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Samsung 950 Pro 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD

Samsung’s latest flagship 950 Pro M.2 SSD utilizes four PCI-E 3.0 lanes and features the Samsung UBX controller, 3D V-NAND, and support for the new NVMe standard.

March 11, 2016 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Samsung 950 Pro 512GB
M.2 2280 SSD
Manufacturer
Samsung
Street Price
US$325

For the past few years, the M.2 SSD form factor has seen increasing support from notebook and motherboard manufacturers. Like the mSATA models they replace, M.2 drives are considerably smaller than traditional 2.5-inch drives and they are connected via a PCI Express interface that allows them to surpass the bandwidth ceiling of SATA 6 Gbps, widely considered to be a bottleneck to high-end SSD performance. Given the ample number of PCI-E lanes provided by Intel’s latest generation of CPUs, most Skylake LGA1151 motherboards support M.2 drives that can tap into four PCI Express 3.0 lanes rather than two, alleviating the restriction to an even greater degree.

Six months ago, we examined the Kingston HyperX Predator, an M.2 drive with a Marvell controller, 1GB of DDR3 cache, top-notch 19 nm Toggle-Mode NAND flash memory, and a PCI-E 2.0 x4 adapter card for users of older systems lacking M.2 support. It displayed encouraging synthetic performance and took the top spot in our real world performance metrics, but it was only slightly faster than the previous champ, the Samsung 850 Pro, an old fashioned 2.5-inch SATA 6 Gbps model.

One note about the Predator is that it lacks support for Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), a newer storage protocol standard developed specifically for PCI Express based drives. The ancient Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) standard is still widely used for SSDs today, despite the fact it was designed with mechanical hard drives in mind. The new standard takes better advantage of the nature of SSDs and their multiple internal memory channels, allowing for more/deeper command queues, improving support for multi-core processors, and lowering latency by more than half.


Samsung 950 Pro 512GB unboxed.

The new standard is supported by Samsung’s latest flagship SSD, the 950 Pro, which comes in capacities of 256GB and 512GB, packed in an M.2 2280 (22 mm wide, 80 mm long) form factor running on a PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface. It utilizes the same Samsung UBX controller that drives the SM951, a high-end M.2 drive offered only on the OEM market, sports V-NAND MLC chips made of transistors arranged both vertically and horizontally to increase density, and 512MB of DDR3 cache.


The 950 Pro.


Trace-side.


Installed on our Asus Maximus VIII Gene test board.

To use the 950 Pro, an M.2 slot connected via four PCI-E lanes (or via PCI-E x4 adapter card) is required to see its full benefits. Additionally, in order to boot from it, the PC must support UEFI and have an NVMe-compatible BIOS. Thus far, official support on the desktop is primarily limited to Intel Z97/Z170/X99 boards and the latest AMD 990FX models. Windows 7 users also need to pre-install a driver, and while Windows 8 and 10 have a native NVMe driver, it’s recommended to use Samsung’s driver for optimal results. This is not an SSD for older machines.


Samsung 950 Pro: Specifications
(from the product data sheet)
Dimensions (LxWxH) Max 80.15 x Max 22.15 x Max 2.38 (mm)
Interface PCIe 3.0 x4 (up to 32Gb/s) NVMe 1.1
Form Factor M.2(2280)†
Controller Samsung UBX controller
NAND Flash Memory Samsung V-NAND
DRAM Cache Memory 512MB LPDDR3
Capacity 256GB 512GB
Sequential Read* Up to 2,200 MB/s Up to 2,5000 MB/s
Sequential Write* Up to 900 MB/s Up to 1,500 MB/s
4K Random Read (QD32 Thread 4) Up to 270K IOPS Up to 300K IOPS
4K Random Write (QD32 Thread 4) Up to 85K IOPS Up to 110K IOPS
4K Random Read (QD1 Thread 1) Up to 11K IOPS Up to 12K IOPS
4K Random Write (QD1 Thread 1) Up to 43K IOPS Up to 43K IOPS
TBW 200TB 400TB
Power Consumption** (active avg/max) 5.1W/6.4W 5.7W/7.0W
Power Consumption** (idle) 70mW
Power Consumption (DEVSLP, L1.2 mode) 2.5mW
Data Security AES 256-bit for User Data Encryption
TCG Opal Family Spec and eDrive(IEEE1667) to be supported by FW update
Weight Max. 10g (512GB)
Reliability MTBF : 1.5 million hours
Supporting features TRIM(Required OS support), Garbage Collection, S.M.A.R.T
Temperature Operating Temp : 0°C to 70°C
(Measured by SMART Temperature. Proper airflow recommended)
Humidity 5% to 95%, non-condensing
Vibration Non-Operating: 20~2000Hz, 20G
Shock Non-Operating: 1500G , duration 0.5m sec, 3 axis
Warranty 5 years limited
* Sequential performance measurements based on Crystal Disk Mark 5.0.2 and Random performance measurements based on
Iometer 1.1.0. Performance may vary based on SSD’s firmware version, system hardware & configuration. Test system
configuration : Intel Core i5-6600K @ 3.5GHz, DDR3 1600MHz 8GB, OS – Windows10 x64, Mainboard: MSI (Skylake),
Model : Z170 KRAIT Gaming**Power consumption measured with IOmeter 1.1.0 with Intel i7-4770K(Haswell, 3.5GHz), DDR3 8GB, ASRock Z87 Extreme9/ac,
APST on, OS- Windows7 Ultimate x64 SP1

†M.2 is a specification of form factor for ultra-thin PCs, The M.2 standard allows widths 12, 16, 22 and 30mm and lengths of 16, 26,
30, 38, 42, 60, 80 and 110 mm, Commercially M.2 is popular with width 22mm and legths 30, 42, 60 , 80 and 110m

TESTING

Our samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. As of mid-2008, we have been conducting
most acoustics tests in our
own 10~11 dBA anechoic chamber
, which results in more accurate, lower SPL
readings than before, especially with sub-20 dBA@1m devices.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two types of noise impact the subjective
perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive
is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and
subjectively. Airborne acoustics are measured in our anechoic chamber using a lab reference
microphone and computer audio measurement system
. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter from the top
of the drive using an A-weighted filter. Vibration noise is rated on a scale
of 1-10 by comparing against our standard reference drives.

As of late-2011, we have been conducting performance testing. A combination of timed real-world tests is used to represent a workload of common activities for a boot drive including loading games, running disk-intensive applications, copying files, and installing programs.

Summary of primary HDD testing tools:

Drive Test Platform:

  • Intel Core i7-6700K
    processor – four cores. 4.0~4.2 GHz, 14 nm, 91W, Hyper-threading, integrated Intel HD 530 graphics, underclocked to 1.6 GHz
  • Asus Maximus VIII Gene – Z170 chipset, microATX
  • Noctua NH-L12 cooler – stock 120 mm fan only
  • Kingston Fury memory – 2x8GB DDR4-2667, C15
  • Kingston HyperX 3K solid-state drive – 120GB, 2.5-inch, SATA 6 Gbps
  • Seasonic
    SS-460FL
    power supply – 460W, ATX, fanless.
  • Microsoft
    Windows 10
    operating system – Professional, 64-bit

Real World Performance Test Tools:

Real World Benchmark Details:

  • Boot: Time elapsed between pressing the power button and Windows start sound playing (minus the time for an average SSD to get to the first load screen, about 12 seconds on our test system)
    .
  • CIV: BE: Time elapsed between canceling the introduction scene and appearance of the opening menu.
  • Photoshop: Time to load Photoshop CC.
  • COD: WAW: Combined time to load the “Black Cats” and “Breaking Point” levels of Call of Duty: World At War
  • ExactFile: Time to create a MD5 check file of our entire test suite folder.
  • TrueCrypt: Time to creating a 10GB encrypted file container.
  • 3DMark 11: Install time, longest interval between prompts.
  • OpenOffice: Install time, longest interval between prompts.
  • Small File Copy: Copy time for a variety of small HTML, JPEG, MP3, ZIP, and EXE files.
  • Large File Copy: Copy time for 4 AVI files, 2 x 700MB and 2 x 1400MB
    in size.

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments
are relevant to the samples we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There
are always some sample variances, and manufacturers also make changes without
telling everyone.

Ambient conditions at time of testing were 10.5 dBA and 20~23°C.

Test System Notes

For the past four years our storage test system consisted of a Intel Sandy Bridge processor paired with a P67 motherboard running Windows 7 and thus far the combination has worked fine for testing standard SATA 6 Gbps drives. We have now moved over to a Skylake platform for M.2 and NVMe support. We hope to use this system for several years, so the operating system has been updated to Windows 10 as Microsoft plans to drop full support for Windows 7/8 on Skylake PCs in July 2017, only offering the most critical security fixes thereafter.

Synthetic and power tests are run from a separate drive containing the operating system to take the overhead of Windows out of the equation. The boot drive is then imaged to the test drive for our real world benchmarks. In the case of the 950 Pro, we used Samsung’s Magician software for cloning and then installed their NVMe driver which purportedly offers improved performance over the native Microsoft driver.

Power Consumption

Note: For SATA drives, the power consumption is measured directly by tapping into the SATA power connector. For M.2 drives, the power consumption is estimated by comparing the system power consumption with that of previously tested SATA drives.

On our test motherboard, the Samsung 950 Pro and the last M.2 drive we tested, the HyperX Predator, both consume substantially more power than traditional SATA SSDs. A typical 2.5-inch model sucks down 0.5~0.6 W at idle and about 1.6W when seeking. The 950 Pro’s idle consumption is more than four times that while its seek consumption is almost twice as high. Its likely that notebooks have superior PCI-E power management such that battery life is not adversely affected.

Synthetic Performance

We start off with synthetic tests results. They don’t tell the whole story of course, but it’s a quick and dirty way of gauging relative performance, and of course, it’s easily reproducible by our readers at home.

HD Tune

 

HD Tune’s main sequential transfer benchmark shows superb, albeit varied, performance across the drive. The first half of the drive is noticeably faster, but even the minimum read/write speeds are higher than most drives’ maximum read/write. The overall transfer rate is about double that of the best SATA 6 Gbps models. Access times are also insanely low at less than 0.03 ms. Transferring large amounts of data should be a breeze for the 950 Pro.

CrystalDiskMark

 

The drive’s performance in CrystalDiskMark is the highest we’ve seen, coming close to 2000 MB/s in sequential 512K writes. Random performance with smaller block sizes is more relevant to real world performance and the 950 Pro excels in that department as well. All the 4K numbers are substantially higher than previously tested drives.

Real World Performance

At this time, only a handful of comparison drives have been re-tested on our new platform:

  • Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB, a competing M.2 drive that uses the older AHCI protocol equipped with a Marvell 88SS9293 controller and 1GB of cache
  • Kingston HyperX Savage 480GB, a modern mid-range SATA 6 Gbps drive equipped with a Phison S10 controller
  • ADATA XPG SX910 128GB, an older SATA 6 Gbps drive powered by the once ubiquitous SandForce SF-2811 controller
  • Seagate Enterprise 3.5 HDD v6 6TB, a fast Enterprise-class 7200 RPM mechanical hard drive

The 950 Pro doesn’t get off to a great start with a very poor boot time for a SSD, taking almost twice as long as the SX910 o get into Windows 10. There’s a noticeable delay after the initial POST screen as it pauses for several seconds while displaying a flashing underscore before launching Windows, suggesting that it’s a drive initialization problem. We were unable to successfully troubleshoot this issue despite updating the BIOS and trying various settings including enabling CSM (Compatibility Support Module). It does manage to load Civilization: Beyond Earth faster than the rest of the field but there’s a lot of ground to make up.

The 950 Pro does redeem itself in our second set of tests, starting up Photoshop in under 11 seconds, and running neck and neck with the Predator.

Another win is earned in our application tests with the 950 Pro staying barely ahead of the Predator.

The 950 Pro smokes the competition when it comes to copying files to itself, shaving off about three seconds off the Predator’s results and less than half the time of other two SSDs.

Installation performance is about the same between the drives with the 950 Pro and Predator slightly ahead of the pack.

To get a sense of the relative overall performance of the drives, each drive has been assigned a proportional score in each real world benchmark with each test counting for a 1/10 of the final score. The scale has been adjusted with the ADATA SX910 as the reference point with 100 points.

According to this metric, the 950 Pro posts a 12 point lead over the Predator equivalent to about 9%, and demolishes the rest of the field, beating the Savage by a considerable 30% and the SX910 by a massive 42%, though it should be noted that the 950 Pro is noticeably faster these SATA-based drives in only three of our ten tests.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Over the past few years, the pricing of solid-state drives has improved considerably, but real world performance seen some stagnation. The latest and greatest drives have often been only incremental improvements over their predecessors. It has been believed for some time that the SATA 6 Gbps interface was holding back potential SSD performance, prompting the influx of new storage interfaces like SATA Express and M.2. NVMe is the next step in advancing consumer SSDs, though it’s still unclear how much of a difference it truly makes in actual use.

At the time of each drive’s testing, the past three of Samsung flagships, the 830, 840 Pro, and 850 Pro, have taken our performance crown, and the 950 Pro follows in their footsteps. Other than an unusually slow boot time, it’s faster across the board than the HyperX Predator, beating it in 8 of our 10 real world benchmarks, though not by huge margins. Samsung’s controller and its V-NAND Flash chips along with the wider PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface could easily account for this improvement alone. Either way, both drives are a step ahead of the SATA 6 Gbps competition, though in everyday usage, the main difference is in file transfer speeds.

The 950 Pro 512GB is currently selling for approximately US$325 which is actually less than the Predator 480GB. However, it’s still a hefty amount compared to the various SATA 6 Gbps options on the market. At the ~500GB capacity level, you can get a very decent drive for one-third to one-half the price that can keep up with the 950 Pro in most situations. The 950 Pro doesn’t come close to delivering two to three times the performance, so it’s not buy from a value perspective (the 256GB model somewhat more competitive in this regard). The price for cutting edge performance is always steep. If budget is not an issue and you have or are planning to build a new high-end PC, the 950 Pro has to be a top contender.

Our thanks to Samsung for the 950 Pro 512GB solid-state drive sample.


The Samsung 950 Pro 512GB is recommended by SPCR

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
WD Black 6TB Performance Hard Drive
WD Blue SSHD 4TB & 1TB Hybrid Drives
Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB M.2/PCI-E SSD
Kingston HyperX Savage 480GB SSD
Crucial MX100 512GB & Samsung 850 Pro 256GB SSDs
Seagate Enterprise Class v4 6TB Hard Drive

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