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Samsung 850 Pro SSD Review: 3D Vertical NAND Hits Desktop Storage

SATA Is Maxed, But The 850 Pro Still Pushes Faster

The all-encompassing brilliance of Samsung's 850 Pro is muted somewhat by the fact that SATA 6Gb/s is restrictive. The 850 Pro works within the interface's constraints, though. It's well-rounded and fast, no doubt. But most of the SSDs we've reviewed lately land within a stone's throw of this drive, so it's hard to declare it the undisputed F.O.A.T (fastest of all time, to bastardize an LL Cool J album title). Really, the data speaks for itself though, and in a majority of tests, Samsung lands on top.

We'll continue lamenting the damper a 6 Gb/s interface puts on new SSD launches until alternative connections become more common. In the meantime, 3D V-NAND does, in fact, appear to benefit performance and power measurements alike.

Speaking of, our readings in DevSlp are spectacular, though it's hard to get amped up about insanely low power readings, particularly on the desktop where sleep states add unwanted latency. As the feature becomes more prolific in the mobile space, I'd expect Samsung's 850 Pro to become a favorite choice in notebooks, though.

Similarly, most enthusiasts won't avail themselves of the Pro's encryption capabilities. I'm glad they're supported in hardware, but I suspect a lot of 850 Pros will end up in multi-drive arrays where encryption would be enabled through a hardware RAID controller. Otherwise, it's not clear just how much of the power user space burns for the sweet, obfuscated fruit of full disk encryption, Microsoft's eDrive standard, or Opal 2.0.

The 850 Pro's centerpiece is its 3D V-NAND, which is said to make a monumental contribution to endurance. That's more difficult to test (and come away with useful information). Yes, performance is better because of the technology, and we benchmarked that. Power consumption is also better, and I measured that using some pretty high-end equipment. Unfortunately, TBW (terabytes written) specifications, as confusing as they are, tend to involve other information we simply don't get from Samsung. Intel's SSD 730 can withstand up to 70 GB per day through its warranty term, while the 850 Pro should land around 40 GB daily. But that's running the math with a 10-year warranty in mind. Recalculate for a five-year term and the 850 Pro gets a healthier 80 GB/day endurance spec.

Of course, the method Samsung uses to calculate its figures isn't divulged. I just don't think it matters, though. Once upon a time, I put almost seven million gigabytes on a 256 GB Samsung 830. All that means is your approach to testing endurance matters as much as how you interpret the results. Think of it like this, though: in the twentieth century, the average life expectancy for Americans rose. Seemingly minor illnesses were treated more effectively as the century progressed, so the number of deaths from cancer and heart disease rose. Dumb stuff stopped killing us as often, leaving more of the population alive long enough to develop a more terminal condition. We're all going to go sometime, from something. And in the same way, all SSDs die on a long enough timeline. If it's not from something preventable like poor NAND management, sketchy component choice, or flaky firmware, the drive may last long enough for endurance to become its undoing. For a majority of us, though, that's not something worth losing sleep over.

Do keep in mind that a decade of warranty coverage sounds awesome, but it's limited to the TBW figure. You get 10 years or 150 TBW, whichever happens first. Increasing coverage by five years probably won't cost Samsung much in the long run based on that write specification. Also, the TBW rating for each drive is the same. That means the lowest common denominator (the tiny 128 GB model) was likely the guinea pig for Samsung's calculations. I have a hard time believing the 1 TB 850 Pro wouldn't outstrip the cited number. 

It all comes together in an impressive package. Squeezing every last bit of headroom from SATA 6Gb/s may seem like a fool's errand, but it's that last percentage point that puts these drives in a pole position. The spread between an average SSD and the 850 Pro isn't enormous, and even less so if you're looking at competing high-end offerings. Many storage tests tend to exaggerate performance deltas, after all. If I swapped your Radeon R9 290X for a 290, you might not even notice. Similarly, if I pulled your existing 840 EVO and upgraded you to an 850 Pro, the difference would likely be imperceptible. It's only when we really push these devices to their limit that certain SSDs shine. Like the SSD 730 from Intel, Samsung's new 850 Pro holds its own in those taxing situations.

Frankly, most readers (even the enthusiasts) won't need the 850 Pro, particularly given relatively steep pricing. Most of us with desktops and notebooks are well-served by superb offerings battling it out at the budget end of the market. There are too many options going for less than $.50/GB, including certain configurations of the 840 EVO, to jump all over flagships selling for twice as much. But then there are the most hardcore users who willingly pay handsomely for the fastest CPUs and graphics cards. They run entry-level servers, edit high-resolution video, build performance-sensitive RAID arrays, and so on. They're the ones who'll find what the 850 Pro can do most interesting.

I can say that Samsung turns the dial as high as it'll go for SATA 6Gb/s. There's not much room left to innovate until we start seeing versions of the 850 designed for alternative interfaces. But somehow, the 850 Pro on my bench right now pushes a little more performance across the board. It's a triumph in its own way. Only power users need apply, though (at least until prices drop a bit). Other vendors want the distinction Samsung claims for itself today. For the moment, however, this 850 Pro gets to keep the crown warm.