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Samsung 960 Pro review

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Samsung 960 Pro
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Summary

Our Score:

9

Pros

  • Huge speed gains over older SSDs
  • Smart, small design
  • Long warranty

Cons

  • High price
  • Slightly slower with smaller files

Key Features

  • 512GB, 1TB, 2TB available
  • M.2 drive
  • 5-year warranty
  • 400TB, 800TB or 1200TB data warranty
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Price: £690.00

What is the Samsung 960 Pro?

Samsung was the first company to bring real consumer PCI-E-based M.2 drives to the market, but it’s hardly a new player in this arena – the firm released several OEM drives before it made a huge impact with last year’s 950 Pro.

That drive impressed, and now its successor has arrived. The 960 Pro has been beefed up with several new features – and I have high hopes.

Related: Best SSDs to buy right now

Samsung 960 Pro – Design and Features

The new drive relies on an improved version of the 3D V-NAND, which debuted in the SSD market in 2015 in Samsung’s conventional SATA SSDs.

This type of memory marks a big departure from previous SSDs. Here, transistors are stacked vertically inside the silicon chips – rather than just horizontally. This allows for transistors to be place in layers, which means more space available for those transistors. Samsung 960 Pro 7

The extra space relieves pressure on miniaturisation, which means Samsung can pack in a greater number of transistors and devote more time to improving performance and efficiency.

Most SSD manufacturers now use a version of 3D V-NAND, but Samsung was first – and now it’s taken a leap forward with the chips inside the 960 Pro.

This year’s NAND uses a 48-layer design, which is a big jump from the 32-layer design that came before it. It allows Samsung to include twice the storage capacity on each die used to build these SSDs.

As a result, Samsung now uses 256GB NAND chips rather than 128GB chips, so fewer chips are used to build each SSD – and bigger capacities are now available. I’ve reviewed the 1TB version of the 960 Pro, but a 2TB model is also available alongside a 512GB version.

The NAND chips aren’t the only improved component. The controller used in older Samsung drives has been replaced by a Polaris (not to be confused with AMD Polaris graphics cards) model, which arrived in a couple of M.2 drives only found inside machines built buy OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). The new chip has five cores – two more than its predecessor – with one core dedicated to host system communication. The SSD’s DRAM is now attached to the top of the controller, which saves even more space on the drive.

Related: The best gaming PC specs to build yourself

The move to additional cores is important, because it means Samsung doesn’t have to use a high clock speed in the controller to deliver better performance on the 960 Pro – and that, in turn, helps keep temperatures down.

Heat generation and dissipation is a bigger concern than ever on M.2 SSDs, but it’s no surprise. More powerful controllers generate more heat, and the NAND chips themselves are faster and denser. Heatsinks are common on SSDs of this type, but Samsung's solution is nothing short of genius: the stickers that tell you what sort of drive you have are actually coated in copper on the bottom, aiding heat dissipation.Samsung 960 Pro 5

Aside from that, however, little has changed about the 960 Pro’s physical design. It’s still an 80mm-long M.2 drive with a sticker on one side and all of its hardware on the other. It remains slim enough to fit into the snuggest of spaces on laptops and small form-factor PCs.

Samsung has paired the drive with a five-year warranty that's in line with many rivals, and it’s given the new drive a better endurance rating than its predecessors: the 1TB model has an 800TB rating, which is twice that of the 950 Pro.

The 960 Pro also comes with familiar software features: SMART (self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology) and TRIM (making better use of available space) support line up alongside 256-bit AES encryption. That’s entirely standard – only extremely cheap SSDs don’t have such features.

There are minor specification differences between the three different 960 Pro capacities. The 512GB, 1TB and 2TB models have 512MB, 1GB and 2GB of memory respectively, and the 512GB and 2TB models have 400TB and 1,200TB endurance ratings.

The prices of the three drives are obviously different, but all are significant. The 1TB sample on review costs a mighty £690, while the 512GB and 2TB models arrive at £350 and £1,290.

Performance-wise, there’s no competition for the 960 Pro, but those figures will price out many potential buyers. Sadly, it isn't yet possible to get a comparable product for any less; a 1TB version of the Toshiba OCZ RD400 will set you back a similar amount, for example.

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Andrew

December 9, 2016, 11:56 am

I wish these reviews pointed out that for the average user and especially the "gamers" there is absolutely no advantage to buying this drive over a much cheaper SATA device. I'm sure many readers are attracted by such reviews thinking that their PC will boot faster or that their games will load in half the time, whereas there is practically no difference at all.

These drives are aimed at people that edit / publish lots of high quality video content, capture 4k video, run big databases / other such specialist purposes.

Phil

December 9, 2016, 6:15 pm

Surely if you double the random / sequential read speed there will be an improvement in level loading times? Or is it bottlenecked by other things once you get beyond a certain point? You're quire right in that once you go from a HDD to a modest SSD, you've already seen the bulk of improvements and this won't do anything for FPS and very little extra for boot times and responsiveness.

It's a limited use case and they do mention that but equally it's good to see where the pinnacle of consumer (?more "prosumer") grade tech is at as in two years or so this will be where the mid range is.

Ed

December 9, 2016, 7:43 pm

Yup, next to no difference. https://www.youtube.com/wat...

Phil

December 9, 2016, 7:52 pm

Sweet, will have a look. I think for Windows 7 there was a big difference as I went from HDD to SSD back then and it really shortened boot times. General responsiveness is so much better I wouldn't go back to a HDD. Ever. Using a HDD computer is painful for me now.

Ed

December 9, 2016, 8:02 pm

Yeah, I think most people have the same idea, and for certain situations these fast drives really are worthwhile. However, Windows boot, app loading and game loading mostly benefit from the very fast access times of SSDs, which are 200x faster than HDD. And access time hasn't changed much with these faster drives.

Phil

December 9, 2016, 8:12 pm

Aye, my feeling has always been that, aside from specialist applications which deal with large files, the sequential read / write doesn't make a massive difference. It's that random read and write which constitutes the majority of Windows operations which really improves due to the short access times. I remember the problems anandtech had with OCZ due to them optimising for sequential (for marketing figures) and making a laggy drive which he exposed with IOmeter testing. That did not go down well.... Before SSDs became consumer products I did consider a RAM drive. Would have been awesome.

pablouk

December 12, 2016, 11:46 am

Im sorry but no matter how fast/small/amazing... HOW MUCH

Ed The Piper

March 10, 2017, 4:21 pm

It would be useful to know if this would work with a mid 2015 Apple Macbook Pro 15" custom. As a content creator (professional music) I rely on my macbook pro out on location. With this, over time I've noticed that external thunderbolt / usb3 drives tend to be a bit temperemental with samples and sample libraries with live performance or high track counts. as in slower speeds etc. I've loaded sample libraries into my 1TB SSD built into the macbook pro and wow this is perfect, the issue is whether this new addition from samsung would work with this macbook pro. Considering that the interface in question is PCIE M2 X4 configuration and offers higher speeds than the current drive installed, would this work?

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