Conclusion

The Samsung SSD 980 is their first DRAMless SSD for the retail market, and their first entry-level NVMe drive. The fact that Samsung is getting into this market segment at all is probably the most interesting thing about the SSD 980. It's a sign that Samsung is more willing to offer affordable consumer SSDs, rather than always aiming for top-tier performance and pricing.

As with any entry-level NVMe SSD, the performance story for the Samsung SSD 980 is a bit complicated. Compromises have to be made to keep costs low while still offering good peak performance. On lighter, easier tests, peak performance can be competitive with high-end PCIe Gen 3 drives like the Samsung 970 EVO Plus, especially when the larger SLC cache can give the SSD 980 the advantage.

The DRAMless nature of the SSD 980 means that performance can suffer under any workload that hits a lot of data, even if it's mostly or entirely reads instead of writes. Fortunately, the threshold for "a lot of data" in this context is tens of GB, which is far more than most everyday tasks involve. Stuff like full text searching of the entire drive without an index, or some antivirus scans will be noticeably slower than on a mainstream TLC drive with DRAM. But for the most part, the DRAMless design means that the drive still has decent performance where it counts, and sacrifices performance where it probably won't be missed.

Compared to its most important competitor, the year-old WD Blue SN550, the Samsung SSD 980 clearly hits better highs but also has more serious pitfalls. Both drives are DRAMless SSDs optimized for workloads that don't handle too much data at once. When a workload strays outside those limits, the WD Blue SN550 is the clear winner that holds up better under heavier workloads. Which of the two drives is preferable will largely come down to pricing.

Samsung is trying to market the SSD 980 as something of a successor to the 970 EVO. This is definitely a stretch, even if they both reach similar peak performance on the spec sheet. The SSD 980 is clearly a lower class of drive than Samsung's recent high-end PCIe Gen 3 drives. The Samsung SSD 980 is also definitely not their answer to the SK hynix Gold P31, a mainstream TLC SSD with a 4-channel controller that can keep pace with much more power-hungry 8-channel drives (because it has a DRAM cache). For that, we'll need to hope for a potential 980 EVO to arrive, and for Samsung to get serious about improving the power efficiency of its NVMe SSDs.

  240-256 GB 480-512 GB 960 GB-1 TB 2 TB
Samsung SSD 980 (MSRP) $49.99 (20¢/GB) $69.99 (14¢/GB) $129.99 (13¢/GB)  
ADATA Falcon
TLC, DRAMless, 8ch
$37.99 (15¢/GB) $57.99 (11¢/GB) $102.99 (10¢/GB) $209.99 (10¢/GB)
ADATA Swordfish
TLC, DRAMless
$37.99 (15¢/GB) $57.99 (12¢/GB) $99.99 (10¢/GB) $189.99 (9¢/GB)
Crucial P2
TLC, DRAMless
$49.99 (20¢/GB) $59.99 (12¢/GB) $104.99 (10¢/GB)  
Kingston A2000
TLC
$44.99 (18¢/GB) $60.54 (12¢/GB) $116.24 (12¢/GB)  
Mushkin Helix-L
TLC, DRAMless
$36.99 (15¢/GB)   $93.99
(9¢/GB)
 
WD Blue SN550
TLC, DRAMless
$46.92 (19¢/GB) $59.99 (12¢/GB) $104.99 (10¢/GB) $224.99 (11¢/GB)
Inland Platinum
QLC, 8ch
    $96.99 (10¢/GB) $182.99 (9¢/GB)
Sabrent Rocket Q
QLC, 8ch
  $64.99 (13¢/GB) $109.98 (11¢/GB) $219.98 (11¢/GB)
Intel SSD 670p
QLC
  $69.99 (14¢/GB) $129.99 (13¢/GB) $249.99 (12¢/GB)

The Samsung SSD 980 is launching with fairly reasonable MSRPs. It doesn't have to come down too much in price to line up with current street prices for other entry-level NVMe SSDs. It remains to be seen just how competitive Samsung wants to get with the 980. We've seen them offer very competitive street prices on their mainstream SATA SSDs, and if they do that here we could see some very interesting competition between Samsung, WD and Intel.

As we observed with the launch of the Intel SSD 670p, the standards for entry-level NVMe SSDs are improving. With several of the biggest players in the industry taking this market segment seriously, and entry-level NVMe SSDs are no longer just a step up from SATA SSDs with caveats. Intel and Samsung are now both offering entry-level NVMe SSDs that can saturate a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface under good conditions, and perform better-than-SATA when write caches are expired.

Intel's QLC-based solution offers higher capacities, but Samsung's DRAMless TLC solution should have the clear advantage in performance below 1TB. Entry level NVMe drives that top out at 2.5 GB/s are starting to look inadequate even if their real-world performance still holds up well. Western Digital's WD Blue SN550 isn't quite out of the running yet, but it could use an update. Most of the other entry-level NVMe SSDs will have to keep their pricing well under those drives to stay competitive.

 

End of review questionnaire: Samsung's recent controller names have us confused. Is there a pattern? Polaris, Phoenix, Photon, Elpis, Maru... and now Pablo. What's the connection? Anyone have any ideas?

Mixed IO Performance and Idle Power Management
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  • cyrusfox - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Doesn't look like to me they are targeting the OEM crowd, lazy design as it is a two-sided M.2 stick, by removing the dram should have been easy to get everything on one side.

    This is solely for the retail market where consumers by and large prefer Samsung , most will pick the cheapest samsung drive and at this price it will be hard to justify a brand that isn't associated with performance.

    The whole thing appears to be designed for cost, and I am guessing a two-sided design was the most cost efficient layout(Don't have to double stack NAND dies?). Did you take any picture of the device with the sticker removed, would be interested to see how they chose to populate this. Also impressive the QD1 uplift with HMB enabled.
    Reply
  • Wereweeb - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    It's a single-sided drive. The image shows the PCB with and without the label, not the different sides. Reply
  • cyrusfox - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Dang you are right, my bad, Guess we may see this in OEM laptops then.
    If only anandtech comments allowed edits, my ignorance will live on forever...
    Reply
  • Kurosaki - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Entry level sizes for over the top prices. Yayy. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Samsung likes to have a catch for trying to spend less, like the dryer I bought. It played an extremely long very irritating song every time the load was finished. Only on the more expensive models could it be turned off. Of course none of the online reviews warned people about this and there was nothing in the big box store about it. Caveat emptor!

    What did turn up online later, though, were the endless tales of woe from owners whose machines broke an expensive part — the same thing that happened with mine. The dryer only lasted three years or so. Some part on it melts and it's too difficult to replace and too expensive to have serviced.

    Last Samsung appliance for me.
    Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Monday, March 29, 2021 - link

    Dude just unplug the internal cable that connects the internal speaker. No warranties have to be lost here Reply
  • Wereweeb - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Samsung tried really hard to make an SSD drive with worse value for money than Intel, and I'd argue they still managed to fail.

    I guess it's fast enough that the typical consumer wouldn't notice the difference, will last longer than Intel's QLC, and the user would still get a fuzzy feeling inside because they bought a Genuine Samsung 980®™
    Reply
  • powerarmour - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    A castrated TLC drive is still better than those Intel QLC horror shows. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Intel is really not the best company to compare with. Intel is obsessed with QLC nonsense even more than Samsung is, it seems. And, Intel is rubbing its mitts together about foisting PLC onto the public, as if its new 9000 series FX CPUs aren't enough of a disaster.

    I have had good results with the Inland TLC drives, both in SATA and in NVME format. However, Gigabyte designed one of the motherboards I have so idiotically that the Performance Plus drive can't be used. The NVME slot is too close to the CPU socket (hits my EK block) and the expansion slot (hits that, too). One would think an ATX board with one NVME slot could be done intelligently, especially with what was once the top chipset.

    Due watch with Inland, though, because the product naming is not nearly as clear as it should be. There are "Premium" and "Professional" drives, for instance — as if there is some kind of clarity there.
    Reply
  • Slash3 - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    I've replied to one of your previous posts about this NVMe issue, but as it seems to be your favorite campfire story so I'll try digging a bit deeper this time.

    NVMe M.2 drives fit fine on that motherboard. It's a close fit, but nobody else has had the same difficulties. If the drive doesn't fit, it means it isn't installed correctly or has an oversized heatsink on it. Since the Inland drives don't ship with a heatsink, that means it's not lined up properly in the slot.

    That EK uses a weird, oversized mounting bracket isn't Gigabyte's fault. It's not Inland's (Microcenter's) fault. It's an EK problem.

    Do you still have the drive? Do you own a dremel? You probably need to shave a chunk out of that waterblock bracket to allow clearance.

    Failing that, grab a $13 NVMe M.2 to PCI Express x4 AIC adapter off of Amazon, or the vendor of your choosing. You can mount the drive in the last slot (PCI Express 3.0 x4) with no performance penalty, it'll be far from your cursed EK bracket, and you'll save hours by not having to bring it up in every article. ;)

    https://www.amazon.com/M-2-NVMe-PCIe-3-0-x4/dp/B07...
    Reply

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