Samsung 960 EVO NVMe SSD Review

250GB Benchmark Results

Comparison Products

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The Samsung 960 EVO 250GB is a different animal compared to the two high capacity models. Samsung reverted this model back to 128Gbit die to increase the number of CE (Chip Enable) channels. SSDs are fast because they read and write to several blocks at the same time. Inside of every SSD is a complex RAID array that keeps performance high. At the heart of every RAID array is a controller, and in this case, it's a flash processor. Each NAND die acts as a target, but the controller has to optimize data placement to sustain a high level of performance. By moving back to older 32-layer NAND with a smaller die, the controller has more targets for incoming and outgoing data.

Unlike the large capacities, the 256GB class of NVMe SSDs is full of strong competition. The 850 EVO is not the first mainstream NVMe in this capacity, and there are even two entry-level products swimming in the same pool. In this section, we will see if the 960 EVO 250GB is a shark like the 1TB model we just covered on the previous page, or if it is a minnow.

The standout NVMe SSD in this capacity is the newcomer MyDigitalSSD BPX that sparked interest in entry-level NVMe, which is a fire the Intel 600p failed to ignite. The BPX is a low-cost product that still utilizes 2-bit per cell multi-level cell (MLC) flash. The Patriot Hellfire M.2 isn't far behind. It delivers better performance than the BPX, but it also costs significantly more. The OCZ RD400 came to market in a budget-friendly 256GB capacity, but it also fails to match the BPX's price point.

Samsung has two other products in the 256GB-class. Even though the company chose not to release the retail 960 Pro in this capacity, the OEM division released the SM961 with MLC NAND and the 5-core Polaris controller. All of these products still have to contend with the 950 Pro 256GB SSD, which was the industry standard for performance enthusiasts in 2015.

Sequential Read Performance

To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. We cover four-corner testing on page six of our How We Test guide.

It shouldn't surprise anyone to see Samsung at the top of these charts. Much like the previous page, Samsung's MLC-based SSDs dominate the low-capacity NVMe test pool. The new 960 EVO 250GB takes its place right under two such products, but it is actually faster than both during a QD1 sequential read workload.

Sequential Write Performance

With the EVO 250GB, we have to worry about data write workloads. We encounter a wavy performance profile during the sequential write test, but it doesn't originate from the thermal throttling feature. The low and inconsistent sequential write performance stems from the smaller SLC buffer and much lower native TLC write speed. Samsung's specification sheet for the 960 EVO lists the 250GB model with 300 MB/s of sustained write performance, but that is an optimistic value. We measured less than 160 MB/s after the buffer fills up and clogs with data. Even with the extra 128Gbit die, the performance dips very low when the SSD is pressed with incoming data.

The HD Tune Pro chart indicates that the TurboWrite buffer fills up with only a few gigabytes of data. Samsung claims the fixed SLC buffer capacity is 4GB, and that appears to be accurate. The dynamic SLC buffer fluctuates up to 13GB. The real story is what comes after the 300 MB/s of Intelligent TurboWrite performance. Unlike the 1TB 960 EVO we tested on the previous page, we observed an unadvertised third tier on the 250GB model that kicks the sequential write performance down another notch after we write 45 gigabytes of data to the drive.

There are two key aspects at play here. We've noted that companies need to hide native TLC write performance. The largest single file transfer for most users is a Blu-Ray ISO, and those files measure between 40 and 50 gigabytes. Samsung can mask a Blu-Ray ISO transfer, more-or-less, but only if the drive is fairly empty. The dynamic size of the TurboWrite SLC buffer means that the algorithms shrink the buffer when the drive is nearly full. With only 250GB of total storage capacity, we don't think users will keep too many large files on this specific 960 EVO. However, the buffer will shrink faster than larger drives.

Random Read Performance

The 960 EVO 250GB is still a very snappy boot drive. This model just missed the 16,000 random read IOPS mark set by the larger 1TB model we tested on the previous page. We love the MLC-based MyDigitalSSD BPX, but the 960 EVO 250GB with TLC and a small dose of an SLC buffer just winked in our direction.

Random Write Performance

Over the last several product cycles we've watched programmed SLC buffers evolve from a gimmick to a powerful system tool that increases the user experience. At this point, most of the companies have a firm grip on how the algorithm should work, but there are different levels of success. The new-and-improved Intelligent TurboWrite is the best yet, and the updated version overtakes the previous iteration that Samsung last updated in the 850 EVO.

80 Percent Sequential Mixed Workload

We describe our mixed workload testing in detail here and describe our steady state tests here.

Both of our 960 EVO samples suffer from low mixed sequential performance. With the larger model, we saw how the low performance in a mixed data environment hurt real-world application performance. That, along with the low sustained write performance, could really hurt Samsung's chances of putting the lowest-cost EVO model in your PC. We'll examine application performance with the 960 EVO 250GB later in this review.

80 Percent Random Mixed Workload

The mixed random test takes the 960 EVO 250GB down another notch. Between QD2 and QD8, the drive follows the same path as the abysmal Intel 600p. That is not where Samsung needs to be with the EVO 250GB. The 600p is actually slightly faster at QD4.

Sequential Steady-State

The larger 1TB 960 EVO products may make it into some professional workloads due to their overall value with users who dabble in video editing and other high-write environment applications. The smaller 250GB capacity increases the chance and frequency that users will drive the SSD into steady-state conditions. The performance appears low during this test, but the numbers are actually decent compared to SATA-based products.

Random Steady-State

The Samsung 950 EVO dedicates four of its five ARM cores to flash management. For many years we've heard about performance consistency from some companies and very little about it from others. It seems the tables have turned. Now, Intel SSDs have trouble holding a steady performance rate and Samsung delivers the best consistency. The chart shows only two 3D TLC-based NVMe SSDs, the Intel 600p 256GB with new 384Gbit TLC NAND flash and the 960 EVO 250GB with 128Gbit TLC. The EVO doesn't deliver a high random steady-state performance measurement, but it is very consistent.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

The low mixed performance carries over to the 960 EVO's application performance. We don't feel that the low native TLC performance affected the results of this test. The software in this section does not push enough data to the drives to get past the EVO 250GB's SLC buffer.

Application Storage Bandwidth

The 250GB model has a steep hill to climb with so many other 256GB NVMe products on the market. The MyDigitalSSD BPX leads the charge and delivers 120+ MB/s more performance than the 960 EVO 250GB. We discussed how NVMe unbinds the flash from the legacy SATA bus that was designed when Abit was still shipping motherboards. The 960 EVO series will not follow the same path as Abit, but the lowest capacity model might. I don't think Samsung expects this to be a big seller.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

The Samsung 960 EVO 250GB has a difficult time surpassing the Intel 600p 256GB during heavy workloads. We had several harsh words for the 600p, so it's only fitting to light the fires for the EVO in the same capacity class. The question is where it all went wrong, and if Samsung can fix it. We will get to those details on the next page.

During moderate workloads with ample idle time, the EVO 256GB recovers much better than the 600p. I can't believe we're even comparing these two drives with serious analysis.

Total Service Time

The service time tests reveal extreme latency during heavy workloads. The 850 EVO running on the SATA bus does not have the same latency issues that bog the 960 EVO down under heavy workloads, which is worrisome. Again, the EVO 250GB recovers with idle time, so this condition will not affect most users. However, the performance will decrease when the drive is nearly full, and some users will notice.

Disk Busy Time

The disk busy time test shows us that the 960 EVO 250GB doesn't work as long processing data compared to the Intel 600p, but there is a great divide between the EVO and the other products on the chart. This is very rare territory for a Samsung SSD.

Notebook Battery Life

The EVO 250GB SSD suffers the same condition we discovered with the 1TB EVO model and the new Samsung NVMe driver. The driver increases performance, but it comes at the cost of battery longevity. As it stands now, the 950 Pro 256GB with Samsung's first generation NVMe driver is the best option if you want to achieve the longest battery life. The 950 Pro has dominated the NVMe field since we began testing on the Lenovo Y700-17 with the latest version of MobileMark 2014. Users will lose around 40 minutes of power-on time by moving to the 960 EVO with this notebook.

Notebooks built for long battery life will see an even larger difference. The larger your battery is, the wider the divide. Our Lenovo Y700 is a gaming-focused notebook that delivers high performance. We chose it for our test bed because it was the first (and only at the time) notebook that supports both NVMe and SATA in the same unit.

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42 comments
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  • shrapnel_indie
    While I agree power hungry SSDs are problematic in the mobile sector, they are usually not a problem in the desktop sector (other than potential heating issues which exist for any market.)

    Glad to see Samsung finally have working parts to show off though. While taking time to make sure its good, is good, it isn't so good if price/performance isn't. However, since it is a Samsung, people will buy... and that could hurt if it actually fails expectations. (Remember the 840 EVO issues that left a bad taste in the mouth of some.)
  • logainofhades
    For that price, they can keep them. Can get a 1.1tb MX300, for a similar cost to that 500gb 960 evo.
  • 2Be_or_Not2Be
    59887 said:
    For that price, they can keep them. Can get a 1.1tb MX300, for a similar cost to that 500gb 960 evo.


    However, the MX300 consistently is a worse performer than the 960 Pro/EVO. So I guess you have to weigh what's more important to you - better performance or the additional capacity.
  • songer121
    u
  • songer121
    pre ordered the pro... cannot wait for that beast to come in. the speeds of those new 960's are crazy fast
  • elbert
    The 250GB for $129 looks pretty sweet. I be picking one of those up in my build early next year.
  • logainofhades
    Just look at the application performance, which is more of a real world usage scenario.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/crucial-mx300-ssd-review,4723-3.html

    vs

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/samsung-960-evo-nvme-ssd-review,4802-2.html

    The worst benchmark was the heavy adobe workload. Still less than 10s, on the service time. Every other benchmark was a good deal closer than that. 10s is not worth double the cost.
  • Game256
    Glad I decided not to wait for the reviews/release and bought SM961 for the same price as EVO.

    It's more risky, there is no official support, but the difference in performance turned out to be huge.

    I don't agree with Chris that Samsung is not considering 250 Gb version to be bestselling drive.

    It looks like they want to begin full transition to the NVMe SSDs with this exact model, because absolute majority of users can spend up to 150$ on the new drive, up to 180$ max (capacity doesn't matter). And Samsung even removed 256 Gb version of Samsung 960 PRO so that it doesn't interfere with this model.

    Yes, the performance of 960 EVO is not so great, but pretty significant compared to SATA. And low price together with highly popular brand should do their job.
  • sillynilly
    I will grab the 1Tb - will be my first one. I had lustily eyed the intel for quite some time, now I can finally grab something similar for more than half the price.
  • trifler
    After reading this article, I want to know how the 960 EVO compares with the 850 EVO at 250-256GB. Should I go ahead and get an 850 EVO then?
  • littleleo
    On the Intelligent TurboWrite Table
    250GB 500GB 1TB
    Total Size 13 TB 22 GB 42 GB

    I think the total size for the 250GB should be 13GB, 13TB seems a bit high.
  • ryguybuddy
    I wish they had 120GB versions. I only have $70 to spend ATM and I really want one of these.
  • ah
    I've just checked right now, my 500 GB Evo 850, after over 6 month, it records 1.08 TBW. So, after 3 years, it'll be 6 TBW:))
  • rhysiam
    Chris, I note that in the conclusion you attribute the poor write performance of the 250GB model to the lower parallelism. However won't the 500GB unit with its 256Gbit dies (double the capacity per die) have the exact same number of channels and thus parallelism? It also seems to have the same amount of RAM. So then, won't the performance difference between the 250GB & 500GB models really come down to any deltas in the underlying NAND - 32 vs 48 layer? Otherwise, aren't they essentially identical with the same controller, channels and RAM?

    I might be way off the mark here, but isn't there pretty good reason to expect the 500GB model to perform in a very similar manner to the 250GB... unless Samsung's 48 layer NAND is somehow significantly superior?

    *edit -> thanks for the review by the way! Great to see both models tested so thoroughly.
  • ah
    Btw, the EVO 960 has been on sale on 1 Australian website for over a week now, but they're all been sold out, except the EVO 960 Pro 512GB.
  • rhysiam
    2279851 said:
    I wish they had 120GB versions. I only have $70 to spend ATM and I really want one of these.


    $70 is exactly the right amount for a 250GB Muskin Triactor: http://pcpartpicker.com/product/mFs8TW/mushkin-triactor-250gb-25-solid-state-drive-mknssdtr250gb
    Hardly the best SSD on the market but it was favourably reviewed her on TH recently. With the 250GB 960 EVO already giving up so much performance, a 120GB model would be even worse.

    In any case, given the choice between a mid-high end ~120GB SSD, and an entry level (but not terrible) ~250GB SSD, most people would be much better served by the larger drive in the long run.
  • ryguybuddy
    1287211 said:
    2279851 said:
    I wish they had 120GB versions. I only have $70 to spend ATM and I really want one of these.
    $70 is exactly the right amount for a 250GB Muskin Triactor: http://pcpartpicker.com/product/mFs8TW/mushkin-triactor-250gb-25-solid-state-drive-mknssdtr250gb Hardly the best SSD on the market but it was favourably reviewed her on TH recently. With the 250GB 960 EVO already giving up so much performance, a 120GB model would be even worse. In any case, given the choice between a mid-high end ~120GB SSD, and an entry level (but not terrible) ~250GB SSD, most people would be much better served by the larger drive in the long run.


    I already have a 240GB A-Data SSD. I thought the EVO wasn't that much different in real-world performance to the PRO...

    and should I consider the 600p 128gb for boot and a few programs?
  • rhysiam
    2279851 said:
    should I consider the 600p 128gb for boot and a few programs?


    Look at the real world usage benchmarks in this review. Unless you have particular workloads which push the storage drives, you won't see much difference upgrading to a better SSD. If you do want to move to a NVMe unit, TH seem to recommend the MyDigitalSSD BPX Value. Might be worth a look.
  • CRamseyer
    1287211 said:
    Chris, I note that in the conclusion you attribute the poor write performance of the 250GB model to the lower parallelism. However won't the 500GB unit with its 256Gbit dies (double the capacity per die) have the exact same number of channels and thus parallelism? It also seems to have the same amount of RAM. So then, won't the performance difference between the 250GB & 500GB models really come down to any deltas in the underlying NAND - 32 vs 48 layer? Otherwise, aren't they essentially identical with the same controller, channels and RAM? I might be way off the mark here, but isn't there pretty good reason to expect the 500GB model to perform in a very similar manner to the 250GB... unless Samsung's 48 layer NAND is somehow significantly superior? *edit -> thanks for the review by the way! Great to see both models tested so thoroughly.


    That is correct. The 250GB and the 500GB should have the same number of die in the two NAND packages. I didn't want to get into too many details on the 500GB because we simply don't have it.

    I have 32- and 48-layer 850 EVO drives in the lab. The 48-layer version is a little faster but not enough to notice as a boot drive. Both are limited by the SATA bus. We will need the 960 EVO 500GB to get the full story on it.

    Since it is a high profile drive we will buy one if Samsung can't get it to use in a timely manner. Stay tuned.
  • rhysiam
    1888934 said:
    That is correct. The 250GB and the 500GB should have the same number of die in the two NAND packages. I didn't want to get into too many details on the 500GB because we simply don't have it. I have 32- and 48-layer 850 EVO drives in the lab. The 48-layer version is a little faster but not enough to notice as a boot drive. Both are limited by the SATA bus. We will need the 960 EVO 500GB to get the full story on it. Since it is a high profile drive we will buy one if Samsung can't get it to use in a timely manner. Stay tuned.

    Thanks for the response and great to hear you'll be looking into it. I'll definitely look out for that one. This is not a cheap enough drive to justify significant performance shortcomings - even if they're unlikely in real world scenarios. It will be interesting to see!

    On a different note, I remember a while back you said you were running an Intel 600P past its endurance ratings to see how it behaved. Did your results ever get posted anywhere? I'd be really interested in what happened. I'm wondering whether perhaps the 600p is a decent purchase right now after all. In terms of competition, in the US the MyDigitalSSD BPX Value seems to command a small price premium over the 600p at the moment, and I can't find it in Australia at anything vaguely resembling a competitive price. Now we get another potential competitor in the 960 EVO which is not available yet, priced substantially higher, and isn't significantly faster at the lower capacity points anyway. I was a vocal critic of the 600p in the comments of your review and follow up article, but Intel have since fixed the TBW rating nonsense, and *sort of* addressed the bricking concerns. Some confirmation of endurance behaviour from you/TH would address the last unanswered question hanging over the drive and potentially put it back on the recommended list - particularly for those of us who can't get the BPX Value at a competitive price.

    No doubt you're flat out with so many drive releases of late, but I'd welcome an update on the 600p when you have capacity. Thanks!!
  • CRamseyer
    1287211 said:
    1888934 said:
    That is correct. The 250GB and the 500GB should have the same number of die in the two NAND packages. I didn't want to get into too many details on the 500GB because we simply don't have it. I have 32- and 48-layer 850 EVO drives in the lab. The 48-layer version is a little faster but not enough to notice as a boot drive. Both are limited by the SATA bus. We will need the 960 EVO 500GB to get the full story on it. Since it is a high profile drive we will buy one if Samsung can't get it to use in a timely manner. Stay tuned.
    Thanks for the response and great to hear you'll be looking into it. I'll definitely look out for that one. This is not a cheap enough drive to justify significant performance shortcomings - even if they're unlikely in real world scenarios. It will be interesting to see! On a different note, I remember a while back you said you were running an Intel 600P past its endurance ratings to see how it behaved. Did your results ever get posted anywhere? I'd be really interested in what happened. I'm wondering whether perhaps the 600p is a decent purchase right now after all. In terms of competition, in the US the MyDigitalSSD BPX Value seems to command a small price premium over the 600p at the moment, and I can't find it in Australia at anything vaguely resembling a competitive price. Now we get another potential competitor in the 960 EVO which is not available yet, priced substantially higher, and isn't significantly faster at the lower capacity points anyway. I was a vocal critic of the 600p in the comments of your review and follow up article, but Intel have since fixed the TBW rating nonsense, and *sort of* addressed the bricking concerns. Some confirmation of endurance behaviour from you/TH would address the last unanswered question hanging over the drive and potentially put it back on the recommended list - particularly for those of us who can't get the BPX Value at a competitive price. No doubt you're flat out with so many drive releases of late, but I'd welcome an update on the 600p when you have capacity. Thanks!!


    I'd say your timing impeccable. The 600p 256GB expired yesterday. I haven't had a lot of time to look at the data but it's dead! Tomorrow I should finish the Plextor M8Pe review and can really dive in to see if the data is recoverable. It did last longer than 72TB without a firmware update. Intel released a new SSD Toolbox that can read the drive but there still isn't a driver.

    I'll write up my findings in a couple of days.
  • rhysiam
    1888934 said:
    I'd say your timing ins impeccable. The 600p 256GB expired yesterday. I haven't had a lot of time to look at the data but it's dead! Tomorrow I should finish the Plextor M8Pe review and can really dive in to see if the data is recoverable. It did last longer than 72TB without a firmware update. Intel released a new SSD Toolbox that can read the drive but there still isn't a driver. I'll write up my findings in a couple of days.

    Reassuring to hear it went past 72TB. I look forward to reading your findings and really appreciate the responses. Thanks.
  • nebun
    thanks but no thanks.....I'll wait another year....maybe
  • 80-watt Hamster
    1888934 said:
    Tomorrow I should finish the Plextor M8Pe review...


    Nice. This is something I've definitely been looking for.