Samsung 990 Pro SSD Review: The Return of the King

A proper contender and 980 Pro successor

Samsung 990 Pro SSD
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The 2TB 990 Pro is, in many respects, the fastest SSD we’ve tested. This high-end PCIe 4.0 drive excels everywhere it matters, is relatively efficient, and has an optional high-power mode. It would be great inside a PC, a laptop, or your PS5. An optional heatsink with RGB is the cherry on top.

Pros

  • +

    Strong all-around performance, including 4K QD1 random reads

  • +

    Excellent software and support

  • +

    Heatsink and RGB options for a little bit more $

  • +

    Consistent, efficient, and cool

Cons

  • -

    Sustained write performance is lower than expected

  • -

    MSRP is too high

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The Samsung 990 Pro is the much-anticipated successor to the popular 980 Pro. It is poised to be the very fastest drive we’ve tested, outdoing even the SK hynix Platinum P41 and the Western Digital (WD) SN850X. Initially available at 1 and 2TB for $169 and $289, respectively, the 990 Pro will also have a 4TB model out next year. Available bare or with an RGB heatsink, the 990 Pro is using Samsung’s new Pascal controller and it's new V7 TLC NAND flash, a combination that promises to be faster and more efficient.

The 990 Pro has the rest of the Samsung trimmings, including software support with the updated Magician application and the option for encryption. The drive is designed to fit in a wide range of devices, from desktops to laptops to the PlayStation 5 (PS5) console. As Samsung’s new top-of-the-line consumer PCIe 4 SSD, the 990 Pro is designed to take a place among the best SSDs in terms of performance and, according to our tests, it delivers. It also takes the crown of the fastest SSD on our list of Best SSDs for the PS5

Samsung 990 Pro Specifications

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Product1TB2TB4TB
Pricing | w/HS $169.99 | $189.99 $289.99 | $309.99 N/A
Form FactorM.2 2280M.2 2280M.2 2280
Interface / ProtocolPCIe 4.0 x4PCIe 4.0 x4PCIe 4.0 x4
ControllerSamsung PascalSamsung PascalSamsung Pascal
DRAMLPDDR4LPDDR4LPDDR4
Flash Memory176-Layer V-NAND TLC176-Layer V-NAND TLC176-Layer V-NAND TLC
Sequential Read7,450 MBps7,450 MBps7,450 MBps
Sequential Write6,900 MBps6,900 MBps6,900 MBps
Random ReadUp to 1.2MUp to 1.4MUp to 1.4M
Random WriteUp to 1.55MUp to 1.55MUp to 1.55M
SecurityTCG/Opal 2.0TCG/Opal 2.0TCG/Opal 2.0
Endurance (TBW)600TB1200TB2400TB
Part Number | w/HSMZ-V9P1T0BW | MZ-V9P1T0CWMZ-V9P2T0BW | MZ-V9P2T0CWMZ-V9P4T0BW | MZ-V9P4T0CW
Height | w/HS2.30mm | 8.20mm2.30mm | 8.20mm2.30mm | 8.20mm
Warranty5-Year5-Year5-Year

The Samsung 990 Pro arrives in the 1TB and 2TB capacities at launch. The 4TB model is coming later, in 2023; it will be nice to see a larger capacity option from Samsung. The 990 Pro promises up to 7450/6900 MBps, sequential read and write, with up to 1.4 million / 1.55 million read and write IOPS. This is more than competitive, exceeding the previous-gen, 980 Pro on all counts but also promising numbers higher than the SK hynix Platinum P41 and WD SN850X.

The Samsung 990 Pro does support TCG Opal encryption - an unsupported feature for many consumer SSDs - and offers 600TB of warrantied writes per TB of capacity. The endurance rating follows the JEDEC JESD218 standard which is largely irrelevant. The TBW ratings are unexceptional in any case, but should be sufficient for the drive’s intended use.

Samsung is offering a variant at each capacity with a heatsink and RGB, taking a page out of the WD SN850X’s playbook. It appears that the 4TB model will also have this option which was not the case with the SN850X. The Platinum P41 is therefore perhaps a bit less attractive by not having a heatsink variant. The Samsung 990 Pro’s heatsink meets the PCI-SIG D8 standard, which means that it comes in at less than a 8.8mm height to ensure it fits into a wide variety of devices, including the PS5.

The Samsung 990 Pro launches with a price tag of $169.99 for 1TB and $289.99 for 2TB. The heatsink and RGB add another $20 to each price, which matches the premium of the SN850X. One complaint we had about the SN850X is that its launch price was too high - something that has since changed drastically. Samsung also had a hefty MSRP for its T7 Shield launch but the drive was never actually sold for launch prices. We therefore expect the 990 Pro to be discounted, which is reasonable given the current real-world pricing of its direct competitors.

Software and Accessories of the Samsung 990 Pro

Samsung released version 7.2 of its Magician storage software on October 4th, in advance of the 990 Pro’s release. This software now allows for RGB control for the heatsinked versions of the drive. It also enables data migration and offers diagnostics, firmware updates and driver updates. Other functions are also present such as a PSID revert, which performs a secure erase and unlocks an encrypted drive. Samsung’s SSD software is, in general, the standard for the industry.

This software also has a Performance Optimization panel which allows for a Full Performance Mode. This is reminiscent of WD’s original Game Mode, which effectively disabled lower power states. In our tests, we benchmarked with the “Full Power Mode” both on and off.

A Closer Look at the Samsung 990 Pro

The 990 Pro has unexceptional looks, with a label on both front and back providing basic drive information. The heat spreader back label helps reduce load temperatures. Under the top label there are two NAND packages, a DRAM package, and the controller. The controller is nickel-plated to improve heat dissipation, but the 990 Pro also uses Samsung’s Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) to improve thermal consistency. We’ve seen this before in the 980 Pro but this is also similar to the SN850X’s adaptive thermal management feature. This technology is nothing new, but may help with gaming workloads.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Samsung 990 Pro sports a new controller, Pascal, as a successor to the 980 Pro’s Elpis. The Pascal is produced in Samsung’s 8nm process node and is still ARM-based. There does not appear to be much difference between the controllers superficially, but the Pascal has significantly higher performance specifications. Samsung states that this is thanks to an optimized NAND data path through “hardware automation technology” with reduced processing time via a “cache algorithm.” When I asked about the changes, Samsung stated that this architecture was meant to have more effective low-power mode coverage and that it was capable of taking advantage of read caching.

Hardware automation involves the storage data path: the flow of data from the host interface to the flash. As SSDs scale up to greater levels of parallelization with more complex addressing, IOPS bottlenecks begin to arise. Hardware automation helps overcome these and also offers power savings which is becoming more important as drives get faster. One example is hardware-accelerated flash map management which can increase IOPS versus managing the flash translation layer (FTL) - which translates between physical and logical memory addresses - in software. I/O queues and data transfers also benefit from acceleration. Separately, parallel processing improvements in firmware can also improve garbage collection/scheduling as with Phison’s I/O+ Firmware.

Volatile memory like SRAM is used by the controller to cache mapping information and buffer data to commit to the non-volatile NAND flash, so optimization of algorithms can improve overall performance. Write performance often benefits more from such advances, but changes may also be relevant for DirectStorage. Some manufacturers, like Solidigm, have also decided to introduce a form of caching to hold specific data in the cache via a specialized NVMe driver. In that case, knowledge about the type of data and how it is utilized - metadata - can bolster performance with intelligent caching. Samsung did not elaborate on what it meant by “read caching,” but it is not uncommon to keep some hot data in pSLC to improve forthcoming reads.

A typical cache algorithm would be least recently used (LRU), where the least recently accessed data would be evicted first from a full cache. Such an algorithm is constrained if it does not take into account spatial locality, that is, knowledge of adjacent and nearby memory locations. The inevitable increase in FTL overhead with more complex algorithms can create a performance bottleneck. Specific improvements to the controller can increase maximum IOPS by offloading or automating some of this work. This can also generally lead to lower latency, although the full benefits are unlikely to be realized on a consumer device.

Samsung has certainly made advances with the controller but other components are more familiar. The memory, or DRAM, is Samsung’s LPDDR4 which has been used on many of its SSD products. It offers a bit of power savings over traditional DDR. This module is 2GB in size, which matches the 2TB of flash with an ideal ratio. It’s expected that the 1TB model would have 1GB. The power components are also standard for Samsung. We would expect the promised power savings, in comparison to the 980 Pro, to come from the new flash plus controller optimizations.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The flash packages are labeled K9DVGY8JRD-DCK0 which denotes that it is Samsung’s 176-layer TLC NAND. With the 2TB SKU, this flash has 512Gb dies as indicated by “V” - although the upcoming 4TB may require 1Tb “X” dies. This is V7 in Samsung’s V-NAND nomenclature which was explored in some detail at ISSCC 2021. Samsung showed off its 8th generation TLC at ISSCC this year but recent trends in the flash market have generally left manufacturers in a holding pattern with regard to the production of higher-layer flash. In any case, this is the first time we’ve seen this flash, a direct upgrade to the V6 128-layer TLC found on the 980 Pro.

Samsung made many improvements with this generation of flash, the most significant being the use of a four-plane design and a Cell-on-Periphery (COP) implementation. More planes means more parallelization which translates at least to higher bandwidth. COP is similar to Micron’s CMOS-under-Array (CUA) but this is the first time Samsung is utilizing such technology. This involves moving control circuitry away from the peripheral or side of the array. This can greatly improve power efficiency and also reduces die surface area by placing peripheral circuitry under the data cell array.

Placing this circuitry under the array introduced some problems for Samsung who solved it by using innovative capacitor design. The result is improved power delivery with reduced surface area requirements. Samsung also uses a dual-scheme termination approach that allows for increased power efficiency when full I/O speeds are not required. This should help Samsung back up its claim of better power efficiency through the use of a low-power-aware architecture.

Samsung is the one manufacturer that was able to avoid string-stacking, that is the use of multiple NAND array decks, with higher flash layer counts. Its approach comes with many challenges but also avoids having to deal with melding decks. Etching so many layers leads to an increased aspect ratio which, among other things, can increase the level of voltage threshold deviation between cells in different layers. More layers in the same space does translate to an effectively smaller cell capacity which can impact performance and endurance, as well.

Samsung’s solution introduces an additional latch - a type of dynamic buffer, as with page buffers - to overcome this issue. The extra data is utilized with bit and word line forcing schemes to produce a refined cell charge, essentially having an extra verify stage to keep bit values tighter. While a manufacturer could simply keep adding decks - and it’s theoretically possible to hit 800 or more layers with that technique - it’s not without its own challenges. Samsung has instead decided that its 176-layer NAND provides the optimal balance between performance and power efficiency.

MORE: Samsung Promo Codes (opens in new tab)

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Shane Downing
Freelance Reviewer

Shane Downing is a Freelance Reviewer for Tom’s Hardware US, covering consumer storage hardware.

  • -Fran-
    It doesn't read like a bad drive at all, but I can't say its performance blows my socks away. From a value perspective, the P5+ and 980Pro are still really good from what I can see here.

    Definitely a drive to look for when it goes on sale, but at full price, it's kind of hard to say I'd buy it for myself. Then again, I suppose I'm not an "ultimate performance seeker".

    Regards.
    Reply
  • TechieTwo
    It's overwhelming to see all of the Gen 5 SSDs that were suppose to be available by now. /s
    Reply
  • PlaneInTheSky
    Jesus Christ these prices. $200 for a 1TB SSD. I thought SSD were supposed to get cheaper over time.

    The recent prices of DDR5 memory, SSD, Motherboards, GPU, etc...are pushing me over the edge to buy a console this holiday season, and just forget about wasting tons of money on PC hardare.
    Reply
  • TechieTwo
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    Jesus Christ these prices. $200 for a 1TB SSD. I thought SSD were supposed to get cheaper over time.

    The recent prices of DDR5 memory, SSD, Motherboards, GPU, etc...are pushing me over the edge to buy a console this holiday season, and just forget about wasting tons of money on PC hardare.

    You can buy a 1 TB Samsung 980 on Newegg for $100 and a 980 Pro for <$150.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    "It would be great inside a PC, a laptop, or your PS5. An optional heatsink with RGB is the cherry on top."

    Remember when these Samsung Pro drives earned their price by being high endurance/performance drives for workstations?
    I guess strike this up to being yet another "pro" branded product that is in no way intended for professionals.
    It's probably time for the dictionary curators of the world to add "overpriced consumer electronics" as an official definition for "pro".
    Reply
  • _dawn_chorus_
    PlaneInTheSky said:
    Jesus Christ these prices. $200 for a 1TB SSD. I thought SSD were supposed to get cheaper over time.

    The recent prices of DDR5 memory, SSD, Motherboards, GPU, etc...are pushing me over the edge to buy a console this holiday season, and just forget about wasting tons of money on PC hardare.

    You are surprised that the most cutting edge PC hardware money can buy is expensive? IIRC my Samsung 970evo 1TB M.2 cost like $250 4 years ago. But yeah consoles will always be cheaper of course.

    Not sure what your current build is but a lot of prices are actually relatively low compared to the last 5 years.

    Here is a great build for about $1700: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/bRhTDqYou could save a couple hundred bucks buying the 3080 second hand too.

    Here is a thrifty but good build for $900: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/wRy9Bj
    And all that is assuming you have no current parts you could reuse.

    Or you could buy the PS5 AND a Steam Deck for like $1000-$1200. Have a beast console and a baby beast mobile console/PC.
    Reply
  • HideOut
    A hot new Gen 4 drive in the era of Gen 5. and two different prices for the Fancy lights on two different sizes of SSD, but they should be the same item. Makes no sense again.
    Reply
  • HideOut
    _dawn_chorus_ said:
    You are surprised that the most cutting edge PC hardware money can buy is expensive? IIRC my Samsung 970evo 1TB M.2 cost like $250 4 years ago. But yeah consoles will always be cheaper of course.

    Not sure what your current build is but a lot of prices are actually relatively low compared to the last 5 years.

    Here is a great build for about $1700: https://pcpartpicker.com/user/Dawn_Chorus/saved/yBJ3wP
    You could save a couple hundred bucks buying the 3080 second hand too.

    Here is a thrifty but good build for $900: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/wRy9Bj
    Or you could buy the PS5 AND a Steam Deck for like $1000-$1200. Have a beast console and a baby beast mobile console/PC.

    This is NOT cutting edge at all. Gen 5 SSD's would be cutting edge. Thats everyone's utter disapointment here.
    Reply
  • JDJJ
    Little late to the party with an expensive Gen 4 drive when I literally got a banner ad on this page for a Gen 5 drive.
    Reply
  • JDJJ
    TechieTwo said:
    It's overwhelming to see all of the Gen 5 SSDs that were suppose to be available by now. /s
    I got ads for two different Gen 5 drives when I pulled up this article, including one on the main banner. Being old enough to have been through many generational changes for many standards, it sure seems we are in the midst of one now for both SSDs to Gen 5 and memory to DDR 5. Memory is just a bit farther along, but the storage transition is underway as well. I’ve seen at least 4 announcements for Gen 5 M.2s. With the motherboards supporting Gen 5 starting to roll out in Q4, I expect more Gen 5 SSDs to be released in the next 6 months. Spending big money on Gen 4 seems a waste. I’d at least wait to see if Gen 5 releases force a price drop.
    Reply