add the feature after retail products arrived on the market.

Intelligent TurboWrite250GB500GB1TBDefault SizeDynamic SizeTotal SizeTurboWrite PerformanceNative TLC Performance
4 GB4 GB6 GB
9 GB18 GB36 GB
13 TB22 GB42 GB
1,500 MB/s1,800 MB/s1,900 MB/s
300 MB/s600 MB/s1,200 MB/s

Samsung made extensive changes to its TurboWrite technology. The 960 EVO utilizes Intelligent TurboWrite, which is Samsung's next-generation version of its SLC buffer algorithm. The large overprovisioned area (i.e. 256GB raw capacity to 250GB user capacity) provides the 960 EVO with some flexibility. The EVO features an SLC buffer with a fixed size that can expand under certain conditions. The amount of data on the drive and the previous workload contribute to the buffer’s ability to expand and absorb an additional amount of incoming data.

Samsung lists the sequential native TLC performance and QD1 measurements in its specifications. Other manufacturers often hide these values from users. There is a wide gap between the 250GB drive’s 300 MB/s native TLC speed and the large 1TB drive’s 1,200 MB/s.

Pricing And Accessories

Samsung targets the mainstream market with the EVO series, but it will have a tougher time with NVMe than it had with SATA-based products. The 960 EVO starts out at $129 and moves to $249 for the 500GB model. The top 1TB capacity tips the price scale at $479. We will analyze Samsung's MSRPs and examine other products on the market in the conclusion. 

Samsung gives you access to two pieces of software that you can download from the company's website. The first is Samsung's Data Migration Tool that allows you to clone the data from an existing drive to the new EVO. The second is a little more mystical.

Samsung's newest Magician software is still missing. We expect the latest installment with new features to hit the Samsung website in December. We don't have a confirmed date, but we are aware of the new features. The Magician software will enable the normal management tools for the new 960 Series, but Samsung also added new security features. The software includes a Secure File Erase feature, which adds secure deletion for individual files, and Magic Vault, which creates a hidden partition on the SSD for data storage. We will cover both in more detail when Samsung releases the newest version of the software. 

Warranty And Endurance

Samsung ships the 960 EVO series from the factory with a three-year limited warranty. Samsung, like all SSD vendors, also limits the warranty by endurance. The 960 EVO 250GB absorbs up to 100TB of data; the 500GB model supports up to 200TB, and the 1TB includes 400TB.

Product Packaging

Samsung returns to using the orange accent color that it paired with the 840 Pro series. Is Samsung trying to tell us something?

Color aside, the package hasn't changed much since the 950 Pro that began shipping last year.

A Closer Look

We talk quite a bit about the major components that make up an SSD, like the controller, DRAM and flash, but we largely ignore the secondary components. Samsung's vertical integration strategy includes manufacturing many of the other components, too. The M.2 form factor constrains the amount of PCB real estate the designers have to work with. You can see the space between each component is much closer than what we typically see on a 2.5-inch SSD. Many of the secondary components are so small we can't even tell what they are, or what function they serve.

The 960 EVO fits all of the components onto a single side of the PCB. That doesn't seem as impressive after reviewing the 960 Pro 2TB with four NAND packages and a controller wedged together, but the EVO is only the second single-sided NVMe 1TB SSD to hit the market (960 Pro being first). All three capacity EVO SSDs are single-sided, but other companies have already released single-sided models in the lower capacities.

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We have the 960 EVO in two capacities for our launch coverage. Samsung supplied us with the high-capacity 1TB and the small 250GB model. The drives couldn't be more different in both performance and how it translates to the user. We tested the 960 EVO products with Samsung's new 2.0 driver, but we didn't have time to run the full test suite on the 960 Pro or SM961 with the new driver.

Our 1TB coverage includes all of the shipping 1TB-class NVMe SSDs except for the 960 Pro. We also include the 960 Pro 2TB. The 960 EVO is the only product sold as a mainstream product, while the rest of the 1TB SSDs fall under the premium banner.

The Plextor M8Pe ships in three configurations that differ by the cooling capacity. We used the M8Pe(Y) add-in card version for all but the notebook tests. The notebook test uses the M8Pe(G) model with a thin heatsink over the M.2 2280 form-factor drive.

Sequential Read Performance

To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. We cover four-corner testing on page six of our How We Test guide.

It is easy to spot the Samsung NVMe SSDs. The Samsung SSDs deliver nearly twice the performance at QD1 than the rest of the field. Samsung designed the 960 EVO 1TB for mainstream users, but it’s elevated to the top tier over the rest of the products throughout most of the queue depth range during the sequential read tests.

Sequential Write Performance

The 960 EVO 1TB features a large SLC buffer thanks to the new Intelligent TurboWrite algorithm. The buffer makes quick work of our custom sequential write test. We didn't observe any signs of thermal throttling with the EVO. Throttling normally appears on the chart as wavy lines, like what you see with the OCZ RD400 1TB NVMe SSD.

Random Read Performance

Samsung claims the 960 EVO delivers up to 14,000 random read IOPS at QD1, but we achieved a new record of over 16,000 IOPS with an M.2 slot with a direct connection to the CPU (Asrock Z97 Extreme6). The 960 EVO is faster at QD1 than any other NAND-based client drive that has ever shipped, and it scales well up to 190,000 IOPS with a single worker/thread. It is possible to coax more performance out of NVMe SSDs, but it requires multi-threaded testing. Modern software doesn't take full advantage of NVMe. Until it does, we will continue to use our existing testing methods that are more representative of the user experience.

Random Write Performance

Samsung's random write performance lags behind both Intel and OCZ at low queue depths. Samsung's dominating lead in 75% of the four-corner tests is not too bad, though. The 960 EVO with TurboWrite delivers the highest random write performance of the three Samsung NVMe SSDs in the tests, but only by a small margin.

80 Percent Sequential Mixed Workload

We describe our mixed workload testing in detail here and describe our steady state tests here.

So far the 960 EVO looks like a solid competitor to every NVMe SSD shipping, including the flagship 960 Pro. The mixed workload results start to tell the rest of the story, though. TLC flash takes longer to write because the programming cycle requires increased latency compared to MLC flash. Switching back and forth between read and write cycles is difficult for TLC to handle, even with four of the five ARM processor cores dedicated to flash management.

80 Percent Random Mixed Workload

The TurboWrite SLC buffer helps the EVO perform like an MLC-based NVMe SSD during the mixed random workloads. The drive performs almost the same as the Intel SSD 750 drives until QD32. After testing the PM961 (the OEM version of the 960 EVO), the performance doesn't surprise us.

Sequential Steady-State

The 960 EVO 1TB performs well in the sequential steady-state test. It didn't light up the scoreboard, but it wasn't the slowest SSD throughout the entire test as we normally see when a TLC SSD goes up against a pack of high-performance MLC-based products.

Random Steady-State

Of all the charts, the second in this series is by far the most impressive. The 960 EVO doesn't deliver the higher random steady-state performance because of its TLC flash, and it shouldn't. We just want to know how Samsung's TLC SSD managed to outperform every non-Samsung drive using MLC flash, which is an impressive feat.

The 960 EVO's Polaris processor utilizes five optimized ARM cores, and four of them are dedicated to flash management. It is important to understand that this test fills the entire user-available space before it records a single measurement. The SSD is armed with a dynamic buffer and a 6GB spare area, so it must have an excellent management flash system. We've seen enterprise SSDs with much more overprovisioning that couldn't achieve this level of consistency or high performance.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

The application results reveal why mixed workload performance is so important. If you just examine the 4-corner test results, you would expect the 960 EVO to be in the top three for each application test, and never drop below that. The 960 EVO is a very good SSD that makes the best of TLC, and it is the fastest TLC-based SSD we've ever tested, but the mixed workload results show that the 960 EVO is not perfect.

Application Storage Bandwidth

With the results bundled together and then averaged into an easy-to-digest throughput number, we see how the 960 EVO compares to the other NVMe 1TB SSDs. The 960 EVO scored a solid 533 MB/s, which is double what we achieve with many modern high-performance SATA SSDs.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

The 960 EVO 1TB trails the other NVMe SSDs during heavy workloads. Samsung didn't design the EVO series for that type of stress. With a little idle time added to the workload, the EVO picks itself up and marches on. The drive doesn't outperform the rest of the competition like we see with the SATA-powered 850 EVO. It does blend in with the group of SSDs that cost more, and in some cases, much more.

Total Service Time

The service time results show us what we expect to see and help to explain the low performance during heavy workloads. The 960 EVO's latency builds up during the heavy workload, and that slows future IO transactions. When the test introduces idle time into the workload, the drive recovers and takes advantage of the advanced SLC buffer to clear a path of fresh flash for incoming data.

Disk Busy Time

The disk busy time test shows that the 960 EVO has to work very hard during heavy workloads. Once the buffer becomes effective during recovery time, the data passes through the controller and to the NAND flash almost effortlessly. 

Notebook Battery Life

We ran a few different tests with the new 960 series in our notebook battery life test. We focus on two different SSDs in this test; the previously reviewed 960 Pro (blue color) and the new 960 EVO. The 960 Pro with the new Samsung 2.0 NVMe driver delivers just 241 minutes of on-battery time. The result is much lower than the 317 minutes we achieve with the same drive tested with the Windows 8.1 NVMe drive from Microsoft. The 960 EVO 1TB SSD also shows a similar drop-off and a wide gap between the Samsung and Microsoft driver.

We reached out to Samsung to report our findings, and the company plans to investigate the issue. We will report if a power-optimized driver comes to market.

The new Samsung 2.0 NVMe drive might not be power optimized, but it does deliver higher performance compared to the Microsoft NVMe driver. The notebook performance chart under battery power also shows a wide gap. The good thing is that the driver does increase performance and the SSD doesn't just generate heat while soaking up the valuable electrons.

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Samsung 960 EVO 500GB NVMe SSD Benchmarks

512GB NVMe SSDs offer a desirable price point, which starts as low as $170 and extends to $340, that can be difficult to turn away from. Oddly enough, Intel has both the lowest (600p 512GB) and highest (750 400GB) priced models. The 960 EVO 500GB slots in the middle price range and retails for as low as $250 at the time of writing.

Sequential Read Performance

To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. We cover four-corner testing on page six of our How We Test guide.

The Samsung 960 EVO 500GB delivers exceptional low-QD sequential read performance thanks to the company's advanced 3D V-NAND flash. The 960 EVO outperforms the other drives at QD1, and trails only the 950 Pro 512GB at QD2. The drive scales well to QD8, but performance begins to trail off past that mark as the latency begins to stack up behind the queued commands.

Sequential Write Performance

TurboWrite technology, Samsung's name for programmed SLC cache, helps the 960 EVO deliver the highest sequential write speed at QD1 and QD2. Performance drops off due to the cache fill and flush procedure at higher queue depths, but most users will stay in the QD1 to QD4 range most of the time.

Random Read Performance

Even with TLC V-NAND, the 960 EVO delivers the highest random read performance at QD1. This follows a long line of EVO series products that top this particular test. The EVO retains its lead until reaching a plateau at QD16, which is well outside of the envelope of normal consumer workloads.

Random Write Performance

The EVO doesn't outright win the 4K random write test, but it lands in the top three for most of the low queue depth ranges.

80 Percent Sequential Mixed Workload

We describe our mixed workload testing in detail here and describe our steady state tests here.

The mixed sequential results caught us by surprise. We expected the 5-core Polaris controller to perform better with TLC V-NAND in this test, but the 960 EVO 500GB delivered the lowest result of the test pool. We suspect this will shine through in our real-world application tests.

80 Percent Random Mixed Workload

The 960 EVO 500GB fared slightly better in the mixed random test with an 80% read workload. The drive is still at the bottom end of the performance scale, and this will affect real-world workloads. Most of the host system background read and write activity is small randomly-accessed logging and metadata files.

Sequential Steady-State

The Samsung EVO series has historically been the only high-performance product to ship with TLC flash. Its high status falls off, just like its performance, in a steady-state condition. The SLC buffer fails to keep performance high during this punishing workload like it does during consumer workloads. The chart shows that under heavy write workloads the 960 EVO can't keep pace with many of the other consumer NVMe SSDs with MLC. The EVO does perform much better than the Intel 600p, which is the only other drive in our test pool with TLC NAND. On the other end of the scale, the 960 EVO outperforms only the TLC-based 600p during a steady state 70% and 80% read workload.

Random Steady-State

One thing is for certain, Samsung's V-NAND flash and powerful controller combinations can sustain performance even under difficult conditions. The 960 EVO 500GB delivers higher random write performance than the 950 Pro 512GB that came to market last year. The Intel SSD 750 400GB delivers higher performance, but it comes with more deviation (which appear as peaks and valleys) compared to the two Samsung SSDs on the chart. The Plextor M8Pe(G) in an M.2 form factor with a thin aluminum heatsink also delivers true consistency and quite a bit more performance than the EVO 500GB. Both products would deliver a positive user experience in a consumer RAID 0 array on an Intel motherboard.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

The low mixed workload performance comes to light during our real-world application tests. The EVO series generally outperforms every other consumer SATA SSD in these focused tests. NVMe opens a wider channel for the data to flow, and that actually hurts the EVO series when it goes against MLC-based products. The other products have caught up to Samsung's TLC V-NAND performance advantage.

Application Storage Bandwidth

In this chart, we take the same data and average the results to present an easy to read throughput rating. The test reveals that many of the new NVMe products offer similar performance. It also reveals that our PM961 SSD that we purchased to sneak an early look at the 960 EVO was very close to the final retail product.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

The Samsung 960 EVO 500GB recovers well after a stressful workload. This is another test where the SATA-powered EVO series dominated, but it falls to the middle of the pack behind the NVMe protocol. We focus primarily on the recovery phase. The recovery phase provides enough idle time to allow the drives to shuffle data and clear the NAND cells for fresh, incoming data.

Total Service Time

The Samsung 960 EVO 500GB is still a very powerful SSD, it just no longer sets the bar us to judge for other consumer SSDs against. Its dominance has passed, and a some next generation NVMe products, including the 950 EVO 500 GB, share the role.

Disk Busy Time

The disk busy time test measures how long the drive works to complete a given activity. This is different than both latency and throughput. This test is often associated with power consumption because it measures overall drive activity. Two different products can deliver the same throughput, but one may take longer to start a task while both finish in the same amount of time.

The 960 EVO requires more time to finish the tasks during the heavy workload than the 950 Pro and MyDigitalSSD BPX. Most of the products settle in the same range during the recovery phase, except for the Plextor M8Pe. The Plextor uses a unique wear-leveling algorithm that increases latency after a heavy workload.

Responsiveness Test

The Responsiveness Test comes from the latest iteration of BAPCo's SYSmark 2014. This specific portion of the test measures the storage system's responsiveness or latency. There is also a power measurement option with the use of a special meter. We use Lenovo Y700-17 notebooks in this test, just like the Notebook Battery Life test that also uses BAPCo software.

BAPCo records a measurement that serves as a base score of 1000. BAPCo uses an OEM Samsung SSD with planar (2D) TLC NAND flash (the retail equivalent is a Samsung 750 series SSD) as the reference drive. A score of 2,000 would represent a 100% increase in responsiveness or, stated conversely, a 200% latency decrease. For reference, a Seagate Laptop HDD 2TB scores 723 in the responsiveness test and a Western Digital Slim 1TB scores 755. The Samsung 850 EVO 500GB, a SATA-based SSD, scores 1,020, which is the highest score we've recorded for a SATA SSD. 

Notebook Battery Life

We learned during the Samsung 960 Pro review that Samsung's new NVMe 2.0 driver reduces notebook battery life in our test with BAPCo's MobileMark 2014.5. The driver increases system performance, but it comes at the expense of battery life. The two are often related and work against each other because higher performance usually requires more power.

The 960 series is a departure from what we've come to expect from the Samsung SSDs that often dominate the power efficiency chart. Over time, we may see NVMe drivers that target different environments. Companies could release a desktop driver that focuses on high performance, and a notebook driver that focuses on increased efficiency. If any company were to kick off the trend, it would be Samsung, largely because the company has the resources to invest in the technology. Many of the products in the test still use the in-box Microsoft driver that ships with modern versions of Windows. The Microsoft NVMe driver is a balanced catchall that works for both desktops and notebooks, but it doesn't favor one over the other.

www.tomshardware.com

The Samsung 960 EVO (1TB) Review

Last month the Samsung 960 Pro broke most of the performance records for a consumer SSD and often by a surprisingly large margin. But as impressive as it was to see the combination of high capacity and high performance in such a small package, the 2TB 960 Pro we reviewed is too expensive to be a realistic option for most enthusiasts.

Enter the Samsung 960 EVO. With the same powerful SSD controller used on the 960 Pro but much cheaper TLC 3D NAND, the 960 EVO is far more affordable but promises similar peak performance. Despite being Samsung's low-end M.2 PCIe option, the 960 EVO is aiming to outperform last year's 950 Pro and the current flagship PCIe SSDs from Samsung's competitors.

Samsung 960 EVO Specifications Comparison
  960 EVO 1TB 960 EVO 500GB 960 EVO 250GB 950 PRO 512GB 950 PRO 256GB
Form Factor single-sided M.2 2280 single-sided M.2 2280
Controller Samsung Polaris Samsung UBX
Interface PCIe 3.0 x4
NAND Samsung 48-layer 256Gb TLC V-NAND Samsung 32-layer 128Gbit MLC V-NAND
SLC Cache Size 42GB 22 GB 13GB N/A
Sequential Read 3200 MB/s 3200 MB/s 3200 MB/s 2500 MB/s 2200 MB/s
Sequential Write (SLC Cache) 1900 MB/s 1800 MB/s 1500 MB/s 1500 MB/s 900 MB/s
Sequential Write (sustained) 1200 MB/s 600 MB/s 300 MB/s N/A N/A
4KB Random Read (QD32) 380k IOPS 330k IOPS 330k IOPS 300k IOPS 270k IOPS
4KB Random Write (QD32) 360k IOPS 330k IOPS 300k IOPS 110k IOPS 85k IOPS
Power 5.7W (average) 5.4W (average) 5.3W (average) 7.0W (burst) 5.7W (average)

1.7W (idle)

6.4W (burst) 5.1 (average)

1.7W (idle)

Endurance 400TB 200TB 100TB 400TB 200TB
Warranty 3 Year 5 Year
Launch MSRP $479.99 $249.99 $129.88 $350 $200

The 960 EVO is not the first M.2 PCIe SSD to use TLC NAND. Samsung's OEM product line has the PM951 and PM961, using the same controllers as the 950 Pro and 960 Pro respectively. Intel has also shipped the 600p as their first 3D NAND SSD for the consumer market, but the Silicon Motion controller it uses is a far cry from the monster of a controller used in their flagship SSD 750.

As a more cost-focused product than the 960 Pro, the 960 EVO has a lower range of capacity options. With a maximum capacity of 1TB, the 960 EVO does not need to use the controller+DRAM package on package stacking that was necessary for the 2TB 960 Pro to be a single-sided M.2 module. As is normal for Samsung's EVO lines, the usable capacities are a bit smaller, with the 1TB EVO being 1000GB instead of 1024GB.

Some of the extra spare area reserved is used for the SLC write cache, which Samsung is now branding as 'Intelligent TurboWrite'. Where the 850 EVO's TurboWrite cache was 3-12GB depending on drive capacity, the 960 EVO has 4-6GB of guaranteed cache plus 9-36GB of dynamic cache when the drive has sufficient free space. Having a cache that is several times larger will greatly expand the range of workloads that can fit in the cache, and will help the 960 EVO make the best of its PCIe 3.0 x4 interface that is much faster than SATA.

Spot the copper-backed heat spreader label underneath

The 960 EVO includes all of the thermal management measures of the 960 Pro, including the copper-backed heat spreading label, a very power-efficient controller and a well-tuned thermal throttling implementation. TLC NAND has been shown to be, in general, slower and more power-hungry than MLC NAND so the 960 EVO is more susceptible to thermal throttling than the 960 Pro, but Samsung claims it is still less of a problem than it was for the 950 Pro, which means that virtually all real-world usage scenarios will not trigger throttling.

The warranty period for the 960 EVO is three years instead of the five enjoyed by the 850 EVO and both generations of MLC-based PCIe SSDs. The drive write endurance rating is also only half that of the 960 and 950 Pros, but 100TB for a 250GB drive is a sufficient amount.

For this review, Samsung provided an advance copy of their new NVMe driver version 2.0 to support the 960 Pro and 960 EVO as well as the 950 Pro. The 960 EVO was tested with Samsung's driver and the 960 Pro was also re-tested using this driver instead of Microsoft's driver built in to Windows. The results for the 950 Pro are still from version 1.0 of Samsung's NVMe driver. The next major release of Samsung's Magician software is still not quite ready, so exploration of encryption capabilities and other new features will have to wait. Samsung expects to release Magician 5 by the end of the month.

Samsung provided a 250GB 960 EVO and a 1TB 960 EVO for this review. The 250GB 960 EVO failed relatively early in the testing process, after completing a few of the IOmeter tests and while it was about 10% of the way through being filled to prepare for the next test. We are working with Samsung to determine the cause of the failure but due to the short time available we have not been able to reach a conclusion as of press time. These review units are technically preproduction samples and thus their failure rates are probably not indicative of the mass-market reliability. SSD deaths are nothing new at AnandTech, and in the past some of them have been our fault rather than due to defective goods. But regardless of what triggered this failure, there is a bright side: our testing usually doesn't tell us anything about the end-of-life behavior of SSDs. If our 250GB 960 EVO has indeed failed unrecoverably, it did so gracefully: the drive entered a read-only state during the fill process, which caused IOmeter to hang, but the data already written is still accessible and the drive still reports its SMART indicators and error codes. Aside from refusing to accept write or secure erase commands, the only symptom of the drive's failure is higher than normal idle power consumption.

For this review, the 1TB 960 EVO will be compared to the 2TB 960 Pro, last year's 950 Pro, and the current flagship NVMe drives from Intel and Toshiba (OCZ). For context, results from several 1TB SATA SSDs are also included. As always, our Bench tool can be used to compare against any other drive in our database of test results.

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Samsung 960 EVO 250GB NVMe SSD Benchmarks

The Samsung 960 EVO 250GB is a different animal compared to the two high capacity models. Samsung reverted this model back to 128Gbit die to increase the number of CE (Chip Enable) channels. SSDs are fast because they read and write to several blocks at the same time. Inside of every SSD is a complex RAID array that keeps performance high. At the heart of every RAID array is a controller, and in this case, it's a flash processor. Each NAND die acts as a target, but the controller has to optimize data placement to sustain a high level of performance. By moving back to older 32-layer NAND with a smaller die, the controller has more targets for incoming and outgoing data.

Unlike the large capacities, the 256GB class of NVMe SSDs is full of strong competition. The 850 EVO is not the first mainstream NVMe in this capacity, and there are even two entry-level products swimming in the same pool. In this section, we will see if the 960 EVO 250GB is a shark like the 1TB model we just covered on the previous page, or if it is a minnow.

The standout NVMe SSD in this capacity is the newcomer MyDigitalSSD BPX that sparked interest in entry-level NVMe, which is a fire the Intel 600p failed to ignite. The BPX is a low-cost product that still utilizes 2-bit per cell multi-level cell (MLC) flash. The Patriot Hellfire M.2 isn't far behind. It delivers better performance than the BPX, but it also costs significantly more. The OCZ RD400 came to market in a budget-friendly 256GB capacity, but it also fails to match the BPX's price point.

Samsung has two other products in the 256GB-class. Even though the company chose not to release the retail 960 Pro in this capacity, the OEM division released the SM961 with MLC NAND and the 5-core Polaris controller. All of these products still have to contend with the 950 Pro 256GB SSD, which was the industry standard for performance enthusiasts in 2015.

Sequential Read Performance

To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. We cover four-corner testing on page six of our How We Test guide.

It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Samsung at the top of these charts. Much like the previous page, Samsung's MLC-based SSDs dominate the low-capacity NVMe test pool. The new 960 EVO 250GB takes its place right under two such products, but it is actually faster than both during a QD1 sequential read workload.

Sequential Write Performance

With the EVO 250GB, we have to worry about data write workloads. We encounter a wavy performance profile during the sequential write test, but it doesn't originate from the thermal throttling feature. The low and inconsistent sequential write performance stems from the smaller SLC buffer and much lower native TLC write speed. Samsung's specification sheet for the 960 EVO lists the 250GB model with 300 MB/s of sustained write performance, but that is an optimistic value. We measured less than 160 MB/s after the buffer fills up and clogs with data. Even with the extra 128Gbit die, the performance dips very low when the SSD is pressed with incoming data.

The HD Tune Pro chart indicates that the TurboWrite buffer fills up with only a few gigabytes of data. Samsung claims the fixed SLC buffer capacity is 4GB, and that appears to be accurate. The dynamic SLC buffer fluctuates up to 13GB. The real story is what comes after the 300 MB/s of Intelligent TurboWrite performance. Unlike the 1TB 960 EVO we tested on the previous page, we observed an unadvertised third tier on the 250GB model that kicks the sequential write performance down another notch after we write 45 gigabytes of data to the drive.

There are two key aspects at play here. We've noted that companies need to hide native TLC write performance. The largest single file transfer for most users is a Blu-Ray ISO, and those files measure between 40 and 50 gigabytes. Samsung can mask a Blu-Ray ISO transfer, more-or-less, but only if the drive is fairly empty. The dynamic size of the TurboWrite SLC buffer means that the algorithms shrink the buffer when the drive is nearly full. With only 250GB of total storage capacity, we don't think users will keep too many large files on this specific 960 EVO. However, the buffer will shrink faster than larger drives.

Random Read Performance

The 960 EVO 250GB is still a very snappy boot drive. This model just missed the 16,000 random read IOPS mark set by the larger 1TB model we tested on the previous page. We love the MLC-based MyDigitalSSD BPX, but the 960 EVO 250GB with TLC and a small dose of an SLC buffer just winked in our direction.

Random Write Performance

Over the last several product cycles we've watched programmed SLC buffers evolve from a gimmick to a powerful system tool that increases the user experience. At this point, most of the companies have a firm grip on how the algorithm should work, but there are different levels of success. The new-and-improved Intelligent TurboWrite is the best yet, and the updated version overtakes the previous iteration that Samsung last updated in the 850 EVO.

80 Percent Sequential Mixed Workload

We describe our mixed workload testing in detail here and describe our steady state tests here.

Both of our 960 EVO samples suffer from low mixed sequential performance. With the larger model, we saw how the low performance in a mixed data environment hurt real-world application performance. That, along with the low sustained write performance, could really hurt Samsung's chances of putting the lowest-cost EVO model in your PC. We'll examine application performance with the 960 EVO 250GB later in this review.

80 Percent Random Mixed Workload

The mixed random test takes the 960 EVO 250GB down another notch. Between QD2 and QD8, the drive follows the same path as the abysmal Intel 600p. That is not where Samsung needs to be with the EVO 250GB. The 600p is actually slightly faster at QD4.

Sequential Steady-State

The larger 1TB 960 EVO products may make it into some professional workloads due to their overall value with users who dabble in video editing and other high-write environment applications. The smaller 250GB capacity increases the chance and frequency that users will drive the SSD into steady-state conditions. The performance appears low during this test, but the numbers are actually decent compared to SATA-based products.

Random Steady-State

The Samsung 950 EVO dedicates four of its five ARM cores to flash management. For many years we've heard about performance consistency from some companies and very little about it from others. It seems the tables have turned. Now, Intel SSDs have trouble holding a steady performance rate and Samsung delivers the best consistency. The chart shows only two 3D TLC-based NVMe SSDs, the Intel 600p 256GB with new 384Gbit TLC NAND flash and the 960 EVO 250GB with 128Gbit TLC. The EVO doesn't deliver a high random steady-state performance measurement, but it is very consistent.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

The low mixed performance carries over to the 960 EVO's application performance. We don't feel that the low native TLC performance affected the results of this test. The software in this section does not push enough data to the drives to get past the EVO 250GB's SLC buffer.

Application Storage Bandwidth

The 250GB model has a steep hill to climb with so many other 256GB NVMe products on the market. The MyDigitalSSD BPX leads the charge and delivers 120+ MB/s more performance than the 960 EVO 250GB. We discussed how NVMe unbinds the flash from the legacy SATA bus that was designed when Abit was still shipping motherboards. The 960 EVO series will not follow the same path as Abit, but the lowest capacity model might. I don't think Samsung expects this to be a big seller.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

The Samsung 960 EVO 250GB has a difficult time surpassing the Intel 600p 256GB during heavy workloads. We had several harsh words for the 600p, so it's only fitting to light the fires for the EVO in the same capacity class. The question is where it all went wrong, and if Samsung can fix it. We will get to those details on the next page.

During moderate workloads with ample idle time, the EVO 256GB recovers much better than the 600p. I can't believe we're even comparing these two drives with serious analysis.

Total Service Time

The service time tests reveal extreme latency during heavy workloads. The 850 EVO running on the SATA bus does not have the same latency issues that bog the 960 EVO down under heavy workloads, which is worrisome. Again, the EVO 250GB recovers with idle time, so this condition will not affect most users. However, the performance will decrease when the drive is nearly full, and some users will notice.

Disk Busy Time

The disk busy time test shows us that the 960 EVO 250GB doesn't work as long processing data compared to the Intel 600p, but there is a great divide between the EVO and the other products on the chart. This is very rare territory for a Samsung SSD.

Notebook Battery Life

The EVO 250GB SSD suffers the same condition we discovered with the 1TB EVO model and the new Samsung NVMe driver. The driver increases performance, but it comes at the cost of battery longevity. As it stands now, the 950 Pro 256GB with Samsung's first generation NVMe driver is the best option if you want to achieve the longest battery life. The 950 Pro has dominated the NVMe field since we began testing on the Lenovo Y700-17 with the latest version of MobileMark 2014. Users will lose around 40 minutes of power-on time by moving to the 960 EVO with this notebook.

Notebooks built for long battery life will see an even larger difference. The larger your battery is, the wider the divide. Our Lenovo Y700 is a gaming-focused notebook that delivers high performance. We chose it for our test bed because it was the first (and only at the time) notebook that supports both NVMe and SATA in the same unit.

www.tomshardware.com

960 Evo NVMe PCIe M.2 250GB

The number of benchmark samples for this model as a percentage of all 18,187,514 SSDs tested.

SSD
960 Evo NVMe PCIe M.2 250GBSamsung  £71Bench 200%, 146,913 samples2,254x
EDIT WITH CUSTOM PC BUILDER Value: 70% - Good Total price: £1,041
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Samsung 960 EVO 1TB NVMe SSD Benchmarks - Tom's Hardware

We have the 960 EVO in two capacities for our launch coverage. Samsung supplied us with the high-capacity 1TB and the small 250GB model. The drives couldn't be more different in both performance and how it translates to the user. We tested the 960 EVO products with Samsung's new 2.0 driver, but we didn't have time to run the full test suite on the 960 Pro or SM961 with the new driver.

Our 1TB coverage includes all of the shipping 1TB-class NVMe SSDs except for the 960 Pro. We also include the 960 Pro 2TB. The 960 EVO is the only product sold as a mainstream product, while the rest of the 1TB SSDs fall under the premium banner.

The Plextor M8Pe ships in three configurations that differ by the cooling capacity. We used the M8Pe(Y) add-in card version for all but the notebook tests. The notebook test uses the M8Pe(G) model with a thin heatsink over the M.2 2280 form-factor drive.

Sequential Read Performance

To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. We cover four-corner testing on page six of our How We Test guide.

It is easy to spot the Samsung NVMe SSDs. The Samsung SSDs deliver nearly twice the performance at QD1 than the rest of the field. Samsung designed the 960 EVO 1TB for mainstream users, but it’s elevated to the top tier over the rest of the products throughout most of the queue depth range during the sequential read tests.

Sequential Write Performance

The 960 EVO 1TB features a large SLC buffer thanks to the new Intelligent TurboWrite algorithm. The buffer makes quick work of our custom sequential write test. We didn't observe any signs of thermal throttling with the EVO. Throttling normally appears on the chart as wavy lines, like what you see with the OCZ RD400 1TB NVMe SSD.

Random Read Performance

Samsung claims the 960 EVO delivers up to 14,000 random read IOPS at QD1, but we achieved a new record of over 16,000 IOPS with an M.2 slot with a direct connection to the CPU (Asrock Z97 Extreme6). The 960 EVO is faster at QD1 than any other NAND-based client drive that has ever shipped, and it scales well up to 190,000 IOPS with a single worker/thread. It is possible to coax more performance out of NVMe SSDs, but it requires multi-threaded testing. Modern software doesn't take full advantage of NVMe. Until it does, we will continue to use our existing testing methods that are more representative of the user experience.

Random Write Performance

Samsung's random write performance lags behind both Intel and OCZ at low queue depths. Samsung's dominating lead in 75% of the four-corner tests is not too bad, though. The 960 EVO with TurboWrite delivers the highest random write performance of the three Samsung NVMe SSDs in the tests, but only by a small margin.

80 Percent Sequential Mixed Workload

We describe our mixed workload testing in detail here and describe our steady state tests here.

So far the 960 EVO looks like a solid competitor to every NVMe SSD shipping, including the flagship 960 Pro. The mixed workload results start to tell the rest of the story, though. TLC flash takes longer to write because the programming cycle requires increased latency compared to MLC flash. Switching back and forth between read and write cycles is difficult for TLC to handle, even with four of the five ARM processor cores dedicated to flash management.

80 Percent Random Mixed Workload

The TurboWrite SLC buffer helps the EVO perform like an MLC-based NVMe SSD during the mixed random workloads. The drive performs almost the same as the Intel SSD 750 drives until QD32. After testing the PM961 (the OEM version of the 960 EVO), the performance doesn't surprise us.

Sequential Steady-State

The 960 EVO 1TB performs well in the sequential steady-state test. It didn't light up the scoreboard, but it wasn't the slowest SSD throughout the entire test as we normally see when a TLC SSD goes up against a pack of high-performance MLC-based products.

Random Steady-State

Of all the charts, the second in this series is by far the most impressive. The 960 EVO doesn't deliver the higher random steady-state performance because of its TLC flash, and it shouldn't. We just want to know how Samsung's TLC SSD managed to outperform every non-Samsung drive using MLC flash, which is an impressive feat.

The 960 EVO's Polaris processor utilizes five optimized ARM cores, and four of them are dedicated to flash management. It is important to understand that this test fills the entire user-available space before it records a single measurement. The SSD is armed with a dynamic buffer and a 6GB spare area, so it must have an excellent management flash system. We've seen enterprise SSDs with much more overprovisioning that couldn't achieve this level of consistency or high performance.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

The application results reveal why mixed workload performance is so important. If you just examine the 4-corner test results, you would expect the 960 EVO to be in the top three for each application test, and never drop below that. The 960 EVO is a very good SSD that makes the best of TLC, and it is the fastest TLC-based SSD we've ever tested, but the mixed workload results show that the 960 EVO is not perfect.

Application Storage Bandwidth

With the results bundled together and then averaged into an easy-to-digest throughput number, we see how the 960 EVO compares to the other NVMe 1TB SSDs. The 960 EVO scored a solid 533 MB/s, which is double what we achieve with many modern high-performance SATA SSDs.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

The 960 EVO 1TB trails the other NVMe SSDs during heavy workloads. Samsung didn't design the EVO series for that type of stress. With a little idle time added to the workload, the EVO picks itself up and marches on. The drive doesn't outperform the rest of the competition like we see with the SATA-powered 850 EVO. It does blend in with the group of SSDs that cost more, and in some cases, much more.

Total Service Time

The service time results show us what we expect to see and help to explain the low performance during heavy workloads. The 960 EVO's latency builds up during the heavy workload, and that slows future IO transactions. When the test introduces idle time into the workload, the drive recovers and takes advantage of the advanced SLC buffer to clear a path of fresh flash for incoming data.

Disk Busy Time

The disk busy time test shows that the 960 EVO has to work very hard during heavy workloads. Once the buffer becomes effective during recovery time, the data passes through the controller and to the NAND flash almost effortlessly. 

Notebook Battery Life

We ran a few different tests with the new 960 series in our notebook battery life test. We focus on two different SSDs in this test; the previously reviewed 960 Pro (blue color) and the new 960 EVO. The 960 Pro with the new Samsung 2.0 NVMe driver delivers just 241 minutes of on-battery time. The result is much lower than the 317 minutes we achieve with the same drive tested with the Windows 8.1 NVMe drive from Microsoft. The 960 EVO 1TB SSD also shows a similar drop-off and a wide gap between the Samsung and Microsoft driver.

We reached out to Samsung to report our findings, and the company plans to investigate the issue. We will report if a power-optimized driver comes to market.

The new Samsung 2.0 NVMe drive might not be power optimized, but it does deliver higher performance compared to the Microsoft NVMe driver. The notebook performance chart under battery power also shows a wide gap. The good thing is that the driver does increase performance and the SSD doesn't just generate heat while soaking up the valuable electrons.

www.tomshardware.com


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