Pros

Mind-blowing real-world file transfer performance; unmatched endurance thanks to MLC NAND

Cons

Average performance in standard desktop activities; nearly triple the cost per GB of SATA SSDs

Star Rating

Real-World Performance

Destiny

If you're looking for a blowout win from the 970 Pro to match its lead in synthetic testing, you won't find it here. As much as SSDs are now being marketed to gamers, we're going to have to burst everyone's bubble: fast PCIe drives are no better at launching games than SATA-based SSDs that cost 1/3 as much. In fact, the 970 Pro is the slowest drive in this test, which proves that game launching simply isn't bottlenecked by SSD throughput at this point. There's a whole lot more going on in the background when a game launches (including title screens that appear at fixed intervals), so if you're looking to get the jump on your adversary, just about any SSD will do. Just don't bother running modern games off of a hard drive: they'll take about twice as long to launch, and probably more than that to load levels.

While the 970 Pro will never earn its stripes lauching games, our next application demonstrates something entirely different:

Davinci

OK, now we're getting somewhere. While the 970 Pro can't beat the venerable 950 Pro, it is 40% faster than the MX500 in launching the complex video editing suite DaVinci Resolve. That's the benefit of PCIe in a nutshell. No SATA drive will be able to touch a good PCIe drive in this benchmark, but it will take a bit more for the 970 Pro to distinguish itself.

Steam

To allow the 970 Pro to really set itself apart, we need to go to some edge cases. The first is our Steam game installer "space allocation" test. While the duration of a Steam game install is primarily bounded by the download time, before you can even begin a download, Steam sets aside the space for the complete game install. And that is an extremely write-intensive task, which is why we see the 970 Pro coming out 4x faster than the MX500 SATA drive, which nearly replicates its 5x win in the AS SSD sequential write benchmark. It's actually over 50% faster than the 950 Pro, which proves that these are not in fact the same drives, something that you might have been confused about in the previous two benchmarks!

Finally, to "demonstrate the power of this battle station" (in the words of Grand Moff Tarkin), we go to the most extreme real-world benchmark, one that you might actually find yourself doing more often than you anticipate: copying large files from and to the same drive.

10GB

This is exactly the sort of task where a drive is pushed closest to its theoretical max, and the 970 Pro does not disappoint. A full 5x faster than the MX500 1TB in this test, the 970 Pro flexes its muscles. But that's not all: it's almost twice as fast as the 950 Pro, which goes to show that just using the PCIe interface alone does not a ludicrously-fast drive make. Copying 10GB of data from and to the same drive might seem like the kind of task that would saturate the PCIe bus, but in fact it's the NAND flash that's taking the hit here. Clearly, the PCIe interface isn't holding back the 970 Pro in the slightest. In reality, its read and write speed advantages versus the 950 Pro appear to be additional here: in this task the 970 Pro beats the 950 Pro by the same margin as its sequential read and write margins combined! Recall that in AS SSD, the 970 Pro was 16% faster in reads and 75% faster in writes. Here it's 88% faster. Wow!

Conclusion

So, the 970 Pro can act a lot like an inexpensive SATA-based SSD in many common tasks, and often has a hard time distancing itself from slower PCIe drives as well. But when push comes to shove, the 970 Pro takes no prisoners. It is undeniably fast when called upon to deliver in truly I/O-limited scenarios. Whether that means it's the right drive for you depends on how much you're willing to pay for that extra speed. Below you'll find the cost as of our publication date of the 970 Pro versus the MX500 we tested, as well as a couple other prime 1TB competitors, along with a price per GB figure:

  1. Crucial MX500 1TB 2.5" SATA ($135) - $0.13/GB
  2. XPG SX8200 Pro 1TB M.2 PCIe ($183) - $0.18/GB
  3. Samsung 970 Evo Plus 1TB M.2 PCIe ($248) - $0.25/GB
  4. Samsung 970 Pro 1TB M.2 PCIe ($348)  - $0.34/GB

Well, there's no doubt about it: the 970 Pro isn't a particularly good value proposition if all you want is a system that will boot and launch office apps and games quickly. It costs 2.5x more per gigabyte than the MX500, which performed similarly in several of our "everyday" bencmarks. Then there's the matter of competing TLC-based PCIe drives like the XPG SX8200 Pro and Samsung's own 970 Evo Plus, which can both do a pretty convincing imitation of the 970 Pro under most circumstances. But when the going gets really rough, nothing can touch MLC NAND, and the 970 Pro is the only PCIe drive that offers it. Every TLC drive on the planet is emulating a faster drive by using SLC cache, but once that runs out, they slow down, while the 970 Pro just keeps on going. Furthermore, as we mentioned on the first page, MLC flash offers much greater endurance, doubling the TBW rating of the 970 Evo Plus, despite costing just 40% more. If you'll truly tap into that write endurance, the 970 Pro starts to look like a serious bargain.

We can't emphasize this enough: the 970 Pro is a powerful tool, and in the right user's hands, it's simply the best M.2 drive on the planet, but most users would be well-advised to at least consider the less expensive alternatives. Our rule of thumb for 2019 is that the 970 Pro 1TB starts to make sense in content creation PCs that cost $2,000 and above or gaming PCs that cost $3,000 and above. Below those thresholds, you're better off allocating more of the budget to a faster CPU, GPU, or more RAM. As always, if you're looking to build a new PC, you'll find all of our recommended SSDs, as well as the rest of our favorite components, in our Do-it-Yourself PC Buyer's Guides, updated monthly!

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