The 860 EVO Review: Samsung Back On Top

Today we're looking at the new 860 EVO to see how Samsung improved on the world's best-selling SSD. We'll also compare it to the new lineup of scrappy competitors that spurred the company to finally bring a new series to market.  

Samsung's EVO series is so popular in some countries that it outsells every other SSD by a two to one margin. Samsung wants to leverage that proven formula with the new EVO series so it can cling to its dominant and profitable leadership position. Samsung changes its pricing when competitors close in, and the company always releases a faster model when others get too close to matching its performance.

Many think Samsung's 800 Pro models are the best SATA SSDs money can buy. They work best with sustained workloads because 2-bit per cell (MLC) flash is more robust than TLC. But MLC is overkill for most consumer workloads, which tend to be short and bursty. Most people don't work in marathon sessions; we're more like dragsters that go a quarter mile at a time, and then we wander off. The EVO series is a good fit for consumer workloads because it often delivers higher burst speeds than the Pro series, but that high level of performance only lasts for a short time.

Historically, Samsung has played with the EVO's pricing to position its products slightly higher than the competition. The company's control of critical components through its internal supply chain gives it an advantage that goes beyond cost. The performance, warranty, and endurance specifications usually favor the EVO, but Samsung keeps the price close enough that most shoppers will spend a little more to get a superior product.

Samsung's V-NAND technology advantage has lessened now that nearly every fab is manufacturing quality 64-layer 3D NAND on a competitive node. Samsung has made advancements with fourth generation V-NAND, but the other companies have closed the gap. The hard limit of SATA interface is a factor, so it's more difficult to make the 860 EVO stand out from the competition based on performance alone. Samsung managed to pull out a few other impressive numbers with the new series, but the price is not one of them.

Specifications

The 860 EVO series comes to market in the same 256GB to 4TB capacities as the 860 Pro we recently tested. The EVO series uses 3-bit per cell (TLC) flash, but it reserves 2.3% of the NAND capacity for background activities and caching. That helps compensate for TLC's lower native write performance.

The 860 EVO also has three different form factors. The full range of capacities ship in 2.5" while the M.2 2280 (SATA) scales up to 2TB and the mSATA model tops out at 1TB. Samsung and Mushkin are the only two SSD manufacturers to announce new mSATA SSDs in recent years. Most companies have shifted focus to M.2 SSDs and largely ignore the legacy mSATA interface.

On paper, the 860 EVO is only slightly different than the 850 series and the new 860 Pro, but most of the specifications are measured with high queue depth workloads that are more meaningful for professional products. Consumer workloads occur almost exclusively at low-queue depths. They also tend to have extended idle time between bursts of activity.

Samsung lists identical performance specifications for every 860 EVO capacity point. Sequential performance weighs in at 550/520 MB/s of read/write throughput while random performance tops out at 98,000/90,000 read/write IOPS. You'll need to push the drives very hard with intense multitasking to reach those heights.

Samsung's advantage over the rest of the market is its ability to deliver the highest performance at low queue depths. This started before 3D flash but escalated when the company rolled out V-NAND. More troubling to other SSD manufacturers, Samsung's continued momentum with each V-NAND revision makes it hard for competitors to pinpoint a performance target. V-NAND is now in its fourth generation, and Samsung raised the bar again for performance and endurance while further reducing power consumption.

Features

Samsung outfitted the 860 series with a new MJX controller that supports low-power DDR4 memory, so it likely has a new integrated memory controller. We also suspect the company built the MJX controller on a smaller lithography that enables lower power consumption, cooler operation, and reduced manufacturing costs.

Samsung claims its fourth-generation 64-layer V-NAND is 30% more energy efficient than its 48-layer predecessor. Samsung accomplished the feat by reducing the input voltage from 3.3 volts to just 2.5 volts. It also reduced the program time to 500 microseconds, which is 1.5X faster than the previous generation.

We purchased our 860 EVO drives at Newegg, so they are the same as the models you can buy today. The 860 series supports hardware encryption with TCG Opal and Microsoft's eDrive.

The 860 Pro came to us with a note about improved Linux compatibility and NAS use, but the EVO was not specifically mentioned. Given the sensitivity of the data stored on a NAS, we would recommend letting the EVO mature before considering this a viable option for that use case.

Pricing, Warranty & Endurance

860 Pro 2.5"
64-Layer 3D MLC
256GB$139.99
512GB$249.99
1TB$479.99
2TB$949.99
4TB$1,899.99
860 EVO 2.5"
64-Layer 3D TLC
250GB$94.99
500GB$169.99
1TB$329.99
2TB$649.99
4TB$1,399.99
860 EVO M.2 (SATA)
64-Layer 3D TLC
250GB$94.99
500GB$169.99
1TB$329.99
2TB$649.99
860 EVO mSATA
64-Layer 3D TLC
250GB$94.99
500GB$169.99
1TB$329.99

The 860 EVO comes in twelve SKUs that cover three form factors and up to five capacities. We'll focus on the 2.5" models in this review, but we won't close the door on a future review of the M.2 or mSATA models.

We purchased the 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB drives. The 2TB and 4TB models appear intriguing, but that quickly dimmed when I pulled out my AMEX. Pricing starts at $95 for the 250GB and jumps quickly to $170 and $330.

Some speculate the 860 series came to market in January to push back on Crucial's MX500 that currently sells for $80, $135, and $260 for the same 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB capacities. Samsung won't be able to curb MX500 sales based on pricing alone. The 860 EVO carries a premium price, and that makes it vulnerable to low-cost SATA and NVMe SSDs. The latter is even capable of achieving higher performance.

Capacity Class
256GB
512GB
1TB
2TB
4TB
860 Pro (New) (TBW)
300
600
1,200
2,400
4,800
850 Pro (TBW)150
300
300
450
600
860 EVO (New) (TBW)150
300
600
1,200
2,400
850 EVO (TBW)75
150
150
300
300
Crucial MX500 (TBW)100
180
360
700
x
WD Blue 3D /SD Ultra 3D (TBW)100
200
400
500
x

The 860 EVO breaks new ground for endurance. If is wasn't for the new 860 Pro that provides twice the endurance rating, the 860 EVO would top the consumer SSD market with its 150TB of write endurance for every 250GB of usable capacity. The SSDs still carry a standard five-year warranty.

Software & Accessories

We were able to test the latest version of Samsung's Magician software now that the drives are actually on the market. The new 860 series and the 850 non-Pro/EVO from China are now supported. They also work with Rapid Mode, which is Samsung's DRAM cache algorithm that increases performance and reduces wear on the flash.

The software allows you to monitor and test the drive. In some instances, you can even delete all the data with the secure erase function from inside the operating system. But that's only if the stars align and you boot from a different drive. The list of criteria for that process to work keeps getting longer. You can also use Magician to build a bootable thumb drive to reach the same conclusion. Unfortunately, it just takes more steps and complicates the process.

Samsung also gives 860 owners access to a data migration tool you can use to clone the data from an existing drive to your new storage media. 

Packaging

Can you guess what Samsung's tagline is for the 860 EVO? "The SSD That Makes A Difference" is emblazoned on both the front and back of the package. The warranty on the retail package. Samsung doesn't mention performance, endurance, or any other metric you might use in a retail store to compare this product to the one next to it

The Samsung 860 EVO

The 860 EVO looks like every other EVO that came after the 840 series. That was back when Samsung moved to a black case and retired the dark gray color scheme. The outside is basic, but Samsung doesn't need to RGBify the proven design or even change the methodology. The EVO series comes without gimmicks, and that formula works as long as the 860 can stay one step ahead.

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  • SR-71 Blackbird
    Excellent , thanks!
  • logainofhades
    I think I would rather have the better Price/GB of an MX300. MX300 has more storage and is cheaper. The 960 evo isn't much more either really, at the 250gb level anyway.


    PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

    Storage: Samsung - 960 EVO 250GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive ($118.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Storage: Samsung - 860 Evo 250GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive ($94.99 @ Amazon)
    Storage: Crucial - MX300 275GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive ($89.89 @ OutletPC)
    Total: $303.87
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2018-02-08 16:21 EST-0500
  • AlistairAB
    So basically the MX500 is cheaper and even has better random read performance (the only metric i really pay attention to).

    Also Samsung doesn't provide warranty service in Canada properly, a caution to readers. (Search for horror stories about the 960 EVO warranty process in Canada at redflagdeals if you want more... basically they stonewall you requiring you to return to retailers, which is how it works in Europe, not in Canada).

    Buy Crucial.
  • ibjeepr
    Awesome, sticking with my 850 Evo 1TB then. Thanks for the info!
  • SR-71 Blackbird
    Sticking with my Samsung 960 EVO Series 1TB too , crazy fast , but the 860 is another solid release from Samsung , best on the market in terms of reliability.
  • HERETIC-1
    Nice one Chris.
    Pity no 250GB Sandisk/WD to complete the set..................
  • Martell1977
    So it seems that this is a 850 EVO but with higher bandwidth and warranty. I'm glad to see that my 850 EVO 500gb is still one of the best. Seems that performance for these drives has been stagnate for a while now.
  • Radar_1
    If I decide to head to the store and purchase a new SSD, the 850 EVO appears to still be the best bang for your dollar.
  • JonDol
    "The 860 EVO has half the endurance of the new 860 Pro, but it's still quite a bit more than competing products. It's a good argument, but who really cares?" Well, I do. For that reason I only buy the Pro ones and I'd buy the EVOs above all the others if the Pro weren't available.

    About the title: I wasn't even aware that Samsung had lost the leading spot :-)
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Thanks for the article Chris. I enjoy reading your work.
  • Kahless01
    Oh ffs. don't do line graphs if youre just going to make a big brown line. either make it only read from 475-550 so the differences are discernable or leave the graph out. when it looks like one thick line its not giving any usable information.
  • rgeiken
    I have installed 4 850 EVO 500 Gig SSD in 4 different computers and I am an enthusiastic fan of Samsung because of that. It makes it an entirely different computer since everything happens much faster than it would with a conventional hard drive which I have used over the earlier periods of my life. The 500 Gig can be found on line for $130 to $170. Just shop around and find one at the price you are satisfied with. The Migration software worked just fine for the last 3 SSDs I installed since it was improved from the first version that they released. If you have a desktop, it is a piece of cake to clone it and replace the old one. It can be harder to do on a laptop depending on how it was made. An HP Laptop that I installed one on turned out to be a lot of mechanical working opening the computer up. With my older Lenovo, it was much easier since I only had to remove the cover from a small compartment after I had cloned the drive. It only took less than 15 minutes to install that one.
  • CRamseyer
    Anonymous said:
    Oh ffs. don't do line graphs if youre just going to make a big brown line. either make it only read from 475-550 so the differences are discernable or leave the graph out. when it looks like one thick line its not giving any usable information.


    Damned if you do and damned if you don't. All charts have to start with zero because some demand it.
  • CRamseyer
    Anonymous said:
    Thanks for the article Chris. I enjoy reading your work.


    Thanks!
  • emv
    Interesting... the 800 series EVO line is consistently priced over 10% higher than Micron/Crucial. No effort by Samsung to be lowest price. Micron and PNY and Adata seem to be lowest cost. But Samsung still outsells them by 3x or more in channel
  • araczynski
    I have an old 830 120GB as my main OS/boot drive (plus 3 others for games Samsung 250 & 500, plus a Corsair? 750?, plus a few 3TB spinners for storage), have been on the lookout to replace the OS one, just not really sure with what model (probably a ~250GB should be sufficient).

    Stuck between 850/860 EVO and the MX500...
  • araczynski
    Anonymous said:
    Oh ffs. don't do line graphs if youre just going to make a big brown line. either make it only read from 475-550 so the differences are discernable or leave the graph out. when it looks like one thick line its not giving any usable information.


    the 'zoomed in' graph you're after is what's preferred by marketing departments, as it makes slight variances look huge/significant in order to justify whatever they want to claim.

    the 0-max graphs shown indicate relative real world performance. i.e. what marketing doesn't want you to grasp, i.e. that brands A, B, C, D, E... are the same as far as anyone will care when in use (in that metric).

    Lets keep the marketing crap to a minimum and show the real world stuff.
  • closs.sebastien
    My conclusion is that we don't see any more any differences between sata ssd, so just take the cheaper.
    If you really want the fastest, take a 850pro/860pro in M2 format.
  • cryoburner
    Anonymous said:
    Oh ffs. don't do line graphs if youre just going to make a big brown line. either make it only read from 475-550 so the differences are discernable or leave the graph out. when it looks like one thick line its not giving any usable information.

    If the lines are on top of each other, then that should stress the fact that the differences between them are so minimal that it doesn't really matter. Stretching the range out to fill the graph would wrongly give many people the impression that the differences are actually worth noting. To a casual observer, a particular drive might look twice as fast as the competition on such a cropped graph, when in reality there might only be a two percent difference in performance between the drives. And only the sequential test graphs are really like that here, since these particular drives are all SATA models running into the performance limits of the SATA interface. On an NVME drive review, the differences will be much larger, since they aren't getting capped by the performance limits of SATA. See the sequential graphs in this review, for example...
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/plextor-m9pe-ssd-review,5408-2.html

    Overall, this drive seems pretty underwhelming though. Overall performance might be slightly higher than the competition, but at a significantly higher cost. Compared to the Crucial MX500, you're looking at a 25% higher price on the 500GB model for performance differences that will be indistinguishable. Samsung is using their brand recognition as an excuse to increase the prices of these drives while offering practically the same performance.

    Anonymous said:
    "The 860 EVO has half the endurance of the new 860 Pro, but it's still quite a bit more than competing products. It's a good argument, but who really cares?" Well, I do. For that reason I only buy the Pro ones and I'd buy the EVOs above all the others if the Pro weren't available.

    Unless you're using the drives for certain professional workloads that involve a huge amount of writes, that really shouldn't matter though. Comparing the 512GB models, for example, the 860 Evo is rated for 300TB of writes, while the 860 Pro is rated for 600TB. In order to hit that amount of writes within the drive's 5-year warranty, you would need to write over 160GB of data to the 860 Evo every single day for 5 years, or over 320GB to the drive every day for the 860 Pro. Most people don't write much more than 10GB to their drive each day, and at that rate it would take over 80 years to hit that amount of writes for the Evo, and over 160 years for the Pro. Other components of the drives would undoubtedly fail long before that, assuming the performance and capacity of these drives is considered adequate to be useable even 10 years from now.

    It's also been shown that these endurance ratings are not hard limits (except on Intel drives), and the drives can typically handle far more writes than they are rated for. The rating is more there for warranty purposes, and to help give the impression that the professional models are somehow better, but in practice, practically no one will be writing anywhere close to those amounts of data to their drives.
  • Lutfij
    Nicely written, Chris! This will help in narrowing down an SSD when friends coming knocking.