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Samsung's 860 EVO 1 TB SSD reviewed

The king is dead—long live the king

Samsung's 850 EVO has reigned supreme in the SATA SSD market for a long time. It earned our recommendation when it launched all the way back in 2014 and has been the 800-pound gorilla of client SSDs ever since. Samsung was the first to produce a non-planar TLC NAND drive, and the 850 EVO's success has affected the shape of the entire SSD market since. Pick up a random SSD and peer inside, and the odds are high that you'll find 3D TLC NAND of some kind staring back at you.

Non-planar NAND technologies–whether "3D," "BiCS," or "V-NAND"–have become the de facto standard for mainstream solid-state storage. And that's not likely to change soon, unless more exotic technologies coalesce from the vapor. The only credible threat comes from quad-level-cell NAND. For now, QLC products seem to be targeted towards enterprise-y "write once, read many" workloads, where the technology's inevitably poorer write performance and endurance can go unnoticed. But perhaps it's only a matter of time before some plucky manufacturer decides that the cost savings outweigh the potential consumer backlash and forces it into the client space. I expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the comments when it happens, so start composing your diatribes today.

Anyway, the name of the game is still non-planar TLC for now, and as we discussed in our 860 Pro review, Samsung has spent the last few years making generational refinements to its V-NAND. Meet the 860 EVO and the 64 layers of TLC V-NAND goodness in each of its flash packages.

Samsung 860 EVO
Capacity Max sequential (MB/s) Max random (IOps)
Read Write Read Write
250 GB 550 520 98K 90K
500 GB 550 520 98K 90K
1 TB 550 520 98K 90K
2 TB 550 520 98K 90K
4 TB 550 520 98K 90K

Now, this drive has been out for most of this year, but the one-two punch of short initial review sample supply and our recently-finished efforts to modernize our test rig knocked this write-up pretty far down the stretch. Our apologies for the delay. Samsung hooked us up with the 1-TB version of the drive, which turns out to be the middle child. The lineup includes the standard 250 GB and 500 GB capacities, and gargantuan 2-TB and 4-TB variants are also available. The 850 EVO series also got 2-TB and 4-TB flavors, but not until well after that drive launched.

The difference between the 860 EVO and Pro, as usual, is TLC V-NAND instead of MLC. Theoretically, that should mean reduced performance, but Samsung's Intelligent TurboWrite caching scheme will ensure that the EVO operates at near-SATA-6-Gbps limits for most workloads in spite of its extra-bit-per-cell handicap.

Once its shell is shucked, the 860 EVO 1 TB looks almost comically small. Samsung crams all that TLC V-NAND into only two packages: one on either side of the tiny PCB. One of those packages shares elbow room with 1 GB of LPDDR4 RAM and the same MJX controller used in the 860 Pro.

Much like the  860 Pro, the 860 EVO is chock-full of helpful encryption capabilities and comes with a five-year warranty. Unlike the Pro 1 TB, however, the EVO 1 TB gets an endurance rating of 600 TBW, merely half of its higher-end sibling's 1200-TBW specification. That's still more than enough headroom to satisfy any ordinary usage.

Samsung's suggested price at launch was $330 for the 1 TB version, but we're currently experiencing something of a renaissance for cheap SSDs. The drive is available for $218 at Amazon, marked down a third from Samsung's projected ask. If the drive's speeds are anything like the 850 EVO's, that will make for some incredible performance per dollar. Let's see how the new guy stands up to our test suite.