Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review

Manufacturer: Samsung Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review

A New DRAMless Option For The Gen3 Market

Remember when Samsung had the EVO and PRO designations for their consumer NVMe SSD lineups? Those seeking the highest overall performance could opt for the PRO model, and those looking for a blend of performance and price might choose the EVO drives. A big difference between these products was the NAND, which had been 2-bit MLC with the PRO and 3-bit TLC with the EVO.

Samsung’s move to PCI Express 4.0 with the SSD 980 PRO was accompanied by a move from 2-bit MLC to 3-bit MLC (aka TLC) – a first for one of the company’s professional drives. But Gen3 still plays still an important role in the storage world, and to this end Samsung has a new product in the SSD 980 – with no “EVO” or “PRO” moniker. This vanilla 980 lineup adds another first to Samsung’s SSD lineup: a DRAM-less design.

You read that correctly. While an SLC cache – a hallmark of the EVO series and the new 980 PRO – is present, we are looking at a 3-bit per cell drive without DRAM. Clearly this Gen3 SSD will be more of a value storage solution, with Samsung shifting focus toward Gen4 for the performance end of their NVMe SSD offering – at least to this point.

With this introductory ranting out of the way here is a look at Samsung’s spec sheet for the new SSD 980:

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 13

The SSD 980

And now for a look at the drive itself:

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 14

The 980 is a single-sided NVMe device of typical appearance and dimensions. It is virtually identical to the 980 PRO, and integrates the same thermal management technology via a nickel-coated controller, heat spreader label on the underside, and “sophisticatedly tuned firmware with advanced Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) technology”.

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 15
DRAMless Design

As mentioned in the introduction, the new 980 is a DRAMless design, and it takes advantage of the Host Memory Buffer (HMB) to make up for the lack of dedicated DRAM on the SSD.

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 16

“HMB leverages Direct Memory Access (DMA) functionality of the PCI-Express interface so that the SSD can operate even without its own DRAM by using the part of the DRAM memory (64MB) at the system CPU. The SSD with HMB can reduce its production costs by removing DRAM and make it competitive by improving the speed.”

Larger Write Buffer

The 980 offers between 3.5x and 5.5x the write buffer (SLC cache) of the 970 EVO, which Samsung claims will translate into sustained write performance that is 75% longer than the previous gen thanks to “newly enhanced Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0 technology”.

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 17

“Compared to the previous Intelligent TurboWrite, Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0 provides up to 5.5 times larger buffer (TurboWrite region, 500GB case) than the previous 970 EVO. That being said, in most cases, users can experience high performance of SLC speed up to 3500MB/s for a longer period of the time. The Intelligent TurboWrite algorithm does not affect SSD endurance, because the total amount of data users write on the SSD is unchanged.”

Performance Appraisal

Quickly looking at a couple of synthetic benchmark results here first, we will see if there are any obvious limitations to a DRAM-less design.

PC Perspective Test Platforms
Motherboard ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi (X570)
Memory Patriot Viper 4 Blackout 16GB (2x8GB) @ DDR4-3200 14-14-14-34 1.35V
GPU Palit GeForce GTX 1050 Ti KalmX (Passive)
Storage Samsung SSD 850 EVO 1TB
Power Supply CORSAIR RM1000x 1000W
Operating System Windows 10 64-bit Version 1909, November 2019 Update (Build 18363.592)
Chipset Drivers V2.04.09.131

First, CrystalDiskMark displays max read/write performance:

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 18

The “peak” performance preset shows very good max theoretical performance from the 1TB Samsung SSD 980, and it hits the advertised sequential and 4K random (QD32) reads at over 3500 MB/s and 500K IOPS respectively. Write speeds were a bit under the max rated speeds in this benchmark, but still nearly 2800 MB/s sequential with 4K random/QD32 hitting 460K IOPS (advertised “as high as” 3000 MB/s and 480K IOPS).

If we compare lower queue depths (and single-threaded operation) with other recently tested drives we come up with these charts:

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 19
Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 20

Absolutely nothing wrong with these sequential numbers. You may notice that there is a big jump with read performance from QD1 to QD2 with both the 980 and 980 PRO, and from QD2 on up the numbers are outstanding.

Next we have a look at random read/write performance at the same queue depths:

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 21
Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 22

4K random reads are second only to the Gen4 980 PRO when tested single threaded/low queue depths, though – as expected – random write performance lags a bit with this DRAMless drive (the DRAMless WD Blue above it on this chart apparently integrates some DRAM at the controller level).

One more quick look at performance via the Anvil benchmark, run at default settings:

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 23

One more performance note, as Samsung is offering a new performance setting in their Magician software. I didn’t test beyond the default storage driver in Windows 10, but Samsung states that “the new ‘Full Power Mode’ added to Samsung’s Magician 6.3 software allows the drive to continuously run at peak performance for uninterrupted work and play”. We’ve seen an option like this in the past with the WD_Black SN750, where the ‘Gaming Mode’ prevented the drive from entering a low-power state.

Pricing and Conclusion

Pricing is in line with Intel’s recently released 670p, with our sample carrying a list price of $129. This will likely come down over time, and as we reach ever closer to the 10 cents/GB level the 980 will be a great option for a general purpose Gen3 solution.

Samsung 980 1TB Gen3 NVMe SSD Review - Storage 24

The 980 is available in capacities ranging from 250GB to 1TB, with list pricing as follows:

  • Samsung 980 SSD 250GB – $49.99
  • Samsung 980 SSD 500GB – $69.99
  • Samsung 980 SSD 1TB – $129.99

Samsung’s new SSD 980 is a new competitor in the mature Gen3 storage arena, and provides a value-oriented option with its simplified DRAMless design. Still, that didn’t affect performance the way that we’ve seen from other such SSDs in the past, as Samsung’s implementation of HMB, large write buffer, and 3-bit per cell NAND rather than QLC, keeps this very competitive outside of more demanding (and write-heavy) workloads.

Review Disclosures

This disclosure statement covers the way the product being reviewed was obtained and the relationship between the product's manufacturer and PC Perspective.

How Product Was Obtained

The drive is on loan from Samsung for the purpose of this review.

What Happens To Product After Review

The drive remains the property of Samsung but will be on extended loan to PC Perspective for the purpose of future testing and product comparisons.

Company Involvement

Samsung provided the product sample and technical brief to PC Perspective but 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.

Affiliate Links

This article contains affiliate links to online retailers. PC Perspective may receive compensation for purchases made through those links.

Video News

About The Author

Sebastian Peak

Editor-in-Chief at PC Perspective. Writer of computer stuff, vintage PC nerd, and full-time dad. Still in search of the perfect smartphone. In his nonexistent spare time Sebastian's hobbies include hi-fi audio, guitars, and road bikes. Currently investigating time travel.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest Podcasts

Archive & Timeline

Previous 12 months
Explore: All The Years!