The top tier of desktop-oriented storage is fairly exclusive. We have Intel's SSD 750, of course, which is a data center product tuned for enthusiasts. Samsung's SM951 made its way through the gray market, delivering comparable performance. And now Samsung's 950 Pro joins that elite duo. But we almost hung the preview tag on this first look, since the features that potentially make the 950 Pro great are still missing in action.
For instance, full-disk encryption is a really nice feature for those who need it. I have friends who won't buy an SSD without FDE. Samsung also needs to get its Magician software equipped with 950 Pro support, which should enable Rapid Mode at the same time. It seems like every company with SSD toolbox software is having issues with certain features under Windows 10.
Rapid Mode could take the 950 Pro to a level that Intel's NVMe-based SSDs and the SM951 can't reach. It's a killer app that noticeably improves the user experience. Interestingly, you might not even notice after turning Rapid Mode on. You'll get your operating system installed and follow up with Magician, so you won't spend much time without Rapid Mode. But after you go a couple of months with the feature enabled and then switch it off, that's where you'll feel the difference. Hopefully Samsung gets Magician and Rapid Mode working under Windows 10 sooner than later.
The 256GB 950 Pro is a solid drive for enthusiasts hunting for value. Aside from the SM951s, nothing else on the market compares the smaller drive's price to performance ratio. Even the 512GB 950 Pro at $350 gives you more capacity than Intel's SSD 750 400GB at a lower price point. I suspect that Samsung had Intel in its crosshairs when the company came up with its MSRPs.
We're really itching to get our hands on the 1TB 950 Pro, but realistically expect hardware around the CES or CeBIT time frame. Given where the 512GB 950 Pro lands, we have to expect Samsung's 1TB offering to undercut Intel's 1.2TB SSD 750 by a significant margin. Readers have already told us that they're waiting for the larger version before making a buying decision.
One consideration we didn't test today but need to mention is caching. Intel's Rapid Storage Technology software now allows PCIe SSDs to serve as cache for hard drives. You can even use the utility to build an NVMe-based tier for your SSDs. I don't even think power users will go that direction. However, an NVMe cache for a hard drive array could be appealing. Smart Response Technology is still limited to a maximum capacity of 64GB, but that leaves some space for a dedicated swap file or multimedia data manipulation.
The M.2 form factor is incredibly elegant. Most modern motherboards include at least one M.2 connector, and some have as many as three. M.2 is also gaining popularity in the notebook market. NVMe interface support is still somewhat limited, but notebooks armed with that are coming too. I suspect that the platforms launching at CES will be dominated by M.2, leaving little attention for 2.5" SATA drives. When Intel released the U.2 connector with an M.2 adapter and a cable pieced together from enterprise connectors, we considered it a step backwards. The 950 Pro in its small M.2 2280 form factor eliminates that workaround, pretty much killing U.2. Who wants to route another long cable, anyway? Samsung's 950 Pro delivers similar or better performance than the SSD 750, consumes less power and generates less heat.