Samsung 960 Pro and Evo push PCIe SSD performance forward

A little under a year ago, Samsung set a new bar in consumer NVMe SSD performance with its 950 Pro M.2 SSDs. Those drives used PCIe 3.0 x4 interfaces to deliver blazing-fast performance. Today, the company is aiming even higher with its updated 960 Pro and the new 960 Evo. The 960 Pro uses a new controller and Samsung's 3D V-NAND to deliver a nice boost in sequential and random performance on paper, while the 960 Evo should offer consumers a more accessible route to the NVMe fast lane.

We're still waiting on the full specs of each capacity of each drive, but we do know that the 960 Pro will ring in with sustained read speeds of up to 3600 MB/s and writes of up to 2100 MB/s. Random operations run at 440K read IOPS and 360K write IOPS. The 960 Evo will run at slightly lower speeds of up to 3200 MB/s sequential reads and 1900 MB/s sequential writes. The Evo's random I/O performance is also slightly lower, at 380K read IOPS and 360K write IOPS.

The 960 Pro will be offered in 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities, while the 960 Evo will come in 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB versions. The Pro drives are warranted for five years or up to 1.2 petabytes written on the 2TB drive, while the Evo is warranted for three years or 400 terabytes written—at least on the 1TB model.

At its keynote session, Samsung revealed that both 960-series drives use the five-core Polaris controller, the company's successor to the triple-core UBX product found in the 950 Pro. For the 960 series of drives, Samsung says that one core is dedicated to "optimizing communication between the host and the controller," one source of the performance increase over the 950 Pro.

On top of the new hardware, the 960 Evo benefits from an updated version of the TurboWrite caching technology introduced with the 840 Evo SATA SSD. Called Intelligent TurboWrite, this version of the caching tech expands the available area to 13 GB on the 250-GB 960 Evo, 22 GB on the 500-GB drive, and a whopping 42 GB on the one-terabyte drive. Those figures are up from 3GB, 6GB, and 12GB on the comparable 850 Evo.

The 960 Pro flips the capacity hierarchy that we're used to from Samsung drives, wherein the Evo series will typically offer higher capacities than the Pro line. Samsung is able to offer the 960 Pro in a larger capacity than its Evo cousin because of a package-on-package (PoP) packaging approach, in which the DRAM cache is actually placed on top of the controller in a single module (though it's important to note the two devices aren't fabricated on the same die).

That technique lets Samsung pack four of its 512-GB, 48-layer V-NAND chips onto the M.2 2280 form factor alongside the controller-DRAM PoP module. The 960 Evo doesn't enjoy this packaging density advantage right now, so its capacity tops out at a terabyte.

The 960 Pro and 960 Evo will be available next month. The 960 Pro series will start at $329.99, while the 960 Evo will start at $129.99. Stay tuned for more details as they arrive (and I digest the information in Samsung's keynote).

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