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Samsung SM961 1TB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD Review

By: Jon Coulter | m.2 SSDs in Storage | Posted: Jul 4, 2016 1:10 pm
TweakTown Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Samsung

Moderate Workload Model


We categorize these tests as indicative of a moderate workload environment.


PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests


Version and / or Patch Used:


The reason we like PCMark Vantage is because the recorded traces are played back without system stops. What we see is the raw performance of the drive. This allows us to see a marked difference between scoring that other trace-based benchmarks do not exhibit. An example of a marked difference in scoring on the same drive would be empty vs. filled vs. steady state.


We run Vantage three ways. The first run is with the OS drive 75% full to simulate a lightly used OS volume filled with data to an amount we feel is common for most users. The second run is with the OS volume written into a "Steady State" utilizing SNIA's consumer guidelines. Steady state testing simulates a drive's performance similar to that of a drive that been subjected to consumer workloads for extensive amounts of time. The third run is a Vantage HDD test with the test drive attached as an empty, lightly used secondary device.


OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used





OS Volume 75% Full - Steady State




Secondary Volume Empty - FOB




There's a big difference between an empty drive, one that's 75% full/used, and one that's in a steady state.




The important scores to pay attention to are "OS Volume Steady State" and "OS Volume 75% full." These two categories are most important because they are indicative of typical of consumer user states. When a drive is in a steady state, it means garbage collection is running at the same time it's reading/writing. This is exactly why we focus on steady state performance.


With the anomalies we saw with Anvil's, CDM, and now an unexpectedly low score with Vantage in a steady-state, we began to wonder if the Windows 10 NVMe driver could be part of the problem.


We had already run our Maxed Out Performance benchmarks with Server 2012, and they are much better than Windows 10 results. So much better in fact that it points to the Windows 10 NVMe driver, or Windows 10 itself, being a potential issue. Windows 10 and Server 2012 have different versions of Microsoft's standard NVMe driver. Server 2012 and Windows 8.1 share a common NVMe driver. Unfortunately, there is not a dedicated Samsung NVMe driver that is compatible with the SM961, at least not yet.


We decided to load up Windows 8.1 to see if steady-state performance would improve. Windows 8.1 yielded much better results, indicating that potentially, the Windows 10 NVMe driver is at least part of the reason the SM961 is not delivering the kind of results we expected to see from the SM961 with moderate workloads.


With Windows 8.1, the SM961 gained 9K in scoring and went from a fourth-place steady-state result to a second place steady-state result, surpassing OCZ's potent RD400 and Toshiba's XG3. We are not fans of using Windows 8.1 for our testing purposes because it is becoming more irrelevant with each passing day, but for investigative purposes, we decided to utilize it as a comparison point with our moderate workload testing.



PCMark 7 - System Storage


Version and / or Patch Used: 1.4.0


We will look to Raw System Storage scoring for evaluation because it's done without system stops and, therefore, allows us to see significant scoring differences between drives.


OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used






We will admit, we were expecting to see the SM961 outperform the 950 Pro with moderate workloads, but without a dedicated driver, it looks like that is not going to happen. Again, we can see that the Windows 8.1 NVMe driver, or maybe it's just the OS itself, delivering a substantial performance increase over Windows 10.



PCMark 8 - Storage Bandwidth


Version and / or Patch Used: 2.4.304


We use PCMark 8 Storage benchmark to test the performance of SSDs, HDDs, and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and a selection of popular games. You can test the system drive or any other recognized storage device, including local external drives. Unlike synthetic storage tests, the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.


OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used






PCMark 8 is the most intensive moderate workload simulation we run. With respect to moderate consumer type workloads, this test is what we consider the best indicator of a drive's performance. Running Windows 8.1 takes the SM961 from last to second best. Windows 8.1 makes a huge difference in this test. We know that this disparity in performance isn't unique to our setup because we know of others who have experienced the same phenomenon with similar SM961/Z170/Win 10 configurations.


We highlighted the performance of "Photoshop Heavy" on our screenshot because it is about six seconds more (worse) than we are getting from Win 8.1 and Server 2012. We feel this is where the majority of the bandwidth disparity we are seeing stems from.

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