Hard Choices SSD Update: Samsung’s Double Whammy

By Jeremy Laird on November 1st, 2012 at 8:00 pm.


Quick (and slightly belated, sorry team – Jim) heads up to the RPS massive regarding a couple of interesting new SSDs from Samsung. I speak of the 840 and 840 Pro Series drives, which respectively promise to insert a bat up the nightdress of SSD pricing and performance. One will be uber cheap. The other crazy fast. Eventually, anyway.

Ideally, of course, we’d have cheap and fast in one drive. And big. Hold that thought. First, let’s consider these new Sammy drives. The plain 840 Series’ party trick is the the introduction of Triple-Level Cell or TLC flash memory.

Yup, that’s three extremely exciting bits of data in just one memory cell. And thus TLC is literally on another level to the two-level MLC memory used in just about every other consumer SSD you can buy today.


As small black slabs go, the new Sammy 840 is quite exciting

The point is that you can squeeze 50 per cent more data into a given slab of silicon. In simple terms than means an instant 50 per cent uptick in the GB-per-pound-Sterling ratio. Samsung has also made the move to stupidly tiny 21nm manufacturing tech with both the new drives.

Combine TLC with the shrink from 27nm to 21nm silicon and you’re getting on for double the data density. The only slight snag is that Samsung isn’t passing those manufacturing savings on immediately.

Well, there is one other snag. TLC memory isn’t as tough as MLC when it comes to soaking up mots of read and write cycles. The jury is currently out on the implications therein.

The plain 840 is only available from a few UK online retailers to pre order currently and it’s not looking any cheaper than the old 830. But I can’t see much point in it existing unless it gets a lot cheaper fairly fast, so that’s what I think will happen.

Oh, and don’t be put off by the less than stellar sequential reads and writes Samsung is claiming for the 840. It’s got some nice looking IOPS numbers and that’s actually more important.


The indescribably different looking Samsung 840 Pro

On that very subject, the 840 Pro is an IOPS beast. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to characterise SSD performance with this dumbed down dichotomy. SSD workloads split into either big, fat file transfers or itty bitty reads and writes.

It’s the latter that really defines how nippy an SSD feels in subjective terms. And it’s IOPS or how many input/output operations a drive can do in a second that defines it.

Depending on capacity the plain 840 has double the write IOPS of the old 830 and the 840 is quicker still. I have an example of both in hand but my car reviewing alter ego has been too busy abusing the new BMW M6 to give them a proper shake down. Fully six button presses required to enable full Sport Plus mode, what a palaver.


Coming to RPS soon, it’s the BMW M6 vs Samsung 840 Pro benchmarkathon. Possibly.

Anyhoo, the online scuttlebutt certainly suggests the Pro has the makings of being the fastest SSD bar none. Factor in Samsung’s track record for so-solid, er, SSDs and we might just have a winner.

That said, it’s really the plain 840 that interests me. The performance of current SSDs is mostly dandy if you ask me. It’s the crappy capacities compared to multi-TB magnetic drives that’s the problem. Here’s hoping I’m right about that rapid price drop and the 250GB version homes in on £100 by early next year.

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53 Comments »

  1. Alphabet says:

    I think I understood the picture of the car, but that was about all I understood.

    • Cinnamon says:

      I think that Samsung are making some sort of new zip drive disk that you can put your games on.

      • darkChozo says:

        Nah, I think they were able to scale down their floppy disk technology by storing more magnetic charge per cylinder.

        • Sidion says:

          Damn, I only read the title and saw the pictures. I assumed there was some sort of SSD transformer on the loose.

    • ampaire says:

      Flash stores information by placing charges on tiny conductive plates. In the most basic Flash (single-level) if there is a charge, it is a ’1′ and if there is no charge, it is a ’0.’ 2-level MLC allows for 4 different levels of charge instead of 2, so that each plate can store 2 bits. TLC has 8 possible charge levels for 3 bits.

      The downside is that data retention generally degrades exponentially when you cram more bits into the same cell. Smaller nodes (21nm vs 28) also have worse data retention. There are lots of fancy ways manufacturers are countering this but there is a reason that TLC flash has mostly been used for cheap SD cards in the past.

      • Surlywombat says:

        That was words that was, I recognise em! Dunno what they mean, but yup, dem be words.

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      That was basically my only thought after stopping myself from going any further. “well, that’s a neat looking car”.

    • Ragnar says:

      I understood everything except for the “what a palaver” line. What does that mean? I don’t think we have those on this side of the ocean.

  2. Rao Dao Zao says:

    Tender Love and Care?

  3. Valvarexart says:

    I got the 830 256gb SSD a couple of days ago… As far as I can see the difference between it and the 840 is not large enough to justify the price difference.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      New stuff is always expensive. But yeah, the 830 is a fine piece of hardware. As far as I’m concerned, all “good” SSDs for the past couple years are plenty fast, and the only real concern is possible lifetime.

      • Fazer says:

        How good has it become? I remember first SSDs broke pretty frequently, but I’m not familiar with recent statistics.

        • Karl says:

          Reliability is not a big concern anymore, I don’t think SSDs nowadays break more often than classic HDDs, last big problem was with OCZs SandForce controlled ones a while ago. Of course there will be exceptions but there are with HDDs as well and especially the Samsung drives are rock solid. Crucials M4 too.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            Get back to me when SSDs last 10+ years. Reliability is still a big concern for some.

          • Namey says:

            People still use 10+ year old consumer HDD’s?

          • grundus says:

            Just last week my 10 month old M4 died, apparently. I have yet to try upgrading the firmware (the drive does work, but only for an hour at a time), but my confidence in SSDs is dented as a result… My 5 year old Hitachi Deathstar is doing an admirable job as a temporary stand-in, too!

          • Caiman says:

            @SkittleDiddler The longest I’ve ever had a HDD last is 4 years (and I’ve gone through many), most of them seem to die around 2-3 years, and a handful lasted under 12 months (let’s not go into that). These things are so unreliable I have to buy two of the damn things to back up my important data, so I currently have 6 HDD in operation on my desk to store several Tb of video data. While no SSD is going to replace those anytime soon until capacity goes up a lot, trying to diss them based on the “superior” reliability of HDD raises a bitter smile. This is inherently unreliable technology, but I can’t see how mechanical tech like a HDD is going to hold out in the reliability stakes once SSD technology becomes more mature. I just wish they’d hurry up about it.

          • particlese says:

            For what it’s worth, I just took a census of my old drives (all consumer-grade) within the past week: I have a ~12-year-old Western Digital, a ~10-year-old Maxtor, and a ~7 year old Seagate that are all still working, but I don’t use them for much more than backups. The Seagate is on its way out: It doesn’t like reading/writing more than 5 gigs or so continuously.

            I also have a dead WD and a dead Seagate that are each around 5 years old, and another WD — about 3 years old — that died in about a year, but its twin (they were RAIDed upon arrival) is still chugging along just fine.

            I don’t think I’d want to regularly use a 10-year-old hard drive at this point because of all the noise they make (the whine of the spinning is particularly annoying), but some do survive! I kind of miss those floppy drive sounds, though…

          • Caiman says:

            @particlese I’m jealous, I’d love to have one last that long. I tend to get nervous around the 3-4 year mark. However I lied, I do have a very old HDD, it’s my Amiga HDD which still worked the last time I tried it about a year back. That would make it around 18 years old, although of course that’s fairly meaningless because it’s spent the last 16 of those 18 years not actually doing any work. Of course, it was only 60 Mb and it seems the higher capacity these disks have, the less reliable they become.

          • Sugoi says:

            Still using a couple 250GB drives that are over seven years old now.

            One thing you can do to vastly increase the lifespan of HDs is make them spin constantly when they’re on. Yes, this is more expensive power wise, but spin up cycles do far more damage to drives than you might think, and the difference in power usage isn’t that enormous anyway.

            In my view SSDs have two uses: Quick reads of data that is frequently read and infrequently modified, or as part of a RAID that also includes a HD or two. Their tendency to fail catastrophically and unexpectedly makes them ill-suited for general purpose computing, but more than doubly so if you write the hell out of your drives like many modern users do.

          • particlese says:

            @Caiman: Heh, I think I’ve been lucky and/or misleading. My really old drives probably had about 4 years actual use, max, but they do still retain data. They’re 30, 40, and 160 GB drives, and the dead ones I mentioned are 40, 80, and 500GB. I also neglected to mention that I RMAed the one-year WD (500GB) with no hassle, but the new one arrived with the same exact problem. It was definitely a different drive (unless they swapped stickers), and they both failed in the same use case that the original RAID partner still excels at, so I just shrugged it off since I didn’t REALLY need the space at the time (and I was very lazy).

            What Sugoi (ウワー!) says about cycling seems to make sense to me at face value (I can see it stressing mechanical bonds or the main motor, but I would think spinning has its own wear problems…but I don’t know much about that stuff), but…where was I…ah, yes: I didn’t do anything special with my old drives. They could all explode the next time I use them, but I think I just got lucky with those.

          • Wisq says:

            As far as reliability goes, I’m still sticking with Intel. Five year warranties, every Intel employee using them, and a general tendency to hold back and only release a new tech when they’re dead certain it’s going to hold up.

            No failures so far.

          • Kiyone says:

            @grundus Sounds like you may have reached 5000+ hours of on time for the M4. There is a well known bug in the firmware that will shut off the drive about every hour after you’ve reached 5000 hours of on time with the drive. Once you’ve upgraded the firmware the problem “should” go away. Google “M4 5000 hour bug”. I had the same problem, very annoying, but other than that my 2 M4 drives have worked great.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          No one knows about the new product, cause it’s new, but Samsung is one of the few companies known for making reliable SSDs, if I recall.

          Ninja’d Nice.

        • LintMan says:

          As others have said, SSD reliability has improved in recent years, but Samsung in particular has had a very good reputation for SSD reliability.

          I’ve had my Samsung 830 for almost a year now and am quite pleased with it, performance- and reliability- wise. Though it is a bit painful that the 830 is now about 40% cheaper than it was when I bought it. But that actually tempts me to buy another one.

          As far as the plain 840 – the TLC memory is thought to be a little less reliable, which is why the drives are advertised as having somewhat less space then the 830 series (ie: 250GB vs 256GB). AFAIK, the missing space is dedicated slack space that can swap out and replace failed memory cells.

          If I was buying right now, I’d still buy an 830 unless I had the cash and performance demand for the 840 Pro. I’d hold off on the plain 840 until it’s out for a bit and it starts to drive price/capacity costs down as expected.

    • particlese says:

      I also got the 256GB 830 a couple of days ago for the same reason. It had an extra 15% discount, probably to clear stock for the 840s, so I snatched one up. They were sold out the next day (and still are), so I felt slightly awesome. The 830 will already be something like 3-4 times as fast as the spinning plates currently serving my games, so I’ll be happy for quite a while, but these 840s still look pretty exciting for the price.

  4. Deadalus says:

    I managed to pick up the 830 512GB for £299 the other day… still not exactly cheap, but it means I don’t have to worry about space at all. The 256GB version is available for a more reasonable £130.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Where are you finding the 830 for that price?

      Due to lack of funds I had to skip on a deal for a Crucial M4 256GB at £119… this is (almost) killing me, it’s the last step I need to make before I have enough storage in my main workstation that I don’t require having hard disks on all the time. Oh the glorious, glorious near-silence that will result…

      Those considering the 840 / Pro, reviews so far seem to agree that it’s – overall – currently the “best” all-rounder SSD and possibly the fastest single drive without going RAID. Or PCI-E solutions etc.

      But it’s worth keeping in mind that most current gen SSDs are saturating SATA III and we won’t see them getting any faster until an alternative interface comes into play. So I wouldn’t worry about getting an 840 (either), as there are many other choices that are close enough and probably much cheaper.

      Crucial M4 and Samsung 830 seem to be the best bang-for-buck options at the moment.

      • Sakkura says:

        Current SSDs saturate SATA-600 rarely or not at all.

        The stated sequential read performance of the 840 Pro is 540 MB/s, where SATA-600 can handle up to 600 MB/s. And sequential read is the “easiest” thing for a drive to do. Random reads are slower than sequential ones, and writes are slower than reads.

        Also, queue depth matters. Queue depth of 1 nerfs performance from the 500s to the 300s even on the best SSDs.

        Finally, I’d like to add that the Tom’s Hardware review found the average busy-time data rate for the Samsung 840 Pro doing their benchmarking was 210.85 MB/s. Now, it would obviously go above 300 MB/s part of the time, so you wouldn’t want to stick this in a SATA-300 port. But SATA-600 is more than fine today. Give it another year or two though, then they’ll have to release a new SATA spec.

  5. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Newegg has the 250gig 840 for preorder right now for $189 US, isn’t that close to 100 pounds?

    • Erinduck says:

      It’s never a straight conversion, unfortunately. At the very best it usually ends up being $1 = £1

      • Universal Quitter says:

        Which leads me to ask, why does your government allow that? When I buy something in Euros or Pounds with American Dollars, I look up the actual current exchange rate online. I’ve never over-payed by more than 5-10% due to exchange rates, nor has anyone tried to overcharge me by that much.

        I figured one of the benefits of the so-called welfare state would be protection of it’s citizens from being bilked. It’s not like forming a trade agreement between the US, the EU, and the UK is some strange idea.

        • SiHy_ says:

          We would complain but we’re British. We tend to just mumble our disagreement under our breath and get on with our day.

        • phuzz says:

          Well, there’s the 20% VAT on top of the price for starters, but after that, why would the government have any interest in stopping vendors from another country charging lots? It’s not really any of their business, and it’s nothing to do with the welfare state, that refers to dole payments etc.

  6. Sakkura says:

    If you can’t find a Samsung 840 Pro (or it’s too pricey), the Plextor M5 Pro is another new SSD that provides performance beyond that of the last generation of SSDs. Not quite matching the 840 Pro though.

    Also, don’t go too crazy over the official performance numbers. They’re often so optimistic that they border on the meaningless.

  7. trjp says:

    Look – a pretend sportscar for rich fat people!

    *stares into the past, trying to find a BMW which was actually for drivers – senses an E28 M5 in your future*

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      To be fair, BMW was still making proper driver’s cars right up to the late 90s. But you’re right. The M6 is about as uninvolving a drive as you could imagine.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        With speed limits and traffic, I always wonder what people expect from a car. Does it last? Does it make me look like something I don’t want to be? Fuel economy? Is it so loud that my neighbors will plant a bomb on my car someday?

        These seem like things a driver should consider. How often are you blasting through chicanes, cutting a line across the entire road surface? If you aren’t a race car driver, isn’t a “driving machine” a bit silly and amount to nothing but an expensive, impractical toy?

        I’m not saying car enthusiasts are dumb or bad, I just don’t get it from a consumer perspective. Maybe it’s a California thing, but I’m more interested in how the car handles between 0 and 30 mph, while surrounded by 18-wheelers, not taking corners at maximum possible speed without flying off the road surface.

  8. Maxheadroom says:

    god-damn it! After your first SSD Hard Choices you said “Buy a Samsung!”, so i did (for my PC)
    Then in your follow up you said “No wait, buy a Samsung ‘now’ cos they’re half price!”, so I did (for my laptop)
    Now this!??
    I’m running out of devices to plug these things into!
    Could I just email you my credit card details and you could do my shopping for me? It’ll save on the buyers remorse!

    • Sakkura says:

      SSDs have been doing that dance for, what, 5 years now? They mixed some Moore’s law with some economies of scale and it all went crazy.

  9. angrycoder says:

    So in other words, Samsung is giving RPS some free SSD drives.

    • Sakkura says:

      In that case they must have given free SSDs to almost all tech websites, since the praise for Samsung has been pretty much universal since the 830 arrived.

      • frightlever says:

        I am prepared to pimp Samsung SSDs in this comment in exchange for a free Samsung SSD. Well, except my current PC is already full of Samsung SSDs. No other components, just SSDs. So quiet…

  10. uh20 says:

    hard drives are good enough at this point for me to actually try one, granted its not for everybody, im known for only downloading a few games and songs at a time, so its good for me, as i never ever ever need to use more than 150gb on my computer

  11. Shadowcat says:

    All that talk of “manufacturing savings” and instance 50% improvement in storage density make it sound as if some boffin at Samsung waved a magic wand, and suddenly everything was better than it had been.

    I’m sure that in reality it costs them an arm and a leg to make these kinds of improvements, and there probably aren’t any savings to pass on to the customer at this point in time.

  12. Koozer says:

    Tried a Samsung SSD a few weeks ago before sending it back. Sure it booted Windows and found files quite quickly, but for £150 it really wasn’t worth it when my usual routine of 1) press power button 2) make tea 3) compute works fine for me. I’ll jump in when they’re at least 1TB for under £100.

    • phelix says:

      Well, see you in 20 years, then!

    • frightlever says:

      I’m morbidly fascinated to find out what difference you expected to happen?

      Since moving over to an all SSD system (with a NAS) I’m a lot more inclined to sleep my PC rather than shut it down. Although booting only takes a few seconds, it’s hard to knock instant on.

      Oh 1TB for under a ton will happen inside 3-5 years I’d say. But by then 10TB will probably be common for HDDs, though I doubt they’ll be pushed much beyond that.