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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  • Tomatotech - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    An OK-ish drive especially if it comes down slightly to a better price. Middle of the pack on everything, which is excellent for an entry level drive.

    The one thing I really don't like is the name. The Samsung 980 Pro is one of the best NVME drives ever made. This is ... not. The internet is full of praise for the Samsung 980, often without specifying the 'Pro' because there's been only one model. How many people are going to see that praise, whether it says 'Pro' or not, and assume it's referring to this drive?

    This feels like a sneaky misleading cash-grab by Samsung Marketing for the sake of allowing PC adverts to plaster 'Contains Samsung 980 SSD!' on them.

    To be honest the entry-level 980 doesn't deserve this, it's a decent drive that doesn't need cheating to promote it. If it was labelled 'Samsung SSD 975' that would be perfectly fine.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Samsung is a particularly slimy company. First, there were the fantasy power claims for the 830 drives, claims people took at face value to promote them in forums. (Samsung, I also recall, was caught paying people to astroturf in forums.) Anandtech's power tests showed that the 830 drives used a lot more power.

    Then, when the planar 840 drives were exposed as being a faulty design, the company refused to replace the drives. Instead, it issued a kludgy work-around — causing the drive to re-write data as many times as necessary to continue to work around the problem (voltage drift from planar TLC I assume). The steady state performance of the 128 GB 840 was so bad HardOCP said it had worse performance than a laptop hard disk, at least in some areas.

    Then, we have the company's decision to use (unfortunately legal, probably) fraud, labeling TLC and QLC drives 'MLC' — as an intentional bait and switch since the industry standard for naming has been MLC for 2 layer flash for many years — many years before Samsung started cheating with the naming. Calling QLC drives MLC is so egregious it shouldn't be legal.

    Now, we have what you pointed out. Samsung loves to trick people with naming lately. Making up power consumption figures is old school, apparently.

    It's anecdotal, but someone in my family bought a 1 TB 860 QLC and it has never been reliable. It even causes the entire machine to slow and have booting problems. The Inland NVME TLC drive I had him replace the Samsung with doesn't have those issues nor does the Inland TLC SATA drive that has been in the machine from the start. He did an RMA and the replacement (which probably was the original drive) had the same problem.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Also, it's unacceptable to sell expensive televisions with undefeatable ads. That other companies do it also is no excuse. Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Monday, March 29, 2021 - link

    Dude this naming scheme has been around for a decade. If someone is too stupid to see PRO thats on them, not Samsung. Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    I know this is anecdotal but I can't help but mention the third Samsung SSD in as many months sitting on my bench that failed right out of its 5-year warranty, in this case an 850 EVO. Randomly drops off the bus. These drives have serious longevity concerns and it seems to be a firmware\controller issue, as every drive uses the MEX controller (the 840's and the 850 EVO 1TB) and while I realize that controller hasn't been used in recent products, it's astonishing coincidence they are failing out of warranty obviously doesn't result in repeat customers for Samsung.

    Meanwhile every Crucial drive I've seen in the last decade from the C300, M4, M500\550, MX and BX series have reliability beyond Crucial's metrics and I'm talking at least 200 installed drives throughout our company.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Both of my 860 EVOs (500GB & 4TB) have been solid. I agree that their pre-860 series drives were not that great. Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    I agree the newer drives seem reliable, yet the 840 Pro and 850's seemed reliable for the longest time too while recently reports across the web have shown them beginning to fail in the last few years, and Samsung has the most annoying, anti-customer tech support in the industry. Their storage support is outsourced to a 3rd party (storage tech solutions) and with ridiculous warranty qualifications (good luck finding that proof of purchase from 4 years ago) and weeks-long turnarounds. Meanwhile Intel, Toshiba\OCZ and presumably Crucial (we've never had to RMA a Crucial SSD, and most are Micron OEM drives anyway) have fairly normal RMA process from what I've heard. My experience RMA'ing a Intel SSD730 was met with a replacement of a larger capacity 545s and my experience RMA'ing a OCZ ARC100 was met with a free ADVANCED replacement of a same capacity Trion 150. The one Samsung SSD I replaced a few years ago (3 months before the warranty was set to expire) was an 840 EVO and they replaced it with AN 840 EVO. We all know the 840 EVO is one of the worst, if not the worst, SSD Samsung has ever made, you'd think they want to cycle them out of existence yet they seemingly have a stockpile of them somewhere to offload to customers and have them fail again from their write amplification issues.

    I realize my experience is mostly anecdotal but there are plenty of references to customers with Samsung failures, and like Apple, it's hard to actually find negative reviews due to blind loyalty, and the fact the majority of Samsung's SSD business is (was) in OEM's so customers likely didn't even know the failures were Samsung-related in the systems that failed. Probably explains why Toshiba and Hynix, along with the OEM regulars Intel and Micron have erroded their OEM wins and you see fewer and fewer Samsung SSD's in modern PC's. Admittedly this can be attributed to Samsung's premium pricing over every other competitor in an industry plagued with tiny margins.
    Reply
  • Tomatotech - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    Interesting reports. I've installed rather a lot of Samsung 2.5" SATA SSDs (various models, purchased used for cheap) for various charities and non-profits and never had any fail yet. Had an inherited Kingston 480GB SATA 2.5" fail - they sent me a replacement. A 1TB Crucial P1 NVMe m.2 (purchased new) started giving problems in one of my Macbook Airs - freezing and crashes - had to move it to my PC desktop where it's worked fine ever since.

    My main m.2 are a pair of ADATA XPG SX8200 1TB nvme, also purchased used, which have given magnificent service in everything I've put them in - PCs and Apple Airs and MacBooks Pro.
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - link

    Quite ironically to my above statements, I've never seen an PM\SM851 OEM Samsung SSD fail. Not sure what's up with that. They're common OEM drives for HP, Dell and Lenovo circa 2013-2016 and I've seen a lot of those still in service, and selling dirt cheap on eBay. It's no secret the OEM drives have nerfed firmware that lacks some throughput but that has always had me wonder if the M-series controllers are killing themselves at higher clock rates...there is a bit of precident to this as the Intel 730's based on the DC-class drives and controllers were higher clocked and seemed to fail a bit, too. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - link

    That's a worry, as nearly EVERY machine with an SSD, in work, is Samsung based. Mostly m.2. due to using intel Nucs.

    Not one has failed so far.
    Reply

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