ProsMind-blowing real-world file transfer performance; unmatched endurance thanks to MLC NAND
ConsAverage performance in standard desktop activities; nearly triple the cost per GB of SATA SSDs
Here at The Tech Buyer's Guru, we've been using solid-state drives since the very first consumer-grade models hit the market almost a decade ago, and our comprehensive solid-state drive shootout conducted in 2016 showcased some of the most popular SSD models on the market at that time. We followed that up with a test of the ground-breaking Samsung 950 Pro 512GB, the first mainstream PCIe-based solid-state drive to hit the market. Not to spoil the fun too much, but that drive didn't exactly earn an across-the-board recommendation from us, and the same is going to true of the Samsung 970 Pro 1TB we're testing today. It's not that there was anything wrong with the 950 Pro or its descendant the 970 Pro, but more that these are the right drives for the right users, and not quite the right drives for most users. Keep in mind that all modern SSDs already have more than sufficient throughput to feel very fast in everyday tasks, and as we'll be showing in this review, it takes some edge cases to show exactly how fast the 970 Pro is. But when it gets a chance to stretch its legs, it does just that, as you'll soon see!
Thank you to Samsung for providing a sample of its 970 Pro 1TB M.2 PCIe drive for review.
Description and Features
By way of background, the 970 Pro is an M.2 drive, as opposed to a 2.5" SSD, which is clear from its form factor. What's less obvious is that it uses the PCIe interface and NVMe protocol. M.2 drives can also use the SATA interface and AHCI protocol, and early on, there were even a couple of drives that used an odd combination of the PCIe interface and the AHCI protocol. All PCIe drives today use NVMe, but that still leaves us with two similar-looking but very different products, which of course can lead to confusion. PCIe drives like the 970 Pro can run in any M.2 slot (although some older or lower-cost boards limit these slots to PCIe x2, rather than the full PCIe x4 speed that the 970 Pro can harness). SATA drives, on the other hand, require an M.2 slot specifically made to support both PCIe and SATA interfaces, which is where confusion can lead to frustration - many of our readers have been stymied by M.2 SATA drives that appear to be dead on arrival but simply need to be installed in a different M.2 slot. Luckily, that's an issue that users of the 970 Pro or any of its PCIe brethren can ignore!
One key difference between the 970 Pro and every other SSD on the market today, be they SATA or PCIe, is the type of NAND flash it uses. The 970 Pro is the only drive on the market that still uses MLC flash, which is faster and higher-endurance than the TLC and QLC flash used on every other solid-state drive. We'll get to the speed benchmarks later in this review, but we're going to have to take Samsung's word on endurance: 1,200 TBW with a 5-year limited warranty. That compares to a rating of 400 TBW for the 950 Pro (which also used MLC flash) and 600 TBW for its brand-new 970 Evo Plus 1TB, the very best TLC-based drive on the market. So right there you're getting double the endurance, and for some users, that's going to easily justify the additional cost of the 970 Pro over any TLC-based drive.
While there isn't much to SSDs from a physical standpoint, the 970 Pro does look pretty good in terms of aesthetics. Furthermore, its label actually includes a heat-shedding copper layer, which is a neat touch. Users who are really concerned about thermal throttling, however, should probably consider more robust heatsink solutions, like those built into many motherboards.
With that said, Samsung offers a lot when it comes to the software side, so we thought we'd highlight two great packages that can be downloaded for free from the Samsung website. First up is Samsung's data migration tool, which is a great way to clone an existing SSD to the 970 Pro quickly and without having to rely on unproven third-party software. Here's a screenshot of that tool in action:
As you can see above, it took just 12 minutes to clone our Samsung 950 Pro 512GB, which had about 400GB of data on it. The cloning ran at about 600MB/s, which is quite fast and exceeded the theoretical top speed of SATA devices, which is your first indication that PCIe drives are indeed different!
Next up is Samsung's excellent Magician software package, which allows you to perform maintenance on any of its SSDs, set up over-provisioning allotments, conduct performance benchmarks, and check wear levels. It's well-executed and a great free add-on for Samsung SSD owners. Here's a screenshot:
You don't have to check in on Magician often, as it runs in the background and ensures that you have the latest firmware and updates applied to your drive. Overall, we really like it, and even use it to benchmark other brands of drives on occasion, although you can only perform maintenance on Samsung models.
On the next page we'll discuss our test setup.