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Samsung SM961 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD Review

Samsung SM961 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD Review
Legendary before it even launched, Samsung's second generation OEM M.2 NVMe SSD, the SM961, is in the lab for testing.
By: Jon Coulter | m.2 SSDs in Storage | Posted: Jul 4, 2016 1:10 pm
TweakTown Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Samsung

Introduction

 

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The codename "Polaris" is a hot topic these days. The "Polaris" most people have on their mind is AMD's brand new low-cost high-performance GPU. However, there is another "Polaris" that the storage enthusiast community has been on the edge of their seats waiting for. Well, now it has arrived. Samsung's newest M.2 NVMe SSD, the SM961, is their first client SSD to feature Samsung's Polaris SSD controller. We in the storage community caught wind of Samsung's OEM SM961 at CES back in January of this year. What immediately grabbed our attention was the massive sequential read/write speeds that were given: 3200 MB/s sequential read and 1800 MB/s sequential write. Those sequential speeds are attention grabbing because they are by far the highest ever given for a client SSD, and all that speed is packed onto a tiny M.2 form factor.

 

 

Samsung's OEM SM961 NVMe M.2 SSD is full of first's for a Samsung SSD. In addition to a new SSD controller, Samsung's SM961 affords us our first look at Samsung's new 48-layer MLC flash. Samsung's 256Gbit 48-layer flash packs enough density that all capacity points in the SM961 series to come in a single sided 2280 M.2 form factor; including the 1TB model. As notebooks, 2-in-1 systems, and tablets continue to get thinner, the need for high capacity single sided M.2 SSDs has become more pronounced.

 

At this time, we know very little about Samsung's Polaris NVMe controller. It is rumored to have a 5-core CPU, but we haven't been able to confirm whether or not this is factual. Five-cores does seem plausible considering the substantial sequential speed increase in comparison to the 3-core Samsung UBX NVMe controller it is replacing. Samsung's given sequential specifications for the SM961 are downright amazing; however, we immediately found out that the 3200/1800 MB/s sequential speeds are actually conservative figures. Here is a screenshot of the first "test hit" we ran after receiving our 1TB SM961 from the Australian memory upgrade specialists RamCity:

 

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The first thing that jumps out is, of course, the otherworldly sequential read speed of over 3500 MB/s. To put that kind of speed into perspective, it is 800 MB/s faster than any client/consumer SSD we've ever tested. 3500 MB/s sequential read performance is even faster than all but one enterprise SSD we've tested. The 1900 MB/s sequential write speed is nearly as impressive in its own right, a full 100MB/s faster than factory specification and 400 MB/s faster than Samsung's own 950 Pro 512GB. 4K QD1 random read performance is also eye catching at 61 MB/s.

 

Samsung's SM961 brings with it a new level of sequential performance. Typically, with an increase in performance comes an increase in price. In the case of Samsung's SM961, the opposite is occurring. The SM961 at launch is priced significantly lower than the SM951 it is replacing. As it stands, Samsung's SM961 is by far the lowest cost MLC powered M.2 NVMe SSD on the market. We paid $639.99 AUD for the 1TB SM961, which as of June 30, 2016, converts to just $476.82 USD. As a bonus, there were no taxes to be paid when ordering from the USA.

 

Our experience ordering from RamCity is as good as it gets. RamCity might be half a world away, but they still manage to deliver a buyer's experience that is a cut above anyone we've ever dealt with. Three-day shipping was a mere $26 AUD ($19.35 USD), we received email updates and tracking info every step of the way. RamCity's upgrade experts even reached out to see if we needed any assistance with upgrading to the SM961. Our order shipped and arrived right on schedule.

 

So far, we've been unable to get our hands-on an official data sheet, so everything we know about Samsung's SM961 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD is a result of piecing together available information coupled with our own research.

 

 

Specifications

 

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Samsung's OEM SM961 M.2 x 2280 NVMe SSD is available in four capacities: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1024GB (1-terabyte). We will go over the specifications for the 1TB model we have on hand.

 

4K Random Read / Write = up to 450K/400K IOPS. Sequential Read / Write = up to 3200 / 1800 MB/s. Typical power consumption = 6.5W Active/ 0.8W idle. Controller = Samsung Polaris NVMe controller. NAND = 2bit Samsung 48-layer VNAND. DRAM Cache = 1GB on the 1TB model. Onboard Power-loss Protection = No.

 

RamCity warranties the SM961 for three years. TBW = Unknown. We are not absolutely sure of the 400K random write IOPS figure. We did see that figure in several published images, and it is listed on RamCity's spec sheet. However, we were not able to get over 347K IOPS with our configuration, even though we were able to greatly exceeded 450K random read IOPS.

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