HP EX950 SSD Review - When you want the fastest

HP EX950 SSD Review - When you want the fastest

In our application tests, HP's 1TB EX950 outperformed every other consumer NVMe SSD on the market, making the 1TB EX950 number one!

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Wed, Jan 16 2019 10:00 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Sep 24 2019 12:27 AM CDT

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

HP released one of the most impressive consumer NVMe SSDs of 2018. The HP EX920 announcement came early in the year, during CES, but the drives went relatively unnoticed until May when reviews hit the web. With the new EX950, HP will get the product to market sooner and have momentum from the success of the previous flagship NVMe SSD.

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The EX950 NVMe SSD from HP used the Silicon Motion, Inc. (SMI) SM2262EN controller. This is an updated model with programming tweaks and a hardware change to improve the efficiency of incoming data (SMI calls it an optimized data path). Like the new ADATA SX8200 Pro, HP chose Micron's proven 64-layer 3-bit per cell NAND flash memory to pair with the new controller.

Specifications

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HP will bring the EX950 to market in three capacities. The series will scale from 512GB to 2TB. There isn't a 256GB model at this time despite the FCC leak showing that capacity. HP lists sequential read performance at 3,500 MB/s for all three sizes. This is the same rating as the ADATA SX8200 Pro but the sequential write performance is slightly down from that series. The two largest capacity drives rate at 2,900 MB/s. The difference is likely due to changes in the testing process.

The HP drives do score slightly higher in the random category. The two largest drives rate at 410,000 IOPS read. The 2TB reaches 380,000 IOPS write while the 1TB and 512GB rate at 370,000 IOPS write.

HP didn't cramp users with unnecessary overprovisioning on the EX950 series. This follows the predecessor EX920 and may have played a role in the performance difference we observed in the SX8200 and EX920 - a performance battle HP won. Today we will see if HP pulls off the same magic in relation to the 2019 SSD wars.

Pricing, Warranty, and Endurance

At the time of writing, the EX950 series was not on Newegg or Amazon. We scored pricing details from HP in the form of MSRPs (suggested prices). The suggested prices rarely hold for more than a few weeks with SSDs so expect retail pricing to be the same as, or less than what we list today.

The EX950 2TB should hit the web at $399 on day one. The 1TB model drops to $229 and the 512GB for just $119.

HP covers the EX950 series with a strong 5-year warranty and a healthy dose of endurance for each model. The 512GB endurance rates at 320 TBW. That more than doubles for the 1TB model to 650 TBW and the massive 2TB model gets 1,400 TBW.

A Closer Look

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HP didn't try to reinvent the wheel with the EX950 packaging. The design is similar to the previous generation, and we can say the same for the drive itself. In the package, we found a well put together manual that doubles as the warranty packet and a fine thread screw often used to secure M.2 SSDs in motherboards.

1TB Class Performance Testing

Product Comparison

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The obvious comparison we want to look at today is between the new HP EX950 and the new ADATA SX8200 Pro. We also have the HP EX920 in the 1TB charts today to see how this series compares to the model it replaces with an older controller, but the same 64-layer flash.

The MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro is the only other "next-generation" NVMe SSD on the charts today. The others came to market in early 2018 or even 2017.

Sequential Read Performance

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It's difficult to see the 1TB HP EX950 in the sequential read chart. The performance line is identical to the ADATA SX8200 Pro's line. The drives match the 1TB Samsung 970 Pro at queue depth 1 (QD1) reads and overtake the iconic drive by QD4. The best drive reaches the peak sequential reads we will see with PCI Express 3, just a hair over 3,500 MB/s.

Sequential Write Performance

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Only the three next-generation drives in this review reach the peak 3,000 MB/s sequential write speeds. The EX950 reaches that high mark between QD2 and QD4. It dominates the Samsung 970 Pro in the burst tests.

Sustained Sequential Write Performance

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Using a simple single 128KB sequential write across the drives, we see how large the default SLC cache is, and exactly how fast the writes take place. The BPX Pro has one of the largest SLC buffers with the SX8200 Pro and EX950 right behind. The 970 Pro with MLC flash doesn't show a drop off because it doesn't use an SLC cache, just the MLC memory to muscle the writes.

The SX8200 Pro and EX950 show nearly identical performance in this test with very similar data patterns. This is different from the models both replace. ADATA chose to use a large overprovision on last year's drive. This year's models use the full capacity, and because of that, we may not see much of a difference.

Random Read Performance

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The SMI SM2262/SM2262EN controllers are the undisputed leaders in the random read performance category. We know this from the previous generation and from the SX8200 Pro review. The HP EX950 joins the new ADATA drive with toppling the previous records set by the EX920.

EX920 held a slight performance lead over the SX8200 in the previous round in the 1TB class products. With the 2019 products, both ADATA and HP chose to use similar firmware and overprovisioning. The charts show the SX8200 Pro with a slight performance lead, but the results are so close we can call this a tie. This also means HP will likely not have a measurable advantage this round over ADATA when it comes to real-world applications.

Random Write Performance

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Although not as important as random read performance, the two SM2262EN drives show similar performance in random data writes.

70% Read Sequential Performance

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We only identified one weak point with the 1TB EX950. The drive doesn't scale with sequential mixed workloads as well as many other drives shipping today. The performance is actually weaker than the previous generation 1TB EX920, but this appears to be less of an HP issue and more of an issue with the SM2262EN architecture.

Users will see more than 1,200 MB/s, so it's not as if the performance is "slow" by any means. This workload comes mainly in video editing and automated photo manipulation (batch editing) so it's likely the CPU will not be able to saturate the available bandwidth to start with.

70% Read Random Performance

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The 1TB EX950 doesn't have any issues with mixed random performance. The drive performs in the top two at QD2 and like the many of the other synthetic tests on this page, is a virtual tie with the other top tier model.

1TB Class Real-World Performance Testing

Game Load Time

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The HP EX950 may have trailed the ADATA SX8200 Pro in many of the synthetic tests on the previous page but it comes alive in the real-world applications. The Game Load Time test uses Final Fantasy: STORMBLOOD and measures the time it takes to load into a handful of levels. The 1TB EX950 delivers the fastest level load time we've recorded with a non-Optane class (Optane or Z-NAND) SSD. The drive actually gets very close to the Optane-class drives.

PCMark 8 Total Storage Bandwidth

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The 1TB EX950 also scores very well in the PCMark 8 Storage Bandwidth test. This software suite uses nine applications that many of us use every day to record measurements for ten tests. The EX950 outpaces the SX8200 Pro by a very small margin. The drive also outperforms the previous generation by roughly 50 MB/s on average.

PCMark 8 Extended Storage Test

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The EX950 is not a powerhouse for workstation use under heavy workloads. This was also an issue on the previous generation. HP and SMI have made great strides in improving performance under very heavy workloads, but the SM2262EN controller with 64L flash combination is still well below Samsung's 970 series, Phison's E12, and the WD/SanDisk models released in 2018.

SYSmark 2014 SE System Responsiveness and Power Tests

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The BAPCo SYSmark 2014 SE suite introduced the first system responsiveness test. This is a measurement of the latency between a request and the action starting. The latency is what people notice; it's what makes a PC feel fast or slow. We often associate this with the user experience.

The 1TB HP EX950 scores the highest in the test for all flash-based SSD we've ever tested. The increase is just two points more than the previous generation and ADATA SX8200 Pro. Most users would have a difficult time spotting the difference between these three drives, but the EX950 leaves no doubt in your mind that it's the best user experience you can get this side of Optane.

Notebook Battery Life

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The increased performance would lead you to believe that the HP EX950 uses more power than the previous generation. That may be true, but you will not notice a loss of notebook battery life. The two HP drives in this review both score 325 minutes in MobileMark 2012 v. 1.5.

Final Thoughts

Next generation NVMe SSDs mostly all share the same performance ratings. These products operate at the highest levels allowed by four lanes of PCIe Gen 3, but yet, we still see some differences.

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On paper and in the synthetic tests the new HP 1TB EX950 looks slower than the new ADATA 1TB SX8200 Pro. In our application tests, the 1TB EX950 outperformed every other consumer NVMe SSD on the market, including the SX8200 Pro. This is, by a little bit, the fastest non-Optane class SSD we've tested.

That makes it technically the fastest affordable NVMe SSD available today, but the results are so close you might not notice your video game loading a split second faster compared to a similar product from a competitor.

In those situations, shoppers rely more on other factors than pure performance alone. The 1TB HP EX950 ships with a class-leading 5-year warranty and strong 650 TBW endurance rating. The 1TB model we tested today carries a MSRP of $229 (around $10 more than the 1TB ADATA SX8200 Pro at the time of writing). HP doesn't offer a software suite, or a flimsy piece of metal you can attach with double-sided tape and call it a heat sink, like the SX8200 Pro. These may or may not sway your purchasing decision.

HP's decision to replace the 256GB model with a much larger 2TB drive is a strong move for the target market. The EX950's target market is gamers, eSports specifically. I do know pro gamers from this job, but you don't have to be one to want a massive 2TB NVMe SSD. In the coming weeks, we will publish the 2TB review. The drive will have to sit on the back burner for a little while as we roll out other next-generation NVMe SSDs coming to market in rapid succession.

We can't name names for the other products now but will say that none of them are faster than the 1TB EX950. That is not to say a faster NVMe SSD will come to market this year, but with all of the drives coming to market over the next month, nothing is faster.

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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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