If you’re looking for a storage drive with blazing fast speeds, then nothing beats an NVMe SSD – and Samsung has the reputation of being one of the best SSD manufacturers in the market. Despite Samsung entering the realm of PCIe 4.0 compatibility, arguably, a bit late, they have now done so with their 980 Pro. PCIe 4.0 does have a huge advantage over PCIe 3.0 in regards to read and write speeds, but there are some cases where PCIe Gen 4 is incompatible with a system, as well as situations where PCIe Gen 3 will suffice for the intended purpose of a PC’s setup.
Firstly, when it comes to gaming, generation four PCIe SSDs will not be that much of an improvement over a PCIe 3.0 NVMe, or even a SATA III, SSD. The main difference between NVMe and SATA storage drives (besides the form factor, as SATA may also come M.2 compatible) is that NVMe drives make use of PCIe lanes, which allows for speedier transfers of larger files – both in size and quantity. Thus, NVMe drives are better suited for workstations, rather than gaming rigs, though the faster 4K QD1 and QD32 that accompany NVMe drives (especially PCIe 4.0) translate to faster initial launch times for games –but this is not necessary the cases for individual stages. Benchmarks show that the actual differences in stage loading times are almost negligible between NVMe and SATA SSDs (NCIX Tech Tips). Of course, this doesn’t mean that the 970 Pro or 980 Pro can’t be an excellent addition to a gaming build – especially if streaming or content creation is involved – but, rather, it means that for their cost they will not provide an equivalent amount of value to a dedicated gaming setup.
Next, all released Intel processors will be incompatible with PCIe 4.0 SSDs; including their 10th generation CPUs. This is due to the incompatible chipset – a questionable decision by Intel that may have just doubled down on aiming for the gaming market, as AMD Ryzen and Threadripper processors are far more popular for workstation and hybrid builds. Both the current generation and, almost certainly, next generation AMD CPUs are PCIe Gen4 compatible, as the AM4 chipset which will carry on to the new processors that are soon to be announced.
Now, the Samsung 980 Pro is currently the most powerful PCIe 4.0 SSD (at least until the arrival of the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus), whereas the Samsung 970 Pro is arguably the most powerful PCIe Gen 3 SSD – and also appears to be the last NVMe drive built with a 2-bit MLC flash. This is mostly due to the fact that the 3-bit flash is much cheaper to produce, and now with the utilization of PCIe 4.0 lanes, its disadvantages to the 2-bit flash are all but lost – with the only exception being 4K random write speeds.
With all the above in mind, let’s take a look at how the two Samsung Pro SSDs fair against each other in regards to specifications, benchmarks, and price; so that we can better determine whether or not a PCIe 4.0 compatible chipset and motherboard are worth investing in, and to what degree the 980 Pro outmatches the previous 970 Pro NVMe iteration.
Note: We will be comparing the 1 TB storage option for both models, but both come in a 500 GB variant, while the 980 Pro also has a 250 GB variant.
Samsng 980 Pro vs 970 Pro: Specifications
Samsung 970 Pro
Released in May of 2018, the Samsung 970 Pro makes use of third generation x4 PCIe lanes and an NVMe 1.3 interface protocol. It comes in an M.2 2280 form factor, and operates with Samsung’s 5-core, ARM based, Phoenix flash controller. Four of these five cores serve the SSD’s V-NAND array, while the fifth core improves communication with its host. The fourth-generation 2-bit MLC V-NAND flash has 64 cell layers, and is both faster and more power-efficient than its previous 960 Pro iteration. The cache memory also features 1 GB of Low Power DDR4 SDRAM. Due to the increased endurance of the 2-bit MLC flash, this SSD features an impressive 1,200 TBW (Terabytes Written), a 5-year warranty, and an MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) of 1.5 million hours.
When it comes to read and write speeds, the 970 Pro reaches a sequential read of 3,500 MB/s, a sequential write of 2,700 MB/s, and 500,000 IOPS for both QD32 random read and write speeds.
Thermal efficiency is maintained with the use of a copper film layer over the PCB, nickel coating over the Phoenix controller, as well as the enhanced Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) which will throttle the performance when thermals get too high. This M.2 NVMe SSD can be used with or without a motherboard heatsink-cover.
The 970 Pro also includes Samsung’s Magician software, which allows one to view and manage the SSD’s metrics – like performance speeds, temperature, firmware updates, TBW, and data encryption. The 970 Pro makes use of the AES 256-bit Full Disk Encryption, TCG/Opal V2.0, and Encrypted Drive IEEE1667.
The Samsung 970 Pro launched with a $499 MSRP price tag, which has now gone down to $349.99.
Samsung 980 Pro
The fourth generation x4 PCIe compatible Samsung 980 Pro is an M.2 2280 form factor SSD with an NVMe 1.3c interface protocol and features the new Samsung Elpis controller which is based on Samsung’s 8 nanometer processing node, and includes the ability to reach up to 128 queues simultaneously. The 3-bit TLC flash makes uses of Samsung’s 6th generation V-NAND technology, including over 100 cell layers and charge trap flash (CTF) technology. Additionally, this SSD includes 1 GB of its own LPDDR4 DRAM. The biggest negative impact of the 3-bit TLC flash on the 980 Pro can be found in its endurance, as it can only last 600 TBW. Thankfully, it does include a 5-year warranty.
Where the 980 Pro truly shines, is its performance metrics. With this NVMe SSD one can expect a sequential read speed of 7,000 MB/s, a sequential write speed of 5,000 MB/s, and up to 1,000,000 IOPS of 4K random read and write speeds.
Thermals for this SSD are controlled via a nickel coating on the controller and a heat spreader label on the chip; as well as a thermal control algorithm that keeps the drive from overheating and prevents performance fluctuations. Of course, a motherboard M.2 cover/heatsink is very much recommended for drives that can reach the insane speeds that the 980 Pro is capable of, as overheating can still become an issue.
What’s inherently great about fourth generation PCIe SSDs is that they are, in fact, backwards compatible with PCIe 3.0. Of course, using the 980 Pro with previous generation PCIe lanes means that its performance will be throttled significantly. It will have sequential read and write speeds of 3,500 MB/s and 3,450 MB/s respectively, and its 4K random read and write speeds will fall to 690,000 IOPS and 660,000 IOPS. The fact that these values are higher than PCIe 3.0 optimized SSDs mean that the 980 Pro is still purchasable, even without a fourth-generation compatible motherboard, as it can still be used until an upgraded motherboard is purchased.
Similar to the 970 Pro, the 980 Pro also comes with Samsung’s magician software, as well as identical encryption support.
The current price of the 980 Pro is $229.99 for 1 TB.
980 Pro vs 970 Pro: Comparison & Verdict
When it comes to specifications, the only advantage held by the Samsung 970 Pro lies in its double the TBW value of 1,200, versus the 600 of the Samsung 980 Pro. However, it is difficult to argue that the increased durability would warrant a $120 price increase for an SSD that is severely outperformed by its successor.
Thorough benchmarks carried out by TweakTown show us that the 980 Pro SSD triumphed over the 970 Pro in virtually every single test they ran; with the only exception being the CrystalDiskMark 7.0.0 x64 4K random write test, where the 970 Pro reached 263.5 MB/s, versus the 234.73 MB/s of the 980 Pro. In every other test, the 970 Pro was outperformed by a substantial margin. Of course, if one is to use the 980 Pro on a PCIe 3.0 compatible chipset, this gap will decrease dramatically, and may even ultimately be outperformed by the 970 Pro, but chances are the performance between the two SSDs will be nearly identical. Given the fact that the 980 Pro can be used in an upgraded environment also adds to its value, and the fact that it is even cheaper than the 970 Pro by 34% just really make it a no brainer as a purchasing option. The only scenarios where the purchase of 970 Pro would be the wiser choice to make, is if you are not looking to upgrade to PCIe 4.0 any time soon, have workloads that are dependent on 4K random read/write speeds, and/or transfer large amounts of large files on a daily basis and need a storage drive with a higher TBW value – and these are all metrics that are influenced by the 2-bit MLC superiority to the 3-bit TLC flash. If only the latter two are the case, then the currently available Sabrent Rocket 4.0 features higher random write speeds, in comparison to both the 980 and 970 Pro by quite a margin, while have an 1,800 TBW endurance level.
With the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus release date being just around the corner, and the fact that it offers faster speeds and a better thermal solution to both Samsung Pro SSDs, it is hard to recommend either of the two Pro variants. The only exceptions being those that do not want to upgrade to PCIe 4.0, whereas the 970 Pro will most likely run slightly faster at its native PCIe interface, and those that need an SSD immediately, whereas the 980 Pro still reigns supreme in terms of performance in the PCIe 4.0 compatible NVMe SSD market.