The Samsung 960 Pro (2TB) SSD Reviewby Billy Tallis on October 18, 2016 10:00 AM EST
In setting their lofty goals for the drive, the 2TB Samsung 960 Pro does not quite live up to every performance specification. But against any other standard it is a very fast drive. It increases performance over its predecessor across the board. It sets new performance records on almost every test while staying within roughly the same power and thermal limits, leading it to also set many new records for efficiency where previous PCIe SSDs have tended to sacrifice efficiency to reach higher performance.
The 960 Pro's performance even suggests that it may be a suitable enterprise SSD. While it lacks power loss protection capacitors that are still found on most enterprise SSDs (and are the reason why the longer M.2 22110 size is typically used for enterprise M.2 SSDs), the 960 Pro's performance on our random write consistency test is clearly enterprise-class and in the high-airflow environment of a server it should deliver much better sustained performance where it throttled due to high temperatures in our desktop testbed. Samsung probably won't have to change much other than the write endurance rating to make a good enterprise SSD based off this Polaris controller.
SATA SSDs are doing well to improve performance by a few percent, and power efficiency is for the most part also not improving much. PCIe 3.0 is not fully exploited by any current product, so generational improvements of NVMe SSDs can be much larger. In the SATA market gains this big would be revolutionary whether considered in terms of relative percentage improvement or absolute MB/s and IOPS gained.
On the other hand, this was a comparison of a 2TB drive against PCIe SSDs that were all much smaller; it has four times the capacity and twice the NAND die count of the largest and fastest 950 Pro. Higher capacity almost always enables higher performance, and it appears in many tests that the 512GB 960 Pro may not have much if any advantage over either its predecessor or the current fastest drive of similar capacity.
This review should not be taken as the final word on the Samsung 960 Pro. We still intend to test the smaller and more affordable capacities, and to conduct a more thorough investigation of its thermal throttling behavior. We also need to test against the Windows 10 NVMe driver and will test with any driver Samsung releases. Additionally, we look forward to testing the Samsung 960 EVO, which uses the same Polaris controller but TLC V-NAND with an SLC cache. The 960 EVO has a shorter warranty period and lower endurance rating, but still promises higher performance than the 950 Pro and at a much lower price.
The $1299 MSRP on the 2TB 960 Pro is almost as shocking as the $1499 MSRP for the 4TB 850 EVO was. This drive is not for everyone, though it might be coveted by everyone. But for those who have the money, the price per gigabyte is not outlandish. Aside from Intel's TLC-based SSD 600p, PCIe SSDs currently start around $0.50/GB, and at $0.63/GB the 960 Pro is more expensive than the Plextor M8Pe but cheaper than the Intel SSD 750 or the OCZ RD400A. Samsung is by no means price gouging and they could justify charging even more based on the performance and efficiency advantages the 960 Pro has over the competitors. The 960 Pro and 960 EVO are not yet listed on Amazon and are only listed as "Coming Soon" with no price on Newegg, but they can be pre-ordered direct from Samsung with an estimated ship time of 2-4 weeks.
The 960 Pro appears to not offer much cost savings over the 950 Pro despite the switch from 32-layer V-NAND to 48-layer V-NAND. The 48-layer V-NAND has had trouble living up to expectations and was much later to market than Samsung had planned for: the 950 Pro was initially supposed to switch over in the first half of this year and gain a 1TB capacity. This doesn't pose a serious concern for the 960 Pro, but it is clear that Samsung was too optimistic about the ease of scaling up 3D NAND and their projections for the 64-layer generation should be regarded with increased skepticism.