A solid state future: Samsung’s 950 Pro reviewed

Upgrading your computer’s hard drive used to be as simple as changing drives. It still is, for the most part, but Samsung’s 950 Pro brings a dose of speed unlike any other component we’ve seen.

What is it?

Hard drives have been changing over the years, but while we’ve seen the gradual shift from moving part conventional hard drives to static memory solid state drives, the drives still generally looked like hard drives.

Sure, they’ve been smaller and lighter, and far better for power consumption, but the form-factor for a solid state drive was more like that of a hard drive, sitting in the 2.5 inch design and taking the SATA3 connector.

With Samsung’s 950 Pro, we’re finally evolving from that hard drive design, switching to the chip with a direct connection to the motherboard, and that’s because once we finally transcend the SATA cable connection, we should — in theory — get faster speeds.

That is to say the “faster speeds” we’re talking about are faster than what you see in most desktops where cables are plentiful on the inside of the computer. Laptops have been using direct connections for some time, though only where solid state drives were, and very recent machines where the storage is built into the motherboard, not attached using a similarly old school connection.

So what you’re looking at with the Samsung 950 Pro M2 V-NAND SSD is a chip, and one that might evoke imagery from science fiction.

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It could be the chip from Terminator 2 that has to be crushed to save the future, or just another chip from another movie that has the potential to save time.

In truth, it is a chip that can and will save time, but it’s the sort of time that you’re sitting there waiting for your drive to load Photoshop or save that massive video file, because hard drives are only so fast.

To install it, however, you’re going to need a fairly recent computer that you can open up with a spare and willing PCI-Express port, and one that has been upgraded to support the NVM-Express technology, which for most people means computers bought in the past six to eight months, specifically those running Intel’s sixth-generation Core processors or something similar from AMD.

Performance

The moment you install the NVM-E chip that id the Samsung 950 Pro, you’ll probably notice the speed if it’s something you’re installing files onto.

Case in point, we installed Windows 10 to the drive and the whole process went by so quickly, we weren’t sure we did it right, done in the space of roughly 10 minutes.

Accurate numbers are always better, though, so we’ve run the drive through some speed tests to show you how it compares to another generation of solid state drives, with Samsung’s 850 used as a test.

Previously, that was the benchmark for high speed solid state drives at GadgetGuy, with speeds around 500MB per second for reading and writing, which is something you can also find on Samsung’s T1 external solid state drive.

That phrasing was intentional, mind you, because while the Samsung 850 “was” the benchmark, it no longer is. No, that crown now belongs to Samsung’s 950.

Samsung 950 Pro on the left, Samsung 850 Evo on the right.

Samsung 950 Pro on the left, Samsung 850 Evo on the right.

Tested on an Intel Core i7 sixth-gen system in the Gigabyte BRIX (which is being reviewed alongside the SSD), we found speeds in excess of three times the speed of the 850, with write speeds of 1.5GB per second compared to the 500MB per second of the old 850 benchmarking drive.

That is quite literally three times the speed of the original, something we suspect comes from a new architecture and a new transfer port, with a totally different connection aiding this speed boost.

What that means for your files and programs is a much faster run time, with pretty close to instantaneous load times, much like how when memory is soldered to the board.

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That’s not entirely the case, mind you, because the MacBook Pro we were using earlier in the year managed write speeds of just over a gigabyte per second, and that storage is soldered onto the mainboard, as far as we know.

Interestingly, Samsung’s 950 Pro could — in theory — achieve even higher speeds, with the company boasting as much as 2500MB per second read, while write speeds hover at 1500MB per second maximum. We reached the latter without any problems, but the most we could reach for read was around 1700MB per second, a little short of that almost 2.5GB per second.

We’re not complaining, mind you, and this change might come from something as simple as a driver change or just an improved PCI-E connector on a motherboard.

Comparisons are a little different again, however, when you’re putting Samsung’s own 950 Pro against another version of the 950 Pro.

In this test, we opted to try the 512GB variant against the 256GB variant, and the result was a little surprising, because you’re not just getting more storage in the 512GB option, but also getting more speed, too.

Samsung's 950 Pro 512GB on the left, while the 256GB variant appears on the right.

Samsung’s 950 Pro 512GB on the left, while the 256GB variant appears on the right.

Specifically, the write speed of the 512GB hits those 1500MB per second speeds, while the 256GB stayed closer to just under a gigabyte per second, sitting at 954MB/s.

That might not seem like much, but it tells us that writing to the 512GB Samsung 950 Pro not only delivers more space to work with, but less write time. It’s marginal, sure, but it’s a difference.

Not for beginners

Despite the excellent design and how the 950 Pro merely needs a PCI-E slot to work, we still need to point out that this stuff isn’t for beginners.

You may have a computer that could do with an upgrade in speed, and performance is definitely what this storage chip will offer, but unless you know what you’re doing or are friends with someone who is, Samsung’s M2 memory isn’t likely for you.

Essentially, you’re going to want to be comfortable with opening up a computer and traversing the insides. You need to know what the ports do, how to put the storage chip in, and not be afraid of fiddling with the BIOS, that starter set of instructions a motherboard offers up to tell you which device it should load the operating system from first.

It’s not even a simple matter of being skilled and unafraid of computer internals, because you also need a fairly recent computer to make proper use of the PCI-E speeds offered by the storage device.

Remember, this is at least three times the speed of a regular SATA3 internal drive, and probably closer to four times the speed. That means you can’t rely on the same interface, and as a result, it’s not as simple as plugging in a new drive.

Rather, you need a new connector, some recent operating system drivers, and this new chip. If you already know what these are and don’t feel limited by either, you’re good.

But if the term PCI-E is foreign and the insides of a computer are a little scary, don’t think about buying and installing one of these, as it may not even work for you.

Instead, look upon this review with the knowledge that this technology is coming to laptops and the few remaining desktops very, very shortly, and that computers won’t necessarily have to rely solely on memory or processor speed to get them faster, because with drives like this, it’s hard not to respect the super fast future Samsung is building.

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Conclusion

With the release of the 950 Pro series of Samsung SSDs, it’s pretty clear that Samsung is clinching a victory not just for its experience in crafting fast memory, but essentially making itself a benchmark.

Simply put, this is the fastest and most impressive speed burst we’ve ever seen in an upgrading capacity, and even if you can’t upgrade your machine with one of these chips — because you need a pretty recent machine to try it — Samsung’s 950 Pro offers a taste of the future, and we want more. Highly recommended.