Samsung 970 EVO Plus NVMe SSD Review: The New Write-Speed Leader
The jump to 96-layer NAND yields a big write speed boost.
Samsung today is launching a new member of its consumer-targeted family of NVMe SSDs, the Samsung 970 EVO Plus. Thanks to the upgrade from 64-layer to 96-layer V-NAND, this new drive promises significantly better write performance, a slight bump to overall responsiveness, and improved efficiency all in the same single-sided package at capacities up to 2TB.
This new drive, a mid-cycle refresh that keeps the well-regarded 970-series on the market, looks impressive on paper. But do those soaring advertised IOPS and insane write speeds hold up in reality? Check out our initial review of the Samsung 970 EVO Plus.
Overview and Specifications
For several generations, Samsung’s consumer SSD line — both SATA and NVMe — was split between the EVO and PRO series, with the PRO targeting high-performance users (with a price to match) and the EVO targeting more consumer-style workloads by trading peak IOPS and write endurance for an often notably lower price point.
At first blush, some may have thought of the EVO series as Samsung’s “budget” line. But thanks to steady advances in Samsung’s in-house NAND and controller development, the latest NVMe EVO drives are quite capable performers, to the point that PC Perspective’s former Storage Editor, Allyn Malventano, recommended the 970 EVO over its PRO counterpart for the majority of users.
With the EVO line performing well in mid- and even high-tier segments of the market, Samsung late last year took aim at the entry-level segment with the launch of the QVO, the company’s first QLC-based consumer product. Like all current QLC-based devices, the Samsung QVO drives have their fair share of performance compromises, but that price-per-gigabyte (even at MSRP) is hard to beat.
Now Samsung is turning its attention back to the higher performance side with the introduction of the new 970 EVO Plus. Samsung provided review samples just a few days ago and while we can confirm up front that the company’s performance claims for the drive are generally accurate, there are still some information gaps about this new product as of the date of this article’s publication. For example, Samsung wasn’t clear about whether the 970 EVO Plus will eventually replace the original 970 EVO in the market or, if not, if the original non-Plus model will receive a price change. There’s also not much information about the 2TB 970 EVO Plus model, except for a promise to deliver it “later this year.”
More details on these questions will arrive shortly, but at least for now, let’s take a look at how this drive compares to the 970 EVO and how it performs against competing drives on the market. First, here are Samsung’s advertised specifications for the new 970 EVO Plus lineup:
|Samsung 970 EVO Plus||250GB||500GB||1TB||2TB|
|Form Factor||M.2 2280, Single-Sided|
|Interface||PCIe Gen3 x4, NVMe 1.3|
|NAND||Samsung 96-layer V-NAND 3-bit MLC|
|DRAM||512MB LPDDR4||1GB LPDDR4||2GB LPDDR4|
|Seq. Read||3,500 MB/s||3,470 MB/s||3,470 MB/s||TBD|
|Seq. Write||2,300 MB/s||3,200 MB/s||3,300 MB/s||TBD|
|Ran. Read 4K IOPS (Q1T1)||17,000||19,000||TBD|
|Ran. Write 4K IOPS (Q1T1)||60,000||TBD|
|Ran. Read 4K IOPS (Q32T4)||250,000||480,000||600,000||TBD|
|Ran. Write 4K IOPS (Q32T4)||550,000||TBD|
|Avg. Active Power (Read)||5W||5.5W||TBD|
|Avg. Active Power (Write)||4.2W||5.8W||6W||TBD|
|Idle (ASPT on)||30mW||TBD|
|MTBF||1.5 million hours||TBD|
Looking head-to-head against the 970 EVO, here’s a focus on the key features and differences between these two drives:
|Category||970 EVO Plus||970 EVO|
|Interface||PCIe Gen 3.0 x4
|Form Factor||M.2 2280, Single-Sided|
|Capacities||250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB|
|NAND||96-layer V-NAND 3-bit MLC||64-layer V-NAND 3-bit MLC|
|DRAM||512MB LPDDR4 (250GB/500GB)
1GB LPDDR4 (1TB)
2GB LPDDR4 (2TB)
|Max Sequential Speed||3,500 MB/s Read
3,300 MB/s Write
|3,500 MB/s Read
2,500 MB/s Write
|Max Random IOPS (QD32)||620,000 Read
|250GB: $99.99 ($85 street)
500GB: $149.99 ($130 street)
1TB: $299.99 ($280 street)
2TB: $499.99 ($497 street)
The reality is that there is more that is the same between these two drives than there is that is different, such as the well-regarded Phoenix controller, clever use of a thin copper heat spreader beneath the sticker on the flat side of the drive, and hardware support for AES 256-bit encryption and security management solutions like TCG Opal (e.g., Microsoft eDrive). But when it comes to those few differences, Samsung’s engineers sure made them count.
As the following benchmarks will show, the advertised performance increases for the 970 EVO Plus, especially write speed, are real. That makes it all the better to see that Samsung is targeting MSRPs for the EVO Plus that are at, or even below, current street prices for the original 970 EVO. But Samsung is also facing heavy pressure on both the performance and pricing fronts, so even though it's packing some noticeable performance improvements, the 970 EVO Plus can't make any mistakes while it keeps the pressure on.
TurboWrite to the Limit
Read speeds on mid-range and high-end consumer NVMe SSDs have been well in excess of 3GB/s for some time now, and are in fact bumping up against the real-world limit of PCIe Gen3 x4 bandwidth (which makes the impending arrival of PCIe Gen4 all the more interesting). But while read speeds have been pushing the limits of interface, client NVMe write speeds have been stuck in the mid-to-high 2GB/s range, with a few just starting to crack 3,000MB/s.
The big factor for the 970 EVO Plus is that Samsung claims it is the first NVMe SSD to exceed 3,300MB/s in sequential write performance. The company achieved this feat thanks to both the new denser V-NAND as well as improvements to TurboWrite, Samsung’s caching feature that has been present in its SATA and NVMe SSDs for years.
With last year’s launch of the 970 EVO, Samsung introduced “Intelligent” TurboWrite, which can automatically allocate various sizes of SLC buffer based on the transfer size and available capacity. Additional firmware tuning, coupled with the faster speeds afforded by 96-layer V-NAND, let the 500GB and 1TB models of the 970 EVO Plus reach peak sequential writes of up to 3,200MB/s and 3,300MB/s, respectively.
Like with all drives that utilize high-performance caching, you won’t be able to stay at that speed indefinitely, and the size of the cache and performance hit once it has been exhausted vary by model, but in most common client workloads users will be able to realize a significant performance increase in operations that rely on sequential writes.
Here’s Samsung’s breakdown of the size of the TurboCache and related speeds for the 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB 970 EVO Plus models. No information is yet available regarding the 2TB model.
|Samsung 970 EVO Plus TurboWrite Details|
|Sequential Write||TurboWrite||2,300 MB/s||3,200 MB/s||3,300 MB/s|
|After TurboWrite||400 MB/s||900 MB/s||1,700 MB/s|
Test Setup & Comparisons
It is important to note that we are continuing to develop, tweak, and evaluate our storage testing methodology in the “post-Malventano era.” As a result, changes may occur to our testing hardware or processes between reviews. For example, last week’s initial look at the WD Black SN750 saw testing conducted on an i7-7700K platform. For today’s tests, and those in the foreseeable future, we were able to secure an i7-8700K platform.
We will eventually reach a point where the testing process is static and comparable between reviews, but until then, benchmarks in one review may not be comparable to those in a separate review. We are re-testing each comparison drive whenever there is a hardware or software change so the results within a review are, of course, consistent.
We received early review samples of the 250GB and 1TB models of the Samsung 970 EVO Plus, and we are focusing our review today on the 1TB model. We compared the new 970 EVO Plus to the following drives in the 1TB capacity class:
- Samsung 970 EVO 1TB
- Samsung 960 EVO 1TB
- Samsung 970 PRO 512GB
- WD Black SN750 1TB
- WD Black (2018) 1TB
- MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro 960GB
- MyDigitalSSD SBX 1TB
- Crucial P1 1TB
- Intel 660p 1TB
- Toshiba XG6 1TB
Note the inclusion of the 512GB Samsung 970 PRO: we wanted to include a PRO-series drive for comparison but did not have access to a 1TB PRO model for these tests. Therefore, keep in mind when reviewing this drive’s results that performance characteristics can vary, sometimes significantly, depending on capacity. Also note that the Toshiba XG6 is an OEM part so you won’t find it, at least by that name, on store shelves, but it’s an interesting point of comparison since it, too, utilizes 96-layer 3D NAND.
Benchmarks for all drives tested in this review were conducted on the following platform:
|PC Perspective Storage Testbed|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-8700K @ 4.3GHz|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Strix Z370-E Gaming|
|Memory||2x8GB T-Force Xcalibur DDR4 @ 3000MHz|
|Graphics||iGPU: Intel UHD Graphics 630|
|System Drive||2TB Samsung 960 PRO|
|CPU Cooler||CORSAIR Hydro Series H115i w/Performance Profile|
|Power Supply||Seasonic PRIME 1300W Gold|
|Operating System||Windows 10 1809 x64|
Prior to testing, we configured our motherboard BIOS to disable C-States, set Windows 10 to High Power Mode in the Power Options Control Panel, and disabled all non-essential software and Windows processes. All drives were updated to their latest stable firmware and then filled to approximately 50% capacity with a variety of data simulating a typical user (movies, photos, game installations, email backups, etc.).
We used CrystalDiskMark 6.0.2 to measure sequential and random performance. The results are presented as speed in megabytes per second, with higher numbers equating to better performance.
First, the sequential test:
Here we can see that while the 970 EVO Plus has plenty of company in terms of PCIe Gen3-bound read speeds, its write speeds easily take the crown with a remarkable improvement over previous generation EVO-series parts. The drive’s 3,349MB/s sequential write result is 32 percent higher than the 9-month-old Samsung 970 EVO and almost 72 percent better than the 960 EVO. The new WD Black SN750, BPX Pro, and Toshiba XG6 come closest to matching the 970 EVO Plus’s write performance, but they’re still 10-12 percent behind.
Next we turn to 4K random performance, starting with 8 threads at queue depth 8:
Here the 970 EVO Plus also shines, leading all other drives in both read and write performance. While random write speeds at this queue depth are up only slightly over the 970 EVO, reads make a 40 percent jump.
Looking at single-threaded workloads at queue depth 32, the 970 EVO Plus performs nearly identically to its predecessor in terms of reads, but displays about a 9 percent improvement in writes. Neither drive leads the pack, however although it should be noted that consumer/desktop workloads under these parameters are not common.
Finally, with single-threaded, single queue depth transactions, the 970 EVO Plus performs identically to the 970 EVO in writes but scores a 44 percent improvement in reads, leading all other drives in that category. However, it’s a bit behind drives like the 660p, BPX Pro, and even the 960 EVO in writes at this queue depth.
We used IOMeter 1.1.0 to measure IOPS and average response time for a 4K random workload consisting of 67 percent read operations. We test this workload under four conditions: Q1T1, Q4T1, Q4T4, and Q32T8. Most client/consumer workloads operate at queue depths less than four, so those results are where you’re most likely to feel any difference between drives. The Q32T8 test is designed to tax the drive for maximum performance.
First up is Total IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second), which are displayed on a scale of 1,000 due to the wide range of results between queue depths. Higher numbers equate to better performance.
Only the 970 PRO achieves higher IOPS than the 970 EVO Plus at Q32T8, but even when looking at more realistic workloads the 970 EVO Plus scores near the top of each category.
For average response time, measured in milliseconds, a lower number is better and the Samsung 970 EVO Plus performs in-line with, but doesn't lead, its higher-performance competitors.
Benchmarks: AS SSD Benchmark
The AS SSD Benchmark (we used version 2.0.6821.41776) can run a number of performance tests designed to measure SSDs. We first tested sequential performance.
Due to differences in the tests, the 970 EVO Plus scored lower here than in CrystalDiskMark, but still produced the best sequential write results, beating the 970 EVO by 16 percent and posting a 45 percent improvement over the 960 EVO.
Looking at random 4K performance at both single and 64-thread-workloads, the 970 EVO Plus scores near the top in terms of writes but doesn’t lead, notably trailing the BPX Pro at high threads and the Intel 660p at Q1T1.
The AS SSD Benchmark Copy Test attempts to simulate real-world file transfers by copying data structured similarly to a software program, game, and ISO image. Results are presented in megabytes per second, with higher numbers equaling better performance.
Interestingly, the Western Digital and MyDigitalSSD drives perform significantly better than the competition in terms of the ISO test, although the 970 EVO Plus holds a slight lead in terms of the game copy test.
Benchmarks: ATTO Disk Benchmark
We used ATTO Disk Benchmark 4.00.0f2 to measure read and write performance at a variety of transfer sizes ranging from 512 bytes to 64 megabytes. The results, reported in megabytes per second, are plotted on a line graph to show relative performance between transfer sizes. A higher/taller number equals better performance.
We measured read and write speeds at both queue depth 1 and queue depth 8. First, QD1:
The 970 EVO Plus performs near the top of the pack in both reads and writes, although with a clear advantage over the competition in writes. Note that we saw odd behavior from our 660p, with the drive consistently and repeatably losing a significant amount of performance near the end of the tests at higher transfer sizes. It initially appears to be an issue with depleted cache, but the drive’s cache should have been sufficient to complete these tests, and our use of Intel’s Solid State Drive Toolbox software to empty the cache and “optimize” the drive proved unsuccessful at resolving the issue.
At queue depth 8, the relative results were essentially the same, with the 970 EVO Plus near the top in terms of reads, and leading in terms of writes.
Samsung has long led the client SSD market but the recent launch of drives like the BPX Pro and WD Black were starting to give the company a run for its money, at least in terms of specific categories like write performance and price/value. And while it doesn’t answer every challenge, the appearance of this new 970 EVO Plus certainly reestablishes Samsung’s lead when it comes to big, easy-to-market factors like raw sequential performance.
The results of our testing show an improvement — sometimes huge — over the original and highly regarded 970 EVO in most categories. And while a lot of the 970 EVO Plus's value proposition will boil down to actual street pricing and availability, the fact is that it just doesn’t dominate in every category in its class like the EVO series once did. But that’s a great thing for consumers, as it means that of all of the options available at almost every price point, you’re likely to wind up with something very good regardless of what you choose.
The improvements to sequential write performance that Samsung’s engineers achieved is noteworthy, and 970 EVO Plus is arguably the drive to get for write-heavy “prosumer” workloads. But comparing the 1TB model at $250 to, for example, the 960GB BPX Pro at around $190 makes the case for the 970 EVO Plus harder for consumers who just don’t need that kind of write performance, since the drive doesn't improve enough in other areas to clearly justify its relatively higher price.
It will be interesting to see how street prices settle on these drives, and how Samsung handles the original 970 EVO lineup. It’s nice to see that NVMe client SSD makers can hit PCIe saturation for writes, too, but this mid-cycle bump makes us think that the Samsung “980” series might be the one to wait for.
|Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
|How product was obtained:||The products are on loan from Samsung for the purpose of this review.|
|What happens to product after review:||The products remain the property of Samsung but are on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.|
|Company involvement:||Samsung had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.|
|PC Perspective Compensation:||Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Samsung for this review.|
|Advertising Disclosure:||Samsung has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.|
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