Sam­sung 970 EVO SSD

Max­ing out PCI ex­press band­width is Jarred Wal­ton’s crown­ing glory.

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The mar­ket- and per­for­mance-lead­ing M.2 SSD gets an update. Should you be throw­ing all your cash at this drive or is there some­thing bet­ter on the mar­ket?

Sam­sung is one of the big­gest play­ers in the SSD mar­ket, thanks to its ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion. Un­like many com­peti­tors, Sam­sung makes its own NAND, con­troller, firmware and drives. This gives it ad­van­tages in both pric­ing and per­for­mance, and Sam­sung has been at or near the top of the NVMe stack since it launched the 950 Pro in late 2015.

The 960 Pro and Evo im­proved on the for­mula, with the Pro de­liv­er­ing higher per­for­mance while the Evo fo­cused on de­liv­er­ing good but slightly lower per­for­mance at a lower price. Eigh­teen months later, the Sam­sung 970 Pro and Evo re­peat the story. They’re the re­vised and im­proved ver­sion of the 960 lineup.

Faster, more in­tense

The 970 Evo has a few note­wor­thy changes. First, the new and ‘en­hanced’ Phoenix con­troller has five cores, just like the pre­ced­ing Po­laris con­troller, one of which is ded­i­cated to com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the host sys­tem and the con­troller. It’s clocked higher, al­though Sam­sung doesn’t spec­ify the ex­act clock­speed. Max­i­mum ca­pac­ity and en­durance have both im­proved sub­stan­tially, with a 2TB model now avail­able: En­durance scales di­rectly with ca­pac­ity, at a rate of 150TB writ­ten per 250GB. This is a 50 per cent im­prove­ment com­pared to the 960 Evo line.

The changes to the con­troller and V-NAND af­fect max­i­mum read/write per­for­mance based on ca­pac­ity. IOPS are up, se­quen­tial through­put is up, the war­ranty is now five years and the launch prices are all down.

These are all clear steps for­ward, but the per­for­mance lev­els are so fast that most users are un­likely to no­tice a mas­sive change. In prac­tice, most of the ben­e­fits of an NVMe SSD over a stan­dard SATA SSD are only vis­i­ble when you’re do­ing heavy file ma­nip­u­la­tion. For pro­fes­sional use, tasks like soft­ware de­vel­op­ment and com­pil­ing large projects, or run­ning mul­ti­ple VMs on a work­sta­tion, can also show the ad­van­tages of NVMe drives.

The 970 Evo rates near the top of our tests with only In­tel’s Op­tane 900P dis­tanc­ing it­self from the other NVMe drives. Among the M.2 drives we’ve tested, the 970 Evo 1TB takes first place, and the 500GB model is fourth, with the 512GB 960 Pro and 950 Pro sit­ting in be­tween. Com­pared to the 960 Evo 500GB, the 970 Evo 500GB beats it by 17 per cent in our per­for­mance test.

The dif­fi­culty with NVMe drives is that price per GB is of­ten the de­cid­ing fac­tor when shop­ping for SSDs, and SATA drives con­tinue to hold a clear ad­van­tage. Our favourite SATA SSD right now is the 1TB Cru­cial MX500, which costs 20p per GB; the Sam­sung 970 Evo 1TB costs 38p – that’s 90 per cent more ex­pen­sive.

Some­thing else to point out is that we’re dan­ger­ously close to sat­u­rat­ing the PCIe bus with x4 Gen3 con­nec­tions, par­tic­u­larly for se­quen­tial trans­fers. The Sam­sung 970 Pro only boasts slightly bet­ter max­i­mum through­put, likely be­cause the x4 link doesn’t let it shine. Bring on PCIe Gen4.

The 970 EVO ex­hibits im­proved per­for­mance over its pre­de­ces­sor.

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