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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68 Comments

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  • bji - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    You're kind of arguing against benchmarking in general here. Almost no benchmarks are directly relevant to any one person's intended use of the product. Benchmarks are not useful in that they tell me exactly how much performance to expect when running one specific program on one specifically configured hardware setup. They are useful because they allow extrapolation from measured results to expected results on workloads that actually matter to the reader.

    So I don't agree with your sentiment that Meltdown/Spectre are not worth consideration for their effect on system performance.

    However, I am not sure that I would include Meltdown/Spectre considerations in a specific SSD review. I think these considerations deserve to be in a CPU review.
    Reply
  • bji - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Also, may I say that users generally will not notice a 5% slowdown in any particular task; however, we've already established that readers care about minimum differences in benchmark results, because they routinely call a 5% difference clear indication of a "winner" and a "loser" for that benchmark, so for the purposes of performance reviews, the 5% difference contributed by Meltdown/Spectre definitely matters. Reply
  • Flying Aardvark - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    It's up to 50% reduction in storage performance not 5%. You'll feel 50% loss when it happens to you. Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    What you are saying is misleading. SATA performance is nearly identical (within 2% difference for me). It's NVMe drives that take the hit, but even still they are faster than everything else. Processor speed is unaffected for me as well. Tested multiple times with various benchmarks both ways and it was within margin of error. I don't see the problem to be honest. Reply
  • LurkingSince97 - Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - link

    Tell that to my I/O intensive servers that suddenly have 30% less throughput. Reply
  • modeonoff - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Yes but I am not an average customer. Performance is important for me. Reply
  • Ryun - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    For everyday tasks do you guys notice an improvement in responsiveness of NVMe SSDs versus SATA SSDs?

    The transfer rates are definitely impressive, I've just never seen a review where I've wanted to upgrade my 500GB SATA SSD for development/gaming/maintenance tasks on my machine. Seems like boot times and opening programs are within a couple seconds of another between NVMe and SATA. Nothing like the jump between HDDs vs SSDs.
    Reply
  • HollyDOL - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    I wonder myself, got Vertex 3 (240GB) and while not permanently watching perf counters I don't see much cases of 100% load. Wonder if I would be able to see a difference if I moved to some "best enthusiast m.2/pcie ssd available". (Rest of the machine is fully capable) Reply
  • eek2121 - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    I notice it in certain tasks. My system can get from cold boot to the login screen in about 3 seconds for instance. Editing video is much faster as well. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    I wouldnt say a huge performance, it really depends on certain tasks that you work with. If you work with file manager a lot with big files sure. But most people no. It makes sense if just upgrading though. Reply

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