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|
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.
IOMeter — Sequential and random performance
IOMeter fuels much of our latest storage test suite, including our sequential and random I/O tests. These tests are run across the full capacity of the drive at two queue depths. The QD1 tests simulate a single thread, while the QD4 results emulate a more demanding desktop workload. For perspective, 87% of the requests in our old DriveBench 2.0 trace of real-world desktop activity have a queue depth of four or less. Clicking the buttons below the graphs switches between results charted at the different queue depths.
Our sequential tests use a relatively large 128 KB block size.
The 860 Pro’s sequential read and write speeds are virtually identical to the 850 series’. The isn’t a surprise, since Samsung’s drives were already delivering about as much oomph as SATA can bear. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Random read and write response times are stellar. The 860 Pro shows a large percentage-wise improvement over its 850 forebears, but they’re all perfectly snappy drives with sub-millisecond responses.
So far so good. The 860 Pro 1TB looks every bit as quick as its honorable ancestors. Let’s fire off some heavier workloads and see how the drive handles it.
Sustained and scaling I/O rates
Our sustained IOMeter test hammers drives with 4KB random writes for 30 minutes straight. It uses a queue depth of 32, a setting that should result in higher speeds that saturate each drive’s overprovisioned area more quickly. This lengthy—and heavy—workload isn’t indicative of typical PC use, but it provides a sense of how the drives react when they’re pushed to the brink.
We’re reporting IOps rather than response times for these tests. Click the buttons below the graph to switch between SSDs.
The graph of the 860 Pro 1TB’s sustained performance looks remarkably similar to that of the 850 EVO 1TB, peaking around 90K IOPS for roughly 200 seconds before dwindling to a constant speed around 8K IOPS.
And that’s exactly what’s happening. The 860 Pro’s peak and steady-state speeds are very similar to those of the 850 drives, both Pro and EVO.
Our final IOMeter test examines performance scaling across a broad range of queue depths. We ramp all the way up to a queue depth of 128. Don’t expect AHCI-based drives to scale past 32, though—that’s the maximum depth of their native command queues.
For this test, we use a database access pattern comprising 66% reads and 33% writes, all of which are random. The test runs after 30 minutes of continuous random writes that put the drives in a simulated used state. Click the buttons below the graph to switch between the different drives. And note that the P3700 plot uses a much larger scale.
The 860 Pro demonstrates very graceful scaling for a SATA drive, yielding tangible speed gains all the way to a queue depth of 32. Let’s take a look at the Samsung crew all together.
The 860 Pro scales strictly better than the 850 EVO and about as well as the 850 Pro. With its PCIe and NVMe advantage, however, the 960 EVO lives in a different dimension.
The 860 Pro has proved itself to be every bit as good in IOMeter as the SATA drives that preceded it. Now it’s time to see what kind of numbers it puts up in the real world.
TR RoboBench — Real-world transfers
RoboBench trades synthetic tests with random data for real-world transfers with a range of file types. Developed by our in-house coder, Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, this benchmark relies on the multi-threaded robocopy command build into Windows. We copy files to and from a wicked-fast RAM disk to measure read and write performance. We also cut the RAM disk out of the loop for a copy test that transfers the files to a different location on the SSD.
Robocopy uses eight threads by default, and we’ve also run it with a single thread. Our results are split between two file sets, whose vital statistics are detailed below. The compressibility percentage is based on the size of the file set after it’s been crunched by 7-Zip.
|Number of files||Average file size||Total size||Compressibility|
The media set is made up of large movie files, high-bitrate MP3s, and 18-megapixel RAW and JPG images. There are only a few hundred files in total, and the data set isn’t amenable to compression. The work set comprises loads of TR files, including documents, spreadsheets, and web-optimized images. It also includes a stack of programming-related files associated with our old Mozilla compiling test and the Visual Studio test on the next page. The average file size is measured in kilobytes rather than megabytes, and the files are mostly compressible.
RoboBench’s write and copy tests run after the drives have been put into a simulated used state with 30 minutes of 4KB random writes. The pre-conditioning process is scripted, as is the rest of the test, ensuring that drives have the same amount of time to recover.
Let’s take a look at the media set first. The buttons switch between read, write, and copy results.
The new drive reads and copies with the same aplomb as the 850 series. However, write speeds at both 1T and 8T are the first spots where the 860 Pro falls a bit short relative to its predecessors. The 850 EVO writes our media set about 10% faster, and the 850 Pro enjoys a smaller but also noticeable lead. Nonetheless, the 860 Pro’s write speeds are still among the faster half of our SATA drives, so these results aren’t a major indictment against it.
Let’s see what changes when we throw our work set at Samsung’s latest.
The work set smooths away the wrinkles. The 850 EVO still writes faster than the 860 Pro, but the difference is much smaller than with the media set.
Mirroring what we saw in our IOMeter testing, the delta between the 850 series drives and the new 860 Pro is insignifcant in RoboBench. Our last set of tests will put a Windows installation on the drive to measure load and boot times.
Until now, all of our tests have been conducted with the SSDs connected as secondary storage. This next batch uses them as system drives.
We’ll start with boot times measured two ways. The bare test depicts the time between hitting the power button and reaching the Windows desktop, while the loaded test adds the time needed to load four applications—Avidemux, LibreOffice, GIMP, and Visual Studio Express—automatically from the startup folder. Our old boot tests focused on the time required to load the OS, but these new ones cover the entire process, including drive initialization.
The 860 Pro boots roughly as quickly as the 850 EVO and Pro. Almost all our SSDs, whether PCIe or SATA, boot up in the 15-17 second range.
Next, we’ll tackle load times with two sets of tests. The first group focuses on the time required to load larger files in a collection of desktop applications. We open a 790MB 4K video in Avidemux, a 30MB spreadsheet in LibreOffice, and a 523MB image file in the GIMP. In the Visual Studio Express test, we open a 159MB project containing source code for the LLVM toolchain. Thanks to Rui Figueira for providing the project code.
Application loading poses no challenge for the 860 Pro. Let’s try some games.
The drive is a tad pokey when loading up Batman, but otherwise its game load times are above reproach.
As usual, this page of testing didn’t provide any great differentiation between drives. The 860 Pro makes a fine primary boot drive. We’re out of tests, so flip ahead to read about our test methods.
Test notes and methods
Here are the essential details for all the drives we tested:
|Adata Premier SP550 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2256||16-nm SK Hynix TLC|
|Adata Ultimate SU800 512GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2258||32-layer Micron 3D TLC|
|Adata Ultimate SU900 256GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2258||Micron 3D MLC|
|Adata XPG SX930 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||JMicron JMF670H||16-nm Micron MLC|
|Corsair MP500 240GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Phison 5007-E7||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Crucial BX100 500GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2246EN||16-nm Micron MLC|
|Crucial BX200 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2256||16-nm Micron TLC|
|Crucial MX200 500GB||SATA 6Gbps||Marvell 88SS9189||16-nm Micron MLC|
|Crucial MX300 750GB||SATA 6Gbps||Marvell 88SS1074||32-layer Micron 3D TLC|
|Intel X25-M G2 160GB||SATA 3Gbps||Intel PC29AS21BA0||34-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 335 Series 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||SandForce SF-2281||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 730 Series 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Intel PC29AS21CA0||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 750 Series 1.2TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Intel CH29AE41AB0||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel DC P3700 800GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Intel CH29AE41AB0||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Mushkin Reactor 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2246EN||16-nm Micron MLC|
|OCZ Arc 100 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|OCZ Trion 100 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC58||A19-nm Toshiba TLC|
|OCZ Trion 150 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC58||15-nm Toshiba TLC|
|OCZ Vector 180 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|OCZ Vector 180 960GB||SATA 6Gbps||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Patriot Hellfire 480GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Phison 5007-E7||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Plextor M6e 256GB||PCIe Gen2 x2||Marvell 88SS9183||19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Samsung 850 EV0 250GB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MGX||32-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 850 EV0 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MEX||32-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 850 Pro 512GB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MEX||32-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung 860 Pro 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MJX||64-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung 950 Pro 512GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung UBX||32-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung 960 EVO 250GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung Polaris||32-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 960 EVO 1TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung Polaris||48-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 960 Pro 2TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung Polaris||48-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung SM951 512GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung S4LN058A01X01||16-nm Samsung MLC|
|Samsung XP941 256GB||PCIe Gen2 x4||Samsung S4LN053X01||19-nm Samsung MLC|
|Toshiba OCZ RD400 512GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Toshiba TC58||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Toshiba OCZ VX500 512GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC358790XBG||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Toshiba TR200 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC58||64-layer Toshiba BiCS TLC|
|Toshiba XG5 1TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Toshiba TC58||64-layer Toshiba BiCS TLC|
|Transcend SSD370 256GB||SATA 6Gbps||Transcend TS6500||Micron or SanDisk MLC|
|Transcend SSD370 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Transcend TS6500||Micron or SanDisk MLC|
All the SATA SSDs were connected to the motherboard’s Z97 chipset. The M6e was connected to the Z97 via the motherboard’s M.2 slot, which is how we’d expect most folks to run that drive. Since the XP941, 950 Pro, RD400, and 960 Pro require more lanes, they were connected to the CPU via a PCIe adapter card. The 750 Series and DC P3700 were hooked up to the CPU via the same full-sized PCIe slot.
We used the following system for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz|
|Platform hub||Intel Z97|
|Platform drivers||Chipset: 10.0.0.13
|Memory size||16GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Adata XPG V3 DDR3 at 1600 MT/s|
|Audio||Realtek ALC1150 with 126.96.36.19944 drivers|
|System drive||Corsair Force LS 240GB with S8FM07.9 firmware|
|Storage||Crucial BX100 500GB with MU01 firmware
Crucial BX200 480GB with MU01.4 firmware
Crucial MX200 500GB with MU01 firmware
Intel 335 Series 240GB with 335u firmware
Intel 730 Series 480GB with L2010400 firmware
Intel 750 Series 1.2GB with 8EV10171 firmware
Intel DC P3700 800GB with 8DV10043 firmware
Intel X25-M G2 160GB with 8820 firmware
Plextor M6e 256GB with 1.04 firmware
OCZ Trion 100 480GB with 11.2 firmware
OCZ Trion 150 480GB with 12.2 firmware
OCZ Vector 180 240GB with 1.0 firmware
OCZ Vector 180 960GB with 1.0 firmware
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB with EMT01B6Q firmware
Samsung 850 EVO 1TB with EMT01B6Q firmware
Samsung 850 Pro 500GB with EMXM01B6Q firmware
Samsung 950 Pro 512GB with 1B0QBXX7 firmware
Samsung XP941 256GB with UXM6501Q firmware
Transcend SSD370 256GB with O0918B firmware
Transcend SSD370 1TB with O0919A firmware
|Power supply||Corsair AX650 650W|
|Case||Fractal Design Define R5|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 Pro x64|
Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards, to Intel for the CPUs, to Adata for the memory, to Fractal Design for the cases, and to Corsair for the system drives and PSUs. And thanks to the drive makers for supplying the rest of the SSDs.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- IOMeter 1.1.0 x64
- TR RoboBench 0.2a
- Avidemux 2.6.8 x64
- LibreOffice 4.3.2
- GIMP 2.8.14
- Visual Studio Express 2013
- Batman: Arkham Origins
- Tomb Raider
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Some further notes on our test methods:
- To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before every component of our test suite. For the IOMeter database, RoboBench write, and RoboBench copy tests, the drives were put in a simulated used state that better exposes long-term performance characteristics. Those tests are all scripted, ensuring an even playing field that gives the drives the same amount of time to recover from the initial used state.
- We run virtually all our tests three times and report the median of the results. Our sustained IOMeter test is run a second time to verify the results of the first test and additional times only if necessary. The sustained test runs for 30 minutes continuously, so it already samples performance over a long period.
- Steps have been taken to ensure the CPU’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 frequency at 3.5GHz. Transitioning between power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1920×1080 at 60Hz. 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.
Samsung’s 860 Pro didn’t turn in a groundbreaking performance, but we’re long past the time that any SATA drive can do so. With one or two minor exceptions, the 860 Pro lived up to the legacy of its predecessors. There is no doubt that it will fall close to the 850 series drives in our overall rankings. We distill the overall performance rating using an older SATA SSD as a baseline. To compare each drive, we then take the geometric mean of a basket of results from our test suite. Only drives which have been through the entire current test suite on our current rig are represented.
As we expected, the 860 Pro lands just about where the 850 Pro 512 GB did. Though we may be three and a half years down the road from the 850 Pro’s debut, the 860 Pro can’t help that SATA’s limits are what they are. The drive turns in perfectly fine performance, but without official word about what the 1 TB drive will cost, it’s difficult to do our customary value proposition analysis.
The ballpark figure of $140 we received from Samsung about the 256 GB version of the 860 Pro is exactly equal to list price of the 850 Pro 256 GB on Samsung’s own website (if we ignore the instant $50 savings). Going out on a bit of a limb, we’ll assume that the 860 Pro 1 TB will reflect its 850 Pro forebear’s list price of $480. Moving right along with that hand-wavy guesstimation, let’s see what our scatter plots end up looking like.In the plots below, the most compelling position is toward the upper left corner, where the price per gigabyte is low and performance is high. Use the buttons to switch between views of all drives, only SATA drives, or only PCIe drives.
If our speculation is at all accurate, the 860 Pro may be a tough sell for folks who don’t need its exceptional endurance. Back when the 850 Pro launched, buyers’ options were much more limited. Those with money to throw at storage performance couldn’t realistically do any better than best-in-class SATA performance. PCIe drives were available then, but only at exorbitant cost and still hamstrung by the AHCI protocol. These days, the waters have been muddied by competition from NVMe offerings. For around the same per-gigabyte cost, you could take home something much faster, like Patriot’s Hellfire 480GB or even Samsung’s own 960 EVO 1TB.
But that is, after all, an analysis based on numbers we were forced to invent. Pricing question aside, the 860 Pro accomplishes the mission that Samsung set out for it. Though this drive doesn’t make appreciable performance improvements over the 850 Pro, the scope of the company’s efforts this time around was to slap a “new and improved” sticker on the drive while transitioning it to the latest mass-produced V-NAND. Our performance testing can’t account for this drive’s exceptional claimed endurance figures, either, and that may matter for write-intensive workloads like 4K HDMI recorders where one could read and write many hundreds of gigabytes of footage per day.
Overall, the 860 Pro’s performance alone probably doesn’t warrant tossing your 850 Pro into the trash can. Those who are laser-focused on performance alone should be looking at Samsung’s own NVMe options. The 860 Pro seems much more likely to entice anyone leery of TLC NAND’s long-term endurance. The colossal 1.2-PBW rating and five-year warranty that backs the 860 Pro should put even the most paranoid data hoarders and bit producers at ease, and that potential longevity may be well worth the price for folks who truly need this drive’s Pro sticker.