With AMD recently joining the PCI Express 5.0 party with its Ryzen 7000 CPUs (opens in new tab), you might expect Samsung to roll out its first Gen 5 M.2 drive to suit. But no. The new Samsung 990 Pro remains a Gen 4 SSD.
If you think about the current situation carefully, a revised Gen 4 drive does at least make sense. For starters, while you may now be able to buy PCIe Gen 5 capable PC platforms from both Intel and AMD, the number of such systems out there in the wild is still small. And, of course, neither of the big two M.2-compatible games consoles support PCIe 5.0.
At the same time, the status of the existing Samsung 980 Pro (opens in new tab) as the standard setter among Gen 4 drives has long since been usurped. Drives from numerous brands now outpace it. So, it’s about time Samsung reasserted its traditional dominance in the SSD market, right?
On paper, the new 990 Pro certainly looks like it has closed the gap to the newer and quicker drives that have blown past the 980 Pro since its launch two long years ago. At the heart of it, all is a new in-house Samsung controller known as Pascal. Samsung hasn’t released a huge amount of info on the new chip but has revealed that Pascal is manufactured on Samsung’s 8nm process node and offers lower consumption and reduced latency. Samsung reckons the new controller is up to 50% more power efficient thanks to both a new nickel coating for the chip package and revised thermal control software.
Combined with Samsung’s latest 7th gen 3D V-NAND flash memory, the result is a decent uptick in all of the claimed performance metrics. For the 2TB model tested here, read speeds are up from 7,000MB/s to 7,450MB/s while writes take a bigger leap from just 5,100MB/s to 6,900MB/s. IOPS performance is up, too, with reads increasing from 1M to 1.2M and writes up from 1M to 1.55M.
Form factor: M.2 2280
Controller: Samsung Pascal
Memory type: Samsung 7th Gen TLC VNAND
Interface: PCIe 4.0 x4
Rate performance: 7450MB/s read, 6900MB/s write
Random IOPS: 1.2M read, 1.55M write
DRAM cache: 2GB DDR4
SLC cache: 226GB dynamic
Write endurance: 1,200 TBW
Warranty: 5 years
Claimed SSD performance numbers don’t always map terribly well to the real-world experience. But for what it’s worth, there’s little if anything currently available with clearly better-claimed figures, though the likes of the SK Hynix Platinum P41 and various drives powered by the latest Phison controller, such as the Seagate Firecuda 530 2TB (opens in new tab), trade blows with the 990 Pro. Fair to say, then, with these late model PCIe 4.0 M.2 drives, they’re nearing the practical limits of the Gen 4.0 protocol, certainly for peak throughput.
As for further details, well, there’s 2GB of LPDDR4 cache memory on this 2TB drive, Samsung rates the write endurance at 1,200TB, which has got to be enough for virtually any imaginable usage model, and the drive is covered by Samsung’s reassuring five-year warranty. Oh, and Samsung says the 990 Pro has been optimised for Microsoft’s game-load accelerating DirectStorage API (opens in new tab).
So, how does this new drive actually perform? In our pre-benchmark drive-filling routine, the 990 Pro maintains peak performance for around 230GB of data transfer, which aligns with Samsung’s claims in terms of the amount of capacity available in high-speed SLC mode when the drive is empty. Needless to say, as you fill the drive, that figure will drop. It’s also a little lower than most competing 2TB M.2 drives, which tend to offer 300GB of SLC cache. Thereafter, there’s little if any sign of thermal throttling. Not that throttling was much of an issue on the 990 Pro.
What we did notice, however, was inconsistent write performance in the ATTO benchmark immediately after our pre-test regime. The 990 Pro did regain its composure after being left to idle for an hour. But as a general rule, modern premium drives soak up our pre-benchmark routine better than the Samsung 990 Pro.
Still, in terms of peak throughput this SSD definitely delivers, cranking out 7,462MB/s reads and 6,877MB/s writes. That’s as good as it gets for a Gen 4 drive. Less impressive is the single queue depth 4K random access performance. At 80MB/s for reads and 231MB/s for writes, the performance is decent to be sure. But it’s not the step up we’d been hoping for on account of the claims Samsung makes for IOPS throughput.
On the other hand, the 3,645 points it scores in PCMark 10 storage is very impressive compared to other drives tested on the same AMD platform running an eight-core 3800X CPU. Most if not all the competition is around the 3,000 mark. It’s also a huge jump on the 2,700 points scored by the old Samsung 980 Pro, albeit that figure is for the 1TB model. Just note that CPU and broader platform performance do impact the overall PCMark storage result. So, you can’t compare that result with random PCMark storage scores you might find for other drives on the web.
Anyway, regarding thermals the new 990 Pro is decent, topping out at 59°C. However, in our testing the old 980 Pro only hit 53°C. While the new drive certainly doesn’t run cooler under heavy load, it is delivering quite a bit more performance and it isn’t running at temps high enough to cause concern. As we said, there’s absolutely no indication of thermal throttling.
All told, the new 990 Pro puts Samsung back where it ought to be, with one of the fastest PCIe Gen 4 drives you can buy. Is it the very fastest? Is it quicker than, say, the Kingston Fury Renegade (opens in new tab)? Not unambiguously, no. But nor is it clearly slower. In short, it seems we’ve hit the wall with Gen 4 SSDs. Very likely, it’ll take a Gen 5 drive to really move the game on for PC storage performance.