We recently had the chance to chat one-on-one with the fine folks at Samsung to review the Korean tech giant's recent recent PC products, as well as to discuss plans going forward. Currently, Samsung's consumer information technology (CIT) group consists of monitors, RAM, and solid-state drive products. While it once encompassed a greater range of products, Samsung sold its printer division to HP in 2016 and shut down its digital camera division in 2017. It makes sense that Samsung would focus on markets with high growth potential, or at least substantial margins, and as most anyone could guess, that wasn't printers and cameras! We should note that Samsung's resurgent laptop group is actually within the mobile division, so we aren't going to be covering laptops here, but they are certainly worth taking a look at (particularly its range-topping NP900). With that intro out of the way, let's find out what's cooking in Samsung's CIT kitchen!
Samsung's Solid-State Drive Product Line for 2018
We're going to start where Samsung's already at the top of its game: solid-state drives. While Intel created the high-end consumer solid-state drive market back in 2009 with its x25-M (a sample of which we still have!), it has long ceded leadership (and marketshare) to Samsung. Intel is attacking the ultra-high-end with its Optane drives, but for the "merely" high-end, Samsung simply has no competition. It's been dominating the market since at least 2015, when competitors like Crucial and SanDisk (now a division of Western Digital) gave up on chasing it, but that doesn't mean Samsung has stopped innovating, allowing it to boost performance while lowering prices. The clearest example is the Samsung 970 NVMe M.2 series, released in late 2017, which has only added to Samsung's dominance. At the top of the product ladder is the Samsung 970 Pro, available in 512GB and 1TB models, catering to professional and business clients who need the utmost in responsiveness and throughput. It uses high-quality MLC 3D V-NAND chips to provide both blistering speed and incredible endurance. One step down is the Samsung 970 Evo, available in a wider range of capacities (250GB all the way up to 2TB). It caters to home users, including gaming enthusiasts, with exceptional speed at previously unheard of prices. With that said, the "Pro" series actually experienced the bigger price cut versus the previous generation, with the 970 Pro commanding only a 10-20% price premium over its 970 Evo cousins. In the 960 generation, the difference was 30%. So our take is that many consumers should really be cross-shopping these options at this point, because the Pro does offer the better overall package.
With that said, the majority of the market is still "stuck" on SATA, the ubiquitous interface that every PC sold in the past decade can accommodate. Samsung therefore released its new 860 Evo this year as well (in capacities of 250GB all the way up to 4TB!). It's a minor spec bump over the best-selling 850 Evo released in late-2015. The difference this time around is that the M.2 version was available from the get-go, and will likely become the "new normal" according to Samsung, as every modern motherboard has at least one M.2 slot (and many have two or three!). With that said, the hard truth is that the bandwidth provided by the SATA interface was saturated by SSDs years ago, and without being too specific, Samsung made clear that SATA drives are not where the future of SSD product development is headed.
By the way, while Samsung is one of the largest memory manufacturers in the world, it no longer actively markets RAM at the retail level, so we didn't spend any time talking with them about this product line. Suffice it to say that if you buy ultra-high-end memory products today, it's likely you're getting Samsung inside!
Samsung's Monitor Product Line for 2018
There's no area of PC technology that's experiencing more innovation today than high-end monitors, which are changing the way we all experience content. Samsung is well-positioned to move the ball forward thanks to its dominant position in the TV world (it's the #1 TV manufacturer, after all). Back in 2016, Samsung entered the high-end monitor market with its well-regarded UD970 32" 4K model, and has built upon that success with a full range of monitors for 2018. At the top of the heap is the stunning Samsung C49HG90 49" Super-Ultra-Wide, shown here, which features a curved 3840 x 1080 VA panel capable of 144Hz refresh rates and a 1ms response time. The CHG90 is also imbued with AMD FreeSync 2 technology for ultra-smooth frame sync'ing tech, along with true QLED-powered HDR lighting and color. These are specs you won't find in any other monitor, and to pile on the "win," Samsung also provides dual simultaneous inputs to this monitor, allowing users to display two separate systems at 1920 x 1080 at the same time. Take note that while the C49HG90 arrived in late-2017 at the $1,500 pricepoint, it's already dropped below $1,000, making it a very serious bargain.
Now, some serious gamers might be wondering why Samsung went with the resolution it did (essentially 2 x 1080p) rather than 4K (4 x 1080p), the marketing slogan of the day (year, decade?). Well, Samsung works closely with game developers, and the hard truth is that while games can render at 4K, very few developers are actually producing textures (art) at 4K, meaning a game engine running at 4K most definitely does not look four times as good as one running at 1080p on the same size monitor. On the flipside, game developers have long served the multiple-monitor market, where three individual 1080p monitors are commonly used side-by-side, so just about any game engine today can perfectly scale across at 3840 x 1080 monitor. Thus, gamers can pump up the field of view setting in games like the Battlefield series without getting the dreaded fisheye effect. Note that the CHG series also includes two traditional-format monitors, the C27HG and C32HG, which feature 2560 x 1440 VA panels. Other than the difference in form factor, these models have specs that are identical to the top-of-the line 49" version.
For users who want to go ultra-wide without going with the over-the-top 49" model, Samsung has another new model in the works, specifically a 34" 3440 x 1440 ultra-wide monitor. Dubbed the CJ791, it builds upon the CF791 released in 2017 by integrating Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, allowing for a single-cable laptop dock that carries video, acts as a USB hub for peripherals, and even charges the laptop while in use. Given that the CF791 is currently selling for around $750, we expect to CJ791 to land at around $800 when it arrives later this year. In addition to its slick docking options, it will also offer FreeSync and a refresh rate of at least 100Hz, so it can do double-duty as a gaming monitor!
One thing we of course have to address is the issue of FreeSync (AMD) versus G-Sync (Nvidia). This is an industry-wide concern, not one specific to Sasmung, but just about everyone knows at this point that Nvidia dominates in terms of market share, especially at the high end, so going with G-Sync would seem to make sense with a new feature-rich gaming monitor. Unfortunately, Nvidia has used its position to impose a pretty hefty licensing fee on the G-Sync modules required to build a G-Sync monitor, adding substantially to the cost for end-users. That being said, gamers who have invested a lot of money into Nvidia's high-end ecosystem are probably willing (if not quite eager) to pay the price for a great monitor to go with it, so we can only hope that Samsung decides to release some G-Sync models down the road.
Of course, there's more to the monitor market than just gaming, and Samsung has built on the reputation established by its first 4K monitor released in 2016 by offering better technology at lower cost. Case in point is the brand-new UJ590, which is launching this month at the $399 pricepoint. It's a big, bold 32" model with a full 3840 x 2160 VA panel, a 4ms response time, and support for 1.07 billion colors. Unlike the gaming models, it's a flat rather than curved display, but still offers AMD FreeSync technology for content creators who want to do some gaming on the side. Note that as with all currently-shipping 4K monitors, it's limited to a refresh rate of 60Hz, and to hit its target pricepoint, it forgoes a height-adjustable stand. That being said, it is VESA-compatible and can be used with any number of standard monitor arms. The fact that high-quality (read: not TN-based) 32" 4K monitors are now available for under $400 would have been truly unfathomable just two years ago, making this a perfect (and increasingly rare) example of how tech can get much more affordable over time.
We want to thank Samsung for giving us the opportunity to conduct this one-on-one interview, and look forward to hearing a whole lot more out of its CIT division in the near future!