One year ago, Samsung flexed its tech muscle and delivered the first retail SSD with triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash, 840 EVO. 2D planar NAND flash, typically referred to as SLC, MLC or TLC got us to where we are today...well yesterday. Like other silicon-based technology, improvements come from lithography shrinks. The smaller the lithography, the less expensive the part is to manufacture since the parts physically shrink in size. At some point a line is crossed where the cost to further shrink a technology becomes greater the than the money saved in manufacturing. The trick is to build a new technology before crossing that line.
Today Samsung opens a new chapter in the book of flash and it's titled 3D NAND. Samsung named its new vertical flash V-NAND. Built 32 layers high and using 3xnm lithography, this new technology reduces costs by doubling density, increases performance, endurance and reliability. At the same time, new technologies adapted by the industry allow SSDs to reduce power consumption, a feature found on the world's first consumer V-NAND SSD.
A few years ago, an SSD engineer told us that NAND flash technology was moving too rapidly and if we could take older flash and use it with a modern SSD controller, the speeds would be amazing. The Samsung 850 Pro is the closest we will ever be to testing that theory. As flash die capacity increases and the physical size of the die shrinks, the flash actually loses latency performance.
SSDs from a few years ago didn't use SLC layer programming but had less latency. This is why several current generation small capacity SSDs are actually slower than SSDs released two years ago. Samsung's current TLC NAND uses a 19nm process and the MLC used on the 840 Pro uses a 21nm process. The company's new V-NAND is 3xnm, somewhere between 30nm and 39nm but we suspect it's somewhere in the 30 to 34nm range.
Moving back to 3xnm is a game changer, as you will see today. The Samsung 850 Pro uses the same MEX controller found in the 840 EVO so we finally get to put the engineer's theory to the test. The on paper benefits are quite impressive, let's take a look at the specifications.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The Samsung 850 Pro comes in four capacity sizes that range from 128GB to 1TB (1024GB). The controller is the 3-core MEX model used on the 840 EVO that launched one year ago. Samsung recently told us the controller was built for both 2D planar and 3D vertical flash from creation. All four capacity sizes use a LPDDR2 (Low Power DDR2) DRAM buffer for table data, the largest being 1GB in size for the 1TB model we're testing in this article.
Things get very interesting when we turn our attention to the flash. 850 Pro is the first consumer SSD to use a 3D structure. Samsung's 3xnm V-NAND MLC flash has a rating of 30K P/E cycles, or 30x more than Samsung's 2D planar 19nm TLC flash. The end result is a TBW rating of 150TB, higher than some modern enterprise SSDs using eMLC flash. On a typical consumer workload, that means the flash in the 850 Pro may live longer than I will.
The 850 Pro also brings professional additions to the Pro product family. TCG Opal 2.0 and eDrive full hardware disk encryption as well as DEVSLP for power savings. Samsung also used the 850 Pro product launch to increase RAPID Mode capabilities. The software still uses 25% of the system DRAM when enabled, but the ceiling has been increased from 1GB to 4GB, on a system with 16GB of RAM.
Performance wise, the 850 Pro product line has a very tight group with the 128GB model (review coming later today) having slightly slower sequential write performance at 470 MB/s. The other capacity sizes write sequential data at 520 MB/s and all models read sequential data at 550 MB/s. Samsung is the only consumer SSD manufacture to list queue depth 1 random performance, a metric with a higher value for consumer workloads than QD32. The 850 Pro crushes most other SSDs with a 10K read IOPS rating at QD1, also in all capacity sizes. QD1 random write IOPS tip the scale at 36K and the QD32 random write IOPS are 90K.
The Samsung 850 Pro comes with a 10-year warranty (or 150TB writes) and ships in a drive only package. Users can download Samsung's Magician software to optimize the Windows PC, secure erase the drive and run other tasks. Samsung also has a data migration software separate but also available to download for free from Samsung's website.
The 850 Pro 1TB model we're testing today has an MSRP of $729.99 and should hit e-tailers on or around July 14, 2014.
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