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Samsung's 860 Pro 1 TB solid-state drive reviewed

A delicious 64-layer MLC cake

Good as they are, Samsung's 850 series of SSDs has grown rather wizened. The line made its debut with the high-end 850 Pro all the way back in the summer of 2014, followed by the 850 EVO a few months later. But despite all the time that Samsung's competitors have had to try to close the gap, no drive has truly been able to displace the 850 EVO as the market's mainstream darling. With as little competitive pressure as Samsung has faced and with the SATA interface's ceiling on performance, there's been little reason for drastic change in the company's SATA SSD lineup.

But Samsung hasn't spent the last few years taking its advantage for granted. 3D NAND was still a young technology in 2014. The 850-series drives were powered by Samsung's second-generation, 32-layer V-NAND. The first-gen stuff never made it into a client drive. Samsung's stacks of flash have tripled in height since then—the company recently announced its forthcoming fifth-generation, 96-layer V-NAND. That flash may mark the end of line for Samsung's layer jenga. The company has hinted it will likely be seeking future gains through means other than adding more layers.

For the time being, the stuff being mass-produced and stuffed into drives for the consumer market is Samsung's fourth-generation, 64-layer flash. We've already had a look at this V-NAND in TLC configuration inside of Samsung's excellent Portable SSD T5. Today, though, we get to take a crack at the good stuff: 64-layer MLC V-NAND in Samsung's brand-spanking-new 860 Pro 1 TB.

Samsung 860 Pro
Capacity Max sequential (MB/s) Max random (IOps) Price
Read Write Read Write
256 GB 560 530 100K 90K $140
512 GB 560 530 100K 90K ?
1 TB 560 530 100K 90K ?
2 TB 560 530 100K 90K ?
4 TB 560 530 100K 90K ?

Divested of its black carapace, the 860 holds no surprises inside. It's a dual-sided PCB with two NAND packages on either side. The top, of course, makes room for the drive's controller and DRAM cache, as well. The MJX controller is one we haven't seen before, but it's not clear what it does differently than Samsung's previous SATA storage controllers. The company calls it "revamped" and "refined," but had no architectural or algorithmic specifics to share.

The 860 EVO is also launching today, and as you might expect, the biggest difference between the two series is the EVO's TLC V-NAND in lieu of the Pro's MLC. 860 EVO drives will also come in capacities spanning from 250GB all the way up to 4TB. Unlike the 2.5"-only Pro series, the EVO will be available in 2.5", mSATA, and M.2 varieties. 

As of the time of this writing, Samsung hasn't released full pricing details for its two new product families. All we have are tentative suggested prices of $140 for the 860 Pro 256GB and $95 for the 860 EVO 250GB. We'll update this review as soon as we know more about the pricing of the entire 860 Series lineup.

Just as with the 850 series, don't assume that the price jump from EVO to Pro will buy you more performance. TurboWrite and V-NAND's raw performance even in TLC deployments ensure that the drive is going to operate near SATA's 6 Gbps limits regardless. What you're buying is increased assurance about the longevity of the drive. Samsung is overwhelmingly bullish on the endurance of its 64-layer V-NAND. The 850 Pro 1TB was rated for 300 terabytes written, and the new 860 Pro 1 TB is officially expected to last a ridiculous 1200 terabytes. Real-world numbers might run even higher, as our SSD Endurance Experiment suggested way back when.

Despite that confidence, Samsung is walking back its 10-year warranty on the 850 Pro to a mere five-year warranty. This isn't altogether unexpected, given that Samsung had already reduced its warranty on the blazing-fast 960 Pro to five years. But expected or not, it's sad to witness the death throes of the 10-year client SSD warranty. As far as we know, SanDisk's Extreme Pro is the last currently produced drive offering such peace of mind.

Since Samsung is undoubtedly going to be charging high-end dollars for the 860 Pro, it goes without saying that the drive features AES 256-bit hardware encryption with TCG Opal and IEEE 1667 support.

Expensive SATA drives are a tough sell these days, since PCIe drives and a full complement of supporting hardware have become more and more accessible over the years. Let's see if the 860 Pro's performance can convince us that its niche still exists.