Introduction & Specifications, Pricing and Availability
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.
Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SSD
The 850 Pro packages are a bit more menacing than the previous models.
The back of the proposed retail package shows the performance specifications, something we really like for retail shoppers. A list of features and the warranty information is also on the back. We call this the proposed package because sometime after SanDisk launched the Extreme Pro and my writing this review, the warranty moved from 5 years to 10.
The 850 Pro we received is a bare drive model with the SSD, two paper booklets and two stickers.
Here we get our first look at the drive. The square at the bottom now has a reddish tint to it while the older models were orange.
The model number, serial number and capacity size information is on the back of the drive.
The 850 Pro is a 7mm z-height SSD so it fits in the growing number of Ultrabooks on the market.
Inside we found a very small PCB inside the 2.5" drive case. Samsung is able to reduce the total manufacturing cost by shrinking the design. The 128GB model uses an even smaller PCB.
The overall design is actually very simple and cost effective.
Samsung used the 3-core MEX controller on 850 Pro, the same used in the EVO products.
The 1TB model we're looking at here has a 1GB LPDDR2 DRAM buffer.
Since the 850 Pro uses the same controller as the 840 EVO, the NAND flash is the main difference, along with the controller programming. This is our first real up close look at Samsung's new 3D V-NAND. On the surface it really doesn't look much different than 2D planar NAND that we've used since the first consumer SSDs hit the market.
Samsung used eight flash packages to get to the 1TB capacity size on the 850 Pro 2.5" drive.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation
We use two systems for SSD testing. The desktop runs a majority of the tests, and the Lenovo W530 runs the notebook power tests as well as the real-world file transfer benchmark.
ATTO - Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
We like to use ATTO, the industry standard, to look at baseline performance on a new drive. The sequential read performance of 564 MB/s is one of the highest we've tested on a consumer SATA SSD to date. We achieved 535 MB/s sequential write with the 850 Pro, a little less than we hoped for but still high result.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
HD Tune PRO - Sequential Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.55
We put together a nice collection of drives for the 1TB class charts today. The 840 EVO 1TB is missing, Samsung never sent one but we did have a 750GB model and included it in the charts. The other drives are all 1TB class with the SanDisk Extreme PRO 960GB next to the 850 Pro. In our Extreme PRO review, we determined that SanDisk produced the first hyper performance 1TB class SATA SSD. Hot on it's heels comes the new Samsung 850 Pro 1TB class SSD. For the most part, this will be a showdown between these two new, and very fast drives.
The Samsung 850 Pro 1TB delivered a solid performance when reading from the entire user LBA range. The average 64KB read was 469.6 MB/s with the maximum and minimum in very close proximity.
The 64KB write sequential write test shows why the SanDisk and Samsung 850 Pro products are in another league when compared to the other drives on the chart. The 850 Pro is a little faster here and delivers the same consistent performance as the Extreme PRO.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
Version and / or Patch Used: 220.127.116.11
In years past, we've observed Samsung SSDs losing a lot of sequential write performance after a reasonable amount of random write load. The 850 Pro 1TB, and even the 128GB model does much better this time around.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC6
So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests; you can run a full test or just the read or the write test, or you can run a single test, i.e. 4k QD16.
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet, but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums, has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.
The software can be used several different ways to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
0-Fill Compressible Data
Regardless of the data type, the 850 Pro 1TB delivers a bit over 5,600 combined score in Anvil's test. That means like other Samsung SSDs, performance doesn't drop when working with incompressible data.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth
Our 1TB sample from Samsung brushed right up against the 100K IOPS 4K read barrier as advertised. It's a nice metric for advertising but we're more concerned about the low queue depth performance. The Samsung 850 PRO achieves the magic 10K read IOPS mark at QD1. To date, very few SSDs, even PCIe SSDs, are able to reach that high. The 850 Pro scales very well too, nearly doubling IOPS with each pass as the queue depth increases to 4.
Write IOPS through Queue Depth
Several of the new generation consumer 1TB class SSDs handle random data writes well thanks to cache schemes like nCache, Turbo Write and functions built into L85C flash. This test uses bursts of small writes so everything stays within the cache range.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage (Drives with Data Testing)
PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing, please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files PROvided in the article; full instructions are included.
SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.
Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test
Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)
60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB
120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB
240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB
Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.
Diving right into the thick of the fire, the first truly impressive result from the 850 Pro comes from the drives ability to remain fast even with data on the flash. It's been quite some time since we've record anything over 50K Marks when 50% of the flash filled with data. The Samsung 850 PRO manages to push past 56K, a new record for any consumer SATA-based SSD.
PCMark 8 Consistency Test
Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended - Consistency Test
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.228
Heavy Usage Model:
FutureMark's PCMark 8 allows us to wear the test drive down to a reasonable consumer steady state and then watch the drive recover on its own through garbage collection. To do that, the drive gets pushed down to steady state with random writes and then idle time between a number of tests allows the drive to recover.
1. Write to the drive sequentially through up to the reported capacity with random data.
2. Write the drive through a second time (to take care of overprovisioning).
1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 10 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 8 times, and on each pass increase the duration of random writes by 5 minutes.
Steady state Phase:
1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 50 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.
1. Idle for 5 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.
PCMark 8's Consistency test provides a ton of data output that we use to judge a drive's performance.
Here we get our first look at the new RAPID Mode that now uses up to 4GB of DRAM, up from the previous 1GB mark. RAPID will use 25% of your system DRAM, up to 4GB total on a system with 16GB.
Also in this section is the 850 Pro 1TB without RAPID Mode, let's start with that configuration. The 850 Pro on it's own manages to secure the top spot for Recovery 1 and Recovery 1 performance. These are light use and after idle time performances. The blue line, heavy use, shows the 850 Pro is a little slower than the Extreme PRO 960GB but only by a small margin.
RAPID Mode increases the two light load performances but decreases the performance under a heavy, dirty state. The DRAM cache fills up and then needs to dump the data to the drive while at the same time data is coming and going from the drive. This slows everything down some. Cache misses also comes into play as well as they add latency.
Storage Bandwidth - All Tests
Here we see the bandwidth results from all of the tests. RAPID does a very good job when the road is open, like when under a light workload or the flash is clean. The 850 Pro 1TB on it's own does much better under heavy load and manages to secure a position in the hyper class of 1TB products. The SanDisk Extreme PRO, the 850 Pro's only competition in this capacity size delivers more consistent bandwidth but is a little slower than the flash is clean.
PCMark 8 Consistency Test - Continued
Total Access Time
The access time test measures the total latency across all 18 tests. This is one of, if not the most important test we run at this time for consumer SSDs. When your latency is low your computer feels fast, it's just that simple.
RAPID Mode gives up some throughput to deliver better overall user experience. This comes from lower latency. The chart clearly shows how RAPID decreases total latency time in the tests when compared to the 850 Pro 1TB as a standalone product. Under heavy use, the Extreme PRO 960GB has better latency and that carries over through all of the tests making it a more consistent performer.
Disk Busy Time
In the final test, we measure the amount of time the drive worked to read and write the data to complete the test. When a drive is active, it uses more power so the faster it can complete the tasks the faster it can fall into a low power state.
This is a very interesting chart with the RAPID Mode software running. We expected the 850 Pro running with the cache software to work less than the 850 Pro not running the software. That wasn't the case. The software actually makes the drive work longer since the data needs to flush to the drive after passing through DRAM.
Benchmarks - Notebook Battery Life
Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
Note: In this test, we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSpeed S301 SLC 128GB SSD to move a 15GB block of data to and from the target drive. This is part of our real-world test regiment. Roughly 45GB of data resides on the target drive before the '15GB Block' is transferred. The 15GB Block is the same data we built for the Data on Disk Testing and is a mix of compressible and incompressible data.
On the Disk Busy Time chart on the previous page we observed the 850 Pro taking longer to complete tasks than the Extreme PRO 960GB. We didn't talk about it on that page for a reason, we wanted to tie disk busy time into notebook battery life.
The faster a drive completes the read and write operation, the faster it can fall back into a lower sleep state. While Windows has sleep state, drives have onboard sleep states as well .The Samsung 850 Pro uses less power than the Extreme PRO while in use, it takes longer to compete IO tasks and this means the time at a lower sleep state is reduced. That's why the Extreme PRO delivers longer battery life in this test.
That isn't the end of the power story though because the notebook used for the test uses an Ivy Bridge processor and chipset. That means we can't test DEVSLP, an area that the 850 Pro does very well in. We're working on securing a new platform now that takes advantage of the lowest sleep state capabilities.
I was genuinely excited about the Samsung 850 Pro 1TB all the way through this article. Everything until this point was finished roughly 24 hours before writing the Final Thoughts sections. We had to wait for Samsung's MSRP list to hit our email and when it came, it hit hard.
Throughout the entire article, we focused on two drives, SanDisk's Extreme PRO 960GB and the 850 Pro 1TB. In this capacity size, those two drives are the only products that focus on performance consistency and deliver exceptional latency results under heavy stress. It makes my job much easier when only two products are at a higher level. I call this level of performance the hyper class of SSDs, taken from the automobile industry, hyper cars. The class isn't just about performance though, the lineage to the term also refers to the price and this is where the 850 Pro and Extreme PRO 1TB class shows separation.
With a scale tipping MSRP of $729.99, the 850 Pro is fast but it's also expensive. In comparison, the Extreme PRO 960GB costs $599.99 at Newegg today. Both drives carry the same 10-year warranty length and DEVSLP low power states (although the 850 Pro uses less power in the lowest sleep state).
There are other large distinctions between these two products and the rest of them fall into Samsung's favor. The DEVSLP power rate is lower and that will increase battery life in standby mode. The 850 Pro also features full hardware disk encryption via TCG Opal 2.0 and eDrive, features not found on the Extreme PRO (but not used by many enthusiasts, gamers or prosumers). We stated that both have a 10-year warranty but that is only part of the warranty plan. The Samsung 850 Pro has a TBW of 150TB (Total Bytes Written) whereas the Extreme PRO uses the media wear indicator and lists as >80 (TB). We're measuring apples to oranges there but on paper the 850 Pro has an advantage.
I wish I could say that there is a clear defining winner in this match but there isn't. Both drives mixed it up well and have strong points over the other and there is a large price difference between the two. If the prices were the same, this would be an open and shut case for most users but the prices are not the same. Samsung priced the 850 1TB out of many enthusiast's reach.
At $599.99 the Extreme PRO isn't all that much better but to quantify it, it's $130 better. This is also close to the same price difference between Crucial's M550 1TB ($439.99) to SanDisk's Extreme PRO. The easiest way for Samsung to settle this would be for the company to lower the price from the stratosphere. We always expect prices to fall below the MSRP but it takes time. For Samsung to be competitive with the 850 Pro 1TB it will need to happen sooner rather than later.
UPDATE: At the 2014 Samsung SSD Global Summit, we learned that Samsung pushed the 850 Pro release back to July 21, 2014. Also, the 850 Pro 1TB price has changed to $699.99 from the quoted $730.
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