Samsung has dominated the SSD market for a very long time, and every new consumer SSD model the company introduces is noteworthy. The latest product to reach the shelves is the new range of 870 EVO SSDs, building on a decade-long legacy of SATA SSDs. We have tested the 1 TB and 4 TB models from this new product family.

Pushing for SATA

Samsung is one of the few companies still putting significant effort into SATA SSDs and releasing new consumer SATA models. As PC OEMs have overwhelmingly switched to using NVMe SSDs in new systems, even on the smaller capacities, the client/consumer SATA SSD market now exists almost entirely for the sake of DIY system builders and aftermarket upgrades on older systems. Most major consumer SSD brands have either stopped updating their SATA models, or decided to quietly update components without the fanfare of a new model release. Then there are companies creating odd-ball models, such as a 15.36 TB design. Either way, we don't get many new consumer SATA SSDs in for review these days.

(It is worth noting that the enterprise SATA SSD market has seen somewhat more in the way of visible activity, because the longer product lifetimes in that market and the higher profit margins give SATA SSDs more of a long tail of commercial relevance.)

Despite this market shift, Samsung is still focused on a SATA product line, although even Samsung is showing reduced interest in SATA. It took over six months from the release of the QLC-based 870 QVO for its TLC-based 870 EVO sibling to arrive, and there's still no sign of an MLC-based 870 PRO model (or any other MLC SSDs from Samsung based on anything newer than their 64-layer 3D NAND). Furthermore, the new 870 EVO no longer caters to either mSATA and M.2 SATA form factors, focusing solely on 2.5-inch drives. The mSATA version of the 860 EVO disappeared from the market last year, but the M.2 SATA version is still readily available and has tracked market price trends as much as Samsung's drives ever do. It's a bit of a surprise that they're dropping M.2 SATA this soon given how long Samsung supported mSATA.

Given the roughly three-year cadence Samsung has set for their SATA SSD updates, the 870 generation may also be the last.

Samsung 870 EVO Specifications
Capacity 250 GB 500 GB 1 TB 2 TB 4 TB
Form Factor 2.5" 7mm SATA
Controller Samsung MKX
NAND Flash Samsung 512Gbit 128L 3D TLC
LPDDR4 DRAM 512MB 1 GB 2 GB 4 GB
Sequential Read 560 MB/s
Sequential
Write
SLC 530 MB/s
TLC 300 MB/s 530 MB/s
Random
Read
QD32 98k IOPS
QD1 13k IOPS
Random
Write
QD32 88k IOPS
QD1 36k IOPS
Power
Draw
Burst 3.5 W 4.0 W 4.5 W 5.0 W
Average 2.2 W 2.5 W
Idle 30 mW 35 mW
Warranty 5 years
Write Endurance 150 TB
0.3 DWPD
300 TB
0.3 DWPD
600 TB
0.3 DWPD
1200 TB
0.3 DWPD
2400 TB
0.3 DWPD
Launch MSRP $39.99
(16¢/GB)
$69.99
(14¢/GB)
$129.99
(13¢/GB)
$249.99
(12¢/GB)
$479.99
(12¢/GB)

We are seeing the usual upgrades in the spec table for the 870 EVO compared to the 860 EVO from 2018. The controller is now Samsung's MKX, a minor iterative update to the 860's MJX. The NAND flash memory is a more significant jump: the 870 EVO is using Samsung's 128-layer 3D TLC, first seen on the 980 PRO. More specifically, our 1TB and 4TB 870 EVO samples are using the 512Gbit dies that were introduced on the 2TB 980 PRO, a model that arrived much later than the smaller capacities built around 256Gbit dies. The preceding Samsung 860 EVO launched with Samsung's 64L 3D NAND, and they appear to have skipped over their 92L generation with their TLC SATA drives.

The performance specifications are very similar to the 860 EVO. Almost all of those performance numbers are limited either by the throughput of the SATA interface or the latency of the NAND itself, so most of the performance numbers are the same across the entire capacity range. The 250GB and 500GB models still have significantly lower sequential write speed after the SLC cache runs out, but this time we don't have official numbers on SLC cache sizes (but we have tested that in this review). On the other hand, Samsung continues to be one of the few brands to provide performance specifications for queue depth 1 in addition to the high queue depth ratings.

Internally, the 870 EVO continues to illustrate just how ridiculously oversized the 2.5" form factor is for modern consumer storage. Even the 4TB model's PCB takes up just a fraction of the internal space, and the 1TB model's even smaller PCB has only a handful of tiny components for the power regulation on its back side—this could have easily been a single-sided board if Samsung wasn't saving space for the extra flash on the 2TB model.


1TB (Left) vs 4 TB (Right)

The SATA Competition: Hard to Determine

Truth be told, there aren't that many new SATA SSDs on the market. To put this into perspective, the most recent SATA competitor we reviewed, the SK hynix's Gold S31, was launched in 2019.

Part of this is down to the lack of focus on the SATA market as mentioned above, but also because SSD vendors have taken to silently updating the hardware inside a product line without changing the product number or announcing the change. Their argument is that as long as they can still achieve the same performance listed in the specification sheet, and adhere to the warranty, the customer shouldn't have to worry about what is actually inside the product. 

We generally disapprove when SSD vendors silently swap out major components without renaming a product, because changing the SSD controller or NAND flash can have a major impact on a drive's performance and power efficiency. Unfortunately, this has long been a common practice for entry-level models, and a few manufacturers have tried it on more upmarket models and been deservedly excoriated when they're caught (eg. ADATA, with the SX8200 Pro).

However, for mainstream SATA SSDs based on TLC NAND and controllers with DRAM caches, there's a lot less potential downside for consumers when the manufacturer silently upgrades the NAND. The SATA interface imposes such a severe performance bottleneck that it's unlikely new NAND would result in a slower drive. Switching to newer NAND with a higher per-die capacity could adversely affect the smallest models in a product line, but the tendency has been for 120GB models to simply disappear instead of being updated—and they aren't missed. We're disappointed that (for example) Micron's Crucial MX500 is now shipping with at least 96-layer NAND rather than the 64-layer NAND it launched with, and likely with Silicon Motion's SM2259 controller that features improved error correction over the SM2258.

Newer NAND in existing SATA models is far more likely to bring benefits to consumers. Maximum throughput cannot increase, but latency and performance at lower queue depths can still be improved marginally. Newer NAND also tends to bring power efficiency improvements, which means that upgrading the storage capacity in a laptop that's a few years old shouldn't hurt battery life even though larger drives tend to be more power-hungry.

The other factor in this is that we recently updated our SSD test suite for 2021, which means re-testing older drives for new performance numbers. In our SSD test suite 2021 article, we prioritized NVMe SSDs, as that is where the market is. We are getting around to retesting the older SATA drives, although these take the longest time to complete - 24 hours for a fast 1 TB drive, up to 100 hours or more for a 4 TB drive, not including the analysis.

So while we're a bit lacking in SATA review samples that reflect the current state of the market, we do have a diverse selection of entry-level NVMe SSDs that have been pushing into the SATA SSD price bracket. These may not be viable alternatives for some use cases (older systems that don't support NVMe, or data hoarders that need lots of multi-TB drives), but for any reasonably recent consumer system with ordinary storage needs, these NVMe drives are real competitors to SATA SSDs. That's the focus on this review.

Trace Tests: AnandTech Storage Bench and PCMark 10
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  • Jorgp2 - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    SAS connectors provide power and up to 4x PCI-E lanes. Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    At the time SATA was developed, it made sense. Times of course have changed with SATA now feeling more of a legacy technology. It'll continue to hang around as the protocols it was built upon (AHCI etc.) are present in legacy OS where as NVMe support may not be there. Similarly there is no support for removable media though leveraging USB for that now is trivial. Main barrier for the formal death of SATA is still cost as NVMe still carries a slight premium over SATA and consumer systems have limited PCIe connectivity. Reply
  • Glaurung - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    The main barrier for the formal death of SATA are hundreds of millions of perfectly usable older systems that don't support NVME or have limited NVME slots. Reply
  • Qasar - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    " Main barrier for the formal death of SATA is still cost as NVMe still carries a slight premium over SATA and consumer systems have limited PCIe connectivity. "

    i think you might be also forgetting the aspect of the space requirements of the nvme connector as well.
    Reply
  • Lord of the Bored - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    I've always thought SATA was a mistake.
    Removing the ability to chain multiple drives made for an ugly cabling situation, and the connectors are flimsy as hell. The new power connector in particular served no purpose whatsoever aside from annoyance.

    If it had used more robust connectors and allowed chaining drives, it would've been fantastic. But that would've been to much like the right decision for them to entertain it.
    Reply
  • Glaurung - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    SATA on the desktop and in NAS boxes is still very much alive, TYVM.

    Sata SSDs will continue to be made and sold as long as there are older computers in use that have a SATA bay in them. My main computer only has 1 NVME slot, but it also has a SATA bay. WIthout that SATA bay I'd have to have all my files crammed onto on a single SSD.
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    The technology to update SATA is there, it just takes a bit of will power from the SATA group to borrow the SAS speeds and bring it to the consumers.

    The SATA connector is far better suited for "Hot Swap" and M.2 was never designed for "Hot Swap" capabilities.
    Reply
  • powerarmour - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    No, we'll require SATA for bulk storage for a good few years yet.
    How many M.2 only NAS systems are there?
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    SATA is still perfectly fine for old spinning rust drives. Sure the burst performance could be better with a faster connection... but how often is that needed? For sustained data transfers SATA3 is still faster than any spinning drives on the market that cap out at 150-200MBps on a good day. Reply
  • watzupken - Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - link

    I don't think SATA is going to go away anytime soon. While it is not as fast as a good NVME SSD, it makes up for it by offering a good price to capacity ratio. It just like why mechanical drive still exists today. Most NVME SSDs are affordable up to around 1TB, and at higher capacity, the prices goes up significantly. Also one is usually limited to 2 or 3 NVME slots due to limitation of number of PCI-E lanes. Thus, having the SATA ports to supplement additional storage is unlikely to go away, at least from a desktop perspective. Reply

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