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Samsung 960 EVO, 960 Pro SSDs: The Full Product Details

After the first day of Samsung's SSD Global Summit, we finally have details about the new 960 series. The 960 series succeeds the 950 Pro with a two-prong strategy that satisfies the needs of both the professional and enthusiast markets. This series brings several advancements of more or less equal importance. Let's dive in.

Technology Advancements

We've tested Samsung's OEM products with the Polaris controller but never managed to locate any concrete details about the architecture. That changed today. Samsung's second generation NVMe controller, Polaris, is a 5-core design that was built to maximize the performance the NVMe specification over PCIe 3.0 with four lanes of connectivity. Samsung's new NVMe 2.0 driver works in conjunction with the hardware to deliver better performance than what we saw on the SM961 (with MLC) and PM961 (with TLC). The new driver further optimizes performance for Samsung NVMe SSDs within Windows.

Samsung is still using 48-layer V-NAND technology with 256Gbit die density on both new 960-series products. This produced some hurdles on the 960 Pro that we will detail in the next section. Samsung has already discussed 64-layer V-NAND at Flash Memory Summit with a projected time to market of 2017. The new flash should be a drop-in replacement in 2017 and give Samsung an easy path to reducing prices while offering higher capacities.

A great deal of thought went into the new 960 series. This is the first time I've ever talked about a product label for more than information, but: This series uses a copper layer in the sticker to aid in moving heat away from the controller. It will be interesting to see a true A to B comparison to determine if a sliver of copper is effective or just a marketing maneuver. Samsung also has a firmware-level protection scheme to combat overheating, called Dynamic Thermal Guard. Using the same base ambient temperature, the 950 Pro can read data for 63 seconds before thermal throttle protections kick in and slow performance. The 960 EVO with the updated feature raises the bar to 79 seconds, and the 960 Pro improves upon that number even more, to 95 seconds.

Samsung 960 Pro

960 Pro512GB1TB2TB
ControllerSamsung PolarisSamsung PolarisSamsung Polaris
DRAMSamsung LPDDR4Samsung LPDDR4Samsung LPDDR4
NANDSamsung 48-Layer MLCSamsung 48-Layer MLCSamsung 48-Layer MLC
ProtocolNVMe 1.2NVMe 1.2NVMe 1.2
Form FactorPCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 2280PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 2280PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 2280
Sequential Read3,500 MB/s3,500 MB/s3,500 MB/s
Sequential Write2,100 MB/s2,100 MB/s2,100 MB/s
Random Read330,000 IOPS440,000 IOPS440,000 IOPS
Random Write330,000 IOPS360,000 IOPS360,000 IOPS
Endurance400 TBW800 TBW1,200 TBW

Samsung's 3-bit per cell V-NAND technology has been so successful at delivering both performance and endurance that the new 960 Pro (with MLC V-NAND) almost exclusively targets the professional market. This series costs significantly more than the 960 EVO (with TLC) but is a no-compromise product that delivers very high and very consistent performance. The 960 Pro is ideal for heavy A/V application use and other high write environments.

In this series, customers pay for increased write performance without the need for an SLC-layer buffer. The rated endurance encroaches on enterprise levels and is class-leading compared to all other NVMe-based solutions shipping today in the consumer/prosumer space.

In order to fit the four NAND packages and the other needed components in an M.2 2280 form factor, Samsung needed to merge both the controller and DRAM die together in a single package with a small footprint. This is a technique Samsung perfected in the 750 EVO (and later in the PM971): a single BGA with controller, DRAM, and NAND in the same chip. Samsung managed to meet the current consumer-standard form factor. It was important to hit the target size in order for the 960 Pro to be a drop-in replacement for products like the Lenovo P700 mobile workstation.

The specifications given to us by Samsung show consistent read and write performance across all three models. Users get a blistering 3,500MB/s sequential read and 2,100MB/s sequential write speeds. There is some slight variation in random performance, but under prosumer workloads we don't expect to see much difference outside of rare steady-state conditions.

The 960 Pro will begin shipping in October and is backed by a Samsung 5-year warranty.

Samsung 960 EVO

960 EVO250GB500GB1TB
ControllerSamsung PolarisSamsung PolarisSamsung Polaris
DRAMSamsung LPDDR4Samsung LPDDR4Samsung LPDDR4
NANDSamsung 48-Layer TLCSamsung 48-Layer TLCSamsung 48-Layer TLC
ProtocolNVMe 1.2NVMe 1.2NVMe 1.2
Form FactorPCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 2280PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 2280PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 2280
Sequential Read3,200 MB/s3,200 MB/s3,200 MB/s
Sequential Write1,500 MB/s1,800 MB/s1,900 MB/s
Intelligent TurboWrite(Size)13 GB22 GB42 GB
Random Read330,000 IOPS330,000 IOPS380,000 IOPS
Random Write300,000 IOPS330,000 IOPS360,000 IOPS
Endurance100 TBW200 TBW400 TBW

The 960 Pro is an exciting product, but we're more enthusiastic about the mainstream-focused (and mainstream-priced) 960 EVO. This product leverages Samsung's 3-bit per cell V-NAND technology to balance performance and cost. Just days ago, we started talking about a new pricing tier for PCIe NVMe and the Intel 600p as the first entry-level NVMe SSD. Samsung has always used the EVO line to combat both entry-level and mainstream products from other companies. The 960 EVO takes arms with the same strategy. This series costs slightly more than the entry-level NVMe 600p but outperforms the drive on every level.

The 960 EVO utilizes only two NAND packages, so surface area is much less of a concern. To aid in minimizing costs, the DRAM and Polaris controller are separated into two packages. The physical layout is identical to OEM PM961 SSD we tested recently in our Samsung 960 EVO Preview with PM961.

Samsung claims peak performance at 3,200MB/s sequential read and up to 1,900MB/s sequential write. The write performance decreases after the SLC buffer, which Samsung calls TurboWrite. The 960 EVO uses a new version called Intelligent TurboWrite, but we don't have much information on the differences. The latest iteration does increase the SLC size and starts at a massive 13GB for the 256GB model. The largest capacity size, 1TB, can fit nearly a full Blu-ray ISO transfer in SLC, a recommendation we often make in our SSD reviews. It's rare for end users to transfer a single file larger than a Blu-Ray ISO.

The 960 EVO delivers more random performance than the 950 Pro, Samsung's only shipping retail consumer SSD. Peak performance for the 960 EVO comes in the largest capacity size, and users get up to 380,000 read IOPS and 360,000 write IOPS (4KB block sizes). That makes the 960 EVO second only to the 960 Pro in performance for (announced) consumer SSDs.

The part that excites us most is the low-cost aspect without severe endurance limits. The 960 EVO starts at just $129 for the 256GB SKU. This series ships in October with a three-year warranty.

New Magic In A Magician Update

Samsung will release a new version of Magician software in October, and it will work with Windows 10. The updated software will feature a GUI facelift that focuses on health, device status, and system compatibility. Existing functions remain for existing products, but the 960 series packs a few more rabbits in the Magician hat.

The first new 960-specific feature is called Secure File Erase. When you delete files from a 960 product through the Magician interface, the software sends a command that ensures the data is destroyed. This isn't a must-have feature for most consumers, but in some circles, deleting data has an elevated level of importance.

The second 960-specific feature in Magician is called Magic Vault. Users can allocate space behind a firewall-like layer where data is stored and accessed only with a user-defined password. Data in this protected area is less vulnerable to virus and hacker attacks.

Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.