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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  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - link

    Incorrect.

    1. The drive’s PCB hits the waterblock bracket.

    2. The drive does have a heatsink and it is an Inland.

    3. It’s impossible to install an NVME drive incorrectly as long as one know how to push the edge connector all the way in.

    4. ‘Oversized’ says who? ATX is a big board. One slot on the board. Gigabyte couldn’t manage to put it in an intelligent place.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - link

    You seem intent on blaming everything but Gigabyte but the fact is that the drive also hits the slot. It doesn’t just hit the EK bracket. It hits the slot as well!

    Gigabyte is at fault.
    Reply
  • Slash3 - Thursday, March 11, 2021 - link

    Nothing of the sort, I'm just mystified as to how a standard NVMe M.2 seemingly won't fit on that board, since it's not at all difficult to find pictures of an NVMe M.2 mounted in that exact slot.

    I do owe you an apology, though, with regard to the heatsink statement! If you've got the Inland Performance Plus (Gen4 - on a Z390?) NVMe M.2, they do indeed have a heatsink, similar to that on the Corsair MP600.

    This model?

    https://90a1c75758623581b3f8-5c119c3de181c9857fcb2...

    That said, it doesn't seem to extend past the edge of the PCB more than a millimeter or so. My assumption is that even without the heatsink, the bracket would still be contacting the PCB from the way you've described it - it might clear the x1 slot side in this kind of stark naked configuration, but the other edge would still be blocked, which wouldn't do you much good.

    No argument that the board's got the M.2 slot in a very funky place, but it's absolutely fair to point a finger at the EK bracket, too.

    I think I referenced a similar image before, but here's a regular NVMe M.2 happily existing in the troublesome slot via some stock imagery:

    https://image.shutterstock.com/image-photo/jakarta...

    https://image.shutterstock.com/z/stock-photo-jakar...

    https://image.shutterstock.com/z/stock-photo-jakar...

    Cozy, but it works!

    I'd still look into the cheap slot adapter route - it's not an elegant solution, but it'll work just as well and won't keep you up at night cursing Gigabyte into the early hours. ;)
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Thursday, March 11, 2021 - link

    The EK bracket is just one part of the problem. The PCB also hits the slot.

    So, even with no EK bracket the board is unacceptably poorly designed.
    Reply
  • edzieba - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Oof, those latencies! For basically the same price, I'd take the "way overpriced" 670p over this any day of the week! Peak transfer rates are worthless, SSDs live or die by their random read latencies for perceived performance. Reply
  • cyrusfox - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    But on all the marketable metrics it is a win, Right Brand, highest sequential numbers. Any conversation more nuanced doesn't matter to the majority. They have a hit on there hands and with how economical the design is the margins should be good enough, solid win for Samsung. Reply
  • GREAT Expectations - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Literally in the first paragraph: "product stacl" Reply
  • XacTactX - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    The performance send very good with an empty drive but it really drops off when the drive is full of days. In the ATSB Heavy benchmark the performance for from 936 MBps to 496 MBps. I wonder how much free space we have to keep in the drive so the performance will stay closer to 936 MBps Reply
  • XacTactX - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Next time I have to proof read. The performance is very good but it drops off when the drive is full of data Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    @Billy All those names are related to space. Polaris and Photon are obvious. Phoenix was a Mars robot. Elpis was the Greek spirit of hope, but is also an asteroid. Maru = Kobayashi Maru? Pablo = Pablo Gabriel de León?
    Maybe someone at Samsung is good with obscure facts :-)
    Reply

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