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:
The SSD 980
And now for a look at the drive itself:
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”.
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.
“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”.
“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.”
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)
BIOS 2206, AGESA V2 PI 126.96.36.199
|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)|
First, CrystalDiskMark displays max read/write performance:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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