Pros

Incredible sequential speed that provides mind-blowing real-world file transfer performance

Cons

Average performance in standard desktop activities; double the cost per GB of fast SATA drives

Star Rating

The Drive

This article has been updated from the original, with new data on 950 Pro performance using Samsung's NVMe driver.

Introduction

Not too long ago, we staged a comprehensive solid-state drive shootout showcasing some of the most popular SSD models on the market, comparing them to a few "classics" from generations ago to demonstrate what modern SSDs can do for PC builders and modders. Well, OK, it was mostly comprehensive, but there was one drive we didn't yet have in our collection that we really wanted to test: the Samsung 950 Pro 512GB. This drive really needs no introduction, as it's been the favorite of critics and enthusiasts from the moment it hit (or should we say conquered?) the market. We really wanted to know how it would do, so we decided to do the honorable thing: we went out and bought one.

Truth be told, we already had a sense of how it would perform in our benchmak suite, because we'd tested its predecessor, the Samsung SM951. And that drive had impressed in some benchmarks, while appearing fairly average in others. Not to spoil the fun too much, but the same is going to be true of the 950 Pro. Keep in mind that all modern SSDs already have more than sufficient throughput to just about saturate the SATA bus, as well as to move the small bits of data required for OS and app loading without breaking a sweat. The 950 Pro is really designed to do something different, and something different it does, as you'll soon see.

Description and Features

Here are all the drive you'll see in our benchmarks, including the 950 Pro:

  1. Solid-State Drive #1: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB M.2 (the fastest SATA-based M.2 drive on the market) 
  2. Solid-State Drive #2: Dual Samsung 850 Evo 500GB Drives in RAID0 (using a pair of 2.5" SATA drives)
  3. Solid-State Drive #3: OCZ Trion 150 960GB (representing the latest in big-capacity, low-cost drives)
  4. Solid-State Drive #4: Crucial MX200 1TB (Crucial's fastest drive, now discontinued in favor of the MX300 1TB)
  5. Solid-State Drive #5: Samsung SM951 256GB PCIe (precursor to the Samsung 950 Pro)
  6. Solid-State Drive #6: Samsung 950 Pro 512GB PCIe (both with the default Microsoft NVMe driver and Samsung's NVMe driver)

Note that The 850 Evo, Trion 150, and MX200 all use a standard SATA interface (whether through a SATA connector or an M.2 slot), while the SM951 and 950 Pro use the PCIe x4 interface also embedded in M.2 slots on current-gen motherboards. They install as easily as a stick of RAM, as shown below. Note that not all M.2 slots support PCIe x4 (for example, the Z97 chipset only supported PCIe x2), and importantly, not all M.2 slots support SATA either (most notoriously, it's absent from M.2 slots on the high-end X99 chipset). To make things just a bit more confusing, the 950 Pro has yet another layer of advancement beyond just PCIe and M.2: it uses the NVMe protocol, which is in the process of replacing the older AHCI protocol originally developed for mechanical hard drives. For truly complex I/O operations, NVMe can provide a serious boost. But not everything PC users do is all that complex, which means NVMe doesn't always have an advantage. We tested our six drives using a mix of synthetic and real-world benchmarks that we believe draws out both the distinctions and similarities between the various models, as well as areas of strength and weakness of specific models.

M.2 Drive

Test Setup

To put the 950 Pro to the test, we used our newest benchmarking rig, equipped with the following components:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-6900K @4.4GHz
  2. Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
  3. Memory: G.Skill 4x8GB Ripjaws V DDR4-3200
  4. Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 SC 8GB
  5. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
  6. CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i v2
  7. Case: SilverStone Primera PM01
  8. Operating System: Windows 10 Home Download

While benchmark jockies will always test their SSDs empty, results generated this way are truly meaningless. Without data on them, SSDs can't serve much purpose, can they? So we filled each of our drives to 50% of their capacity to run all of our tests.

Microsoft Driver

Note that when we originally published this article, we used the default Microsoft NVMe storage controller drivers that ship with Windows 10, creatively named the "Standard NVM Express Controller", as shown here. As it turns out, these standard drivers in fact hold back the 950 Pro, which is cutting-edge enough that it requires custom storage controller drivers to achieve its peak performance. The NVMe drivers are for the motherboard's storage controller, not the SSD itself, and are available on Samsung's website

Confusingly, Samsung's drivers are much older than Microsoft's, which probably were updated for the "Anniversary Update" to Windows 10, but for whatever reason didn't build in the necessary refinements required to accelerate the 950 Pro. We want to make clear that we do not think this is an ideal approach going forward, as systems with multiple NVMe devices could end up requiring conflicting drivers. Samsung is in the driver's seat when it comes to high-performance NVMe drives, however, so it can pull this off for now, but we hope that going forward a motherboard's storage controllers don't need to be changed based on which brand of device you install. You can see confirmation that Samsung's drivers are installed below:

Samsung Driver

 Let's now move onto our tests to see how the 950 Pro compares to the competition we set out for it, starting with some theoretical benchmarks!

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