Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1 TB as my next notebook disk?

Submitted by peter on Tue, 07/12/2022 - 17:14

Is the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1 TB the best choice for my next notebook disk?

There are a heap of SSD reviews online and many quote specifications that do not match the current version of whatever they are reviewing, suggesting they used an old article and just updated the pictures or they were sent an old prototype. Some tested smaller capacities but smaller capacities are slower. Some tested the speed of the Windows operating system, not the hardware speed. User reviews are even worse as they often do not mention what they actually bought or how they tested the device.

Here is my current research.

Who needs the 970 EVO Plus speed or 1 TB capacity?

The Samsung 970 range is for NVMe Gen 3 speed and their 980 range is for NVMe Gen 4. If your computer has an NVMe Gen 3 slot, the 970 range is a good choice. For computers with a couple of NVMe Gen 4 slots, you might choose the 970 for the second disk to save money.

The EVO range has TLC flash memory. In flash memory, there is SLC for speed, MLC and TLC for lower cost, then QLC for lowest cost but slow and with a shorter lifespan. Samsung TLC works out as the best combination for everything except the most intensive use in servers.

The Samsung 970 EVO Plus is a useful improvement over the 970 EVO and the best current choice for cost effectiveness in Australia when you need to upgrade.

My first SSD based notebook was just 128 GB and that is too small for almost everyone. 256 GB is enough for most people. 512 GB is now the minimum size in many machines, including my new notebook, and in some ranges of SSD. My 512 GB is already filled with photographs. I need 1 TB and might need 2 TB next year. If you shoot video, you could easily need 4 TB.

Given the cost of an upgrade and the work involved, you might plan ahead for what you need next year and beyond. The SSD you remove can go into a USB enclosure for other uses.

The 970 and many similar ranges from other brands start at 256 GB. They have one thing in common. The smallest capacity in each range is slower because it has only one flash memory chip and cannot do things in parallel. In the 970 EVO Plus case, read speeds are the same but writes are slower for the 256 GB model. You should look at least one step up in capacity within any SSD range.

What do you get?

Well formed

The latest and greatest SSDs use the M.2 form factor for direct connection on motherboards. M.2 is small, smaller than the previous mSATA. mSATA connected the PCIe bus to a SATA converter then fed the SATA protocol through a large connector to the SATA controller in the SSD. The M.2 form can feed the SATA protocol to M.2 SATA SSDs but modern systems leave out the SATA conversion. The PCIe connection is fed direct to the SSD and is called NVMe. NVMe starts at four times faster than SATA. Make sure your computer or disk enclosure has the M.2 form, not an mSATA slot.

Replace SATA

NVMe replaces SATA by simply removing the SATA conversion. That is one less slowdown in both the motherboard and the SSD. The M.2 form factor has two notches, a B notch for SATA and an M notch or NVMe. Make sure the computer and the SSD have only the M notch to indicate NVMe. There are computers designed to handle both and they slow down NVMe.

The right generation

Gen 3 is the first generation of NVMe and is named after PCIe Gen 3. PCIe Gen 4 is twice as fast and there are NVMe SSDs designed for PCIe Gen 4, with the label NVMe Gen 4. Gen 4 SSDs typically give you reads twice as fast but not faster writes unless you spend a fortune on premium SSDs. In a few years, Gen 4 will be the cheap product as PCIe Gen 5 and NVMe gen 5 will start arriving in a couple of years.

For most users, Gen 4 is not a noticeable advantage. You might see a difference only in high intensity gaming when using the latest motherboard. Many computers use interface chips that can support one Gen 4 slot or two Gen 3 slots. Two Gen 3 slots are a real advantage when you need capacity instead of speed. To get two Gen 4 slots, the motherboard setup has to take speed away from the GPU or somewhere else.

Chip density

TLC is the cost effective middle level in SSD flash memory. SLC, Single level, is the fastest and too expensive. If you need SLC, you can get better speed with more RAM and other technologies. MLC is cheaper and slightly slower. TLC is another step down in price, is slightly slower, and is still as fast as NVMe Gen 3 or 4. QLC, Quad level, is the slowest and cheapest but has reduced life. QLC is used in the cheaper slow Gen 3 SSDs and is currently too slow for Gen 4.

Lifespan

The guaranteed lifespan of the Samsung SSD range is more than the lifetime of most notebooks. You would burn out the SSD only if you use your machine as a server. A media server would work as you are mostly reading files and SSDs can read without limit. It is the writes that kill the flash memory. A backup server might burn out the SSD in a few years if the server is continually writing to the disk 24 hours a day for every day.

Flash access

Speed is important. Of the affordable 1 TB NVMe Gen 3 SSDs, the 970 EVO Plus is beaten by only the 970 Pro and not by much. Some write benchmarks place the EVO Plus ahead of the Pro.

There are write tests showing the WD Blue or Black beating the Samsung models but they are usually inaccurate tests measuring only the memory write cache speed when used in Windows. Linux testing is better because the write cache is the same for every brand and can be bypassed for real hardware testing. If you have a Kingston SSD then any of those upgrades would be faster.

Flash memory can use idle time to run the big slow erase part of the write cycle. Running short tests with lots of idle time in between is one way to cheat with benchmarks. You want measurements of continuous writes over ten minutes or 100 GB to see the real write speed.

Hot product

Heat is a problem. When you read lists of recommendations for non Samsung SSDs, you find many of them using the same Phison controller chip and all of those are listed as running too hot plus gulping down the power when idle, both good reasons to not use those models in notebooks. Very few SSDs compete on speed for sustained writes and the few with good continuous write speeds are much more expensive. Plus some of the most expensive models need additional cooling to just survive regular use.

When would you buy the 970 EVO Plus?

The selection considerations are mentioned above. Now we cover the timing of the purchase. If you need extra capacity today, buy from a local supplier with good warranted support. For those occasions where you are planning months ahead, look for SSDs on sale. Local discounts are often in the range of 25% up to 40%. You can sometimes buy cheaper from overseas then you crash into the problem of no support and no replacement.

I check some big international sites from Australia. You see user reviews where people have problems with products and cannot return the devices. The "new" device might be used or an OEM version repackaged for retail without a warrantee. The device might be incorrectly labelled. There are also big delivery delays, hidden taxes, and a heap of other problems not worth the risk on something as expensive as a good SSD.

What was in your computer when it arrived? My notebook has an NVMe SSD brand and model aimed at low power usage instead of speed. The specifications for the SSD are not online. Any replacement might reduce the battery life without increasing speed. The Samsung EVO range uses less power than some other brands but might use more than my current SSD. I am delaying buying a replacement SSD in case there is a magical new lower power range released.

The other consideration is the move to double capacity. Should I hold on for a while then go to four times the capacity? I am thinking the 1 TB option would be good now and I can use the old SSD in an external enclosure as a backup or as a place to offload some less active projects. Holding out for 2 TB could save me another upgrade next year.

When buying my previous notebook, the built in choices were 128 GB, 256 GB, or bigger. Every machine fitted with something more than 128 GB had a ridiculous price. Buying a 128 GB machine then replacing the 128 GB SSD with a 1 TB SSD was cheaper than buying the 256 GB model. In that case, I used the 128 GB machine for a month or two then replaced the SSD. The guarantee was cancelled by my actions but machines either break in the first few days or work until you drop them on a concrete floor.

Another consideration. The 970 EVO Plus appeared in 2019. Models rarely last more than two years. There should be a new model announced soon even if it is not really an improvement. The new model should be faster or cheaper as chip density has improved over that time.

Where would you use NVMe Gen 3?

Gen 4 SSDs read speeds are too fast for a USB external enclosure. NVMe Gen 3 matches the fastest USB, USB4. New machines, starting from mid last year, have at least one USB4 port. For any high intensity use of an external disk, you need NVMe Gen 3 in a USB4 enclosure. Gen 4 speeds will not arrive until USB5 several years from now.

USB4 cables and enclosures are stupidly expensive. You might buy NVMe Gen 3 now with a USB 3.2 enclosure then update the enclosure in a year or two. For my current planning, I am thinking of buying the 1 TB NVMe SSD for my notebook today then moving the SSD to a USB4 enclosure in a couple of years when I have to upgrade my notebook to 2 TB.

Someone with a desktop computer dedicated to gaming might choose to use two Gen 4 disks with one for the system and one for the game files. NVMe Gen 4 is definitely a waste in an external enclosure until everyone has USB5 which is still years away. NVMe Gen 4 is a waste if your computer does not have PCIe Gen 4. NVMe Gen 4 will mostly be a waste for any disk other than your main system disk.

Gen 3 is all you need for editing images and video. Invest the savings, compared to Gen 4, in more capacity or more RAM or a better GPU.

Why upgrade?

Extra capacity is a good reason to upgrade. If you have an older or cheaper NVMe Gen 3 SSD, you might also get a significant read speed increase helping you save time every minute of every day. You will almost certainly get a write speed worth the money for any busy computer user. The save time for a large file might reduce from 3 minutes to 2 minutes or less.

In a good file system, most small writes are hidden in a cache then completed while you do other things. Anything bigger than the cache will slow down. A faster SSD makes a noticeable difference. Most people may never notice. For the rest of us, it depends on how often we perform that type of task. For me, it is several hours per week. Cutting 6 hours back to 5 is worth the small increase in SSD cost between regular and fast writes, currently about AU$30.

I am upgrading for more capacity and can wait a month or three. When slower SSDs are on sale, the cost difference for fast is AU$60. There was a time when the fast option was on sale for only $5 more. I can wait for the next sale. I will need the extra capacity some time this year. Every use of my camera pushes me closer to the upgrade.

Way over the top upgrades?

Large scale writes and high intensity small writes are far slower than the SSD read speeds plus they are way slower than the published write speeds. A small number of NVMe Gen 4 SSDs offer write speeds faster than Gen 3 SSDs while most offer only a faster small burst of writes with continuous writing dropping back to similar speeds to Gen 3. If you need the absolute top write speed for professional use and have only a Gen 3 machine, you could install the fastest Gen 4 SSDs as they are backward compatible. You get the same read speeds as Gen 3 and might get better write speeds.

The faster Gen 4 SSDs use extra power and produce extra heat. You will need better cooling. If you have the chance to look at a Gen 4 motherboard along side an equivalent Gen 3 motherboard, look at the upgrades to cooling. There are heaps of after market cooling upgrades for desktop SSDs. Most do not fit notebooks.

My notebook has two NVMe Gen 3 slots. If I installed a second NVMe Gen 3 SSD and could spread writes equally over both disks, I could make the machine faster. Unfortunately there is no easy way to spread my most time consuming workload out like that. You might have more luck.

If your most used, most disk intensive application, uses a mass of temporary files, you might be able to direct all the temporary stuff to an otherwise unused disk. Of course, when you have a heap of unused RAM, you can redirect TEMP files to RAM for far faster operation than you could get from an SSD.

Worth the investment or wait?

My capacity upgrade can wait months but not a year. How long before you need a capacity upgrade?

Without a capacity upgrade, you are looking at spending money to save time. I am looking at spending AU$150 for the capacity upgrade. It would be less than $100 just to get more speed in the existing capacity. Unfortunately I do not have a new SSD to benchmark against my existing SSD, leaving me with no estimate of the time saving.

The speed upgrade might also reduce run time on battery which might mean more time finding a power outlet. Again I cannot find an accurate comparison.

I value my time enough to spend money on the fastest SSD when I do need the extra capacity. There might also be new faster models released before I need the capacity upgrade. I can and will wait for either a sale making the capacity upgrade cheap or a sale making the 2 TB option cheap or a new model improving the write speed or a new model using less power.