Final Words

I have to say I was very skeptical when I first heard that the 840 will use TLC NAND. Samsung kept the TLC/MLC divide between the 840 and 840 Pro quiet until it took the stage at the SSD Summit for good reason. Prior to the 840's launch TLC NAND was mostly used in low cost devices (USB sticks, cheap tablets, etc...)—no one would dare throw a TLC drive into a high performance PC. However, after spending a week with the 840 running various tests, I'm pleasantly surprised. After seeing how slow NAND can impact performance with other drives I didn't have high hopes for the 840 when I heard it used TLC NAND.

Fortunately, the 840 exceeded all our expectations. It's faster, overall, than most of the previous generation MLC NAND based SSDs we have tested, which says a lot about Samsung's skill with it comes to designing a controller and firmware. When you take slower and lower endurance NAND, there is much more you have to do at the controller and firmware level to get things right. You can't sacrifice too much endurance for performance or vice versa. While long term endurance is still unproven, Samsung is definitely upping the ante in terms of low-cost SSD performance.

What's just as surprising is that Samsung is the first manufacturer with a TLC NAND based SSD. Samsung was under no pressure to release a TLC drive but it managed to beat the competition without sacrificing performance. Samsung hasn't been too aggressive in the past, but since the 830 it's clear the company has tapped some new found energy.

The 840 is very important for two reasons. For starters, it really shows the benefits of being a vertically integrated SSD maker. Samsung could easily coordinate SSD development with TLC NAND production ramps to make the 840 launch a seamless reality. The second aspect of the 840 that makes it so important is that this now gives the market a new solution to driving SSD prices down.

Prior to the 840, if you wanted a low cost SSD you either had to sacrifice on capacity or performance (or both). Sacrifice enough on capacity and you end up being forced into a SSD + HDD caching solution. Sacrifice enough on performance and you end up with a bad SSD. If TLC NAND pricing ramps to where it should be, the 840 can deliver the best of both worlds: low-cost pricing with all of the quality (and a lot of the performance) of a more expensive drive.

I'm less concerned about the 840's impact on other high end drive/controller makers and more interested to see what it does to companies like Phison or SanDisk. If Samsung can make its pricing aggressive enough, there should be no reason to consider any of the slower controllers for lower cost drives. We've been wondering about what it would take to get SSDs into truly mainstream PCs and it seems like the Samsung SSD 840 is exactly the right path to take.

In the end, a lot will be up to the final pricing but I believe Samsung can and will be very aggressive with the 840. Samsung is the only manufacturer with a price benefit thanks to the cheaper NAND, which at least in theory allows them to price themselves lower than anyone else. I'm sure we will see some MLC drives being sold for less than the 840, but it's very hard to challenge the 840 in terms of performance, especially when taking Samsung's reliability track record into account. Consider also that as recently as July 2012, Samsung's 830 was priced roughly 50% higher than the current street prices; with the 256GB 830 now going for $200 (and sometimes less with sales), that's likely where the 840 will start before continuing the downward trend.

We will see about final pricing in a couple of weeks, but for now the 840 looks like the entry level SSD to buy. The 840 Pro is likely the drive to buy for your primary notebook/workstation, while the 840 is the drive to recommend for a relative who isn't as concerned with performance and has a much lighter workload. I have to say, this is the first performance/value split of an SSD line that's really made sense.

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  • roedtogsvart - Monday, October 8, 2012 - link

    Might have to finally replace my Intel 320 with this. Very nice review Kristian
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Monday, October 8, 2012 - link

    Both the Intel 320 and the Samsung 840 Pro support encryption...does the non-Pro 840 offer it or not? I'm swinging back towards getting an 840 Pro for my laptop because of the lack of encryption in consumer 830 drives.

    On a side note, I was disappointed to discover recently that my current desktop motherboard doesn't support hard drive passwords, which is a shame given the fact that my system disk (an Intel 320) does...oh well.
  • ekon - Monday, October 8, 2012 - link

    The ATA password-based encryption these drives use is beset with issues, flaky motherboard support being just one.

    On top of which, it's very poorly documented, and notice how reviews give it nothing more than a passing mention without testing the feature. A TrueCrypt/DiskCryptor alternative it is not :-/
  • Samus - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    I've had my 320 for two years, no problems with encryption, ever.

    And I second roedtogsvart that I may FINALLY replace my aging SSD with one of these. I've been thinking Intel 520 for awhile but still don't trust Sandforce, even with Intel at the helm.

    Samsung and Crucial are keeping the controllers simple, which is why they have the most reliable drives outside of Intel's original X25-M/320 SSD's.
  • Old_Fogie_Late_Bloomer - Tuesday, October 9, 2012 - link

    When you say "these drives", do you mean the Intel 320, the Samsung 840 Pro, or both? My T430 supports hard drive passwords for the expressly-stated purpose of allowing for encrypted SSDs, which is why I'm looking at the 840 Pro in particular.

    It seems like the only downsides would be having to enter the password to use the computer, and having to use a motherboard that supports HD passwords to access the drive (so I couldn't just plug it into my current desktop if something were to happen to my laptop and it were off for repair or whatever).
  • ruberbacchus - Saturday, October 20, 2012 - link

    On one hand, it seems to me that the potential gains performance-wise with hardware-based rather than software-based encryption are enormous; particularly so on older computers with slower processors. On the other hand, an encryption solution that is not properly documented as well as thoroughly verified and verifiable does simply not exist as a solution; confidence in the implementation is essential to the deployment of encryption. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to obtain clear references to how encryption works in this new class of SSD's. I read somewhere that it should conform to the OPAL standard, which mandates hardware-embedded keys. I am not sure this is such a great idea, for two reasons:
    - the keys will potentially be known to the manufacturer;
    - the keys will be open to physical attacks on the chip controller.
    With TrueCrypt e.g., the user himself generates the encryption keys, the master key used for encrypting the data as well as the header key used to wrap the master key. The latter is tied to the user's password. With hardware-based encryption, passwords may be used for authentication, but the keys will not necessarily be derived from the password. Unchangeable encryption keys weakens the security. In order for the system to be trustworthy, the user should be able to generate and re-generate at will their own encryption keys. At the moment it is not clear this is the case.
  • GreenReaper - Wednesday, August 8, 2018 - link

    It's true. Although not necessarily the fault of the drives, either. My leased server was taken offline by the installation of SSDs which the hardware (or rather, its firmware) couldn't handle. I dumped the firmware logs and traced it to commands relating to ATA security. Don't know if it had been set by the previous users of the SSDs or whatever, but it managed to freeze up the entire controller.
  • A5 - Monday, October 8, 2012 - link

    I guess I'm old fashioned and don't throw away my laptop every 6 months, but a 3.5 year lifetime seems really really short.
  • crimson117 - Monday, October 8, 2012 - link

    Agreed; maybe for a video card, but I expect longer than 3.5 years out of my hard drives.
  • repoman27 - Monday, October 8, 2012 - link

    Really? I rarely expect a consumer grade HDD to last much longer than that these days. In fact, I've seen an alarming trend of drives failing just past the 2 year mark, and still within the 3 year warranty period. (RMA'd one last week even.)

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