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

Swipe to scroll horizontally
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

Swipe to scroll horizontally
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
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.
  • TechyInAZ
    Wow that's cool! M.2 high speed SSDs for only $129 for 256GB!
  • heliomphalodon
    Compatible with Intel PCH RAID?
  • Flying-Q
    Does the new Magician software address the current failure to recognise AHCI under RAID mode in EFI when SSDs are attached through SATA3?
  • TechyInAZ
    18627839 said:
    Does the new Magician software address the current failure to recognise AHCI under RAID mode in EFI when SSDs are attached through SATA3?

    It must. I'm getting the same issue as well.
  • Game256
    Nice. Samsung as always the best.

    960 EVO is even better than SM961 on paper. But I doubt it will be in real life. PM961 was also close to SM961 on paper, but in the real tests it was significantly worse.

    However, compared to SM961 for the same price, 960 EVO gets lots of additional pros: full warranty (the same 3 years that many retailers propose for SM961, but I think it will be much easier to get a replace from Samsung than from retailer), several thermal protection features (the most important thing, considering problems with overheating in SM961) and ready for consumer market, fully tested and balanced drive as a whole.

    Don't look at endurance. This is marketing bullshit. There are endurance tests of 850 EVO 250 Gb with 75 TB specified endurance. It easily passed more than 1200 Tb without any problems. And this is for TLC 3D V-NAND, not even MLC.

    It will be interesting to see the real tests of these drives. Did Samsung said when in October they're going to release them? Samsung 950 Pro was also announced on September 21 and was released on October 22 2016.
  • babernet_1
    So the 500GB EVO has a smaller cache (12GB) than the 250GB EVO (13GB)?
  • CRamseyer
    I guess I'll have to write an article on endurance and what it actually means for end users. There are several tests where people wrote data to the drive for a very long time but that is not what endurance is about. For consumer SSDs, you have to be able to write the data and then power the device down for a year without losing your data. There is a specific JEDEC test for it. Due to time limitations, we do not test endurance.

    This is a good place to start and then if you want the JEDEC test and details are online.
  • CRamseyer
    18627734 said:
    Compatible with Intel PCH RAID?

    I will let you know when I know. I still need to test the 600p for you as well.

    Sadly I couldn't ask all of the questions I wanted to at the event. There are around 100 members of the media there and eventually they take the mic away.
  • nycalex
    finally an affordable 500gb nvme ssd that doesn't completelly suck.

    i was about to pull the trigger on intel 600, but now i'm going to wait for the 960 evo.

    i have used all pro drives thus far, 840 pro, 850 pro. Compared to a lowly budget crucial mx200 256gb ssd that costs way less, the real world speed differential WAS MINIMAL.

    now i only play games with my system, but so far i find all SSDs being almost similar in speed in real world applications such as games.
  • argus2000
    I have read that these new SSDs are using 21 nanometers 3D V-Nand (48 layers). Is this true? Remember that previously Samsung was using 40nm 3D V-NAND (48 layers). This is a very important point. If true, this would mean that Samsung is now able to double capacity of the drives (or quadruplicate?) without increasing layer count (now 48). Please, ask Samsung about this important matter.