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Location: Home / Article / The Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 SSD Review: A Spirit of Hope

The Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 SSD Review: A Spirit of Hope

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The Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 SSD Review: A Spirit of Hope

by

Billy Tallis

on September 22, 2020 11:20 AM EST

Posted in

SSDs

Storage

Samsung

V-NAND

M.2

NVMe

3D TLC

PCIe 4.0

980 PRO

137

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Samsung 980 Pro

Testing PCIe 4.0

Cache Size Effects

AnandTech Storage Bench

Random IO Performance

Sequential IO Performance

Mixed Read/Write Performance

Power Management

Conclusion: Top Shelf, No Drama

It may be a bit later than originally planned, but Samsung's first consumer SSD to support PCIe 4.0 is here. The Samsung 980 PRO was first previewed at CES in January, but we didn't hear anything further until leaks started appearing towards the end of summer. Now the 980 PRO is set to kick off a new wave of PCIe 4.0 SSD releases. These new changes are the most significant changes to Samsung's PRO SSD line since the debut of its first NVMe drive.

The Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 SSD

As we march onto a world where PCIe 4.0 is going to start being offered to the vast majority of consumers in all segments of computing, the move is on in order to enable support for these new standards. Benefits such as increased peak speed, or decreased power consumption, are obvious vital specifications that PCIe 4.0 brings to the table, and thus having optimized products to go along with it has always been the case as new generations trump the told. Samsung's first PCIe 4.0 x4 offering for consumers is the 980 PRO, a series of M.2 drives with capacities up to 2.0 TB.

These new drives feature the latest in Samsung's controller design, but also mark the change from 2-bit cells to 3-bit cells for the Pro line of drives. This creates changes for increased capacity and decreased cost, and due to Samsung's controller technology the lower theoretical endurace we might expect with TLC is still covered by the warranty. Samsung's Pro line of storage drives have always been designed to impress, always being in the upper echelons for performance for the market. This is what we're here to test in this review.

Samsung 980 PRO SSD Specifications

Capacity

250 GB

500 GB

1 TB

2 TB

Interface

PCIe 4 x4, NVMe 1.3c

Form Factor

M.2 2280 Single-sided

Controller

Samsung Elpis

NAND

Samsung 128L 3D TLC

LPDDR4 DRAM

512MB

1GB

2GB

SLCWrite Cache Size

Min

4 GB

4 GB

6 GB

TBD

Max

49 GB

94 GB

114 GB

Sequential Read

6400 MB/s

6900 MB/s

7000 MB/s

Sequential Write

SLC

2700 MB/s

5000 MB/s

5000 MB/s

TLC

500 MB/s

1000 MB/s

2000 MB/s

Random ReadIOPS (4kB)

QD1

22k

22k

22k

Max

500k

800k

1000k

Random WriteIOPS (4kB)

QD1

60k

60k

60k

Max

600k

1000k

1000k

Active Power

Read

5.0 W

5.9 W

6.2 W

Write

3.9 W

5.4 W

5.7 W

Idle Power

APST

35 mW

L1.2

5 mW

Write Endurance

150 TB0.3 DWPD

300 TB0.3 DWPD

600 TB0.3 DWPD

1200 TB0.3 DWPD

Warranty

5 years

Launch MSRP

$89.99(36¢/GB)

$149.99(30¢/GB)

$229.99(23¢/GB)

TBD

Today we are testing the 250 GB and 1 TB models, representing the current minimum and maximum of what is on offer. The 2 TB model is set to come to retail at a later date, along with its respective specifications.

Two Waves of PCIe 4.0 Storage: Wave One

AMD kicked off the transition to PCIe 4.0 last year with the release of their Zen 2 family of CPUs. This started the first phase of PCIe 4.0 SSDs, starting with Phison.

Phison was the only SSD controller vendor ready with a PCIe 4.0 solution at the time; its E16 controller has enjoyed over a year on the market as the only option for consumer PCIe 4.0 SSDs. We're reported

a lot about it

as well. But the Phison E16 was a bit of a rushed design, with a minimum of changes to their highly successful E12 controller to enable PCIe 4.0 support. That left the E16 with some notable shortcomings: it only offers slightly more peak bandwidth provided by the upgrade to PCIe 4.0, and the extra performance comes with a lot of extra power consumption. The rest of the SSD industry decided to take the PCIe 4.0 transition a bit more slowly, preparing more mature controller designs to be manufactured on smaller process nodes that can provide the efficiency necessary to use the full speed of a PCIe 4.0 x4 link while staying within the thermal and power constraints of a M.2 drive.

All the major players in the SSD controller market have been preparing for this second wave of Gen4 drives, but Samsung is making the first move in this round. The 980 PRO introduces the new Samsung Elpis controller, built on their 8nm process and designed to double the peak performance offered by PCIe Gen3 SSDs.

Wave Two Starts With Samsung

In addition to the new Elpis controller, the 980 PRO introduces a new generation of 3D NAND flash memory from Samsung. Officially, Samsung isn't disclosing the layer count, but they've claimed it's 40% more than their previous generation which was 92L, so this should be 128L 3D NAND. Samsung isn't the first to market with 128L NAND (SK hynix by less than a month), but it shows that layer counts are increasing and capacity should be as well.

Historically, the PRO line of SSDs use some of Samsung's fastest and most durable NAND available - this is what gives the products the PRO name. This time around, Samsung is changing things to help expand its Pro line customer base - Samsung is abandoning the use of the two bit per cell (MLC) memory that has been the hallmark of the PRO product lines, and with the 980 PRO, Samsung is finally switching to three bit per cell (TLC) NAND flash memory. This change is not unprecedented: Samsung has been almost completely alone in their continued use of 2-bit MLC NAND. By comparison, the rest of the SSD industry (consumer and enterprise) has moved from MLC to TLC, even on the leading edge designs.

The historical reasoning for choosing MLC NAND over TLC NAND has always boiled down to two main factors: MLC tends to be faster, and it has higher write endurance. TLC NAND may be slower than MLC NAND in general, but that doesn't mean that TLC SSDs have to be slower than MLC SSDs. The performance advantages of MLC NAND for consumer use have been greatly reduced by the universal adoption of SLC write caching on TLC SSDs, and the trend toward larger SLC caches. Unless a user is going well beyond the SLC cache, a TLC drive with an SLC cache is noticably more preferable from a capacity standpoint than an MLC drive.

Write endurance has always been an important issue to keep an eye on, but the SSD industry has successfully prevented it from becoming a serious problem for consumers. Improved error correction and the fundamental advantages of 3D NAND over older planar NAND have helped, but the biggest factor has been the growth of drive capacities. The total write endurance of a SSD scales roughly linearly with its capacity: a 2TB drive can handle about twice as many TB of writes over its lifespan as a 1TB drive. However, consumer storage needs don't grow in the same way as enterprise storage needs. When a consumer moves from a 512GB drive to 1TB or 2TB, most of the extra capacity that gets used is for relatively static data: photos, videos and games that aren't modified all that often, and certainly not multiple times a day.

The 980 PRO's use of TLC instead of MLC may be the end of an era for SSDs, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the drive isn't worthy of the "PRO" name; the 980 PRO is still very clearly at the high end of the consumer market.

In many ways, this drive could have easily been labeled the 980 EVO as a replacement for the 970 EVO Plus. Along with switching to TLC NAND, Samsung has cut the write endurance ratings in half to 0.3 DWPD and dropped the usable capacities down to the typical TLC/EVO levels of 250/500/1000 GB instead of 256/512/1024 GB. TLC means the 980 PRO now relies on SLC caching for its peak write speeds, and write performance will drop substantially if the SLC cache is ever filled. However, Samsung has offset this by configuring the 980 PRO to use substantially larger SLC cache sizes than their previous EVO drives, and this is what will give it the Pro name more than anything else.. MSRPs are also now much lower, and comparable to other TLC-based PCIe 4 SSDs.

The basic layout and look of Samsung's M.2 NVMe SSDs has changed little over the years even as the components have been upgraded. The Elpis controller is their second to feature a metal heatspreader on the controller package. This is the third generation of drives to use copper foil in the label on the back of the drive as an additional heatspreader.

After the PCIe 4 support and 8nm fab process, the next most important feature of the new Samsung Elpis is its support for 128 IO queues, up from 32 in the previous Phoenix controller. The most common use case for multiple IO queues on a NVMe SSD is for the OS to assign one queue per CPU core, so that no core-to-core synchronization is required for software to submit new IO commands to the SSD. Now that CPU core counts have grown well beyond 32, it makes sense for Samsung to support more queues—especially since these NVMe controllers are also used in Samsung's entry-level enterprise and datacenter NVMe SSDs.

Samsung Client/Consumer PCIe SSD Controller History

Codename

Elpis

Phoenix

Polaris

UBX

UAX

Part Number

S4LV003

S4LR020

S4LP077

S4LN058

S4LN053

Host Interface

PCIe 4.0 x4

PCIe 3.0 x4

PCIe 3.0 x4

PCIe 3.0 x4

PCIe 2.0 x4

Protocol Support

NVMe 1.3c

NVMe 1.3

NVMe 1.2

NVMe 1.1(or AHCI)

AHCI

Number of IO Queues

128

32

7

8

1

Max Queue Size

16384 (per queue)

32

Fabrication Process

8nm

14nm

?

?

?

DRAM Support

LPDDR4

LPDDR4

LPDDR3

LPDDR3

LPDDR2

Retail ConsumerProducts

980 PRO

970 PRO970 EVO970 EVO Plus

960 PRO960 EVO

950 PRO

(None)

Client OEMProducts

PM9A1

SM981PM981

SM961PM961

SM951PM951

XP941

The NVMe protocol hasn't added any major must-have features since the version 1.1 used by the 950 PRO, but Samsung has maintained compliance with later versions and implemented some of the new optional features. The 980 PRO does not advertise compliance with the latest NVMe 1.4 specification and instead claims compliance with version 1.3c, but this has basically no practical impact.

This Review

For today's review, we're focused specifically on high-end consumer SSDs. The drives to pay attention to are:

Samsung 970 Pro (64L MLC)

Samsung 970 Evo (64L TLC)

Samsung 970 Evo Plus (92L TLC)

Any Phison E16 Drive at PCIe 4.0, such as Seagate FireCuda 520 (96L TLC)

Any Phison E12 Drive at PCIe 3.0, such as Seagate FireCuda 510 (64L TLC)

Any Silicon Motion SM2262 PCIe 3.0 drive, such as Kingston KC2500

Other Flagships: WD Black SN750, Intel Optane 905P, SK hynix Gold P31

We're also going to add in a PCIe 3.0 x8 enterprise drive, the Samsung PM1725a. The PM1725a is an interesting choice as it is a 6.4TB high-end enterprise SSD that's a few years old. Ithas as much PCIe bandwidth as new PCIe 4.0 x4 SSDs, but the PM1725a is tuned for enterprise use cases: its lack of SLC caching hurts peak write performance, but its read throughput is still impressive at over 6GB/s for sequential and over 1M IOPS for random reads. The downside is that it can require 20+ Watts to deliver that kind of performance. We shall see if the jump from PCIe 3.0x8 to PCIe4.0x4 of its own makes it worth it.

As always, comparisons against other drives can be made using our Bench tool.

Testing PCIe 4.0

Samsung 980 Pro

Testing PCIe 4.0

Cache Size Effects

AnandTech Storage Bench

Random IO Performance

Sequential IO Performance

Mixed Read/Write Performance

Power Management

Conclusion: Top Shelf, No Drama

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jeremyshaw

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

Given how fast the TLC was when the SLC cache was exhausted (and was undoubtedly working on flushing the SLC cache into TLC), I wonder how much faster the native TLC mode of the SSD could be?

Reply

Billy Tallis

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

Their ISSCC 2019 presentation about the 512Gbit 128L die (which will be used in the 2TB 980 PRO) claims a write speed of 82MB/s per die. The 1TB 980 PRO is using a total of 32 of the 256Gbit dies, and if it's the same speed then that would work out to 2624 MB/s. So that suggests the total drive fill process is barely slowed down at all by the SLC caching dance, and a datacenter drive using this NAND and controller could hit almost twice the write throughput the current 960GB 983 DCT is rated for.

Reply

System75

- Wednesday, September 23, 2020 -

link

Why don't you test a fully filled SSD performance anymore like you used to in AnandTech Storage Bench - Heavy? An empty 980 pro drive performance is not what its target consumer wants to know.

Reply

alyarb

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

thanks for the memories Samsung, but I'm out

Reply

nandnandnand

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

Is the Spirit of Hope dead?

Reply

Hyoyeon

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

That SK Hynix P31 could become my new favorite drive.

Reply

Hifihedgehog

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

Not quite. The P31 is an amazing value, but I have yet to find a lower latency drive than a Samsung. The P31 does nip at the heels and even surprises in some tests, but it still falls massively short in many latency-sensitive situations where it is easily outclassed by the 970 EVO Plus and above. You get what you pay for.

https://www.storagereview.com/review/sk-hynix-gold...

https://www.storagereview.com/review/sk-hynix-gold...

Reply

lmcd

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

For laptop usage that latency is not even close to worth it. I'm optimistic the upgrade from a 970 EVO (don't worry, it's primarily for a capacity upgrade) will help my inefficient Ryzen 2700U hold on a bit longer when off the charger.

Reply

MikeMurphy

- Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -

link

The P31 performs admirably and does so while consuming very little power and producing very little heat. It doesn't trounce the Samsung drives in every metric but at that price and power budget it doesn't have to.

Reply

Samus

- Wednesday, September 23, 2020 -

link

If Hynix wanted to crank up the heat and power consumption, there is nothing stopping them operating the controller at a higher frequency to reduce the latency caused by processing overhead.But they realize there is no need for this at the moment as they have a product that is class-leading in a class it doesn't even compete in.

Reply

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