Big fish in a small pond
Samsung has built a good reputation for fast and high-quality SSDs. It introduced the 470 to desktops four years ago, and its SSDs were in high-end laptops before that. The company also distinguished itself by designing its own controller chips and manufacturing its own NAND flash memory. Indeed, Samsung’s reduced reliance on partners has given it greater opportunities to try different things. The result? The 850 Pro combines all that expertise and strategic advantage in one blisteringly fast piece of hardware, but at a hefty price.
As we went to press, the 1TB model had a street price of $650. The 512GB model was $350, and the 256GB model was $200. For reference, the company’s 1TB 840 EVO could be had for $418 (and it’s no slouch), and the 512GB Crucial MX100 was going for $210. To be fair, our testing indicates the 850 Pro is the fastest desktop SSD around. It also has some pretty fancy technology, such as 3D V-NAND. “V” stands for “vertical.” The tech layers NAND chips on top of each other, saving space for higher storage capacities. Samsung has used this before, but it’s been refined, upping the layer count from 24 to 32. The 850 Pro also sports Samsung’s Rapid Mode, which uses part of your system RAM as a drive cache. This has doubled transfer speeds in previous tests.
The Power of Magic
Samsung has also brought in TCG Opal 2.0, so it has some nice self-encryption features, always important on theft and loss-prone laptops. It’s also keeping Dynamic Thermal Guard, designed to prevent your SSD from getting cooked in the heat. Lastly, Samsung has its slick Magician software, a hub for jobs like getting firmware updates, performing manual garbage collection, and enabling Rapid Mode. SanDisk and Corsair are developing similar software, but there’s a noticeable gap. Magician has the look and feel of something you would expect to pay for separately.
The 850 Pro does excellently, but you can see from the charts that the SATA III bus has become a bottleneck for premium SSDs, even when you enable Rapid Mode. This mode allocates several gigabytes of your system RAM to your Samsung SSD, to use as a high-speed cache. The most commonly accessed files will get stored here, for quicker retrieval than the drive can accomplish with its own internal memory cells. Performance will be slower when dealing with files larger than the cache can hold. But overall, Rapid Mode will push day-to-day performance past what you’ll see from non-Samsung SSDs (at least, the ones that don’t use their own RAM cache).
But it’s hard to shake the feeling the 850 Pro’s extra cost comes from its lengthy warranty, and, with SSD tech evolving so quickly, that isn’t compelling enough to make the price work. M.2 and SATA Express are coming. And those aren’t even the long-term solution. NVM Express is the true heir to the I/O throne, and it will be well-established before the 850 Pro’s huge warranty comes into play.