Samsung 970 EVO NVMe SSD – now that is fast (review)

The Samsung 970 EVO NVMe SSD is so fast that a full Windows 10 Pro install including massive updates, 20+ drivers and 20GB of software took about an hour. It usually takes five or more.

What is it?

The Samsung 970 EVO NVMe (website here) is a solid-state disk (SSD) storage device in an M.2 2280 (22 wide x 80 mm long) format card.

It uses Samsung’s latest generation of 64-layer, VNAND, Non-Volatile Memory, its own Phoenix controller, and a PCI Express (PCIe) bus to transfer data.

Raw read/write speed is not in itself an indicator of performance. Raw speed excludes the speed loss due to the bus interface and things like sequential or random read/write and file size. Larger files read/write faster; smaller more numerous files copy slower.

What’s a bus got to do with it?

You have several bus types. SATA stands for Serial ATA and depending on the hard disk age may theoretically be

  • 1 – 150MB/s or 1.5Gb/s
  • 2.0 to 2.6 – 300MB/s or 3Gb/s
  • 0 to 3.1 – 600MB/s or 6Gb/s (also called SATA 600)
  • 2 to 3.3 – 1969MB/s or 16Gb/s

(MB is Megabyte, Gb is Gigabit – for conversion see the website here.

In practice, data transfer rates on SATA are well under half the theoretical speed because they are unidirectional. In other words, they must wait until a read is done to perform a write (command queuing).

PCIe is several times faster than a standard SATA 600 bus. You can recognise NVMe SSD by the single slot in the gold finger connector (SATA 600 has two).

In theory a single lane

  • 1.0 – 2.5Gb/s
  • 2.0 – 5Gb/s
  • 3.0 – 8Gb/s

Typically, modern NVME SSD is PCIe 3.0 x 4 lanes giving a 32Gb/s transfer or a staggering 4,000MB/s. In practice PCIe 3.0 is bidirectional – you can have 4,000MB/s going both ways, e.g. moving 8,000MB/s.

Samsung 970 EVOWho uses it?

Anyone with an NVMe M.2 SSD slot on their motherboard or in the laptop/tablet. Most high-end computing devices use NVMe. If you are in doubt download Crystal Disk Info and Crystal Disk Mark to verify what type of SSD (or HDD) you currently have. Be prepared to weep over your current speeds.

Part of the secret sauce is its Phoenix controller and Intelligent TurboWrite technology enhance high-end gaming and 4K & 3D graphic editing.

Typical users will be gamers, those who transfer large files, video/still editors who drink too much coffee waiting for renders or data to copy to backup devices.

How fast is it?

I had heard it was fast – rated at 3,500MB/s read and 2,500MB/s write. In fact, that is around seven times faster than a spinning disk.

Samsung 970 EVO

It is over two times fast at read and nearly ten times faster at write than the NVMe M.2 SSD in my HP EliteBook 1030 G2 (below and I thought that was good).

Samsung 970 EVO

In theory, the raw speed is incredible. In practice, the different file sizes make a huge difference. For example, the HP almost keeps up when the bus is used to copy more, smaller files.

The EVO version has a dynamic cache.

There is a slightly faster 970 Pro version that uses 2-bit, TLC, 64-layer VNAND and copies files faster again.

Samsung Magician

Most NVMe SSD come with software to help manage the device. Samsung Magician

  • Analyses the drive condition and temperature
  • Terabytes written (guarantee uses this)
  • Performance benchmarks
  • Invoked Rapid mode (intelligent DRAM caching of data, for read acceleration and write optimisation)
  • SMART check
  • Secure Erase
  • Accesses the operating trim status
  • Over-provisioning to reserve extra free space
  • Sets a Data Security cache size for longer life
  • Firmware update
  • Data Security (offers several encryption password options)

I first used it a year or so ago, and the software was very limited – about three features. This has matured into a very useful product.

Samsung 970 EVO

Lifespan

It has a 5-year warranty or 1,200TBW (Terabytes Written). You are not going to reach that in five years.

Also, it is a single-sided construction (many other brands mount more lower capacity chips on both sides) and has an inbuilt Dynamic Thermal Guard and Nickel-coated controller. It is a Rolls Royce.

Price: Samsung 970 EVO SSD

  • 250GB – $175
  • 500GB – $399
  • 1TB – $649
  • 2TB – $1239

Shop around online – you may be pleasantly surprised.

GadgetGuy’s take – satisfies the need for ludicrous speed

I am a convert – take my credit card now. In reality for what I do (and by inference Joe and Jane Average) you don’t need the Samsung 970 EVO – you want it!

I have tested the predecessor 960 and earlier, and these were plenty fast enough.

Technology wise these are faster (by at least 30%) and cheaper although early adopters will pay full price.

But there is a problem for upgraders. There is currently no external NVMe M.2 USB-3 or Thunderbolt 3 enclosure to easily clone from your existing internal NVMe drive to the new one. Practically it will need a full backup to an external drive and a clean install of Windows 10 on the new drive. That is not too bad if you have an activation key and download USB ISO from Microsoft.

Pro

  • Amazing speed from the Phoenix controller and PCIe 3.0 x 4 lane bus
  • Good TBW warranty
  • EVO is for most users – PRO is for prosumer at a price premium

Con

  • None really except that most will not have NVMe M.2 slots

Ratings – Samsung 970 EVO 2TB

  • Overall: 4.4 out of 5
  • Features: 5 out of 5 – meet or exceed marketing statements
  • Value for money: 4 out of 5 – early adopters will pay full price – consider a 960 EVO
  • Performance: 5 out of 5 – Amazing, blistering speed
  • Ease of Use: 3 out of 5 – Will require a clean Windows or macOS install unless you have dual NVMe M.2 slots
  • Design: 5 out of 5 – Very well made with a great warranty

Specs (970 Pro included as well)

Category 970 PRO 970 EVO
Interface PCIe Gen 3.0 x4, NVMe 1.3
Form Factor M.2 (2280)
Storage Memory Samsung 64L V-NAND 2-bit MLC Samsung 64L V-NAND 3-bit MLC
Controller Samsung Phoenix Controller
Cache Memory 1GB LPDDR4 DRAM (1TB)
512MB LPDDR4 DRAM (512GB)
2GB LPDDR4 DRAM (2TB)
1GB LPDDR4 DRAM (1TB)
512MB LPDDR4 DRAM (250GB/500GB)
Capacity 512GB and 1TB 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB
Sequential Read/Write Speed Up to 3,500/2,700 MB/s Up to 3,500/2,500 MB/s
Random Read/Write Speed Up to 500,000/500,000 IOPS Up to 500,000/480,000 IOPS
Device Sleep 5mW
Management Software Samsung Magician Software
Data Encryption Class 0 (AES 256), TCG/Opal v2.0, MS eDrive (IEEE1667)
Total Byte Written 1,200TB (1TB)
600TB (512GB)
1,200TB (2TB)
600TB (1TB)
300TB (500GB)
150TB (250GB)
Warranty Five-year Limited Warranty*