One of the great things about getting older is seeing the future become the present. I have fond memories of times that I experienced the future for the first time – the first time I watched a plasma TV, held an iPad, the first ride in a Tesla Model S. While not necessarily as ground-breaking as those innovations, the advancements in PC technology in 2020 have given me that similar feeling of living in the future. Driving the advancement is the arrival of consumer-grade PCIe 4.0. Samsung’s 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD is one of the most significant arrivals in this space to date.
Disclosure: Samsung provided Blog of Dad with the 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD for the purpose of review and ongoing use. Any thoughts expressed about Samsung products in this article are based on my own experiences with the devices. For more information, visit my disclosure statement.
Samsung have long been the go-to brand for builders seeking quality, speed and reliability in their mid- to high-end machines. When I built my i7 6700 gaming and productivity PC nearly four years ago, it was a no-brainer to install a Samsung 850 EVO M.2 drive. Even though I was building to a budget, the need for fast, reliable primary storage took precedence over just about everything else. When it comes to PC building, high-quality components win every time.
Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD – Blazing Fast
As mentioned already, the most exciting thing about the Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD is the implementation of PCIe 4.0. For those with a compatible motherboard and CPU (currently 2nd generation AMD Zen), the 980 PRO is one of the first consumer-grade devices to properly take advantage of the copious speed on offer. We are talking sequential read speeds of up to an incredible 7000 MB/s and write speeds of up to 5000 MB/s on the 1TB version of the drive. Samsung sent me the 250GB version of the 980 PRO, with still amazing read speeds of up to 6400MB/s and write speeds of up to 2700MB/s. In my mind at least, this makes the Samsung 980 PRO the obvious choice for a boot drive in any new Zen 2 (or soon Zen 3) based build.
With all the hype around the speed on offer in the soon-to-be-released next-generation consoles, it is worth noting that the Samsung 980 PRO is theoretically faster than even the PS5 SSD. Of course, the custom-designed nature of the PS5 console means it is better equipped to take advantage of the speed in aspects such as game load times, although it is a safe bet that these improvements will eventually flow on to faster PC games. It also potentially places the 1TB version of the Samsung 980 PRO as an option for expanding the storage of the PS5, although that is yet to be confirmed. The take-away message from all of this is that the Samsung 980 PRO, running through a PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 connection, is a seriously fast piece of hardware.
Those still using PCIe 3.0 motherboards can install the Samsung 980 PRO, as long as there is an available M.2 2280 slot. While it won’t reach the same astronomical speeds as it does on a 4th generation connection, the 980 PRO will maximise the potential of the older PCIe 3.0 connection, with sequential read speeds of up to 3500MB/s. Interestingly, while the higher capacity 980 PRO drives see a drop in maximum sequential write speeds on PCIe 3.0 (the 1 TB model drops to 3450MB/s), the 250GB drive retains its maximum speed of 2700MB/S. The Samsung 980 PRO is still an excellent option for those seeking to squeeze as much speed as possible out of their PCIe 3.0 connection, although it is not necessarily as obvious a go-to choice as it is for those building PCIe 4.0-capable machines.
Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD – Configuration and Longevity
The new design of the 980 PRO has enabled Samsung to make significant performance gains over its predecessor, the 970 PRO. Samsung have used new 3-bit MLC NAND technology and paired it with a new Samsung Elpis controller that is designed to open the floodgates on your data transfers. A simple nickel coating on the controller and a heat spreader label deliver thermal control at the hardware side, while Samsung’s embedded cutting-edge thermal control algorithm manages heat to deliver “durable and reliable performance”. This seems like a better solution than some of the 980 PRO’s competitors that come with bulky heatsinks attached. It is definitely more versatile, especially considering how many medium to high-level motherboards (including my MSI B550 TOMAHAWK) already come with their own heatsink solutions.
This design has enabled Samsung to make the 980 PRO comparatively affordable (although still premium) drive. A quick search of the Mwave website reveals that the 1TB version of the 980 PRO is currently priced cheaper ($369) than the 1TB 970 PRO ($438), despite being up to 90% faster.
The key change in the design (other than the move from PCIe 3rd generation to PCIe 4th generation) is the switch from 2-bit MLC NAND to 3-bit MLC NAND. This move hasn’t been without controversy – the endurance of the 980 PRO has halved from 1200 TBW (terabytes written) to 600 TBW.
While at first glance this may seem a little alarming for a crucial system drive (it certainly caused a few ripples of discontent on forums), it is a calculated move on Samsung’s part. The fact is that the vast majority of users won’t come anywhere near even 600 TBW over the (generous) 5 year warranty period of the 980 PRO. My own anecdotal usage data backs this decision up. Using the Samsung Magician software (see below), I can see that my 4 year old 850 EVO has achieved a grand total of 25.8TBW. That is as the main system drive in my PC that I use on a daily basis. For blazing-fast, top-of-the-line performance at a more affordable price, it is a tiny compromise for most of us to make.
Further underpinning the reliability credentials of the Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD is the Samsung Magician software. The advanced optimisation tools can be used to monitor driver health, optimise performance, protect data and receive firmware updates. The graphical user interface is straightforward to use, looks good and provides plenty of useful information to help users get the most out of their Samsung drive.
Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD – Installation
As I mentioned earlier, the best way to get the most out of the Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD is with a PCIe 4.0 compatible motherboard and CPU. I installed it in the excellent MSI B550 TOMAHAWK motherboard, which includes support for one PCIe Gen 4 x4 M.2 SSD. The MSI B550 TOMAHAWK comes with a metal strip and thermal pad heatsink to protect the Samsung 980 PRO SSD and help regulate temperatures to ensure that the drive is running at its full potential.
Installation of the Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD is easy on the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK motherboard, thanks to its thermal solution (lack of bulky preinstalled heatsink). The PCIe Gen 4 x4 M.2 SSD allows the MSI B550 TOMAHAWK (when paired with a suitable Ryzen 3000- or 5000-series CPU) to unleash the full, blazingly fast potential of this incredible storage solution.
Samsung 980 PRO PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSD Final Thoughts
Samsung have long been leaders in the SSD space and the latest 980 PRO does plenty to reinforce that position. The performance is magnificent and Samsung’s efforts to make the “PRO” line of PCle 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSDs more accessible is admirable. Some compromises have had to be made, but for the vast majority of us consumers that works in our favour. Four years ago, installing a Samsung 850 EVO as my system drive was a no-brainer. Today, the 980 PRO is an obvious choice for my new-build parts list.