The 860 EVO Review: Samsung Back On Top

Conclusion

The big question is if we will go another four long years recommending a new EVO over other SATA SSDs. To answer that question, we'll have to see what happens as the 860 series matures. The 860 EVO's performance is very strong, but it has a few weak points in pricing and notebook battery life.

Samsung did improve the EVO, but it's not the big performance leap we've seen in years past. For instance, the jump from the 840 to the 850 was significant, but the jump from the 850 to 860 feels more like an 850 EVO "Plus."

Pricing is one of the most crucial factors when we pick out an SSD. Legacy SATA drives fit in a very tight pricing box, and low-cost NVMe SSDs are just a stones' throw away. NVMe SSDs are even more attractive when you consider that SATA holds back the potential of the underlying NAND.

On the other end, SATA SSDs like the Crucial MX500, SanDisk Ultra 3D, and Western Digital Blue 3D are closing the performance gap at lower price points. You will not be able to tell the difference between those products and the 860 EVO unless you run heavy workloads frequently. The 1TB EVO is $70 than the 1TB MX500, and there is a $35 difference between the 500GB models. I would be less inclined to buy the 860 EVO in either capacity. The difference between these two drives in the 256GB class is only $15, which is more reasonable. We still wouldn't recommend it for a notebook until Samsung corrects the power consumption issues.

Samsung's response would likely be to point out the high endurance rating. The 860 EVO has half the endurance of the new 860 Pro, but it's still quite a bit more than competing products. It's a good argument, but who really cares?

Samsung's SSDs have always had excellent endurance and the company has sandbagged the rating for years. It would be a different story if Samsung drives stopped working (like Intel's) when you cross the imaginary line. Samsung drives will continue to work until there is a hard fault, and during normal use that might occur in twenty years. If Samsung wanted to make endurance and warranty a strong selling point, it should have increased the warranty length to 10 years like the 850 Pro. Time is a metric we can get behind--a magical endurance rating is not, especially when it's not a countdown before the drive moves into a read-only state.

Samsung has used the endurance strategy before, but that was when its pricing was much more competitive. The EVO series usually costs a little more than competing drives, but it delivers superior performance. With the 860 EVO series the performance gap shrinks while the price gap increases. Samsung will have a more difficult time once third-party SSD manufacturers gain more access to 64-layer NAND. Taiwanese companies like Adata and Team Group have waited a long time for competitive flash, and the very low-cost SSDs with 64-layer TLC will arrive before we pack our bags for Computex in June. Many of those products will come in the form of NVMe M.2 SSDs with higher performance than the 860 EVO, and some may even cost less if Samsung keeps these prices.

On paper, the 860 EVO is faster than the 850 EVO, but the operating system overhead will not allow you to see the difference. Even on the specification sheet, we're looking at crumbs of performance, a virtual rounding error. There isn't a reason to upgrade from the 850 EVO if you already have one. Statistically, there is a very good chance you have a Samsung if your SSD is less than four years old. That is a very large time span, and your next storage upgrade will either be for more capacity or to an NVMe SSD that delivers more performance than SATA.

In my opinion, Samsung should have brought the 850 (non-Pro/EVO) to the global market as a very inexpensive SATA series with the same capacity range as the new 860. SATA has become a price-driven commodity market, so there is very little room for a price premium when the difference in performance is 10% or less.

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