Samsung 860 Pro SSD Review

Samsung's 850 Pro is already the fastest SATA SSD for professional workloads on the market, so raising the bar with the 860 Pro isn't an easy task. Samsung breathed new life into its Pro lineup with its new MJX controller paired with a new 64-layer 3D flash. The company claims the combination gives the 860 Pro increased speed, compatibility, reliability, and capacity.

Samsung's professional line of SATA SSDs may be fast, but they fell out of favor with enthusiasts back when the company released the 850 series. The 850 Pro came to market six months before the 850 EVO, but the EVO ended up dominating the consumer market for three years because it was less expensive and provided better performance in general applications. That confined the 850 Pro to the high-performance market.

In the meantime, we moved on to higher performance products as PCIe and NVMe SSDs trickled in. The 850 Pro soldiered on, unchallenged by SATA SSDs that only recently began to challenge the EVO in mainstream applications. Now Samsung plans to use the 860 Pro to fill the gap between the new 860 EVO and entry-level NVMe SSDs.

The laptop market has embraced SSDs, but they are still woefully absent from most pre-built desktop PCs. Many of those desktop systems can run professional applications, and those apps run best on systems with consistent storage performance. Unfortunately, most workstations still ship with a mechanical hard drive. In fact, the last full system tested we tested in the storage lab used a small SSD for a boot drive and a high-capacity HDD to store multimedia data. Those types of systems are a natural target for Samsung's new hefty Pro series.

For the last year, we've talked about how the NAND manufacturers, led by Samsung, were shifting focus over to 3-bit per cell (TLC) memory. In the second half of 2017 Samsung even showed us a technology roadmap that didn't mention any 2-bit per cell (MLC) memory after 2017. Samsung must have had fun playing along with the other NAND manufacturers. Now that the other fabs have also removed MLC from their roadmaps, Samsung decided to let the world know that it has new SSDs powered by 64-layer MLC flash.

Specifications

Samsung's 860 Pro and EVO families span from 256GB up to 4TB. We'll focus on the 860 Pro because that's what we have in the lab, but we'll follow up with 860 EVO testing soon.

Samsung improved the Pro's top-line specifications slightly, but most of the gains come at low queue depths (not shown in the table above). The 860 Pro is one of the few SSDs that pushes up to 11,000 random read IOPS at a queue depth (QD) of 1. Samsung also improved sequential performance at low queue depths, but the biggest gains come between QD2 and QD4.

Samsung claims 560/530MB/s of sequential read/write throughput for all capacities. Random performance is also the same regardless of capacity at 100,000/90,000 random read/write IOPS. 

Features

Samsung outfitted the 860 series with a new MJX controller that supports low-power DDR4 memory, so it obviously has a new integrated memory controller. Samsung isn't sharing specifics, but we suspect the company built the MJX controller on a smaller lithography that enables lower power consumption, cooler operation, and reduced manufacturing costs.

Samsung announced the production of fourth-gen V-NAND memory last year and claimed 64-layer NAND is 30% more energy efficient than its 48-layer predecessor. Samsung accomplished the feat by reducing the input voltage from 3.3 volts to just 2.5 volts. Samsung also claimed it had reduced the program time to 500 microseconds, which is 1.5X faster than the previous generation.

Out of the box, the 860 series will support hardware encryption with TCG Opal and Microsoft's eDrive. Samsung's other retail products have also had hardware encryption, but occasionally the company enables the feature through firmware updates after the SSDs are already on the market.

The firmware for the 860 Pro we're testing is early, but it is stable and mature enough for review purposes. We measured lower peak active and idle power consumption than the previous generation drive, but the 860 Pro appears to take longer to complete background activities. That increases the overall power consumption. Samsung says the 860 Pro will hit shelves this month, so the retail drives may ship with the RVM01B6Q firmware we tested.

In the past, Samsung's SATA SSDs couldn't execute queued TRIM commands in a Linux environment. The company fixed the issue in the 860 series. The 860 Pro is also the first consumer SSD advertised for use in a NAS environment. We don't expect Samsung to make the NAS capabilities a big marketing point and mainstream users will not see this as a big step forward. NAS manufacturers have slowly integrated SSD-specific features into some flash-focused systems, but they typically recommend expensive enterprise SSDs for lower-cost all-flash arrays. The 860 Pro with its increased endurance and Linux-optimized features will give system administrators a lower-cost option to fill the drive sleds.

Pricing, Warranty & Endurance

860 Pro 2.5"
64-Layer 3D MLC
256GB$139.99
512GB$249.99
1TB$479.99
2TB$949.99
4TB$1,899.99
860 EVO 2.5"
64-Layer 3D TLC
250GB$94.99
500GB$169.99
1TB$329.99
2TB$649.99
4TB$1,399.99
860 EVO M.2 (SATA)
64-Layer 3D TLC
250TB$94.99
500TB$169.99
1TB$329.99
2TB$649.99
860 EVO mSATA
64-Layer 3D TLC
250GB$94.99
500GB$169.99
1TB$329.99

We can't discuss the 860 Pro without comparing it to the new 850 EVO. The two product lines essentially compete against one another.

The 860 Pro is expensive. The two most popular SSD capacities are 512GB and 1TB. The Pro models retail for $249.99 and $479.99, respectively, but the 860 EVO retails for just $169.99 (512GB) and $329.99 (1TB).

For the first time in five years, a Samsung SSD is not the elephant in the room. Instead, Crucial's MX500 that sells for $135.99 (512GB) and $259.99 (1TB) is the biggest competitor.

Capacity Class
256GB
512GB
1TB
2TB
4TB
860 Pro (New)
300 TBW
600 TBW
1,200 TBW
2,400 TBW
4,800 TBW
850 Pro
150 TBW
300 TBW
300 TBW
450 TBW
600 TBW
860 EVO (New)
150 TBW
300 TBW
600 TBW
1,200 TBW
2,400 TBW
850 EVO
75 TBW
150 TBW
150 TBW
300 TBW
300 TBW
Crucial MX500
100 TBW
180 TBW
360 TBW
700 TBW
x
WD Blue 3D /SD Ultra 3D
100 TBW
200 TBW
400 TBW
500 TBW
x

The 860 Pro's shocking price comes with an equally shocking endurance rating. We've known for several years that Samsung artificially lowers its endurance ratings for warranty purposes. Unlike Intel's consumer SSDs, Samsung's drives will continue to operate even after you've exhausted the warrantied endurance. The only thing you lose after the drive passes the threshold is the ability to RMA the drive. Some independent third-party tests show that Samsung's previous-gen SSDs can absorb more than one petabyte of writes.

We only listed the most relevant consumer SATA SSDs in the chart above. For the first time in years, Samsung is working to retake the lead rather than just leapfrogging another Samsung SSD. Samsung's MSRPs show that the company is not ready to compete with the MX500 in the pricing department, but instead the company plans to use endurance to make up the difference. The entire 860 series ships with an enterprise-class endurance rating, but the new Pro series offers twice the endurance of the new EVO. The EVO's endurance is even enough for some read-centric enterprise workloads. We can foresee both models used in data centers, which might cause some early availability issues.

Both new models ship with a five-year warranty. The 850 Pro shipped with a ten-year warranty, but that was a reaction to SanDisk's ten-year warranty for the Extreme PRO SSD, which came to market just a month before the 850 Pro. Samsung later released the 950 and 960 Pro series with a five-year warranty, so the 860 series just continues the status quo.

Software

Samsung's Magician is one of the best software packages available. Predictably, the latest update adds support for the new 860 series. Samsung's Data Migration Tool also works with this series. Between the two software packages, you have every tool to test, configure and optimize the drives.

Packaging

The red on the package seems a little more vibrant on the 860 Pro, but the packaging is similar to the previous models. Inside we found the drive and a paper manual with some general warranty details.

A Closer Look

Other than a slight change to the red tint on the square, the new 860 Pro looks identical to the previous generation. The drive comes in a 7mm 2.5" form factor that's been standard for several years now. The Pro series only comes in this form factor. The PSID, which you use for the encryption software, is printed on the label.

Internals

Samsung's didn't use the Package-on-Package (PoP) controller design for the 860 Pro. The controller and DRAM are in separate packages, presumably to reduce manufacturing costs. The circuit board is large enough to accommodate the 1TB components. The company likely uses the same PCB for the 2TB and 4TB capacities. We found the controller without a thermal pad inside the drive.

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