Samsung has been pushing the boundary of SSD technology for several years — it was the first company to release a commercial 3D NAND drive, and it’s been aggressively pushing the new NVMe and PCI Express-based M.2 drive standard. Now, the company has taken another step forward with the 960 Pro. This is the successor to the 950 Pro that launched last year as Samsung’s first M.2 drive for the consumer PCI Express market. The Korean company is also launching the 960 EVO — and like its previous EVO drives, this one is based on TLC NAND.
What’s new, this time around, is the type of 3D NAND (Samsung calls it V-NAND) that the company is using. The 950 Pro relied on Samsung’s 32-layer NAND, while the 960 Pro is based on a denser, 48-layer NAND variant. More vertical NAND stacks translates directly to packing more NAND into the same area — Samsung’s 950 Evo was limited to 256GB and 512GB drives, while the 960 will be available in capacities up to 2TB. Previously, Samsung’s 32-layer V-NAND topped out at 128Gbit, while the new 960 Pro has 256Gbit chips.
Anandtech reports that while Samsung is keeping the same PCI Express 3.0 x4 lane defined in the M.2 specification, it has built a new controller, Samsung Polaris rather than the UBX controller used for the 950 Pro. The already-excellent performance of the 950 Pro is expected to be even higher now, with the 960 Pro 2TB offering 3.5GB/s of sequential read and 2.1GB/s of sequential write, compared to 2.5GB/s and 1.5GB/s for the 950 Pro. The theoretical sequential read speed on the 960 Pro hasn’t quite bumped into the practical limit of the PCI Express 3.0 bus, but it’s getting close.
Meanwhile, the 960 EVO may use TLC NAND, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be slow. The new drive sports a 13-42GB SLC cache to speed reads and writes (13TB at 250GB, 42GB at 1TB). Sequential read speeds of 3.2GB and write speeds of 1.9GB are very nearly as fast as the full 960 Pro, and while we saw multiple problems with the old 840 EVO drives, those issues appear to have been eradicated with the shift to 3D NAND instead of older 2D planar NAND.
The new controller reportedly uses a five-core solution (up from three cores), with one dedicated to host management and four used for NAND flash communication. Samsung has also reportedly improved their own thermal management, resulting in a drive that can hold its peak performance for up to 95 seconds, compared to 63 seconds for the original 950 Pro, as shown above.
Expect to see more drives like this coming online in the next few years, as the SSD industry collectively moves to 3D NAND flash. As far as we know, Samsung is still building its NAND on an older 40nm process — as the industry moves towards smaller nodes for 3D NAND we should see further cost improvements, though the difficulty of building deep trenches at smaller process geometries may lead to slow improvement on this front. For more information on 3D NAND, planar NAND, and SSDs in general, check our explainer: How do SSDs work?