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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  • cfenton - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    I've been meaning to ask about this for a while, but why do you order the performance charts based on the 'empty' results? In most of my systems, the SSD's are ~70% full most of the time. Does performance only degrade significantly if they are 100% full? If not, it seems to me that the 'full' results would be more representative of the performance most users will see. Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    At 70% full you're generally going to get performance closer to fresh out of the box than to 100% full. Performance drops steeply as the last bits of space are used up. At 70% full, you probably still have the full dynamic SLC cache size usable, and there's plenty of room for garbage collection and wear leveling.

    When it comes to manual overprovisioning to prevent full-drive performance degradation, I don't think I've ever seen someone recommend reserving more than 25% of the drive's usable space unless you're trying to abuse a consumer drive with a very heavy enterprise workload.
    Reply
  • cfenton - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Thanks for the reply. That's really helpful to know. I didn't even think about the dynamic SLC cache. Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    So im wondering, i got a small 8TB server i use for media/backup. While i know im limited to network bandwidth, would replacing the drives with ssd make any impact at all? Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    It would be quieter and use less power. For media archiving over GbE, the sequential performance of mechanical drives is adequate. Incremental backups may make more random accesses, and retrieving a subset of data from your backup archive can definitely benefit from solid state performance, but it's probably not something you do often enough for it to matter.

    Even with the large pile of SSDs I have on hand, my personal machines still back up to a home server with mechanical drives in RAID.
    Reply
  • gigahertz20 - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    @Billy Tallis Just out of curiosity, what backup software are you using? Reply
  • enzotiger - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    With the exception of sequential write, there are some significant gap between your numbers and Samsung's spec. Any clue? Reply
  • anactoraaron - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Honest question here. Which of these tests do more than just test the SLC cache? That's a big thing to test, as some of these other drives are MLC and won't slow down when used beyond any SLC caching. Reply
  • RamGuy239 - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    So these are sold and markedet with IEEE1667 / Microsoft edrive from the get-go, unlike Samsung 960 EVO and Pro that had this promised only to get it at the end of their life-cycles (the latest firmware update).

    That's good and old. But does it really work? The current implementation on the Samsung 960 EVO and Pro has a major issue, it doesn't work when the disk is used as a boot drive. Samsung keeps claiming this is due to a NVMe module bug in most UEFI firmware's and will require motherboard manufactures to provide a UEFI firmware update including a fix.

    Whether this is indeed true or not is hard for me to say, but that's what Samsung themselves claims over at their own support forums.

    All I know is that I can't get neither my Samsung 960 EVO 1TB, or my Samsung 960 Pro 1TB to use hardware encryption with BitLocker on Windows 10 when its used as a boot drive on neither my Asus Maximus IX Apex or my Asus Maximus X Apex both running the latest BIOS/UEFI firmware update.

    When used as a secondary drive hardware encryption works as intended.

    With this whole mess around BitLocker/IEEE1667/Microsoft Edrive on the Samsung 960 EVO and Pro how does it all fare with these new ones? Is it all indeed a issue with NVMe and most UEFI firmware's requiring new UEFI firmware's with fixes from motherboard manufactures or does the 970 EVO and Pro suddenly work with BitLocker as a boot drive without new UEFI firmware releases?
    Reply
  • Palorim12 - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Seems to be an issue with the BIOS chipset manufacturers like Megatrends, Phoenix, etc, and Samsung has stated they are working with them to resolve the issue. Reply

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