Buying an SSD can massively increase the speed of your PC, improving boot times, program loading speed and slashing power consumption. But what makes one solid-state drive different to another? All the changes you can't see. Samsung's new 850 Pro makes some significant behind-the-scenes upgrades to become the SSD you should buy today.
What Is It?
- Capacities: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
- Max Read: 550MBps
- Max Write: 470MBps (128GB) or 520Mbps
- Interface: SATA III 6Gbps; compatible with SATA II 3Gbps
- Warranty: 10-Years
- Form Factor: 2.5-inch Ultra-slim (7mm), no 3.5mm adapter
The Samsung 850 Pro is the latest and greatest SSD to hit the market from one of the oldest and most established memory manufacturers around. Samsung might be better known to most consumers as the brand behind some of the best smartphones and TVs around, but it's had a much longer history in making NAND flash -- the fingernail-sized chips that contain billions of transistors and gates and store your precious data.
The 850 Pro is interesting mainly because the design of those transistors and gates is a significant departure from the way flash memory has been produced for decades. Without getting too technical, Samsung has entirely changed the layout of the memory modules inside its flash storage to make them more efficient and faster to operate. This is the first drive on the market to use V-NAND flash (also known as 3D NAND), and Samsung is the only memory maker that can do it.
What Is It Good At?
The 850 Pro's V-NAND flash, developed and designed and produced in-house by Samsung, isn't like the flash memory in other solid-state drives. It's vertically and horizontally stacked, which is a more efficient structure for fast switching; by using a more effective memory design overall Samsung is able to significantly increase the three core aspects of what makes a good SSD: performance, reliability, and power consumption.
If you're running any garden-variety desktop PC, adding the 850 Pro in won't even measure on a mains power meter; the 2.5W max power consumption of the 1TB drive barely registered against the several hundred other watts of my test system's other components. What you will notice is the drop in power consumption when you use the 850 Pro to replace a traditional spinning-disk drive. Both these scenarios are hugely more important for anyone thinking of using the 850 Pro in a laptop, where you will see battery life improvements.
Oh, and the 850 Pro is fast. Proper fast. In CrystalDiskMark, where the mid-range Crucial M550 managed 542/491MBps, the 850 Pro wiped the floor with it with numbers that are near-perfect for the SATA3 standard. You really won't find a faster SSD around unless you're willing to pay obscene amounts of money for a PCI-Express version. Until SATA Express becomes widespread, the 850 Pro seems to be the point at which outright sequential disk performance will start to plateau.
Samsung 850 Pro (1TB): Performance
Storage: CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Read): 552MBps CrystalDiskMark (Sequential Write): 523Mbps
What Is It Not Good At?
The 128GB version of the 850 Pro, due to its smaller amount of onboard RAM, fewer NAND packages and less over-provisioning, is the slowest of the lot in testing, only cracking 470MBps write speeds instead of the 520MBps of the 256GB and above drives. This is a slight disappointment for consistency's sake, but it also means the 256GB is the natural leader in price/performance. If you're constrained by your budget, it's not like the 128GB is slow by any means, but with the 850 Pro 256GB seems to be the sweet spot (as with other mid- to high-end SSDs).
At a technical level, The 850 Pro has a big limitation that it can't get around: the bottleneck that is the SATA3 bus. SATA3 can only handle a theoretical maximum data rate of 750MBps, and the overhead of the SATA standard reduces that to 600MBps. At its maximum real-world throughput SATA3 is only really capable of 550MBps, which is why you see all these current high-end SSDs capped at 550MBps read speeds (and near that for writes). The Samsung 850 Pro easily reaches that barrier even with the cheapest, slowest-writing 128GB model -- but it's capable of more.
Being a brand new, high-end solid state drive the Samsung 850 Pro is expensive. $189 for 128GB, $379 for 256GB, $749 for 512GB and $999 for 1TB is what you'll pay in Australia. That's a lot of money, although it is interesting to see the 1TB drive cheaper per gigabyte than the 512GB model.
Should You Buy It?
The Samsung 850 Pro is, by all metrics, one of the fastest and most powerful SSDs on the market.
If you want the best, though, this is the drive to get -- and when you're building or upgrading a computer to stand the test of time, it makes excellent sense to spend that little bit extra to make your new PC last longer and run more effectively in the meantime.
There's a lot of work going on behind the scenes with the 850 Pro that you can't see in benchmarks and simple upfront testing, too -- it looks to have ironed out most of the kinks, like long-term reliability and continued write endurance. With that in mind, I think the 850 Pro well deserves its crown as the best consumer SSD currently on the market.
The lack of mSATA variant is a little mystifying, though, since the 850 Pro would fit well in with a high-end Ultrabook in the power savings it offers. If you have a larger laptop, or a desktop PC, looking for a hard drive speed upgrade, there's no reason not to choose the 850 Pro apart from its price tag.