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The Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB is a high-end SSD that uses M.2 form factor, PCI Express 3.0 x4 connection, and NVMe standard. It is found on 512 GiB, 1 TiB and 2 TiB capacities, and its annouced maximum read speed is 3,500 MiB/s and write speed of 2,100 MiB/s.
While the most popular SSDs use the 2.5 inches form factor (which is the same size of a standard laptop HDD), the M.2 form factor is being more and more common. The main reason is that this standard allows both the SATA-600 and the PCI Express x4 connections, that has a higher maximum bandwidth. One of the models that use this standard is the Kingston HyperX Predator. There are also SSDs that uses the PCI Express 3.0 x4 connection, but come as an expansion card, like the Intel SSD 750 Series.
Another highlight refers to the conection specification: traditional SSDs use the AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) standard, that was designed for SATA mechanical hard disk drives. Modern drives like the Samsung 960 PRO use the NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) protocol, which was developed for SSDs, allowing lower latencies and higher speeds, specially under parallel tasks.
Unlike most recent SSDs, that use TLC (triple-level cell) memories, the Samsung 960 PRO uses MLC (multiple-level cell) flash memory, that stores two bits per cell (TLC memories store three bits per cell). MLC Flash memories allow smaller data density than TLC ones, so they have a higher cost per gigabyte, but MLC chips have higher speed and longer lifespan, because there is less cell wearing on the erasing process (executed before writing new data).
This fact reflects on the TBW (see table below), which stands for Total Bytes Written, meaning the amount of data written on the drive before it begin to experience tearing problems.
In this review, we compared the Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB to the Samsung 960 EVO 500 GiB and to the Kingston HyperX Predator 480 GiB, that have a similar capacities and also use PCI Express x4 connection. However, while the both Samsung models use NVMe standard, the Kingston model uses the AHCI standard. Another difference is that the Samsung models use PCI Express 3.0 x4 interface, while the Predator uses PCI Express 2.0 x16 standard.
In the table below, we compared the tested units.
In the table below, we compared technical specs of the tested drives.
|Samsung 960 PRO||Samsung Polaris||–||4 x 128 GiB Samsung V-NAND MLC||400 TiB|
|Samsung 960 EVO||Samsung Polaris||512 MiB||2 x 256 GiB Samsung V-NAND TLC||200 TiB|
|HyperX Predator||Marvell 88SS9293||2 x 512 MiB||8 x 64 GiB Toshiba TH58TEG9DDKBA8H||882 TiB|
[nextpage title=”The Samsung 960 EVO 500 GiB”]
On Figure 1, we see the Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB. It comes as a single M.2 drive, with no adapter for a PCI Express slot.
Figure 1: the Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB
On the bottom of the PCB (solder side,) there is no chip, seen in Figure 3. This sticker has a copper layer, that works as a small heatspreader.
Figure 2: bottom side
Removing the sticker, we see the component side of the PCB. There are four flash memory chips and the controller chip.
Figure 3: component side of the PCB
The controller chip used by the 960 PRO is the Samsung Polaris, seen in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Polaris controller chip
The Samsung V-NAND MCL flash memory chips are marked K9HKGY8. This “V” stands for vertical manufacturing, called “3D” for other manufacturers, where the semiconductor layers are stacked, unlike 2D (“planar”) chips.
Figure 5: flash memory chip
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”] During our testing procedures, we used the configuration listed below. The only variable component between each benchmarking session was the SSD being tested.
- Processor: Core i9-7900X @ 4.6 GHz
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X299 AORUS Gaming 7
- Memory: 64 GiB DDR4-3000, four HyperX Predator 16 GiB modules
- Boot drive: Kingston HyperX Predator 480 GiB
- Video display: Samsung U28D590D
- Power Supply: Corsair CX750
- Case: Thermaltake Core P3
- Operating System: Windows 10 Home
Error Margin We adopted a 3% error margin in our tests, meaning performance differences of less than 3% cannot be considered meaningful. Therefore, when the performance difference between two products is less than 3%, we consider them to have similar performance.
[nextpage title=”Incompressible Data Test”]
As you will have gathered from the previous page, we measured the performance of each drive using CrystalDiskMark 5.
First, we set CrystalDiskMark to “All 0x00 Fill mode” to evaluate the performance of the SSD when dealing with compressible data. Then we set CrystalDiskMark to the default mode, which uses incompressible data. As both results were similar for all the tested SSDs, we choose to show only the uncompressible data results.
On the sequential read benchmark with QD 32, the Samsung 960 PRO was 5% faster than the 960 EVO, and 237% faster than the HyperX Predator.
On the sequential write benchmark witn QD 32, the Samsung 960 PRO was 14% faster than the 960 EVO, and 94% faster than the HyperX Predator.
On the random read test with 4 kiB blocks and QD 32, the Samsung 960 PRO was 16% faster than the 960 EVO, and 208% faster than the HyperX Predator.
On the random write benchmark with 4 kiB blocks and QD 32, the Samsung 960 PRO was 8% faster than the 960 EVO, and 105% faster than the HyperX Predator.
On the sequential read benchmark, the Samsung 960 PRO was 27% faster than the 960 EVO, and 194% faster than the HyperX Predator.
And on the sequential write benchmark, the Samsung 960 PRO was 4% faster than the 960 EVO, and 71% faster than the HyperX Predator.
On the random read benchmark with 4 kiB blocks, the Samsung 960 PRO was 18% slower than the 960 EVO, and 21% faster than the HyperX Predator.
On the random write benchmark with 4 kiB blocks, the Samsung 960 PRO was similar to the 960 EVO, and 88% faster than the HyperX Predator.
[nextpage title=”32 GiB write test”]
One of the main disadvantages of TLC Flash memories is its low write speed. Most SSDs that use this kind of memory compensates this by including in its controller chip a small amount of fast SLC Flash memory, acting as a write cache. So, in these models, write operations with small amount of data are fast, because the data are stored in the SLC cache and later, when the drive is idle, the controller transfer them to the TLC memory chips. But when you write a big amount of data (more than the SLC cache), the speed drops significantly.
In order to benchmark it, we used CrystalDiskMark 5, on sequential write modes, with two repetitions and 32 GiB test file. Let’s check the results.
On the sequential write and queue depth of 32, while the Samsung 960 PRO and the HyperX Predator keep the same speed of the 1 GiB test file benchmark, the Samsung 960 EVO was 61% slower than in the 1 GiB test.
On the simple sequential write benchmark, again the Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB and the HyperX Predator 480 GiB mantained the same performance, but the 960 EVO was 70% slower than on the 1 GiB test.
Compared to the Kingston HyperX Predator, that is an SSD with good performance, it is clear that the Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB is a top shelf SSD with very high read and write speed. So, it is a great choice for the primary storage unit if you need high performance.
On the other hand, comparing it to its “brother”, the Samsung 960 EVO 500 GiB, the 960 PRO was faster on most benchmarks, but when we make the longer write test (with 32 GiB test file), the difference between the 960 PRO, that uses MLC memory, and the 960 EVO, that uses TLC memory, is more pronounced. As TLC memories have lower write speeds than MLC ones, SSDs that use TLC chips use a small (tipically, a few Gigabytes) SLC write cache. So, on the default CrystalDiskMark test, that uses 1 GiB of data, these SSDs obtain a good write performance, but in tests with more data than its SLC cache (we used 32 GiB), the write cache overflows and the write is made directly to the TLC chips, which makes the speed drop significantly.
That was what our tests shown: on the 32 GiB write test, the Samsung 960 PRO (that uses MLC memories) kept the same performance it obtained with 1 GiB of data, but the performance of the 960 EVO dropped.
Then, the choice between those two models must not be done exclusively by their performance, since they are both very fast, but based on the write volume. As most users don’t usually write a big amount of data in a short time, both the drives would perform well. But, on tasks that require a big amount of write, the Samsung 960 PRO is far faster than the 960 EVO. Besides that, its TBW is larger (actually, twice), which makes it last longer.
So, the Samsung 960 PRO 512 GiB is high performance SSD, but as it costs more than the 960 EVO, it is recommended for applications that require a big write volume.