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Let me start by saying this. Samsung’s SSDs are my favorites. The various PCs in my house all have at least one Samsung SSD inside. Why? Because Samsung builds the best SSDs. The quality and performance are phenomenal, the company offers a solid warranty for added peace of mind and are accompanied by useful software to get the complete package.
But there has been a glaring hole in Samsung’s SSD line for some time. PCIe 4.0 SSDs are limited to those who have an AMD Ryzen platform of the latest generation but this fact does not justify that Samsung has practically arrived late at the party.
The real question is, was it worth the wait?
Samsung 980 Pro – Design
The Samsung 980 Pro comes in an M.2 2280 form factor and features a quality black PCB. This device is going to generate some heat. To keep it cool, the company continues to use a copper heat spreader on the back of the device that absorbs thermal loads during heavier workloads. In addition, the controller features a nickel coating that according to Samsung improves cooling by about 7%.
This SSD also supports Active State Power Management (ASPM), Autonomous Power State Transition (APST), and ultra-low power L1.2 mode, as well as features refinements to the Dynamic Thermal technology Guard (DTG) that allows you to write longer and without slowing down the device.
The new SSD controller, dubbed Elpis, measures 16.5×16.5mm and features a DRAM-based multi-core Arm architecture built on the node of Samsung’s 8nm manufacturing process.
Like most modern high-end SSDs, the 980 Pro is installed in an M.2 slot on the motherboard. You’ll need an M.2 slot that supports both the 80mm (2280) drives and the PCIe NVMe bus. Unlike many other high-end SSDs though, the 980 Pro supports the new PCIe 4.0 standard — which we can find so far only on AMD motherboards based on the X570 and B550 chipsets (Ryzen 3000 CPUs) and TRX40 (Ryzen Threadripper CPUs). And while the 980 Pro (like all other PCIe 4.0 M.2 drives) is backward compatible with PCIe 3.0, its installation in a PCIe 3.0 motherboard will limit its speed (theoretical 3,500MB/s for sequential readings). So if you don’t have a PCIe 4.0 compatible system, you better opt for a cheaper PCIe 3.0 SSD that can still reach the same speed.
Samsung 980 Pro – Features
Our expectations for the Samsung 980 Pro are incredibly high. Samsung has been the leading brand of the SSD industry for years, and even today its Samsung 970 Pro (Check on Amazon) and Evo (Check on Amazon) models are still ranked as the best SSDs that you can buy for PCIe 3.0 systems. The world however never stands still and the arrival of PCIe 4.0 meant that the performance of the 970 line is beginning to look a bit pedestrian.
The argument in favor of the Samsung 980 Pro is that it offers twice the performance of PCIe 3.0 drives and is up to 12 times faster than SATA SSDs. Unfortunately, Samsung is no longer the only player that matters. Sabrent, Addlink, Gigabyte, Corsair, and Silicon Power, all of them have had PCIe 4.0 drives for quite a while and at very competitive prices.
All these competing products however have something in common: they are all built around the Phison E16 controller, which offers read and write speeds up to 5,000MB/s and 4,400MB/s respectively. However, the theoretical maximum limit of the PCIe 4.0 socket is 8,000MB/s.
With this in mind, the Samsung 980 Pro’s sequential speeds of 7,000MB/s and 5,000MB/s (read/write) look much better. Unfortunately, these figures are only a small part of what makes an SSD truly good. It is in fact transferring small files and random access requests that matter most for everyday use. Thankfully Samsung has improved things on that front as well.
Samsung boasts 1,000K IOPS (input/output operations per second) for random read and writes, which is significantly better than the 750K IOPS that boast most PCIe 4.0 SSD competitors.
[These figures apply to the 1TB unit. The 500GB one has a sequential reading speed of 6,900MB/s and “just” 800K IOPS. In fact, performance is not as consistent across all capacities as it was for the 970 Pro, so larger units are faster than their smaller counterparts.]
This is the first time that the Pro series does not boast a 2-bit MLC flash. Instead, the 980 Pro uses Samsung’s latest 1xx-layer V6 V-NAND MLC 3-bit flash to reduce costs — and that fact partly explains its slower write speed when confronted with the previous generation 970 Pro -. But, with the PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe controller under the hood, the 980 Pro delivers a more efficient and responsive performance that will cater to both gamers and prosumers.
[Samsung had so far separated its SSDs into the Pro and Evo lines using NAND technology as a differentiator between the two. The 970 Pro, for example, uses 2-bit MLC, while the Evo uses 3-bit MLC (TLC). With the release of the 980, the Pro suffix will indicate from now on the high-performance models, while Evo is for mainstream users and QVO drives for those on a budget.]
The Samsung 980 Pro is the ideal SSD to build new high-end gaming or work machine with cutting-edge performance. In addition, the 980 Pro doesn’t cost much more than Phison E16-based SSDs, such as the Sabrent Rocket NVMe 4.0 (Check on Amazon), making it surprisingly competitive against other prosumer class units.
The Samsung 980 Pro comes in four capacities: 250GB (Check on Amazon), 500GB (Check on Amazon), 1TB (Check on Amazon), and 2TB – the latter has the best price/GB ratio. These prices look expensive at first glance, however, compared to competing units like the (Check on Amazon) 1TB Sabrent Rocket, the price tag makes sense.
We typically recommend SSDs costing about 15 cents per Gigabyte, so all 980 Pro models are quite expensive, except for the 2TB model. But these prices aren’t all that hard to justify if you’re building a future-proof PC. With the exception of CPU and GPU, the SSD is the next “bottleneck” in a PC’s performance, from startup to loading programs. Not only does the 980 Pro offer exceptional speeds, but it is also reliable and sports a five-year warranty.
New controller and new flash
PCIe 4.0 support is not the only improvement for the 980 Pro. The two-year interval between the debut of the 970 Pro and 980 Pro gave Samsung plenty of time to improve the rest of its suite of memory technologies.
The 980 Pro uses the company’s sixth-generation memory cell configuration, which accommodates 40% more cells than the previous one. The new 3-bit MLC NAND technology has more than 100 layers of cells, is 10% faster for reads and writes, and consumes 15% less power – according to Samsung – than the previous generation. Power consumption sits on 5 watts when accessing data — again according to Samsung – and about 35 milliwatts while idle.
In addition to advances in memory cell stacking, the 980 Pro also features a redesigned controller – the part of the SSD that acts as a link to the rest of the computer. The new Elpis controller can simultaneously process 128 input and output requests, approximately four times more than the previous Phoenix controller (32) used in the 970 Pro.
Unfortunately, the 980 Pro also demonstrates lower durability, primarily as a result of switching from a 2-bit MLC NAND to a 3-bit MLC NAND. The 1TB version of the 980 Pro is classified as a 600TBW (Terabytes Written) SSD drive, compared to the 1,200TBW of the 1TB 970 Pro. However, a 600TBW rating is pretty standard in the industry these days.
The 980 Pro’s warranty is five years or its nominal figure in TBW, whichever scenario occurs first. Samsung claims that 99.7% of its users write less than 600TB over the course of five years. In fact, if you divide 600TB with five years, you’re looking at 328GB per day, an amount of data that covers any kind of “normal use scenario”; but when the Rocket PCIe 4.0 drive offer 850TBW, we can’t help but have more confidence in the Sabrent model.
The 980 Pro also leverages Samsung’s Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0, which has a buffer memory five times larger than the previous generation (90GB compared to 22GB), which helps the drive reach a write speed of 5.000MB/s. Once you run out of the smart buffer, however, performance drops to just 1,000MB/s on the 500GB drive or 2,000MB/s on the 1TB model. The 250GB and 500GB drives get 512MB of LPDDR4 memory, while the 1TB and 2TB models receive 1GB and 2GB of LPDDR4 memory respectively, which acts as a cache in order to keep things moving fast.
Also, unlike most SSDs on the market, the Samsung 980 Pro supports hardware-accelerated 256-bit AES encryption which is TCG Opal V2.0 and IEEE1667 compatible for data protection. It also supports secure erase via the Format NVM command and a cryptographic erase function, as well as S.M.A.R.T. and Trim data reporting.
Samsung 980 Pro – Performance
Yes, Samsung took its time to enter the PCIe 4.0 SSD market, but the wait was worth it.
The main reason? Performance. I have been using a Sabrent Rocket NVMe PCIe 4.0 since the beginning of 2020 and in almost all tests the 980 Pro is definitely faster. Furthermore, the read speed of the 980 Pro is about twice that of the previous generation 970 EVO Plus (Check on Amazon) (3,500MB/s), and 12 times faster than the fastest SATA SSD, the Samsung 860 Pro.
It’s a true generational leap, and it’s no wonder SSDs like the Samsung 980 Pro is what’s used in next-generation consoles. Sure, Gen4 SSDs are a bit expensive right now, but they’re worth it if you need that level of bandwidth for your work (or gaming) needs.
However, one thing we noticed when we tested this SSD with PCMark10 (which simulates everyday real-world workloads) is that the 980 Pro’s score isn’t much higher than high-end PCIe 3.0 drives. It’s higher yes, but you won’t be able to notice the difference while working on the PC. This drive will only shine when transferring files or running heavy applications like Adobe Premiere.
Samsung 980 Pro – Software
The 980 Pro comes with the Samsung Magician utility and the Samsung Data Migration Software app for migrating existing data to your new Samsung SSD. Magician handles all firmware updates, performance optimizations, and troubleshooting. It’s pretty easy to use, and I appreciate that it includes Encrypted Drive, a simple option to turn on hardware-built 256-bit AES encryption in the 980 Pro. You can also set custom overprovisioning levels (the default value is 10% of drive capacity), as well as format the drive securely. It also includes a benchmark, so you can easily make sure the drive is working as expected. This is easily the best SSD companion software right now.
Samsung 980 Pro – Verdict
Each new Samsung SSD tends to have the best performance and the 980 Pro (Check on Amazon) is no exception, redefining high-end SSD storage. The powerful new Gen4 Elpis NVMe controller, built from scratch to match the new and refined V-NAND, pushes the Samsung 980 Pro to the top of the SSD market. This combo offers speeds close to 7Gbps/5Gbps (sequential read/write) and up to 1 million IOPS on a PCIe 4.0 bus.
However, the Samsung 980 Pro is not unrivaled. Both the Intel Optane 905P (Check on Amazon) and the old 970 Pro (Check on Amazon) can write at higher speeds and for longer periods of time. Samsung, though, has an ace hidden up its sleeve in sustained workloads. The company has strived to find the right balance to make the 980 Pro the best overall unit for prosumers (and gamers), and this means that this unit can still deliver leading performances after the TurboWrite cache is completely full. In contrast, competing SSDs powered by Silicon Motion’s SM2262EN controller and even PCIe 4.0 models boasting Phison’s E16 NVMe controller, suffer from reduced performance after the cache is full. In addition, these controllers are not as efficient.
What’s more, the 980 Pro also offers an incredible random reading performance: we reached 22K IOPS with a QD (queue depth) of 1. The 980 Pro also offers among the fastest response times we’ve seen from a flash-based SSD (Intel’s Optane SSD is a different story).
The 980 Pro also marks a shift in the company’s pricing strategy. Samsung has not focused on creating “just” the best SSD in terms of features and performance but this time around it also focused on price. Its more competitive pricing for the new Pro series suggests that we will see its entire portfolio shift towards a more cost-competitive position.
Sadly, the 980 Pro does not offer a 10-year warranty or the superior endurance ratings we were used to with Samsung’s premium units. While it boasts more than enough performance for most users, the TLC flash under the hood is not that durable — this unit comes with half the durability of the previous generation (970 Pro).
Be that as it may, the 980 Pro is a stellar SSD that exceeds its competition in every aspect. It’s fast, efficient, and doesn’t heat up so much. If you’re looking for the best PCIe 4.0 SSD for your build, you need to look no further than the Samsung 980 Pro.