The Bottom Line
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
The 2TB and 1TB HP EX950 models performed very well in our testing, and we found the pricing in line with most other premium NVMe SSDs released in early 2019. The 512GB EX950 uses the same playbook to deliver exceptional performance, but this capacity gets very close to a $100 price point.
In the 960GB Crucial BX500 review, a DRAMless SATA SSD that also nears the $100 mark, we talked about using two drives to split the operating system and games. This keeps performance high for both drives by reducing the amount of data on each and segmenting the files, operating system and applications.
The premise is to use a small capacity, high-performance NVMe SSD for your operating system and a larger SATA SSD for your applications. Good quality NVMe SSDs generally double the cost per gigabyte over SATA so you could reasonably get more capacity per Dollar with a two drive storage solution while retaining similar performance to one large NVMe SSD.
HP released the EX950 series in three capacities with the 512GB the smallest in the series. This is a departure from the EX920 came to market last year and spanned 256GB to 1TB. The new EX950 adds a 2TB model at the top.
The 512GB EX950 we're focused on today sports slightly lower specifications compared to the 1TB and 2TB models. The sequential read performance retains the same at 3,500 MB/s. The sequential write speed dips to 2,250 MB/s, down from 2,900 MB/s. The random read performance also takes a small dip from 410,000 IOPS (1TB and 2TB models) to 390,000 IOPS (512GB model). The random write performance remains the same as the 1TB EX950, at 370,000 IOPS.
HP reaches this level of performance by replacing the Silicon Motion, Inc. SM2262 controller from the EX920 released last year. The new controller is the SM2262EN with an improved data path and firmware optimizations. HP matched the new controller with the same 64L 3-bit per cell memory from Micron used on the EX920.
Pricing, Warranty, and Endurance
Pricing remains steady with the EX950 series. The 1TB model dropped $10 since our initial review and now sells for $219.99 on Amazon. The 512GB remains strong at $119 and the 2TB costs $399.
HP covers the series with a premium 5-year warranty that includes ample endurance that is higher than the market average for each capacity.
A Closer Look
The series uses an M.2 2280 double-sided design for all three capacities. This is an important design feature for the 512GB model. It allows the drive to address more memory at one time and take full advantage of the 8-channel controller design.
512GB Class Performance Testing
Sequential Read Performance
The EX950 faces stronger competition in this capacity. The new 970 EVO Plus increases performance from the South Korean camp, and the limited parallel reads and writes from fewer die decrease performance from Micron 64L drives.
The 512GB EX950 performs really well in the sequential read test. Only the new EVO Plus gets close to the EX950's queue depth (QD) 1 read performance is close to the EX950. The SM2262 drives do outperform the new models in QD2, but the EX950 walks away from them at QD4 and above.
Sequential Write Performance
In the 2TB and 1TB classes, the EX950 blasted past the Samsung 970 EVO in the sequential write burst test. The 512GB EX950 doesn't dominate in this test like the other capacities. The drive still shows strong performance, but falls down to third in the QD2 chart.
Sustained Sequential Write Performance
The sustained write test shows how much data we can write before the SLC cache fills and the drive has to either reply on folding data to the TLC, or writing directly to the TLC area.
The 512GB EX950 uses programming and firmware to write sequential data at a higher rate, and for longer, than the model it replaces. The drive actually writes as much data to the SLC area as the ADATA S8200 that uses a lot of overprovisioning (reserved spare area that the user doesn't have access to).
Random Read Performance
The biggest benefit of the SX950, and the area where the EX920 stood out from the other products, is the random read performance at low queue depths. Micron's 64L TLC memory has strong random read performance but HP does something with the programming to coax a little more out of the flash.
Random Write Performance
Until the release of the 970 EVO Plus, the HP EX950 would have the market covered in random write burst performance. The two drives show just how dominant they are in this area and hit the ceiling of what's possible with a single CPU core writing 4KB blocks through a PCIe 3.0 x4 interface.
70% Read Sequential Performance
The 70% read sequential mixed workload test shows the weak point of the EX950 series. The SM2262EN controller paired with Micron 64L flash memory doesn't scale performance well when asked to read and write sequential data. To be fair, the combination delivers right around 1,100 MB/s consistently and that's a solid 3x to 4x over what most SATA SSDs can achieve.
This is a very specific workload outside of what most of us do with our PCs. To better explain this test, it's the same as reading 7 parts of large block size data, and writing three at the same time (that would be QD10). At lower queue depths, the reads and writes vary more. This type of workload often comes up with audio and video editing on a professional scale.
70% Read Random Performance
The 70% read with 30% write random mix is more consumer focused. This is the standard "workstation" workload (80% read is closer to a consumer workload according to Intel, but less conventional for published performance testing).
The 512GB EX950's strong random read performance allows the drive to dominate this test at usable consumer queue depths. On the next page, we will look at application performance and be able to point back to this, and the 100% random read test, to explain why this drive is very fast with applications.
512GB Class Application Testing
Game Load Time
The first application test uses Final Fantasy: Stormblood. This is the first test that we will point back to the strong random performance to explain the EX950's performance. Like the 1TB, and 2TB models we've already tested, the 512GB EX950 also leads similar sized products loading the game levels.
PCMark 8 Total Storage Bandwidth
The PCMark 8 Storage Test suite uses nine applications for ten tests. This is a much more diverse test with a few applications using more sequential data in the workloads. The 512GB EX950 still came out on top with the results combined and presented in an easy to digest throughput average.
PCMark 8 Extended Storage Test
Before we dive into the PCMark 8 Extended Storage Test results, I want to setup the target market for the HP EX950. This is a consumer drive designed for consumer workloads. This workload performs best with strong caching but when you rely too much on cache technology, the performance under heavy workloads suffer.
The extended test shows what performance would be like in a high write environment with most of the drive already filled with data. The new SM2262EN controller used in the EX950 is significantly better than the controller and models replaced. The recovery performance after a 5-minute idle time to build fresh data cells for the cache to work efficiently is also better.
SYSmark 2014 SE System Responsiveness and Power Tests
The SYSmark 2014 SE Responsiveness Test uses more applications than the PCMark Storage Tests, and it runs the operating system on the drive under test. Again, we can point back to the high random performance to explain why the EX950 is such a strong SSD. This software suite shows how your PC would perform with each drive on a regular PC doing regular activities.
Notebook Battery Life
One aspect we rarely get to discuss is SSDs that rely heavily on cache and the amount of power consumption it takes to write the data twice. When data comes to the SSD it first writes to the SLC area and then it writes again to the TLC. NVMe SSDs write faster than SATA SSDs, but they also use more power per bit. That is why the average NVMe score in our Notebook Battery Life test using BAPCo's MobileMark software is lower than the average SATA SSD.
The 512GB EX950 scored 308 minutes in our Lenovo Y700-17 gaming notebook. This is on the low-end of the NVMe drive scale, but not the lowest we've ever tested.
HP hit another home run with the 512GB EX950. The drive follows the same path as the two larger models we tested in this series, and all lead the true consumer market in performance (counting the Samsung 970 Pro and Intel Optane 900P/905P as workstation-class products due to cost).
The 512GB model is the smallest and thus the reduced in the series. As the EX920 release did last year, this new series delivers a disproportionate cost to performance ratio. In simpler terms, it's a great value! Of the SSDs released in late 2018 and early 2019, there are really only three NVMe SSDs that fall into the must-have category, the EX950, ADATA SX8200 Pro, and MyDigitialSSD BPX Pro. When you look at all of the high-performance NVMe SSDs shipping today, the previous models still put up a good fight. The EX920, ADATA SX8200, and Mushkin Pilot are still available and selling for less than the new models with the latest Silicon Motion controller.
If you want class-leading performance and willing to pay a little more for the latest technology, it's very difficult to beat the HP EX950. The new Samsung EVO Plus performs better under very heavy workloads, but for pure consumer use, the EX950 has proven to be the performance leader.
Value for Money
The 512GB HP EX950 outperformed the other consumer NVMe SSDs and does it at an attractive price.