Samsung’s New 980 Pro Is the Fastest Consumer SSD Ever Built
For over a year, AMD’s PCIe 4.0-equipped motherboards have offered the fastest transfer speeds you could buy. Samsung’s new PCIe 4.0 980 Pro M.2 SSD is intended to capitalize on the performance the new interface offers. Right up front, Samsung isn’t shy about the price it’s asking, with a 1TB drive selling for $229. Other 1TB SSDs are currently around $100, so there’s a fair premium attached. Our sister site PCMag recently reviewed the drive, however, and came away impressed.
At this kind of price premium, the 980 Pro needs to tick the right boxes to justify the cost. If you don’t own a PCIe 4.0 motherboard, the drive is overkill — you’ll only see half of the promised 7,000MB/s of read performance. Fun fact: 7,000MB/s of read performance is roughly equivalent to a dual-channel DDR-400 memory configuration in total bandwidth. Solid-state storage today offers more bandwidth than dual-channel DRAM CPUs did 16 years ago.
While that might not sound like an impressive achievement, keep in mind that storage solutions of the same era offered sustained performance of about 60MB/s according to this review of Seagate’s first NCQ HDD. Back-of-the-envelope math suggests sustained storage performance has improved about 120x in 16 years.
The SSD 980 Pro uses Samsung’s sixth-generation TLC V-NAND. Samsung continues to lie to customers regarding the memory technology used in its NAND, and while this has no impact whatsoever on the speed and reliability of the drive, it does mean the company is comfortable consistently misrepresenting its products.
There is no such thing as “3-bit MLC.” 3-bit MLC is called triple-level cell, or TLC NAND. Presumably, Samsung does this because it’s afraid of blowback after its own 840 Evo drive tarnished the reputation of TLC with dramatic performance drop-offs that necessitated firmware updates. Regardless, the 980 Pro is a TLC drive, not an MLC drive, and will be referred to as such throughout this article.
Having spent the past year calling Western Digital out for lying by omission on its spec sheets, it’d be really cool if Samsung adopted standard industry terms for its products instead of trying to pretend they’re something they aren’t. Not only is it dishonest, but it’s also completely unnecessary. The 980 Pro has absolutely nothing to apologize for.
The new Elpis controller is designed to handle 128 input and output queues simultaneously, up from 32 in the previous Phoenix controller. The switch from MLC to TLC causes the drive write capacity to drop to 600TB total, down from 1200TB on the Samsung 970 Pro. Samsung claims that 99.7 percent of its customers write less than 600TB over the course of five years. The video editing projects I’ve been working on this year have given me some sense of how a customer might actually hit those limits over time, but the truth is, you need to write about 330GB of data per day over five years to hit 600TB. I’ve had individual days when I definitely wrote this much data, but it’s uncommon. The 600TB capacity is likely more than enough.
Sequential data is one place where the 980 Pro shows its mettle, substantially outperforming the Corsair Force Series MP600 I’ve tested in CrystalDiskMark, though the Corsair MP600 is actually quicker in AS-SSD’s file copy tests. When we look at PCMark 10’s tests, however, the 980 Pro pulls ahead in the real-world application traces. While it’s not literally faster in every single sub-trace — the MP600 gets a few licks in — it’s the overall performance leader among PCIe 4.0 drives, which are themselves markedly faster than the older crop of PCIe 3.0 drives.
Should You Bother Upgrading?
This is a tricky question. The largest storage upgrade you’ll ever make is the shift from an HDD to an SSD. Once you’ve done that, the gains are much smaller. You may notice the difference from stepping from a SATA-based drive to a PCIe 4.0 drive. You probably won’t notice the difference from PCIe 3.0 to PCIe 4.0 unless you deal with very large files and a lot of copying for a living.
If your workloads are typically constrained by storage performance, the 980 Pro is a no-brainer. If you simply want the fastest drive available, the 980 Pro is a no-brainer. If you actually care about optimizing for price/performance, the 980 Pro is overkill, especially if you aren’t building an AMD rig on a PCIe 4.0 motherboard.