Samsung Continues To Exert Pressure

Samsung has boldly inserted themselves into the forefront of the consumer SSD market with apparent ease thanks to some innovation and a few outstanding drives. Just a few years ago, no one would have even mentioned their name in the same sentence with 'SSD' but now they are very much on the minds of consumers. Just taking a stroll through several computer hardware oriented online communities reveals a lot of positive chatter about the drives which come largely driven from online reviews and word of mouth recommendations as Samsung hasn't done a ton of marketing for their drives. Or maybe it just doesn't feel that way. Competitors, on the other hand, may have a different perception and have to be feeling the pressure. Especially those that are reliant on others for components for their builds whereas Samsung is completely self sufficient and can offer lower costs to consumers while still retaining a decent margin. We've recently had looks at the 840 and 840 Pro series of drives and now we've gotten our mitts on the 840 EVO version.

Samsung 840 EVO

The EVO drives features TLC NAND that we saw in the 840 drive with the EVO having slightly smaller 19nm architecture. Add to that the latest Samsung MEX controller and the specifications look more like the 840 Pro drive with reads topping out at around 540MB/s and writes at 520MB/s. This is partially thanks to their TurboWrite technology that boosts writes but not dependent on data compression to do so. Performance isn't hampered by the AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption which leaves the controller free to focus on taking care of business. One feature that's intriguing is the RAPID Mode that Samsung claims boosts performance beyond that of the rated specifications. We take a closer look at that later but it sounds very promising. The EVO is one of the few drives available in a 1TB ($650) capacity as well as 750GB ($510), 500GB ($370), 250GB ($178) and 120GB ($103). They have a nice little marketing video available that's gear a bit towards the non-technical crowd who may want to breathe some extra life into their PC. OK, the acting is sub-par and it's received an almost viral amount of criticism but it gets the message out and no press is bad press.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPdCS8p6LjA[/youtube]

Samsung 840 EVO Features and Specifications:

Samsung 840 EVO Rear

The exterior is identical to the 840 Pro except the orange square along one of the long sides has been changed to black - more so than that of the rest of the shell so it stands out a bit. Around back is the product sticker which, if you look closely, sports the PSID (physical security ID) directly on the label for resetting the drive should the encryption password be forgotten. The Z-height is 7mm to fit into just about any form factor PC available plus it comes with a 2mm shim should you need it.

Samsung 840 EVO Contents

In the bundle we have a CD containing the Magician software, a SATA III data cable, a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter plate and a USB 3.0 to SATA cable for migration from an existing drive with the included migration software. Like the 840 drive, it carries a 3 year warranty unlike the Pro version which carries a five year warranty and Samsung has a very good technical support infrastructure to assist customers who do encounter issues. Speaking of warranties, we're about to void ours...

A Look Inside The 840 EVO

Opening the drive required the removal of three pentalobe security screws, two of which are hidden underneath the rear sticker making it impossible to remove without Samsung knowing about it.

Samsung 840 EVO

 Of course it didn't stop us from breaking it open but obviously we highly recommend that our readers not follow our example lest they see their warranty go bye-bye.

Samsung 840 EVO PCB

 Once open, we see that the PCB is not full size which isn't unusual, especially with NAND density creeping up allowing for fewer modules and less board real estate needed. Four modules in total in this 500GB drive and all are on this side of the board.

Samsung 840 EVO NAND

 The NAND on board is of course Samsung in manufacture, as are all parts of the drive. The K90KGY8S7M-CCK0 labeled chips are 19nm 128-bit TLC Toggle DDR 2.0, capable of theoretical 400Mbps speeds. TLC NAND is what we saw in the 840 drive (the Pro has MLC) and while it has a shorter rated lifespan, it still should last much longer than what the typical user would need and uses very little power which means longer battery life for mobile users.

Samsung 840 EVO PCB

 Flipping things over, we are left with just two components of note - the controller and cache.

Samsung 840 EVO Cache

 The LPDDR2 cache chip on this 500GB drive is labeled as K4P4G324EB-FGC2 and is 512MB in capacity. The 120GB drives has a 256MB cache and the 750GB and 1TB drives sport 1GB cache. I'm showing my age when I say that I remember when hard drives were a total of 1GB!

Samsung 840 EVO Controller

The Samsung MEX S4LN045X01-8030 controller is similar to that of the MDX controller with a triple-core ARM Cortex R4 design with the difference being a 100Mhz bump to 400MHz. With a 32-channel design, the larger capacity drives can really leverage the controller to its fullest. As usual, it supports TRIM and idle garbage collection and also offers an AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption engine which is a feature that's growing in demand. The PSID (physical security ID) is printed on the drive label in the event the password is forgotten so it can be made useable again albeit wiped clean. Being hardware based, the encryption doesn't get in the way of performance which is always a plus.

Test System & Comparison Drives

All tests were performed on a fresh and up-to-date install of Windows 8 Pro x64 with no other applications running while using AHCI mode set through the BIOS. Synthetic Benchmarks were run with the OS loaded on a 120GB Corsair Force SSD. In between every test, the test drive was secure erased using an instance of Parted Magic. As such, all results should be indicative of optimal performance. All components were set to their default speeds and are listed below.

Z77 Test Bench

LR Bench

Intel LGA 1155 Test Platform
ComponentBrand/ModelLive Pricing

Processor

Core i5 2500k

Motherboard

ASUS Maximus V Gene Z77

Memory

Kingston HyperX KHX16C9B1RK28 8GB

OS Drive

Corsair Force 120GB (FW 2.4)

Power Supply

Antec Basiq BP550W Plus-EC

Operating System

Windows 8 Pro 64-Bit

Comparison Drives And Other Models We Have Tested

Since there are so many SSDs out there now with different controllers, we started a reference table of which controllers are used by each drive to help you compare results. Different controllers definitely perform differently and each has various strengths and weaknesses. Like CPU's, even identical drives will have variations in performance and part of that variance may be attributable to the NAND flash used. Since the tests of the drives listed have spanned different test benches and represent different interfaces, we have listed the most recent ones for easy reference.

SSD MODEL CONTROLLER Interface
Seagate 600 240GB LAMD LM87800 SATA III
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10 SATA III
Crucial M500 480GB Marvell 88SS9187 SATA III
OCZ Vertex 3.20 240GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) SATA III
Samsung 840 Pro 240GB Samsung MDX SATA III
Sandisk Ultra Plus 256GB Marvell 88SS9175 SATA III
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB LAMD LM87800 SATA III
Intel 520 Series 240GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) SATA III
OCZ Vector 256GB Indilinx Barefoot 3 M00 SATA III
Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) SATA III
Samsung 830 Series 256GB Samsung S4LJ204X01-Y040 SATA III

CrystalDiskInfo 5.6.2 Readout:

For the Samsung 840 EVO 500GB drive, the readout on CrystalDiskInfo 5.2.0 shows that both NCQ and S.M.A.R.T. are enabled, as well as TRIM and the interface is confirmed at SATA III (6Gbps). This is a great free tool to see lots of detailed information about the drive such as the firmware version for which we are running the latest available at the time of testing - EXT0AB0Q.

CrystalDiskInfo

Samsung also has their own excellent software which we'll have a peek at on the next page.

Samsung Magician Software and Rapid Mode

Samsung Magician Tool

The Samsung Magician software is probably the nicest software accompaniment to an SSD that we've seen to date, followed closely by Intel's tool. It offers a lot of technical and drive health (S.M.A.R.T.)  information like many of the other tools but also other utilities for secure erasing, benchmarking, firmware updates, drive optimization, and over provisioning adjustments.

Samsung Magician Authentication

Interestingly, there's a drive authentication tool to ensure the drive is not counterfeit. We haven't heard of any SSDs being counterfeited but given the amount of faked memory cards on the market, it's probably only a matter of time.

Samsung Magician Secure Erase

Unfortunately, at this time users of Windows 8 will be unable to exercise the secure erase utilities. We expect that will be addressed with a software update. The beta Magician software we were given offers a new feature called RAPID (Real-time Accelerated Processing of I/O Data) Mode. As the name implies, it's supposed to kick performance up beyond what you get out of the box and only currently available to the EVO drive. It utilizes free DRAM memory on the host machine as cache, similar to the way SSDs have been paired with hard drives to boost performance with algorithms that analyze s a user’s application and data usage and then caches that data for faster retrieval. We're told that this cache capacity will not exceed the lower of 1GB or 25% of available memory. The real potential here is that with the SATA III interface saturated, the cache process essentially sidesteps this by utilizing the much faster DRAM interface. The only downside we can see based on the information given is that the CPU will be giving an assist although it's tough to determine how much. It's doubtful that the user would notice any undue burden on the system but it could impact battery life on mobile PC's.

Magician Bench RAPID Mode

In terms of performance, using Samsung's built in benchmark we see performance as per the specifications when RAPID Mode is disabled. For those wary of the fox guarding the hen house so-to-speak with Samsung's own tool employed, the results match what we see on other benchmark tools.

Magician Bench RAPID Mode

With RAPID Mode enabled, we see performance on both reads and writes just about double over 1000MB/s! We ran a few other other benchmarks in RAPID Mode and we found performance to be all over the board since the synthetic data doesn't lend itself well to being identified as "hot" data to be cached. Overall, it seems like a very innovative way to kick things up a notch but we'll withhold final judgment until we've had more time to spend with the drive in the real world and see what issues, if any, arise from other users.

ATTO & AS-SSD Benchmarks

ATTO v2.47

ATTO is one of the oldest drive benchmarks still being used today and is still very relevant in the SSD world. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that can be very easily interpreted. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5KB through 8192KB transfer sizes with the total length being 256MB.

ATTO - Intel Z77 Platform:

ATTO

ATTO Grid

Benchmark Results: Very strong scores for the 840 EVO which was actually a bit surprising as we thought they would be more inline with what we saw on the original 840 drive not better than the 840 Pro drive! It definitely lives up to its specifications.

AS-SSD (1.6.4237.30508) Benchmark - Intel Z77 Platform:

We have been running the AS-SSD Benchmark app for over some time now and found that it gives a broad result set. The programmer has worked very hard on this software and continues to make updates often so if you use it, show him some love and send him a donation. There are now three tests that are found within the tool and we'll show the results from two of them.

AS-SSD

AS-SSD Grid

Benchmark Results: Again, we were a bit surprised to see the write scores fare as good as they did on this benchmark which were again better than the Pro drive. The scores are very impressive!

AS-SSD Compression Chart

 

Benchmark Results: Other than the anomalous dip, the performance is very steady across all manner of data compression proving that it's data agnostic in terms of compressibility.

CrystalDiskMark & Anvil IOPS

CrystalDiskMark is a small benchmark utility for drives and enables rapid measurement of sequential and random read/write speeds. Note that CDM only supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with a queue depth of 32 (as noted) for the last listed benchmark score. This can skew some results in favor of controllers that also do not support NCQ.

CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2 x64 - Intel Z77 Platform

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark Grid

Install Results: Super solid scores here - pretty much the best overall performance we've seen on this benchmark for a SATA III based drive!

Anvil Storage Utilities 1.050 RC6- Intel Z77 Platform

Along with the move to a new platform, we decided to make a change in one of the benchmarks. There's a relatively new benchmark called Anvil Storage Utilities that is in beta but close to production. It's a very powerful tool that measures performance through a variety of tests which can be customized. Since some of the tests more or less duplicate what we get from other benchmarks we use already, we decided to use the IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) testing on 4kb file sizes at a queue depth of 32. IOPS performance is something SSD makers tout quite a bit but we generally don't do a lot of IOPS testing because frankly a lot of users can't relate to IOPS metrics as well and it tends to be more meaningful to the enterprise/server crowd. Still, it is another performance indicator with relevance and while some drives post good MB/s numbers, their IOPS scores aren't always commensurate which this test will prove out.

IOPS Reads

 

IOPS Writes

Install Results: Super solid performance here with read IOPS nearly equaling that of the 840 Pro and does eclipse it by a bit on the writes.

IOPS Chart

Real World Copy & Boot Tests

File Copy Times Via Teracopy 2.27:

One of the most common operations performed on a PC is moving/copying files. Using a free application called Teracopy, we copied large numbers of two file types from one folder to another on the same drive. Teracopy allows us to objectively measure the time of transfer and using the same drive prevents other devices from tainting the outcome. The operation requires the drive to perform both sustained read and writes simultaneously. The first set of files is a 5GB collection of JPG's of variable size and compression levels with a few movie (.MOV) files thrown in for good measure since most cameras now take video as well as stills. The second is a collection of MP3 files of various sizes which totals 5GB collectively. These file types were chosen due to their wide use and mixture of file sizes and compression levels.

JPG TeraCopy File Copy

Install Results: While the synthetic benchmark results are impressive, it's the real world tests that add the validation that the drive can perform well under normal use. On the file copy test, we definitely see the 840 EVO perform very well, just off of the times we saw on the 840 Pro drive and the OCZ Vector drive.

Filecopy Chart

Windows Boot Times Via BootRacer:

Windows start up/shutdown time is always something people are interested in and we haven't done it in a while because there was little variation with the majority of the SSDs. We recently began using an application called BootRacer to objectively measure the startup times of the drives. All of the instances of Windows were identical and freshly installed with only the video driver installed.

Boot Racer

Install Results: Not a ton to say about the boot times as most all drives are pretty evenly matched but it's just another validation that things are working as they should be.

Boot Chart

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

The Samsung 840 EVO 500GB drive yields 465GB available for the end user after the over provisioning and GiB (1Gib = 1,073,741,824 bytes) to GB (1GB byte = 1,000,000,000 bytes) conversion.

Samsung EVO 500GB Drive Properties

Samsung has really impressed us again with their latest incarnation of the 840 series of drives. This EVO version puts out some really solid numbers across every benchmark we threw at it. The 500GB version we tested easily hit the specifications of 540MB/s reads and 520MB/s writes. This thanks to their TurboWrite technology which leveraging an undisclosed amount of NAND configured as SLC to cache the data before writing to the TLC. This strategy works extremely well and is the culprit behind the impressive benchmark scores. We only have the 500GB drive on hand but we hear that the performance impact of TurboWrite on the smaller capacity drives is more pronounced. The RAPID Mode is very interesting and does appear to give a big boost to performance but it carries a small caveat that it uses a portion of the host system memory and as such, things like power failures could lead to data loss should it happen at an inopportune moment. It's not something I'd lose sleep over but it's something to be aware of. Of course, enabling RAPID Mode is not compulsory so if you are not very risk tolerant, just leave it to its default disabled setting. Honestly, in normal real world use, you would never know if it's on or off.

Samsung 840 EVO

Power consumption is one area of particular focus these days and like the 840 with the TLC NAND, the 840 EVO sips power at a paltry 0.045 watts while idle and and 0.10 watts in an active state. This is well below where we see many drives and although this doesn't have a huge impact on battery life but every little bit counts. Along with the low power requirements of TLC comes the reduced program/erase lifespan that some get all worked up about. For most, this shouldn't be a concern at all but if you feel that you are a power user and plan on using the drive for more than three years, you might look to the 840 Pro. - as would those with enterprise application intentions.

Samsung 840 EVO

Pricing for the 840 EVO is pretty good, especially given the performance and a 1TB will set you back a cool $650, the 750GB ($510), 500GB ($370), 250GB ($178) and 120GB ($103). For the 500GB drive, we are looking at roughly $0.80 per usable GB. Still, similarly sized drives can be found for less so if price is your largest driving factor, you have a pretty diverse array of budget friendly drives to choose from. For those who are ok with a bit more cost for the extra performance, you'd be hard pressed to find a better drive, much less find one for a lower price. The package of performance, migration and Magician toolbox, and installation accessories make this a very attractive buy. So much so that we're awarding the Samsung 840 EVO drive with out Editors' Choice Award.

LR Editors' Choice

Legit Bottom Line: If you haven't considered a Samsung SSD before now, it's time. Each iteration of drive they release gets better and at this point with the 840 EVO, Samsung has jumped from SSD newb to hero in no time at all.