The highly anticipated successor to the popular 980 Pro, the Samsung 990 Pro, brings new advancements in both perplexity and burstiness to the table. With its impressive speed and performance, it outshines even its competitors, the SK hynix Platinum P41 and the Western Digital (WD) SN850X. Initially available in 1TB and 2TB options, priced at $169 and $289 respectively, the 990 Pro will soon release a 4TB model next year. Whether you opt for the bare version or choose the one with an RGB heatsink, the 990 Pro utilizes Samsung’s cutting-edge Pascal controller and V7 TLC NAND flash, ensuring a faster and more efficient experience.
As expected from Samsung, the 990 Pro comes with a host of features, including software support through the updated Magician application and the option for encryption. Designed to fit various devices ranging from desktops to laptops to the PlayStation 5 (PS5) console, this top-of-the-line consumer PCIe 4 SSD aims to secure its place among the best in terms of performance. Our tests confirm its impressive performance, making it the fastest SSD on our list of Best SSDs for the PS5.
The 2TB variant of the 990 Pro stands out as one of the fastest SSDs we’ve ever tested. With its exceptional performance in all areas, including 4K QD1 random reads, it proves to be a reliable and efficient choice. Whether you plan to incorporate it into your PC, laptop, or PS5, the 990 Pro offers optional heatsink and RGB options, adding a touch of style to its already impressive features.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of the Samsung 990 Pro:
- Exceptional all-around performance, including 4K QD1 random reads
- Excellent software support and additional features
- Optional heatsink and RGB options for enhanced customization
- Consistently efficient and cool operation
- Sustained write performance falls slightly below expectations
- MSRP is relatively high
The Samsung 990 Pro is available in 1TB and 2TB capacities upon its launch, with a 4TB model scheduled for release in 2023. This larger capacity option from Samsung is highly anticipated. The 990 Pro boasts impressive speeds, offering up to 7450/6900 MBps sequential read and write performance, along with up to 1.4 million/1.55 million read and write IOPS. These numbers surpass not only the previous-generation 980 Pro but also the SK hynix Platinum P41 and WD SN850X, making it a highly competitive choice.
One standout feature of the Samsung 990 Pro is its support for TCG Opal encryption, which is not commonly found in consumer SSDs. It also comes with a warranty that covers 600TB of writes per terabyte of capacity. The endurance rating follows the JEDEC JESD218 standard, although it may not be a significant factor for most users. The TBW (Terabytes Written) ratings, while not exceptional, should be sufficient for the intended use of the drive.
Samsung offers variants of the 990 Pro at each capacity with a heatsink and RGB lighting, similar to the approach taken by the WD SN850X. This option will also be available for the 4TB model, which sets it apart from the SK hynix Platinum P41. The heatsink of the 990 Pro complies with the PCI-SIG D8 standard, ensuring a height of less than 8.8mm, making it compatible with a wide range of devices, including the PS5.
At launch, the Samsung 990 Pro is priced at $169.99 for the 1TB version and $289.99 for the 2TB version. Opting for the heatsink and RGB option adds an additional $20 to each price, aligning with the premium pricing of the WD SN850X. It’s worth noting that the launch prices of the SN850X and Samsung’s T7 Shield SSD were later discounted, so it’s reasonable to expect the 990 Pro to follow suit and be available at lower prices compared to its initial MSRP. This is consistent with the current real-world pricing of its direct competitors.
Samsung released version 7.2 of its Magician storage software on October 4th, ahead of the 990 Pro’s launch. This updated software introduces RGB control for the heatsinked versions of the drive and offers features such as data migration, diagnostics, firmware updates, and driver updates. It also includes functions like PSID revert, which securely erases the drive and unlocks encrypted data. Samsung’s SSD software is widely regarded as the industry standard.
The Samsung 990 Pro’s accompanying software, Magician, includes a Performance Optimization panel that features a Full Performance Mode. This mode is reminiscent of WD’s original Game Mode, which disabled lower power states to maximize performance. In our tests, we benchmarked the drive with both the “Full Power Mode” enabled and disabled.
In terms of aesthetics, the Samsung 990 Pro has a rather plain design with labels on both the front and back providing basic drive information. The heat spreader back label helps in reducing load temperatures. Underneath the top label, you’ll find two NAND packages, a DRAM package, and the controller. The controller is nickel-plated to enhance heat dissipation, and the 990 Pro also incorporates Samsung’s Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) to improve thermal consistency. We’ve seen this feature before in the 980 Pro, and it’s similar to the SN850X’s adaptive thermal management. While not groundbreaking technology, it may offer benefits for gaming workloads.
The Samsung 990 Pro features a new controller called Pascal, succeeding the Elpis controller used in the 980 Pro. Pascal is manufactured using Samsung’s 8nm process node and is still ARM-based. Superficially, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between the two controllers, but Pascal boasts significantly higher performance specifications. Samsung claims that this improvement is achieved through an optimized NAND data path using “hardware automation technology” and a “cache algorithm” that reduces processing time. When questioned about the changes, Samsung explained that this architecture aims to provide more effective low-power mode coverage and take advantage of read caching.
Hardware automation pertains to the data path within the storage, which involves the flow of data from the host interface to the flash memory. As SSDs scale up with increased parallelization and complex addressing, IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) bottlenecks can arise. Hardware automation helps overcome these bottlenecks while also offering power savings, which is crucial as drives become faster. For example, hardware-accelerated flash map management can increase IOPS compared to managing the flash translation layer (FTL) in software, which handles the translation between physical and logical memory addresses. I/O queues and data transfers also benefit from acceleration. Similarly, firmware improvements in parallel processing can enhance garbage collection and scheduling, as seen in Phison’s I/O+ Firmware.
The controller utilizes volatile memory like SRAM to cache mapping information and buffer data before writing it to the non-volatile NAND flash, so optimizing algorithms can improve overall performance. While write performance often benefits more from such advancements, these changes may also be relevant for DirectStorage. Some manufacturers, such as Solidigm, have introduced a form of caching via specialized NVMe drivers to hold specific data in the cache, leveraging metadata to enhance performance through intelligent caching. Samsung did not provide specific details about its “read caching,” but it is not uncommon to keep hot data in pSLC (pseudo Single-Level Cell) to improve subsequent read operations.
A typical cache algorithm, such as the least recently used (LRU) algorithm, evicts the least recently accessed data from a full cache. However, such algorithms can be constrained if they do not consider spatial locality, which refers to knowledge about adjacent and nearby memory locations. The increased FTL overhead resulting from complex algorithms can create performance bottlenecks. Specific controller improvements can increase maximum IOPS by offloading or automating some of this work. This can also lead to lower latency in general, although the full benefits might not be fully realized on a consumer device.
While Samsung has made significant advancements with the controller, other components remain more familiar. The memory, or DRAM, used is Samsung’s LPDDR4, which has been utilized in many of its SSD products. LPDDR4 offers some power savings compared to traditional DDR. The module size is 2GB, matching the 2TB flash capacity, which represents an ideal ratio. It is expected that the 1TB model would include a 1GB module. The power components used by Samsung are also standard. The promised power savings, compared to the 980 Pro, are likely to come from the new flash memory and controller optimizations.
The flash packages used in the Samsung 990 Pro are labeled K9DVGY8JRD-DCK0, indicating that they feature Samsung’s 176-layer TLC NAND. With the 2TB model, the flash utilizes 512Gb dies denoted by the “V” designation. However, the upcoming 4TB variant may require 1Tb “X” dies. This flash corresponds to Samsung’s V7 in its V-NAND nomenclature, which was discussed in detail at ISSCC 2021. While Samsung showcased its 8th generation TLC at ISSCC, recent trends in the flash market have led manufacturers to focus on higher-layer flash production.
Samsung has made several improvements with this generation of flash, with the most significant being the implementation of a four-plane design and a Cell-on-Periphery (COP) architecture. More planes enable greater parallelization, resulting in higher bandwidth. COP is similar to Micron’s CMOS-under-Array (CUA) approach, but this is the first time Samsung has employed this technology. It involves relocating control circuitry away from the periphery of the array, leading to improved power efficiency and reduced die surface area by placing peripheral circuitry under the data cell array.
Moving the circuitry under the array presented challenges for Samsung, which were resolved through innovative capacitor design. This solution enables improved power delivery while reducing surface area requirements. Samsung also employs a dual-scheme termination approach that enhances power efficiency when full I/O speeds are not necessary. This contributes to Samsung’s claim of better power efficiency through a low-power-aware architecture.
Unlike other manufacturers, Samsung has managed to avoid the need for string-stacking, which involves using multiple NAND array decks to achieve higher flash layer counts. Although string-stacking offers benefits, it introduces challenges in integrating multiple decks. Etching numerous layers increases the aspect ratio, which can lead to increased voltage threshold deviation between cells in different layers. Moreover, cramming more layers into the same space results in effectively smaller cell capacity, potentially impacting performance and endurance.
Samsung’s solution involves introducing an additional latch, similar to a dynamic buffer or page buffer, to address this issue. The additional data is utilized with bit and word line forcing schemes to achieve more precise cell charges, effectively introducing an extra verification stage to maintain tighter bit values. While it’s theoretically possible for a manufacturer to continue adding decks and reach 800 or more layers, this approach is not without its own challenges. Samsung has determined that its 176-layer NAND strikes the optimal balance between performance and power efficiency.