Conclusion

The biggest difference between the Samsung 970 EVO and Samsung's earlier retail NVMe drives isn't anything to do with the drive's performance or power consumption: It's the fact that the 970 EVO has real competition in drives like the second-generation Western Digital WD Black SSD. This year, Samsung is faced not only with the task of improving over their already top-notch NVMe SSDs, but also with maintaining their lead over competitors who are rapidly catching up. Samsung's 3D NAND is no longer a unique competitive advantage, and we're finally seeing other NVMe controllers that can reach these performance levels when paired with suitable NAND.

The Samsung 970 EVO is set to compete against the latest top consumer SSDs from other brands. Unlike years past, Samsung won't always be on top of the performance charts, but we don't expect any upcoming products for this year to thoroughly outclass the 970 EVO. Most of the cases where the performance of the 970 EVO disappointed us are simply because we measured the PM981 OEM SSD as being a few percent faster. On the other hand, there are a few tests where the firmware tweaks in the 970 EVO have allowed it to be significantly faster than the PM981.

The Intel SSD 750 was the first to bring the large performance benefits of NVMe to the consumer market. It was soon eclipsed by the Samsung 950 PRO, which offered much better real-world performance thanks to better optimization for consumer workloads - the Intel SSD 750's enterprise roots were still quite apparent. When Samsung introduced the 960 PRO and 960 EVO generation, performance jumped again thanks in large part to their much improved second-generation NVMe controller. The 970 EVO brings another generation of new controllers and NAND flash, but huge performance jumps aren't as easy to come by. We're closing in on the limits of PCIe 3 x4 for sequential read speeds, and there's not much low-hanging fruit for optimization left in the NVMe controllers and how they manage flash memory. Samsung's 3D NAND is still increasing in density, but we're not seeing much improvement in performance or power efficiency from it.

That leaves Samsung having to make tradeoffs with the 970 EVO, sacrificing power efficiency in many places for slight performance gains. Since almost any consumer would find the 960 PRO and 960 EVO to already be plenty fast enough, this means the 970 EVO is not at all a compelling upgrade over its predecessors. It simply doesn't bring much new to the market. The new Western Digital WD Black isn't always as fast as the Samsung drives, but its great power efficiency is a unique advantage that distinguishes it in a high-end market segment that now has multiple viable contenders.

NVMe SSD Price Comparison
  240-256GB 400-512GB 960-1024GB 2TB
Samsung 970 PRO
(shipping May 7)
  $329.99
(64¢/GB)
$629.99
(62¢/GB)
 
Samsung 970 EVO
(shipping May 7)
$119.99
(48¢/GB)
$229.99
(46¢/GB)
$449.99 (45¢/GB) $849.99
(42¢/GB)
Samsung 960 PRO   $324.99
(63¢/GB)
$608.58
(59¢/GB)
$1299.90
(63¢/GB)
Samsung 960 EVO $119.99
(48¢/GB)
$199.99
(40¢/GB)
$449.97
(45¢/GB)
 
WD Black aka
SanDisk Extreme PRO
$119.99
(48¢/GB)
$229.99
(46¢/GB)
$449.99
(45¢/GB)
 
Intel SSD 760p $99.99
(39¢/GB)
$215.99
(42¢/GB)
$399.99
(39¢/GB)
 
Plextor M9Pe $119.99
(47¢/GB)
$209.19
(41¢/GB)
$408.26
(40¢/GB)
 
HP EX920   $199.99
(39¢/GB)
$369.99
(36¢/GB)
 
MyDigitalSSD SBX $94.99
(37¢/GB)
$159.99
(31¢/GB)
$339.99
(33¢/GB)
 
Crucial MX500 $74.99 (30¢/GB) $124.99
(25¢/GB)
$249.99
(25¢/GB)
$499.99
(25¢/GB)

With the performance of high-end consumer SSDs no longer growing by leaps and bounds, consumers should stop and consider whether a high-end drive is the right choice for them. The NVMe SSD market no longer consists of just Samsung's drives and everybody else's failed attempts at a high-end drive. There's a real low-end segment to the NVMe SSD market, with drives that are much closer in price to SATA SSDs but still offering much better performance. Since faster storage brings diminishing returns to overall real-world application performance, many consumers can find drives cheaper than the 970 EVO that are still fast enough, and drives like the 970 PRO are impossible to justify on the basis of performance alone.

There aren't a lot of 2TB NVMe options yet, and the 970 EVO for $849 sounds a lot better than the 960 PRO for $1299. For the other capacities, there are a lot of current-generation options to consider. At the moment, it looks like most of them are at or below the MSRPs for the 970 EVO, confirming that the 970 EVO could easily have been a flagship SSD if Samsung were not also launching the 970 PRO.

The Western Digital WD Black is currently matching the pricing on the 970 EVO, and it will be interesting to see if Western Digital drops the price at any point. They have the clear winner for mobile use, but the 970 EVO is usually faster. Moving down the price scale, NVMe drives start to come with caveats such as performance weak spots where they are no better than a SATA drive. Drives like the Intel 760p are still great performers overall, and even the low-end NVMe MyDigitalSSD SBX that's 20-30% cheaper than the 970 EVO is still a clear performance upgrade over any SATA drive. Today's market gives consumers a broad spectrum of NVMe options, with the Samsung 970 EVO well-positioned near the top.

Read our Best SSDs: Q2 2018 Guide Here

Power Management
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  • qlum - Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - link

    Just as a reminder how the argument against the ssd can change overtime:
    Right now the prices at least here in the netherlands are as follows:

    Crucial MX500 (SATA) €160
    HP EX920 (NVMe PCIe x4) €287
    Intel 760p (NVMe PCIe x4 ) €289
    WD Black (NVMe PCIe x4) €312
    Samsung 970 EVO (NVMe PCIe x4) €269
    Samsung 960 PRO €374

    Suddenly the 970 evo is the cheapest of the bunch this makes its value a lot better

    Of course there are still cheaper nvme ssds such as the intel 660p but at the tb mark its one of the cheapest nvme ssd's
    Reply
  • modeonoff - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Isn't nvme m.2 SSD performance affected by Meltdown/Spectre patches? Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Yes, because storage benchmarks make system calls more frequently than almost anything else. Once the updates have been applied to the testbed, I'll be re-testing everything for future reviews. This will take a while, so I've waited until I have several reviews worth of testing completed that can fill the gap before I have new results for a new drive and the older drives it needs to be compared against.

    My preliminary tests of the impact of the patches show that while the scores themselves are affected, the rankings of drives aren't, so the current measurements are still useful for judging which drives are best.
    Reply
  • Reppiks - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Could be nice to see AMD vs Intel post patches as it shouldn't affect AMD as much? Reply
  • Infy2 - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Nvme and Sata controllers are made by AsMedia on AMD's AM4 mother boards. Sadly they are somewhat slower than Intel's controllers. Even after Spectre and Meltdown patches Intel is still king of storage performance. Reply
  • Tamz_msc - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Ryzen CPUs have a dedicated PCI-E x4 link for nvme drives which bypasses the chipset. Reply
  • bernstein - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    nvme is just PCIe x4 + software... that's why a passive pcie x4 to m.2 works. and why a nvme m.2 ssd should work with reduced speed over PCIe x1 or PCIe x2. the same goes for PCIe 2.0 links... combine these and you get a working passive mPCIe to M.2 adapter. Reply
  • willis936 - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    NVMe controllers are made by Intel, AMD, and Microsoft (and whatever analog set of companies for mobile) because it's just a software stack that runs on CPUs. Reply
  • Kwarkon - Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - link

    Close but not exactly. You mean drivers. Reply
  • HStewart - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    I personally think people are making a bigger deal of this Methdown/Spectre stuff than it worth it.

    Yes performance is one area - but there are other reasons why people purchase a product.

    Especially in heavy graphics or in this case storage usage - these patches should not have no minimal effect.

    To the average customer - the effect is not notice - how much will they notice a 5% or leas slow down in cpu speed. But change a hard drive to one of these SSD's would be a significant improvement
    Reply

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