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)
Samsung 970 EVO
(shipping May 7)
$449.99 (45¢/GB) $849.99
Samsung 960 PRO   $324.99
Samsung 960 EVO $119.99
WD Black aka
SanDisk Extreme PRO
Intel SSD 760p $99.99
Plextor M9Pe $119.99
HP EX920   $199.99
MyDigitalSSD SBX $94.99
Crucial MX500 $74.99 (30¢/GB) $124.99

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


View All Comments

  • jkresh - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    is a review of the HP EX920 coming? Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Yep, I have a sample of that on hand. I haven't tested it yet so it'll be a few weeks while I run it and several other drives through the post-Meltdown/Spectre patched testbed. Reply
  • Luckz - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    You write that you use Windows drivers instead of manufacturer ones, but elsewhere I hear complaints that the PM981 isn't a very useful buy because it requires drivers that aren't even available to the public, only to OEMs. Wouldn't it make sense to also try these with Samsung drivers especially if they're being compared to the PM981 all the time? Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    The PM981 doesn't require any special drivers. It's just another standard NVMe SSD. Reply
  • HStewart - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    I am curious what kind of performance would I see replacing the Hyrix 512G in my Dell XPS 15 2in1 with a 1G or possible 2G in a year. Reply
  • Drazick - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Why do we need M.2 in desktop computer?
    Why should we live with this thermal compromise?

    We want SATA Express / U2 drives.
  • Cooe - Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - link

    Yuck and yuck. SATA Express is 1/2 the speed, and a completely stillborn interface, and the cable dependant huge waste of space 2.5" U2 makes next to no sense outside the data center. The M.2 form factor has countless innate
    advantages over both those and any of it's potential thermal issues are easy & cheap to solve if you're particular setup happens to be vulnerable to their occurrence.

    Not only have Samsung's copper heatsink labels reduced the problem significantly w/o any user action, but most good current motherboards have included M.2 heatsinks and even for those that don't, they can be purchased online for ridiculously cheap.

    Now find me something braindead simple to install & use for just a couple $ that can make SATA Express twice as fast and actually used in drives, or make U.2 cableless and a fraction of a standard 2.5" drive's size. There isn't any.
  • medoogalaxy - Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - link

    superpower ssd Reply
  • shatteredx - Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - link

    Which is more important for “snappiness,” 4K random qd1 read or write? Reply
  • sjprg2 - Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - link

    Just because I hate the sata cables I now have all M.2 Samsungs installed either in the M.2 slots or on the PCIE plugin adapters. This also allows all of the trays to be removed from the chassis letting the front panel fans blow straight onto the motherboard and plugins. Reply

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