Pushing the limits of what flash storage can do, the 960 Pro is the ultimate performance SSD
We’ve seen the price of SSDs plummet in recent years, with a deluge of low-cost SATA 3 models. While all of these can easily outpace a mechanical hard disk, don’t expect to see any more speed improvements, as the SATA3 connection has been maxed out.
Going faster and delivering the incredible speeds that flash storage can really offer means using a different storage interface specification: Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe). This is the route that Samsung has taken for its high-end drives, delivering the incredible 950 Pro last year, which blew all other SSDs away. This year, Samsung is back with the 960 Pro, aiming for speeds that have not been seen before and doing what we thought would be impossible: making the 950 Pro look slow.
While SATA3 tops out at a maximum speed of 600MB/sec, nVME uses four PCI-Express 3 lanes, for a total throughput of 4,000MB/sec (4GB/sec) – that’s 5.6 time the throughput. Impressively, the specs of the 960 Pro show that it’s close the maximum nVME speed, with peak sequential read and write speeds of 3,500MB/sec and 2,100MB/sec.
^ The 960 Pro(on test here) isn’t the only SSD Samsung’s releasing this year, as it’s also being joined by the cheaper 960 Evo
That’s also a huge 40% speed increase on last year’s 950 Pro, which had peak read and write speeds of 2,500MB/sec and 1,500MB/sec. Part of the speed improvement comes from Samsung’s brand-new Polaris controller. This can handle random read speeds of 440,000 Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS) and write speeds of 360,000 IOPS.
As well as pushing performance, Samsung wanted drives that could match mechanical hard disks for capacity. With the 960 Pro, the starting capacity is 512GB, with 1TB and, for the first time with NVMe, 2TB drives in the range, too. For the vast majority of people, 2TB of storage is more than enough, and it shows that we’re moving towards an age where we won’t need mechanical hard disks.
With NVMe Samsung has had to use the M.2 physical interface for the 960 Pro drive, as it did for the 950 Pro. M.2 requires an additional slot on your motherboard but gives quite a few benefits over SATA 3 in addition to speed. First, there’s no need for a 2.5in case for the SSD, as M.2 drives plug directly into a slot on the motherboard. This makes the 960 Pro comparatively tiny: it measures just 80 x 22 x 2.38mm.
Second, the M.2 slot provides power as well as data, so you get a neater build with fewer cables cluttering your system. This is particularly important if you want to build a PC into a tiny case, as M.2 means that you can save a lot of room. Of course, you will need a motherboard with an M.2 slot. The number of boards that have this connector has been steadily increasing, with the majority of Intel Skylake boards providing the interface. Over the next few years, you can expect M.2 to become standard.
Samsung ships the 960 Pro with a new version of its Magician software. As well as providing an easy way to update your SSD’s firmware, it has a secure-erase feature for wiping the drive.
Performance on paper is one thing, but real-world performance can be something different altogether. To test out how quick the 960 Pro is, we benchmarked the 512GB and 2TB drives using a PC with an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU, running on a Z170 chipset motherboard. Both impressed us by delivering the practically the same throughputs.
First, we started with the CrystalDiskMark sequential test and were blown away by the results. We saw read speeds of 3,496MB/sec and write speeds of 2,085MB/sec. For comparison, the 256GB Samsung 950 Pro managed 2,176MB/sec and 955.2MB/sec read and write speeds in the same test. Switching to the random read and write tests, using 4K files, we saw an impressive read speed of 726.7MB/sec and write speed of 602.2MB/s; the 950 Pro was a little closer here with a 676.3MB/sec read speed and 338.2MB/sec write speed.
We also performed some of our own tests, reading and writing files from a RAM disk to and from the 960 Pro. With our huge file, which lets the SSD make the most of its sequential speeds, we saw read and write speeds of 1,904.35MB/sec and 1,715.36MB/sec. In our large-files test, performance barely faltered, with read and write speeds of 1628.42MB/sec and 1491.45MB/sec.
Our small-files test is more intensive, as the PC and SSD have to deal with thousands of random operations. Even so, the 960 Pro did well with read and write speeds of 708.82MB/sec and 878.38MB/sec. On average, the 960 Pro was 36% faster than the 950 Pro in our huge-files test; 32% faster in our large-files test; and 6% faster in our small-files test. This makes this SSD the fastest drive that we have ever seen.
Current prices are £312 for the 512GB 960 Pro model, £576 for 1TB, and £1,178 for 2TB. While you can hardly say that this is cheap, the 960 Pro costs around the same per gigabyte as the 950 Pro, which is impressive given the performance increase.
Ultimately, your choice comes down to what you want from a drive. If you want the ultimate performance PC, then the Samsung 960 Pro is well-priced for the performance and runs riot over every other SSD. If your budget won’t stretch or you don’t have a PC with an M.2 slot, the well-priced SATA 3-powered Samsung 850 Pro is the best choice.