Samsung SSD 840 (250GB) Reviewby Kristian Vättö on October 8, 2012 12:14 PM EST
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.