Samsung 970 EVO SSD Review: The 64-Layer Refresh

Conclusion

Samsung’s new NVMe driver hamstrung performance in many of our tests. We couldn't fully retest because we didn’t catch the issue until late in the review process, but our tests reflect Samsung's recommended configuration. With the older 950 and 960 series, Samsung's custom NVMe driver increased performance along with power consumption. It appears the new driver has the opposite effect–performance and power consumption are both lower. We covered how the previous-gen driver impacts power consumption and performance in our Best Storage For Notebook Battery Life article earlier this year.

Samsung's SATA and NVMe SSDs are surprisingly vulnerable to the latest round of competing SSDs. The Crucial MX500 was our first indication that other SSD manufacturers were finally catching up, but it takes more than one product to slow the Samsung machine.

Toshiba and Micron are pumping out competitive 64-layer NAND to third-party SSD companies, so Samsung has lost some of its advantage. The Toshiba and Micron flash, when paired with the right controllers and firmware, deliver EVO-class performance. As a result, the EVO series is no longer the clear-cut performance leader, and some competing products cost quite a bit less. Samsung certainly didn't face this challenge with its dominant 950 and 960 NVMe SSDs.

In either case, the 970 EVO's value-adds make it the best mainstream NVMe SSD on the market. When you look past performance alone, the 970 EVO offers the best endurance, warranty, and software package. The 970 EVO comes out ahead when you piece together the whole picture, but you pay a premium for the extra features that we used to only mention in passing. 

Not every shopper needs the enhanced endurance, software package, or the high cost of owning a Samsung 970 EVO. Samsung SSDs have always cost more than competing products, but the drives always delivered higher performance that justified the slightly higher price tag. Now the 970 EVO is considerably more expensive than competing SSDs. The price gap will only increase as more products come to market with the SMI SM2262 controller and Phison PS5011-E11 production starts, so Samsung will have to adjust pricing to be more competitive.

We’ve never had to say that about a Samsung SSD before. It’s not that the 970 EVO is worse than the previous generation. The competition simply improved with 64-layer flash at the same time the performance limitations of the PCIe 3.0 x4 interface are becoming the limiting factor.  

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  • WINTERLORD
    id assume if you already have a 960 evo, then its not yet worth the upgrade meaning you wouldnt notice a difference in real world performance?
  • CRamseyer
    Correct.
  • rinosaur
    So whats next? PCI x8? I just got a SM2262 drive and it outbenches my old SATA SSD 5 times over but I can't really tell even on boot up. I wish there was a Battlefield 1 benchmark since BF3 is pretty old and the maps will be tiny in comparison. At the same time I don't know what the bottleneck is when loading multiplayer maps. Even small games like HotS could not possibly be utilizing the old 500MB/s drive to the max since it takes like 15 seconds to get to 100% with low CPU/memory usage.
  • Co BIY
    In the Application Storage Bandwidth chart the Samsung 970 EVO is mislabeled as a Plextor product.
  • modeonoff
    When can we buy it? Can' find it listed in major online stores.
  • ern88
    Worth upgrading from a 850 pro the the newer 970 evo?
  • modeonoff
    I cannot find it in major online stores in North America yet. Don't know about availability. When it becomes available, will the current SSD prices drop?
  • ATI9800Pro
    Where can I get that Plextor 970 EVO 2TB in the Application Storage Bandwidth chart ? :D
  • mikeynavy1976
    Similar question to ERN88. I currently have a 850 EVO (M.2) in a desktop (i7-7700k w/ 16GB RAM) and I don't notice any real world difference from a Dell XPS 13 w/ older NVMe drive. Benchmarks, obviously, show the NVMe considerable faster. Is it still only worth upgrading from SATA to NVMe (SSD of course) with specific workloads?
  • Darkbreeze
    I wouldn't exactly call the MX500's read/write speeds of 560/510 MB/s and 95/90k IOPS "catching up". It surprised me when I read that so I went to double check. The MX500 is not even as fast as the 960 EVO (Actually, it's less than half as fast) much less the 970, and it's more expensive, at 121.99 being the least expensive I could find one for, although the double storage space is nice, users looking for fast drives are more worried about performance than they are about doubling the capacity of a much slower drive.

    Unless you can show conclusive performance versus pricing, with links, I'm afraid I can't agree with the validity of some of the information shown here.
  • dark_wizzie
    This review tempts me to buy a ex920 and pray I never have to write any data onto my SSD, trying to milk the low qd random reads (burst).
  • CRamseyer
    252980 said:
    Worth upgrading from a 850 pro the the newer 970 evo?


    1696453 said:
    I wouldn't exactly call the MX500's read/write speeds of 560/510 MB/s and 95/90k IOPS "catching up". It surprised me when I read that so I went to double check. The MX500 is not even as fast as the 960 EVO (Actually, it's less than half as fast) much less the 970, and it's more expensive, at 121.99 being the least expensive I could find one for, although the double storage space is nice, users looking for fast drives are more worried about performance than they are about doubling the capacity of a much slower drive. Unless you can show conclusive performance versus pricing, with links, I'm afraid I can't agree with the validity of some of the information shown here.


    Catching up refers to the flash, not so much the MX500 on the heels of the 970 EVO, but on the 850/860 EVO.

    The same flash on the PCIe NVMe side is in the HP EX920 that was in the charts today next to, often above the 970 EVO.

    Also, the conclusion was written with the 500GB and 250GB pages in mind. The two missing pages will come online soon.
  • CRamseyer
    145243 said:
    This review tempts me to buy a ex920 and pray I never have to write any data onto my SSD, trying to milk the low qd random reads (burst).


    I don't think you will have an issue with the EX920 endurance. It's artificially low for warranty purposes but also allows HP to hit the low price point.
  • CRamseyer
    120311 said:
    Similar question to ERN88. I currently have a 850 EVO (M.2) in a desktop (i7-7700k w/ 16GB RAM) and I don't notice any real world difference from a Dell XPS 13 w/ older NVMe drive. Benchmarks, obviously, show the NVMe considerable faster. Is it still only worth upgrading from SATA to NVMe (SSD of course) with specific workloads?


    "I don't notice any real world difference from a Dell XPS 13 w/ older NVMe drive."

    That just means you don't move a lot of sequential data or when you do, the 400-500 MB/s performance is good enough. You need to look for high random reads (at low queue depths) and high random mixed workload performance. The 970 EVO would increase your perception of speed but there are other products that cost less that do the same. Check those two charts and the PCM8 results.
  • dark_wizzie
    Is it normal for 2tb drives to be slower than their 1tb versions? Seems to be the case with Samsung and Mx500.
  • logainofhades
    I would probably consider a Western Digital Black NVME over a 970 evo, if I were looking to get such a drive.
  • modeonoff
    Is the Western Digital Black NVME better than the 960 EVO, older brother of the 970?
  • Darkbreeze
    No, it's not. Especially not when it comes to random read/write speed. Those operations are significantly slower than the 960 EVO, at least on paper. As far as sequential speeds, it's slower as well, but not by enough that you'll likely notice it overmuch. Still, if the prices are the same or within a reasonable distance of each other I'd easily choose the 960 over the WD Black.
  • logainofhades
    At the more common 25xGB/5xxGB level, WD Blacks are typically $30 cheaper. The performance difference, for most users, isn't worth the that $30 premium.
  • Darkbreeze
    I know what you mean, but for me, the difference of 1150/1000 MB/s sustained and 160000/196000, between one and the other, is more than worth 30 dollars. The 960 EVO is almost double the speed in practically every regard, based on sustained and 4k random read/write speeds at qd32. The 970 EVO even more so.

    Still, I am FAR more interested in the upcoming NVME PCI drives based on the Phison E12 controller, that initial estimates seem to give better than Intel Optane random read/write speeds at low or high queue depths, than these drives. I had it in mind for some time to get one of the Samsung PCI NVME drives until I saw the article about the E12 controller which unlike Optane will be usable on practically any motherboard with an M.2 x4 slot.
  • logainofhades
    I am no SSD expert, but I didn't think it performed badly. https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/wd-black-nvme-ssd-review,5530-2.html

    Also the WD black has a better warranty than a 960 evo. 5yr vs 3yr.
  • modeonoff
    When choosing components, do we expect that Samsung SSD will fail in 3 years?
  • Giroro
    How accurate are their "user" capacity claims?

    I don't just mean the fact companies can still legally redefine a Gigabyte from 2^30 to "1 billion bytes" - forcing computer scientists to use the stupid-sounding baby-talk "Gibibyte (Gib)". Windows still very much needs to fix their acronym, by the way. So I expect windows to recognize that "1 TB totally available to the user guys, we promise" as about 931GB.

    I've been noticing a trend in SD cards where the raw capacity of the card (by reading the CSD meaning BS claims about "formatting" don't apply) fails to even meet the redefined claims on the package. I've actually yet to find a single 1GB SD card with a raw capacity of 1,000,000,000 bytes - they usually come in closer to 950,000,000 (and it's very inconsistent between brands).

    So even after all the normal misleading claims about "formatting", marketing BS, and legal loopholes allowing them to redefine units of measurement... SD makers are STILL ripping everybody off by about 5% In a way I feel is legally actionable.
    So, I'm just wondering if the same applies to the over provisioning of SSDs as well.
  • Darkbreeze
    On all of my Samsung drives, 840 EVO, 850 EVO, etc., overprovisioning was left entirely to the user as far as how much you wanted to allocate, through the Magician software. There was no amount pre-overprovisioned that I can recall, unless I'm off the mark in what you're asking. All the space allocated to overprovisioning to offset future block failure was either set through Magician or didn't exist, which is a bad idea to leave that way.