Samsung has long been the market leader in the performance NVMe SSD market. It seems like an eternity since the 960 series launched in 2016, and it has remained largely unchallenged until now. The tech world never sits still though, and competing manufacturers are catching up. The Pro series has always sat atop the throne, a position that has come under some threat, which brings us to Samsung’s latest and greatest, the 970 Pro. We are pleased to have the 1TB model on hand for review, and when you have device with a performance pedigree like the Pro models have always had, our expectations are high.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL NAND M.2 DRIVE
The Samsung 970 Pro is a physically atypical NVMe M.2 2280 (80mm length) sized drive connected via a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface. That’s about where the similarities end though. While there are many high performance drives shipping with 64-Layer NAND, most of those use TLC memory which is cheaper to produce and has a shorter life span. Samsung’s 64-Layer 2-bit MLC V-NAND is largely what separates the 970 Pro from the chasing pack. The endurance rating of the drive clearly illustrates this, as the 1TB 970 Pro is rated for 1200 terabytes written, while the 1TB 970 Evo is half that, at 600TBW. Of course there’s a five year warranty, but with an endurance rating like this, the drive should last a lot longer than that.
The 970 Pro uses the company’s own Phoenix controller. It is a five core ARM controller that has previously been seen in Samsung’s top of the line you-can’t-afford-it line of enterprise Z-NAND SSDs. It has a nickel plated heat spreader to aid thermal dissipation. The controller supports all of the features you’d expect on a high end SSD, like TRIM, garbage collection, S.M.A.R.T. as well as AES 256 bit encryption. Samsung also claims this controller has better thermal characteristics and a higher heat tolerance rating.
Support for the 970 series is included with latest version of the Samsung Magician software. There’s benchmark, secure erase and monitoring tools included. Samsung also offer a data migration tool that can be downloaded from their website. Interestingly, there’s an optional Samsung NVMe driver that includes support for Windows 7.
THIS THING IS FAST
Performance is key when evaluating a Pro series Samsung drive. It has to be given their historical price premium and the 970 Pro 1TB doesn’t disappoint. Sequential read and write performance is stunning as we expect, making this a natural choice for power users and professionals dealing with large file transfers. The random performance with low queue depths is also very good, though surprisingly, the Intel 760p delivers amazing performance here, likely due its SLC cache, as it quickly falls behind in every other test.
The Anvil Storage Utilities and AS-SSD benchmarks put the 970 Pro at the head of the pack, easily beating out the previous generation 960 Pro 1TB model. The In/Out operations per second subtests are particularly amazing. Clearly this is the M.2 drive you want if performance is your number one priority.
The Samsung 970 Pro is an excellent M.2 SSD, but boy, does it come at a price. The Intel Optane 900p, at over twice the price per Gigabyte, does hold a performance lead, but its price means it’s strictly for the most deep-pocketed enthusiast. Users with superseded 960 series drives probably don’t have a lot of reason to upgrade, unless you really do want the best M.2 drive you can get. Wanting the best is sometimes reason enough to upgrade though, and if you do so, you will be very happy with a 970 Pro. Don’t forget the 970 EVO either. It delivers most of the performance at a much friendlier price. Keep an eye out for our review in the next issue.
What we have is a class leading 2bit MLC NAND drive paired with a blazing fast enterprise level controller that offers amazing performance, reliability and endurance. If you want the best M.2 SSD you can get, this is it right here but you will have to pay a steep premium for it.