Kicking off a busy day in the SSD industry, today we're looking at the launch of Samsung's new 860 PRO SSD. The Samsung 860 PRO is an update to the venerable 850 PRO SATA SSD, and comes at a time where Samsung faces more serious competition than they have in several years, but also when the market has almost entirely moved on from premium SATA SSDs. The 860 PRO uses the latest 64L 3D MLC NAND and LPDDR4 DRAM from Samsung plus a new revision to their highly successful SATA SSD controller series. Accordingly, the latest PRO SSD from Samsung isn't meant to be a game-changer like its predecessor, but rather is a natural evolution of Samsung's SATA SSDs – at least as much as SATA SSDs can evolve. For the SATA SSD market then, the 860 PRO stands to be the latest, greatest, fastest, and possibly last(est) high-end desktop MLC SATA SSD that we'll ever see.

The Samsung SSD 850 PRO introduced 3D NAND flash memory to the consumer SSD market over three years ago. Since then, it has reigned as the top SATA SSD. The combination of Samsung's MLC 3D NAND and their top-notch SSD controller gave the 850 PRO performance and write endurance that were nearly unbeatable.

The SSD market now is very different from when the 850 PRO launched in mid-2014. All the attention for premium SSDs is now focused on the NVMe market where significant performance differentiation is possible. The mainstream SSD market has shifted to using TLC NAND instead of MLC NAND, first in the SATA segment and now even most NVMe SSDs are adopting TLC. At first, the switch to TLC was a race to the bottom that left the 850 PRO almost completely unchallenged. In 2016, Intel and Micron brought the second 3D NAND implementation to market, but their 32-layer 3D floating gate NAND flash proved to be slower (though cheaper) than Samsung's. In 2017, Toshiba and Western Digital/SanDisk finally produced 3D NAND suitable for the mass market, and the second-generation 3D NAND from Intel/Micron debuted. With 64-layer 3D NAND and more mature SSD controllers, these competitors have finally started to challenge the performance of the Samsung 850 PRO—usually while beating it on price.

Samsung hasn't been standing still. In addition to extending their dominance into the NVMe SSD market, Samsung has quietly updated the 850 PRO and 850 EVO without introducing new naming. In mid 2015, Samsung introduced 2TB models to both SATA families, and updated the controllers to support LPDDR3 DRAM instead of the LPDDR2 initially used by the 850s. Over the course of 2016, Samsung moved the 850s from their second-generation 32-layer 3D NAND to their third generation 48L 3D NAND. This brought a doubling of the capacity of each NAND die, and allowed Samsung to produce 4TB versions of the 850 PRO and EVO, though only the 4TB EVO actually made it to market.

Samsung 860 PRO Specifications
Capacity 256 GB 512 GB 1 TB 2 TB 4 TB
Form Factor 2.5" SATA 6 Gbps
Controller Samsung MJX
NAND Samsung 64-layer 3D MLC V-NAND
LPDDR4 DRAM 512 MB 1 GB 2 GB 4 GB
Sequential Read up to 560 MB/s
Sequential Write up to 530 MB/s
4KB Random Read  up to 100k IOPS
4KB Random Write  up to 90k IOPS
DevSleep Power 2.5 mW – 7 mW
Endurance 300 TBW 600 TBW 1200 TBW 2400 TBW 4800 TBW
Warranty 5 years
MSRP $139.99 (55¢/GB) $249.99 (49¢/GB) $479.99 (47¢/GB) $949.99 (46¢/GB) $1899.99 (46¢/GB)

The changes the 860 PRO brings over the 850 PRO are pretty mundane. The controller has been updated again to support new memory: now codenamed MJX, it uses LPDDR4 DRAM. Samsung hasn't shared whether it deviates from their pattern of two or three ARM Cortex-R cores, nor what the clock speeds or fabrication process node are. The flash memory has been updated to Samsung's 64L 3D MLC, their fourth generation of 3D NAND. The Samsung 860 PRO is our first look at Samsung's 64-layer MLC V-NAND, after several encounters with the 64L TLC last year. Both 860 PRO models we have tested use 256Gb dies that are substantially larger than the 256Gb 64L TLC dies we have used previously.

The most visible change is that Samsung is finally launching the 4TB capacity in the PRO line. The 4TB model may turn heads, but it should not be mistaken for a mainstream product. It is a product born from the same mindset that leads to the GeForce Titan GPUs, Extreme Edition or Threadripper CPUs, and 1.5kW power supplies. The total available market for such products is tiny and often insufficient to justify creating the product. Instead, these parts are valuable for their "halo effect": Samsung's ability to offer a 4TB SSD helps their brand image even among consumers who cannot afford to spend anywhere near this much on their SSD.

Aside from the inclusion of the 4TB model, there is little to make the 860 PRO appear superior to the 850 PRO. Power consumption ratings have decreased slightly, but the limits of the SATA connection mean there is little room for performance improvement. The warranty period has dropped from the outstanding 10 years to a more typical 5 years. On the other hand, Samsung has stopped severely lowballing the write endurance rating. At every capacity, the 860 PRO's total write endurance rating is at least doubled, and given the shorter warranty period this yields a drive writes per day rating of 0.64, compared to a maximum of 0.16 DWPD over 10 years for the 850 PRO. The write endurance ratings are still lower than the enterprise PM863a to say nothing of the SM863a's 5.5 DWPD, but among consumer drives the 860 PRO's specified endurance no longer looks like a joke.

The other noteworthy recent MLC SATA drive is the Crucial BX300. This drive conveniently solved several problems for Micron. Since their 32L 3D NAND dies can be treated either as 384Gb TLC or 256Gb MLC, the BX300 gives Micron an outlet to sell dies that cannot meet the endurance requirements for use as TLC. At the same time, the smaller usable capacity of their MLC parts makes them more suitable for use in low-capacity SSDs. The Samsung 860 PRO isn't as convenient for Samsung to produce—they have little use for the 64L 256Gb MLC parts elsewhere in their product line so far, nor for a 384Gb TLC part.

There aren't any many SSDs to make a fair comparison against the Samsung 860 PRO, especially the 4TB model. This review includes test results from the 4TB 850 EVO and the 2TB 850 PRO, but otherwise focuses on comparisons in the 512GB capacity class. Those drives include:

  • The Samsung 850 PRO 512GB: Our sample is one of the original generation using 32L 3D NAND and LPDDR2 DRAM, rather than the updated model with 48L 3D NAND and LPDDR3.
  • The Intel 545s, using Intel's 64L 3D TLC and the Silicon Motion SM2259 controller
  • The SanDisk Ultra 3D (unfortunately in the 1TB capacity) using SanDisk/Toshiba 64L 3D TLC and the Marvell 88SS1074 controller
  • Three Crucial SSDs with Micron 3D NAND: the MX500 with 64L 3D TLC and the SM2258 controller, the MX300 with 32L 3D TLC and the Marvell 88SS1074 controller, and the BX300 with 32L 3D MLC and the SM2258 controller
  • The Samsung PM981 512GB, a M.2 NVMe SSD for the OEM market, using 64L 3D TLC. A retail version of this is likely to be the successor to the Samsung 960 EVO, and the pricing will probably be on par with the 512GB 860 PRO. Thus, the PM981 illustrates the tradeoffs of sticking with the SATA interface and insisting on MLC NAND when cheaper TLC is good enough for almost all users.

The 860 PRO is going to be the most expensive SATA drive in this bunch, and even the one NVMe drive is probably not going to be much more expensive per gigabyte than the 860 PRO when its retail version arrives. Even without the legacy of the 850 PRO, the expectation would be for the 860 PRO to demonstrate clear superiority.

AnandTech 2017 SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1703
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.1
AnandTech Storage Bench - The Destroyer
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  • letmepicyou - Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - link

    So...tests were done a while back that showed that 2x 850 EVOs in RAID 0 outperformed a single 850 Pro. The allure of putting 2 500gb EVOs in RAID for $300 and getting better performance than a single PRO 1TB for $450 was a no-brainer IMO, and boy does it scoot. My question is, what do RAID numbers look for the new 860's? Will it still make sense to RAID the EVO's? Or will the 860 series price/perf/space metric slant more towards the single PRO drive? Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Wednesday, January 24, 2018 - link

    Given that the 860 Pro struggles to distance itself from its EVO counterpart in a straight up comparison, I think its safe to say 2x860EVO will outperform 1x860PRO in the same metrics that 2x850EVO outperforms 1x850PRO. Also, MSRP shows 2x860EVO 500GB costing $340 vs $480 for the 1TB 860PRO. Your price/perf/space metric will not be slanting towards the PRO drive. Reply
  • Luckz - Monday, May 14, 2018 - link

    SATA SSD RAID0 only makes sense if you need 'left to right copying' and can't do NVMe (which is much faster). Reply
  • Roen - Monday, January 29, 2018 - link

    I'd like to see what Enterprise SATA / SAS SSDs the author has in mind that is a better balance of specs and price, especially price.

    The cheapest Seagate Nytro SAS SSD I've found with 1700 / 850 Sustained R/W is > $1500.
    Reply
  • peevee - Tuesday, January 30, 2018 - link

    There is absolutely no point paying twice as much compared to other drives. Reply
  • JokerzWild - Sunday, February 11, 2018 - link

    Good review, but it seems like there’s a “missing link” in the data presented. You mention in the Introduction that you are using a 512GB 850 PRO from, “the original generation using 32L 3D NAND and LPDDR2 DRAM, rather than the updated model with 48L 3D NAND and LPDDR3.” You also say that you are using the test results from the 2TB 850 Pro review, which I believe still used Samsung’s 2nd-generation (32L) 3D MLC NAND with LPDDR3 in the controller rather than their 3rd-generation (48L) product. I can’t tell which version of the 500GB 850 EVO is being presented for this review, but I suspect it is V1 as well based on its power usage compared to the 4TB 850 EVO (which was offered in V2 only) numbers. In your recent reviews of other current SSDs (e.g. the SanDisk Ultra 3D and the Crucial MX500) it also appears that you are using the 32L/LPDDR2 versions (which I’ll call V1) rather than the 48L/LPDDR3 (V2) iterations of the 850 PRO and EVO.

    Would you please add the data for 850 EVO/PRO V2s to your test results? Alternatively, it would be interesting to see an article that looks at the progress of Samsung’s NAND and controllers in V1 (32L/LPDDR2) and V2 (48L/LPDDR3) of the 850 EVOs and PROs along with the 860s (64L/LPDDR4), preferably in the 1TB configuration since that configuration seems to yield the highest overall performance (at least in the 850s) and is a popular choice. I’ve seen a couple of articles that compared V1 and V2 of the 850 EVO, and it appeared that both performance and power consumption improved in V2. I have yet to seen any comparison of V1 and V2 of the 850 PRO. I seem to also recall reading that Samsung was claiming a 30% reduction in power consumption was one of the benefits in switching from its 2nd-generation to its 3rd-generation NAND, which would wipe out most of the power management gains claimed for the 860 PRO. The changes between V1 and V2 of the 850s appear just as significant as the changes between 850 V2s and the 860s (1 generation DRAM, +16L each), so why not add this data to the mix? Using V1 of the 850s probably overstates the differences between a recent 850 EVO/PRO and an 860 EVO/PRO. Presenting data on V2 of the 850s would also give users of 850 V2s a better idea of what they may be missing. It would also help bargain hunters who want that last little bit of performance from a top performing SATA drive decide if it’s better to buy a marked down 850 or a new 860 for their use cases.
    Reply
  • Lady Fitzgerald - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - link

    SATA will be around for a long time, most likely well past 5 years from now. It's plenty fast for storage. Not everyone needs blazing speed for storing music, videos, documents, pictures, etc. Reply
  • Lady Fitzgerald - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - link

    DVDs are those coaster like things that have over 600 of my movies on them. I don't plan on getting rid of them anytime soon. Reply
  • Lady Fitzgerald - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - link

    Wow! What did Samsung ever do to you?

    A roughly 50% decrease in idle current usage is huge if one has very many of these in use (I currently have four 4TB 850 EVOs in my desktop machine but will probably replace them with five 4TB Pros later this year), even if one doesn't factor in the reduction in heat output that will likely occur. Even when in use, the 860 Pros will draw roughly 30% less current.
    Reply
  • Lady Fitzgerald - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - link

    Again, SATA is plenty fast for data storage. NVMe is an advantage only when used for the OS and programs; even then, it isn't all that much of an advantage. If you have a task that takes ten minutes to perform and you double the speed, that's taking it down to five minutes, which is huge. If you have a task that takes 10 seconds to perform and you double the speed, that will be now be five seconds, an improvement but nowhere nearly as as noticeable. If you have a task that takes 10 milliseconds to perform and you double the speed so it now takes only 5 milliseconds, you won't notice the difference. It won't be advantageous unless you move enormous amounts of data frequently. Reply

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