Review: Samsung's new 3D NAND SSD for 'Pros' is a superfast drive at a good price

This SSD knows how to shut down, and it can do it in under 4 seconds

Samsung today announced its first Pro series SSD based on 3D vertical NAND (V-NAND) technology.

Designed for workstations and high-end PCs, the new Samsung 850 Pro solid-state drive, unveiled at the 2014 Samsung SSD Global Summit in Seoul, South Korea, represents a marked improvement over the company's first V-NAND SSD, a model for enterprise servers and data centers that was released last August.

850 Pro SSD
Samsung's 850 Pro SSD deconstructed. (Image: Samsung)

The Pro 850 is also faster than the company's previous 840 Pro series SSD, which was based on typical planar (2D) NAND.

As with all new SSDs, the Samsung 850 Pro uses the SATA III (6Gbps) interface. The drive also offers a dynamic thermal guard feature, which maintains ambient temperature while operating and prevents potential data loss from overheating.

Samsung said its proprietary 3D V-NAND technology gives it twice the manufacturing productivity of typical 2D or planar NAND flash. The 3D NAND also provides two to 10 times better reliability and twice the write performance of 2D NAND, according to Samsung.

The 850 Pro is the first 32-layer 3D V-NAND product for client PCs. Samsung's previous 3D V-NAND SSD used 24 layers of data-storing silicon.

"The 3D V-NAND will drive disruptive innovation that can be compared to a digital Big Bang in the global IT industry and [will] contribute to much more significant growth in the memory market," Samsung executive vice president E.S. Jung said in a statement.

What V-NAND allows Samsung to do is cram more capacity into a smaller space and thereby reduce its manufacturing costs. The consumer isn't likely to see major boosts in capacity from 3D NAND for some time, because the current focus in the industry is driving down costs and boosting profits.

As with its previous Pro-series SSDs, Samsung uses a proprietary controller called MEX, which is based on three ARM Cortex-R4 cores that run at 400 MHz.

Samsung claims its V-NAND flash has more than twice the endurance of conventional planar NAND flash -- up to 2 million hours mean time between failures (MTBF). Samsung's V-NAND technology is built to handle a 40GB daily workload, which equates to 150TB written to it over ten years. Because of that, the new 850 Pro SSD comes with a 10-year limited warranty, something that's unprecedented with Samsung SSDs.

The drive also comes natively with AES 256-bit full disk encryption capability.

The Samsung 850 Pro is available in 128GB ($130), 256GB ($230), 512GB ($430) and 1TB ($730) storage capacities.

Benchmark tests

I conducted benchmark tests of the Samsung 850 Pro using an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion (v. 10.8.4) with 8GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor. The computer has a SATA 3.0, 6Gbps internal drive interface to match the SSD.

I did not test the Samsung 850 Pro in its "fresh," unused state. Instead, I twice copied 250GB worth of applications and data to the drive to ensure tests reflected a more typical "used" state. SSDs show better performance straight out of the box because none of the NAND flash cells have been overwritten.

In a "used" state, NAND flash cells must first be erased and then written to, which requires a lengthier process.

I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmarking software for Macs to test the performance of the SSD.

As is typical, the SSD's performance in tests fell below what Samsung's specification sheet claimed, which is 550MBps sequential read speeds and 520MBps sequential write speeds. Samsung claims a random read performance is up to 100,000 input/output operations-per-second (IOPS), with write speeds of up to 90,000 IOPS.

Still, Samsung 850 Pro excelled in some areas and matched the industry's best SSDs in others. When it came to raw read/write speed, this drive was right up there with the best; it had a maximum read speed of 524MBps and a maximum write speed of 493MBps.

That compares with Samsung's previous 840 Pro SSD, which had a maximum read/write speed of 496MBps and 489MBps, respectively.

I was able to copy a 2GB MPEG movie from the hard drive to the desktop in only 8 seconds; that's pretty much par for the course using a high-end SSD. I also tested transferring 12.29GB of data to the desktop, and it took a highly respectable 1 minute, 33 seconds.

While boot-up times were also impressive at just 12 seconds, it was the shutdown that impressed me the most, at around 4 seconds. That's exactly the kind of shutdown speed that I want at the end of a long day.

This SSD offers major performance improvements over its planar predecessor in some areas, and it comes with a competitive price tag of around $1 per gigabyte of capacity at the low end and about 73 cents per gigabyte in the highest capacity model.

SSD Performance Comparison Chart

Samsung 850 Pro Seagate 600 OCZ Vertex 450
Tested capacity 512GB 480GB 256GB
Price $429 ($229 for 256GB) $410 ($209 for 240GB) $260 ($499 for 512GB)
Boot-up time 12 sec. 12 sec. 13 sec.
Max. read time (4K blocks) 524MB/sec. 514MB/sec. 469MB/sec.
Max. write time 493MB/sec. 443MB/sec. 355MB/sec.
2GB file transfer 8 sec. 8 sec. 10 sec.
Shutdown time 4 sec. 25 sec. 25 sec.
Restart time 36 sec. 35 sec. 37 sec.

This article, "Samsung's 3D NAND SSD for 'Pros' Is a Superfast Drive at a Good Price," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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