Comparisons And Benchmarks
There isn't a consumer or prosumer SSD available to compare to the 960 Pro 2TB. The closest product comes from Intel's data center line where the DC P3500/P3600/P3700 2TB SSDs roam. Intel's data center products gave birth to the SSD 750 1.2TB that came to market last year, but the company never increased the 750's capacity.
When more 960 Pro products become available, we will be able to compare them to 512GB and 1TB competitors. For the review, we lined up the best the market has to offer. The Intel SSD 750 1.2TB, OCZ RD400 1TB, and Samsung SM961 1TB join the Patriot Hellfire M.2 480GB and Samsung 950 Pro 512GB. All of the products utilize multi-level cell (MLC) flash with two bits occupying each cell.
Sequential Read Performance
The only competition in 128K sequential read performance comes from Samsung's own OEM-focused SM961 1TB SSD. Both products, along with the PM961 with V-NAND TLC flash, should see a slight performance increase with Driver 2.0.
At a queue depth of 1, the 950 Pro 512GB makes the top performing group a Samsung trio. The other NVMe SSDs fall well short of the Samsung’s performance at low queue depths.
Sequential Write Performance
The review will quickly turn into a Samsung vs. Samsung vs. Samsung showdown, which explains why the company can charge whatever price it wants to. The 960 Pro 2TB literally raises the bar for sequential write performance. The chart shows everything you need to see. If we ignore the OEM SM961 for a moment, the 960 Pro surpasses the previous generation 950 Pro by more than 400 MB/s at QD2.
Random Read Performance
At lower queue depths, which are the measurements that matter for consumer and prosumer use, the 960 Pro doesn't add much performance over the existing 950 Pro during a random read workload. There is a slight performance increase, but not enough to matter. Samsung dominates in three of the four 4-corner tests, and the other companies haven't been able to catch up.
Random Write Performance
The remaining corner is random data writes. Samsung doesn't outperform all of the other products in this test, but its products are not far behind Intel and OCZ.
80 Percent Mixed Sequential Workload
Samsung managed to increase the 960’s performance during sequential mixed workloads at low queue depths, but again we only see a small increase over the 950 Pro.
80 Percent Mixed Random Workload
Mixed workloads give us a better understanding of real-world application performance. The Samsung products might not deliver the highest random write performance, but they are unmatched in mixed workloads. Surprisingly, the datacenter-derived Intel SSD 750 trails the other products in this test despite delivering the highest random write performance. After examining the results of the initial synthetic tests, it looks like the 960 Pro will perform very well in applications.
We can't put a lot of value in the sequential steady-state test because the 960 Pro has double the capacity of the closest product in the chart. We've found that capacity plays a large role in performance in the middle read/write mixtures. The Crucial MX300 product reviews show how two of the same products with the same claimed performance differ in steady-state conditions. We expect to have the 960 Pro 1TB and 512GB products in the coming weeks and hope to report numbers with comparable products at that time.
The Samsung 960 Pro nearly triples the random 4K write performance in steady state over the 950 Pro 512GB, which the company released last year. We asked Samsung if this product has an adverse reaction to Intel's chipset PCH RAID, but have yet to hear back. The SM961 with the same Polaris controller would blue screen in Windows 8.1 Pro with RAID enabled within 30 seconds of bootup. The OCZ RD400 has similar compatibility issues.
PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance
For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that the 960 Pro 2TB is the fastest 'consumer' SSD shipping. At 2TB, it’s in a special class of NVMe products. It may actually be the fastest SSD, period, but I don't test new enterprise NVMe products. There are a handful of larger enterprise products available, but not in the M.2 form factor, and the pricing usually starts in the range of a used Honda Civic.
Application Storage Bandwidth
Samsung made changes to the Polaris firmware since we tested the SM961. After our review, Samsung released a firmware update that reduced the thermal throttling during data read activity. That explains why OEM SM961 trailed the 950 Pro in FutureMark's PCMark 8 Storage Test, but the issue only cropped up during the extended tests that are far beyond the length of most normal workloads. The 960 Pro and SM961 with newer firmware fixed the throttle issue.
PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance
To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.
With the 960 Pro targeting workstation users running professional applications, we shift our analysis over to the steady-state portion of the test. We focus on the recovery stages with entry-level products, and if you plan to use your 960 Pro for gaming, surfing the web and general office use, then the recovery stages should still be your focus.
The 950 Pro and 960 Pro mimic each other’s performance through most of the advanced workload performance tests. There isn't a large performance increase with the new 960 Pro.
Total Service Time
The service times are still higher for the Samsung SSDs than the Intel SSD 750 1.2TB. The Intel is a beast in this area, but the charts only show the fastest consumer SSDs available. There is a wide gap between the NVMe products and mainstream SATA SSDs, so we are splitting hairs at this level.
Disk Busy Time
The disk busy time test indicates how long the drives are active while running the workload. All of the drives will perform a task during the workload and then try to drop into a low power state. We often see a performance spread between products that finish a task at the same time because one drive has to work harder to complete the task than the other. The busy time can relate to notebook battery life, but not always directly. Some devices also take slightly longer than others to wake up from the lower power states. When that happens, it increases latency. Even though both drives complete the task at the same time, one will begin working sooner than the other.
Notebook Battery Life
The Samsung 960 Pro, along with the other Samsung NVMe products in the chart, supports the L1.2 power state, which is a low-power mode that has a fast resumption time. We expected the 960 Pro 2TB to deliver better battery time, but the 64 NAND die soak up a lot of juice.
We added the Samsung 850 EVO 4TB, which costs roughly the same as the 960 Pro 2TB, to the chart to highlight a specific condition. However, other 850 EVO SSDs with varying capacities provide similar results.
If you look at the performance chart, it becomes very clear that PCIe-based storage devices are at a severe performance disadvantage compared to SATA-based products. When Windows is on battery power it reduces the CPU, DRAM, DMI and PCIe bus clock speeds to increase efficiency and preserve battery life. The NVMe storage products run directly on the PCIe bus, which Windows throttles. The SATA SSDs run through the PCH (formally called a South Bridge), so SATA performance doesn't drop as much as PCIe under battery power.
You can test this a number of ways. We've run tests with older chipsets using USB PCIe add-in cards against USB devices connected via the DMI link. Our tests with the other components verify the reality that BAPCO's MobileMark 2014 reveals during these tests: if you use a notebook on battery power, the SATA products are actually faster with real-world software.