Samsung's first (consumer-friendly) NVMe SSD is the blazingly fast 950 PRO, an NVMe, M.2 disk built for speed
Samsung has officially announced the 950 PRO SSD range at the company’s SSD Global Summit in Seoul, South Korea. Like last year’s EVO 850 M.2, the new disk uses an M.2 interface, which is quickly becoming the new storage standard for modern desktop PCs, laptops and workstations. The 950 PRO goes one step further, however, using the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) specification. This is essential for breaking through the SATA3 interface performance barrier, allowing for some truly blazing speeds.
Whereas the SATA3 interface is limited to a theoretical maximum throughput of 600MB/s, NVMe operates over PCI-Express and has a much higher throughput. Using PCI-Express 3.0 x4 speeds on compatible motherboards or PCI-Express riser cards, the 950 PRO can reach colossal 2,500 MB/s write and 1,500 MB/s read speeds. Random read speeds of 300,000 Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS) and write speeds of 110,000 IOPS are up to four times faster than a traditional SATA3 SSD. In real-world terms, this is enough for playing back multiple concurrent 4K video streams, copying files in seconds rather than minutes, and booting into Windows faster than any SATA SSD.
The 950 PRO echews a familiar 2.5in SSD format in favour of the M.2 interface, a much smaller package that will fit comfortably inside ultra-thin laptops as well as desktop PCs. The majority of the circuit board is taken up with the flash storage chips; second generation, 32-layer MLC V-NAND dies in 128GB modules. There’s still room for a Samsung-designed UBX controller to handle all your reads and writes too.
The 2280 form factor means it’s the largest M.2 SSD available, but it will still be compatible with a range of Intel Z170 and X99 motherboards – the former having launched last month specifically for Intel’s new Skylake processors. Importantly these are the only motherboards that support PCI-Express based M.2 storage – for everything else you’ll need to use a PCI-Express add-in card, and even then you won’t be able to use it as a boot disk. Only Z170 and X99 currently support booting from NVMe devices.
M.2 has other advantages over 2.5in SATA SSDs, most notably reduced power consumption as the SSD draws power directly from the motherboard, rather than needing its own SATA power connector. In a desktop PC, this also frees up space inside the case and removes the need for trailing cables obstructing airflow.
The 950 PRO might be the first Samsung NVMe SSD customers have been able to buy officially from retailers, but the company’s OEM-only SM951 has proved popular with performance PC builders and businesses for the best part of a year. However, that model was only available through third parties and had a meagre one-year warranty, with Samsung never officially selling it to end users. The 950 PRO changes that, making NVMe available to everyone. It also includes Samsung’s industry-leading five year warranty, guaranteeing each drive for up to 200 terabytes written (TBW) for the 256GB model, or 400TBW for the 512GB version.
Although it has a smaller capacity than some of Samsung’s SATA SSDs, the 950 PRO won’t be left behind for long. As the company makes the transition from 32-layer V-NAND to 48-layer in the coming year, larger capacity models will quickly follow. A 1TB model has already been confirmed, although there’s no definite release date just yet.
Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 all include universal drivers, but the 950 PRO will include its own dedicated proprietary NVMe driver to guarantee support across operating systems. Linux support is also expected to follow in the near future. Samsung’s Magician SSD utility tool will also get an update to version 4.8, specifically for the 950 PRO. It includes a performance benchmark, and will be available to download next month alongside the SSD itself.
The 950 Pro might be designed for clients and consumers, but Samsung has plans to quickly follow it up with a more enterprise-friendly model, the PM1725. It will take the form of a half-height, half-length PCI-Express add-in card, in multiple capacities. With eight lanes of PCI-Express 3.0 bandwidth, the company is promising an incredible 1.5 million IOPs performance.
The Samsung 950 PRO is set to launch in the UK from October onwards in 256GB and 512GB models. Prices have yet to be confirmed, but with US customers expecting to pay $200 and $350 respectively, GBP prices of £200 and £300 respectively once VAT and tax has been added aren’t out of the question. That looks like phenomenal value compared to Intel’s PCI-Express based SSDs, which cost up to five times more for similar performance. If you’ve got a system that can take advantage of its speeds, the 950 PRO looks like a must-have upgrade. We’ll know for sure later this month, once we’ve had the chance to put one to the test.