Samsung’s 830 Series has been our favorite SSD for the better part of a year now. We gave the drive our coveted Editor’s Choice award when we reviewed it, and we’ve been recommending the thing ever since. Can you blame us? The 830 Series combines excellent all-around performance and solid reliability with a price tag that won’t break the bank—or at least it did. Recently, prices have risen steadily as the drive’s online stocks have dwindled. Some models are no longer available from major vendors, and before long, eBay will be the only way to get an 830 Series SSD delivered to your door.
Our old favorite is disappearing from online listings because it’s being replaced by a new generation: the 840 family. Samsung has a two-pronged attack this time around. At the low end of the market, the 840 Series targets budget-conscious consumers. For those who crave performance, there’s the 840 Pro Series.
Although they’re based on the same controller technology, the 840 Series and its Pro sibling are very different animals. The 840 Series uses TLC NAND, which has slower write performance and shorter endurance than the MLC flash found in most consumer grade SSDs, including the old 830 Series and the new 840 Pro. Despite its more professional moniker, 840 Pro is the 830 Series’ true heir.
Unlike those obsessed with Kate Middleton’s baby bump, we don’t really believe in birthrights around here. If the 840 Pro wants to claim daddy’s crown, it’s going to have to go through all the other SSDs on the market right now. We’ve tested the 840 Pro against more than a dozen contemporary counterparts to see where it stands, and you might be surprised by the results.
Somehow more professional
On the surface, the 840 Pro closely resembles the 840 Series. Both models use the same 7-mm case, enabling compatibility with slimmer notebooks that can’t accommodate traditional 9.5-mm drives. Notebook users should also be impressed by the 840 family’s light weight; the 840 Pro weighs just 53 grams, which is noticeably lighter than all the other SSDs that have passed through our labs (apart from the similarly feathery 840 Series).
The 840 Pro and 840 Series look similar on the inside, too. Their circuit boards appear almost identical, save for minor differences in the markings on the controller chip and flash packages. Both drives use the same Samsung MDX controller, though. Like the MCX chip in the 830 Series, the MDX controller has three cores based on the ARM architecture. Those cores are clocked at 300MHz, up 80MHz from the old MCX chip. While the 6Gbps Serial ATA host interface remains unchanged, the eight-channel flash interface has been upgraded to support version 2.0 of the Toggle DDR NAND standard. The gen-two spec supports transfer rates up to 400 MT/s, providing three times the per-die bandwidth of Toggle DDR 1.0.
Apart from higher clocks and support for faster NAND, the MDX chip looks a lot like its predecessor. The controller can scramble the bits stored on the 840 Pro using a 256-bit AES encryption algorithm. There’s no compression trickery involved, so the drive should offer consistent performance regardless of the data type. Samsung hasn’t implemented a flash-level redundancy scheme, either. While the lack of RAID-like protection makes the 840 Pro vulnerable to data loss in the event of a physical NAND failure, Samsung doesn’t have to devote a portion of the drive’s storage capacity to parity data. As a result, the drives are available in 128, 256, and 512GB capacities instead of the 120, 240, and 480GB flavors typical of SSDs with die-level redundancy.
Our 256GB drive packs 32 individual NAND dies spread across eight physical packages. There are four dies per package, with each die weighing in at 8GB. Samsung manufactures the NAND itself, and these particular chips are built on a 21-nm fabrication process. The 830 Series uses 27-nm NAND.
Fabbing flash on a smaller process node allows Samsung to squeeze more dice—and more gigabytes—onto every wafer. The higher bit density should lower the all-important per-gigabyte cost, but there is a string attached. As the process geometry shrinks, so does the number of write-erase cycles that the NAND can endure. Samsung hasn’t revealed how many cycles its 21-nm flash can survive, nor has it published a total-bytes-written specification detailing the volume of host writes the 840 Pro can withstand. Fortunately, we can take some comfort from the fact that Samsung selects only the most promising flash chips for the 840 Pro. The drive is also covered by a five-year warranty, providing additional peace of mind.
|Capacity||Die config||Max sequential (MB/s)||4KB random (IOps)||Price|
|128GB||16 x 64Gb||530||390||97,000||90,000||$150|
|256GB||32 x 64Gb||540||520||100,000||90,000||$270|
|512GB||64 x 64Gb||540||520||100,000||90,000||$600|
The longer warranty helps to justify the 840 Pro’s premium price tag. Expect to pay around $270 for the 256GB version we’ve been testing. That price works out to over a dollar per gigabyte, which is relatively high by today’s standards. The 256GB model does occupy the sweet spot in the 840 Pro lineup, though. The 128 and 512GB versions both cost more per gig, and the former has a substantially lower sequential write speed rating. Looks like the MDX controller needs to be attached to more than 16 NAND dies for optimal performance.
To further entice buyers, Samsung has combined the 840 Pro with a downloadable copy of Assassin’s Creed III. Bundling a video game with a solid-state drive might seem a little unusual, but it’s nothing new for Samsung. You may recall that the 830 Series was sold with Batman: Arkham City. Assassin’s Creed costs $60 right now, so it’s not a trivial extra.
If you’re not much of a gamer, the 840 Pro does come with other software. Samsung includes its own Magician utility, which lets the user secure erase his drive, monitor its health, update the firmware, and adjust the over-provisioning percentage, among other functions. The 840 Pro ships with an older version of the Magician software, but we’ve been playing with a new beta that features a revamped interface:
The new look is cleaner, and I like the fact that the volume of bytes written is displayed up front. I do wish the health status were more descriptive, though. Telling me the drive is in “good” shape doesn’t provide any information on how long it’ll stay that way. The SMART variables accessible via the Magician software aren’t of much help on that front, either.
One feature missing from the new Magician app is a tab for data migration, which used to lead to a message saying that copies of Norton Ghost were included only with drives sold as part of upgrade kits. Samsung has its own data migration software for drives sold without accompanying upgrade kits, although it oddly wasn’t included on our 840 Pro’s software CD. A free copy can be downloaded from Samsung’s site, and it transferred our test rig’s Windows install to the 840 Pro without fuss. The migration software only works with Samsung SSDs, though.
Dueling firmware revisions
This review would have been published earlier had we not encountered slower than expected performance in some of our used-state tests. We pinged Samsung and learned that new firmware was on the way to address a performance drop with “dirty” drives. That updated firmware is now out for both the 840 Series and the 840 Pro—revisions DXT07B0Q and DXM04B0Q, respectively—and we have test results for each drive with its shipping firmware and the new rev.
Interestingly, the new firmware revisions are sort of a step back. Samsung changed its TRIM policy for the 840 family, an adjustment that lowered write performance for drives that had been filled to capacity. In the latest firmware spins, the TRIM policy has reverted to match the behavior of the 830 Series.
As it turns out, the 840 family suffered a more serious firmware issue before the drives were released to the general public. The samples initially sent out to reviewers had pre-production firmware that failed to update the metadata correctly after a secure erase, causing drives to meet an early demise in certain circumstances. This early firmware was confined to media and engineering samples, Samsung says, and the problem was fixed in the firmware installed on drives sold to consumers. We haven’t seen any reports of premature failures with production drives, so it looks like Samsung was successful in nipping that issue in the bud.
Our testing methods
If you’re familiar with our test methods and hardware, the rest of this page is filled with nerdy details you already know; feel free to skip ahead to the benchmark results. For the rest of you, we’ve summarized the essential characteristics of all the drives we’ve tested in the table below. Our collection of SSDs includes representatives based on the most popular SSD configurations on the market right now.
|Corsair Force Series 3 240GB||6Gbps||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25nm Micron async MLC|
|Corsair Force Series GT 240GB||6GBps||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25nm Intel sync MLC|
|Corsair Neutron 240GB||6GBps||256MB||LAMD LM87800||25nm Micron sync MLC|
|Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB||6GBps||256MB||LAMD LM87800||26nm Toshiba Toggle DDR|
|Crucial m4 256GB||6Gbps||256MB||Marvell 88SS9174||25nm Micron sync MLC|
|Intel 320 Series 300GB||3Gbps||64MB||Intel PC29AS21BA0||25nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 335 Series 240GB||6Gbps||NA||SandForce SF-2281||20nm Intel sync MLC|
|Intel 520 Series 240GB||6Gbps||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25nm Intel sync MLC|
|OCZ Agility 4 256GB||6Gbps||512MB||Indilinx Everest 2||25nm Micron async MLC|
|OCZ Vector 256GB||6Gbps||512MB||Indilinx Barefoot 3||25nm Intel sync MLC|
|OCZ Vertex 4 256GB||6Gbps||512MB||Indilinx Everest 2||25nm Intel sync MLC|
|Samsung 830 Series 256GB||6Gbps||256MB||Samsung MCX||27nm Samsung Toggle MLC|
|Samsung 840 Series 250GB||6Gbps||512MB||Samsung MDX||21nm Samsung Toggle TLC|
|Samsung 840 Pro 256GB||6Gbps||512MB||Samsung MDX||21nm Samsung Toggle MLC|
|WD Caviar Black 1TB||6Gbps||64MB||NA||NA|
We used the following system configuration for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz|
|Motherboard||Asus P8P67 Deluxe|
|Platform hub||Intel P67 Express|
|Platform drivers||INF update 188.8.131.520
|Memory size||8GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 with 2.62 drivers|
|Graphics||Asus EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 1GB with Catalyst 11.7 drivers|
|Hard drives||Corsair Force 3 Series 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Corsair Force Series GT 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Crucial m4 256GB with 010G firmware
Intel 320 Series 300GB with 4PC10362 firmware
WD Caviar Black 1TB with 05.01D05 firmware
OCZ Agility 4 256GB with 1.5.2 firmware
Samsung 830 Series 256GB with CXM03B1Q firmware
Intel 520 Series 240GB with 400i firmware
OCZ Vertex 4 256GB with 1.5 firmware
Corsair Neutron 240GB with M206 firmware
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB with M206 firmware
Intel 335 Series 240GB with 335s firmware
Samsung 840 Series 250GB with DXT06B0Q, DXT07B0Q firmware
OCZ Vector 256GB with 10200000 firmware
Samsung 840 Pro Series 256GB with DXM03B0Q, DXM04B0Q firmware
|Power supply||Corsair Professional Series Gold AX650W|
|OS||Windows 7 Ultimate x64|
Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards and graphics cards, Intel for the CPUs, Corsair for the memory and PSUs, Thermaltake for the CPU coolers, and Western Digital for the Caviar Black 1TB system drives.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- Intel IOMeter 1.1.0 RC1
- HD Tune 4.61
- TR DriveBench 1.0
- TR DriveBench 2.0
- TR FileBench 0.2
- Qt SDK 2010.05
- MiniGW GCC 4.4.0
- Duke Nukem Forever
- Portal 2
Some further notes on our test methods:
- To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before almost every component of our test suite. Some of our tests then put the SSDs into a used state before the workload begins, which better exposes each drive’s long-term performance characteristics. In other tests, like DriveBench and FileBench, we induce a used state before testing. In all cases, the SSDs were in the same state before each test, ensuring an even playing field. The performance of mechanical hard drives is much more consistent between factory fresh and used states, so we skipped wiping the HDDs before each test—mechanical drives take forever to secure erase.
- We run all our tests at least three times and report the median of the results. We’ve found IOMeter performance can fall off with SSDs after the first couple of runs, so we use five runs for solid-state drives and throw out the first two.
- Steps have been taken to ensure that Sandy Bridge’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the 2500K at 3.3GHz. Transitioning in and out of different power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
HD Tune — Transfer rates
HD Tune lets us present transfer rates in a couple of different ways. Using the benchmark’s “full test” setting gives us a good look at performance across the entire drive rather than extrapolating based on a handful of sample points. The full test gives us fodder for line graphs, which we’ve split up by drive maker. You can click the buttons below each line graph to see how the 840 Pro Series and our mechanical hard drive compare to different SSDs.
To keep the line graphs from getting too crowded, the comparisons with competitor drives include only the 840 Pro with the latest DXM04B0Q firmware. The Samsung line graphs show how the initial 840 Series and 840 Pro releases stack up against the new firmware for each model. The results based on the new firmware are identified with parentheses, so they should be easy to spot. We’ve also set apart the 840 Pro using a different shade than the other Samsung SSDs.
The new firmware has no impact on the 840 family’s read performance in HD Tune. Samsung dominates the top of the standings, with the 840 Pro and 840 Series practically tied for first place. Impressively, the next-fastest drive is the old 830 Series.
Here, we get our first glimpse of the difference in performance characteristics between the Samsung 840 Series and its Pro sibling. The Pro offers much higher sequential writes speeds, beating its TLC-equipped counterpart by about 175MB/s. It’s not even close.
Although the MLC-based drives provide stiffer competition, the 840 Pro is still the fastest of the bunch. Once again, the new firmware has no effect on performance.
HD Tune runs on unpartitioned drives, a setup that isn’t always ideal for SSDs. For another perspective, we ran CrystalDiskMark’s sequential transfer rate tests, which call for partitioned drives. We used the app’s default settings: a 1GB transfer size with randomized data.
Different benchmark, same story for the Samsung SSDs. The 840 Pro leads the field in both the read and write speed tests, highlighting the poor write performance of the standard 840 Series. Here, the difference in write speed amounts to nearly a factor of two.
The 840 Pro’s closest competition is the OCZ Vector, which is the fastest non-Samsung drive in both CrystalDiskMark tests. Only 1MB/s separates the Vector from the 840 Pro in the write speed test, though the OCZ drive trails by a wider margin in the read speed test.
HD Tune — Random access times
In addition to letting us test transfer rates, HD Tune can measure random access times. We’ve tested with four transfer sizes and presented all the results in a couple of line graphs. We’ve also busted out the 4KB and 1MB transfers sizes into bar graphs that should be easier to read without the presence of the mechanical drive.
The line graph mashes all the SSD results together, but it does an excellent job of illustrating the huge disparity in random access times between solid-state and mechanical storage. The differences are more than an order of magnitude, particularly with the smaller transfer sizes.
If we focus on the SSDs in the bar graphs, the Samsung 840 Pro Series is easier to spot. The drive sits in the middle of the pack in the 4KB test, where the new firmware produces slightly higher access times for both the 840 Pro and the 840 Series. Most of the SSDs, including the 840 variants, are locked in a virtual tie for the lead in the 1MB test. There and in the 1MB test, the new Samsung drives have an edge over the old 830 Series.
Virtually all of the SSDs are separated by a mere six microseconds in the 4KB random write speed test, so we’ll move onto the 1MB results. There, the Samsung 840 Pro Series just trails the lead group of drives based on SandForce and LAMD controllers. The 840 Pro has quicker access times than the 830 Series, which in turn has a substantial advantage over the vanilla 840 Series. The new firmware has little impact on the performance of the new Samsung drives in these tests.
TR FileBench — Real-world copy speeds
Concocted by resident developer Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, FileBench runs through a series of file copy operations using Windows 7’s xcopy command. Using xcopy produces nearly identical copy speeds to dragging and dropping files using the Windows GUI, so our results should be representative of typical real-world performance. We tested using the following five file sets—note the differences in average file sizes and their compressibility. We evaluated the compressibility of each file set by comparing its size before and after being run through 7-Zip’s “ultra” compression scheme.
|Number of files||Average file size||Total size||Compressibility|
The names of most of the file sets are self-explanatory. The Mozilla set is made up of all the files necessary to compile the browser, while the TR set includes years worth of the images, HTML files, and spreadsheets behind my reviews. Those two sets contain much larger numbers of smaller files than the other three. They’re also the most amenable to compression.
To get a sense of how aggressively each SSD reclaims flash pages tagged by the TRIM command, we run FileBench with the solid-state drives in two states. We first test the SSDs in a fresh state after a secure erase. They’re then subjected to a 30-minute IOMeter workload, generating a tortured used state ahead of another batch of copy tests. We haven’t found a substantial difference in the performance of mechanical drives between these two states. Let’s start with the fresh-state results.
So far, so good. The Samsung 840 Pro Series turns in the highest copy speeds in two of our fresh-state FileBench tests and finishes a close second in a third test. Those chart-topping performances come with the movie, MP3, and RAW file sets, which include smaller numbers of larger, highly compressed files. The 840 Pro isn’t quite as competitive with the smaller, easily compressed files in the TR and Mozilla sets. Those files are ideal candidates for the write-compression mojo in the SandForce-based Intel and Corsair SSDs.
To its credit, the 840 Pro isn’t that much slower than the SandForce drives in the Mozilla and TR tests. And it enjoys healthy leads over the Samsung 840 and 830 Series across the board. What happens when we test the drive in a used state?
With the latest firmware, the 840 Pro looks pretty competitive. It bounces around in the top three in the movie, MP3, and RAW tests and closely trails the SandForce drives in the TR and Mozilla tests. Check out the results from the initial production firmware, though. The problem is easier to see if we graph the drop in fresh versus used-state copy speeds.
With the old firmware, the Samsung 840 Pro Series’ copy speeds are much slower in a used state than they are fresh from a secure erase. Performance drops by a whopping 44-47% in the movie, MP3, and RAW tests. The Mozilla and TR tests are also affected, and so is the 840 Series, albeit to lesser degrees. None of the other SSDs experience such dramatic slowdowns.
Fortunately, the new firmware largely rectifies the problem for both 840 Series drives. It narrows the gap between fresh- and used-state copy speeds to single-digit percentages—and pretty low ones at that. The old-school TRIM policy incorporated in the updated firmware revisions seems to be more aggressive about reclaiming unused flash pages than the approach initially implemented in the 840 family
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time a new Samsung SSD has had problems with used-state file copy performance. We observed a similar issue with the 470 Series a couple years ago.
Don’t be alarmed by the small handful of drives that reach into negative territory in the graphs above. In these tests, some of the SSDs are actually faster in a used state than they are right after a secure erase. All of the results were verified with multiple test runs. We were so surprised by the performance of the 840 Pro’s production firmware that we confirmed its plodding used-state copy speeds on a separate but otherwise identical test rig.
TR DriveBench 1.0 — Disk-intensive multitasking
TR DriveBench allows us to record the individual IO requests associated with a Windows session and then play those results back as fast as possible on different drives. We’ve used this app to create a set of multitasking workloads that combine common desktop tasks with disk-intensive background operations like compiling code, copying files, downloading via BitTorrent, transcoding video, and scanning for viruses. The individual workloads are explained in more detail here.
Below, you’ll find an overall average followed by scores for each of our individual workloads. The overall score is an average of the mean performance score for each multitasking workload.
DriveBench 1.0 runs in a used state after the SSDs have been hammered by our IOMeter benchmarks. As one might expect, the Samsung 840 Series and 840 Pro perform better with their newer firmware. The standard 840 Series only gets a small boost in performance, but the 840 Pro enjoys a more substantial increase. That’s still not enough to challenge the OCZ Vector for the lead, though. Let’s see what the individual tests results can tell us.
Interesting. The 840 Pro is most competitive when a file copy or virus scan makes up the secondary component of the multitasking workload. Those are the two most demanding multitasking scenarios in this iteration of DriveBench. Even in those tests, however, the 840 Pro can’t match the I/O throughput of the OCZ Vector.
TR DriveBench 2.0 — More disk-intensive multitasking
As much as we like DriveBench 1.0’s individual workloads, the traces cover only slices of disk activity. Because we fire the recorded I/Os at the disks as fast as possible, solid-state drives also have no downtime during which to engage background garbage collection or other optimization algorithms. DriveBench 2.0 addresses both of those issues with a much larger trace that spans two weeks of typical desktop activity peppered with multitasking loads similar to those in DriveBench 1.0. We’ve also adjusted our testing methods to give solid-state drives enough idle time to tidy up after themselves. More details on DriveBench 2.0 are available on this page of our last major SSD round-up.
Instead of looking at a raw IOps rate, we’re going to switch gears and explore service times—the amount of time it takes drives to complete an I/O request. We’ll start with an overall mean service time before slicing and dicing the results.
Well, I wasn’t expecting that. The old Samsung 830 Series has a quicker overall mean service time than the new 840 Pro. The difference amounts to only a tenth of a millisecond—less than the gap between the 840 Pro and the 840 Series—but it’s enough to drop Samsung’s new hotness to the middle of the pack. Updating the drive’s firmware doesn’t improve its performance, although that may be due to a limitation in the test. DriveBench 2.0 isn’t capable of executing TRIM commands while playing back traces, and it’s the handling of those commands that has changed in the 840 family’s new firmware.
We can learn a little more about what’s going on in DriveBench by splitting the mean service time between read and write requests.
The Samsung 840 Pro Series sticks to the middle of the pack in both metrics. Its mean read service time is reasonably close to the quickest drive of the bunch, at least, but its mean write service time is nearly double that of the leader (and of the 830 Series).
There are millions of I/O requests in this trace, so we can’t easily graph service times to look at the variance. However, our analysis tools do report the standard deviation, which can give us a sense of how much service times vary from the mean.
The 840 Pro’s read service times are nearly as consistent as those of the steadiest drive, but the difference is much larger with writes.
We can’t easily graph all the service times recorded by DriveBench 2.0, but we can sort them. The graphs below plot the percentage of service times that fall below various thresholds. You can click the buttons below the graphs to see how the Samsung 840 Series compares to SSDs from other drive makers.
The write distribution plots are too closely matched to draw any real conclusions apart from the fact that the mechanical drive and Intel 320 Series aren’t in the same league as the faster SSDs. The read results are more spread out, and they reveal that the Samsung 840 Series and 840 Pro have similar service time distributions beyond the 0.2-millisecond threshold.
Although the SandForce-based drives have higher percentages of service times under 0.1 ms, the 840 Pro pulls ahead as the threshold rises up to 0.6 ms. All the SSDs start to converge after that point.
As the distribution plots illustrate, service times over 100 milliseconds make up a tiny fraction of the overall results. Those extremely long service times have the potential to cause the sort of hitching that a user might notice, so we’ve graphed the individual percentages for each drive.
No problems here. The 840 Pro Series gets stuck on only a tiny fraction of the ~40 million I/Os in our two-week trace.
Our IOMeter workloads feature a ramping number of concurrent I/O requests. Most desktop systems will only have a few requests in flight at any given time (87% of DriveBench 2.0 requests have a queue depth of four or less). We’ve extended our scaling up to 32 concurrent requests to reach the depth of the Native Command Queuing pipeline associated with the Serial ATA specification. Ramping up the number of requests also gives us a sense of how the drives might perform in more demanding enterprise environments.
We run our IOMeter tests using the fully randomized data pattern, which presents a particular challenge for SandForce’s write compression scheme. We’d rather measure SSD performance in this worst-case scenario than using easily compressible data.
There’s too much data to easily show on a single graph for each access pattern, so we’ve once again split the results by drive maker. You can compare the Samsung 840 Pro Series’ performance to that of the competition by clicking the buttons below each graph.
We’ll start with the web server test, which consists of read operations exclusively. Here, the 840 Pro achieves higher I/O throughput than not just the other Samsung SSDs, but also everything else.
The 840 Pro largely retains its lead over the other Samsung SSDs in the file server, database, and workstation tests, all of which mix read and write operations. However, the vanilla 840 Series boasts higher transaction rates with the heaviest loads in the file server and database tests. The 840 Pro’s performance actually drops between 16 and 32 concurrent I/Os in those tests, behavior that matches that of the old 830 Series. For some reason, the drop-off doesn’t affect the 840 Pro in the workstation test. Samsung’s newer firmware doesn’t have any impact, either.
Versus its SandForce-based rivals, the Samsung 840 Pro Series sticks close with lighter loads but crunches more I/Os as the number of concurrent requests ramps up beyond four. OCZ’s Vector and Vertex 4 provide stiffer competition under those more strenuous loads. The Corsair Neutrons offer much higher transaction rates across the board in all three tests, though.
Before timing a couple of real-world applications, we first have to load the OS. We can measure how long that takes by checking the Windows 7 boot duration using the operating system’s performance-monitoring tools. This is actually the first test in which we’re booting Windows off each drive; up until this point, our testing has been hosted by an OS housed on a separate system drive.
Level load times
Modern games lack built-in timing tests to measure level loads, so we busted out a stopwatch with a couple of reasonably recent titles.
Adding an SSD will greatly reduce load times compared to a mechanical hard drive. However, the difference in load times between the SSDs we’ve tested is pretty minimal. The Samsung 840 Pro Series may not sit at the top of the charts, but it’s never more than a few tenths of a second off the fastest time in each test.
We tested power consumption under load with IOMeter’s workstation access pattern chewing through 32 concurrent I/O requests. Idle power consumption was probed one minute after processing Windows 7’s idle tasks on an empty desktop.
With the latest firmware revisions, the Samsung 840 Series and 840 Pro consume much more power at idle than they did with the initial production releases. Their one-watt idle power draw isn’t alarmingly high, but the increase is surprising. I suspect our measurements are being taken before the new TRIM policy has finished cleaning up after Win7’s idle task processing. Longer idle periods do bring the 840 Pro’s power consumption down to the 0.3W with the updated firmware.
The new firmware doesn’t change the 840 Series’ power consumption under load, but it does cause the 840 Pro to draw an additional watt. Even so, the 840 Pro remains one of the most power-efficient drives under load.
The value perspective
Welcome to another one of our famous value analyses, which adds capacity and pricing to the performance data we’ve explored over the preceding pages. With the exception of the Samsung 830 Series, which is out of stock at most vendors, we used Newegg prices for all the SSDs. We didn’t take mail-in rebates into account when performing our calculations.
First, we’ll look at the all-important cost per gigabyte, which we’ve obtained using the amount of storage capacity accessible to users in Windows.
Although there are many SSDs priced below a dollar per gigabyte, the Samsung 840 Pro Series isn’t one of ’em. Only the OCZ Vector and a couple of premium-priced Intel SSDs join the 840 Pro beyond the dollar-per-gigabyte threshold. The old 830 Series is up there, as well, but it’s a bit of an outlier. The drive has been discontinued and is only available from a limited selection of vendors at inflated prices.
Our remaining value calculation uses a single performance score that we’ve derived by comparing how each drive stacks up against a common baseline provided by the Momentus 5400.4, a 2.5″ notebook drive with a painfully slow 5,400-RPM spindle speed. This index uses a subset of our performance data described on this page of our last SSD round-up.
The Samsung 830 Series was only recently unseated from the top of our overall performance rankings by the OCZ Vector. While the 840 Pro is an improvement over its predecessor, it’s not fast enough to match the Vector in this metric. Note the difference made by the new firmware. Our overall score includes used-state FileBench results, which is why the 840 Pro ranks so much higher with the latest release. The standard 840 Series also gets a boost from its new firmware revision, but the magnitude of the boost is much smaller than it is for the 840 Pro.
Now for the real magic. We can plot this overall score on one axis and each drive’s cost per gigabyte on the other to create a scatter plot of performance per dollar per gigabyte. The best place on the plot is the upper-left corner, which combines high performance with a low price.
From a purely performance-per-dollar perspective, the Samsung 840 Pro Series doesn’t look like a compelling deal. It costs as much as the OCZ Vector but isn’t quite as fast overall. Neither of those high-end SSDs has a particularly appealing value proposition; you could pay a fair amount less for an Intel 335 Series or a Corsair Neutron without giving up too much performance.
Although it had a somewhat complicated birth, the Samsung 840 Pro Series is a very fast SSD. Unlike its 840 Series sibling, the Pro offers strong write performance to go along with its wicked-fast read speeds. The drive performs well with both random and sequential I/O, and the latest firmware seems to be devoid of performance pitfalls. You’ll definitely want to flash the latest DXM04B0Q release. The new firmware’s tweaked TRIM implementation improves the drive’s used-state performance appreciably.
Samsung’s Magician utility makes firmware upgrades easy, and the free data migration software should be particularly useful for upgraders. The Assassin’s Creed III bundle is a nice addition, too, albeit one whose appeal is largely limited to gamers and people who flip download codes on eBay. Given how much SSDs can speed up level load times, I suspect a lot of gamers are shopping for solid-state storage these days.
The thing is, I’m not sure how many of them are going to be willing to shell out $270 for the 840 Pro Series 256GB. Similarly sized SSDs are available for closer to $200, and while they may not match the 840 Pro in all our benchmarks, they should feel every bit as fast in the real world. For most desktop tasks, the performance differences between mid-range and high-end SSDs are relatively small.
Some users will always want the fastest drive on the block, and the 840 Pro certainly comes with more bragging rights than a mid-range drive. That said, some of its competitors offer better performance in certain scenarios. The 840 Pro isn’t a clear-cut favorite like its 830 Series predecessor was.
Samsung does use a smaller fabrication process to manufacture the 840 family’s NAND, and that should give the firm more flexibility to lower prices. The presence of the 840 Series may prevent the Pro from dipping as low as the 830 Series did in its final months on the market, though. Right now, the 840 Pro commands a 50% premium over its standard 840 Series sibling, neatly segmenting the two drives.
Given the vanilla 840 Series’ slower write performance and the lower endurance of its TLC flash chips, I’d lean toward shelling out the extra cash for the Pro model. Certainly, the 840 Pro should be on the short list for anyone shopping for a high-end SSD. Samsung has an excellent reliability reputation, and the drive’s five-year warranty is a nice perk. Throw in Assassin’s Creed III, and you’ve got an appealing package overall.