If your PC’s been feeling a bit sluggish lately, you could probably do with upgrading your main disk drive to an SSD. They’re a heck of a lot faster than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), and they also take up much less room inside your case, allowing them to sit snugly inside smaller builds with ease. But when so many say they’re lightning fast this and super, extra quick that, it can be difficult to cut through the marketing jargon. We’ve covered the basics of what you need to look out for in our SSD buying guide, but today I thought we’d start by looking at one of the most popular 2.5in SSDs around, the Samsung 850 Evo.
More affordable than its closely related sibling, the Samsung 850 Pro, the 850 Evo regularly tops most SSD recommendations lists – and with good reason. It not only has a lovely five year warranty for extra peace of mind, but Samsung’s VNAND tech is pretty damn fast for the money, with Samsung claiming sequential read and write speeds of up to 540MB/s and 520MB/s respectively.
Admittedly, those figures require a bit of fiddling around with Samsung’s additional features, but even with its TurboWrite tech and Rapid mode left off, I recorded a sequential read speed of 497.9MB/s and sequential write speed of 452.64MB/s in the AS SSD benchmark. [Small disclaimer here: I tested the 850 Evo on my rather ancient desktop (2.8GHz quad-core AMD Athon II X4 360, 8GB RAM, Windows 10), so results might not be quite as fast as a more up to date system. I’ll be upgrading my PC over Christmas, though, so I’ll re-run these tests in the New Year to give you a more up to date picture of how it runs on a modern machine. Small disclaimer over.]
That said, sequential read and write speeds aren’t really the best indicator of real-world performance. This is because, as the name implies, sequential tests read and write files in a neat little line one after the other in adjacent locations. Most of the time, though, SSDs function a bit like a messy bedroom, with files thrown haphazardly into any available nook and cranny with no rhyme or reason to their overall placement. As a result, random tests are a much better gauge of how fast an SSD’s actually going to be in everyday use. The catch is that these results are quite a bit slower than sequential speeds, and Samsung helpfully doesn’t provide these sorts of figures because they’re not the equivalent of an SSD show home.
Indeed, the 850 Evo’s 4K test results, where it reads and writes 1GB of randomly selected 4KB files across the SSD, don’t make for great reading, coming in at just 35.44MB/s read and 63.58MB/s write. Goodbye dreams of seconds-long copy times for large game files. However, while the figures themselves don’t look great on paper, the 850 Evo’s 4K read and write speed is still 14% and 3% faster than the results I got for one of its main 2.5in competitors, WD’s Blue 3D NAND SSD.
The 850 Evo also proved to be the better drive in AS SSD’s Access Time test as well, which measures the speed between a read or write request being made and it actually taking place. This is meant to give you an idea of how responsive the OS will be. On both counts, the Samsung 850 Evo scored 0.055ms, equalling the WD Blue 3D NAND on read time (0.052ms) but beating it by 96% when it came to write time (0.108ms).
The Samsung 850 Evo also edged ahead in AS SSD’s copying benchmark. Here, it copies three folders (an ISO folder with two large files, a program folder with lots of small files, and a game folder with a mix of large and small files), aiming to show how the SSD performs with lots of read and write operations going on at the same time. The 850 Evo copied the ISO folder at 401.99MB/s, the program folder at 191.27MB/s and the Game folder at 400.80MB/s. Much better, you might think. The WD Blue 3D NAND, for comparison’s sake, came in at 288.1MB/s for the ISO, 193.67MB/s for programs and 389.67MB/s for the game.
Even this comes with a bit of a caveat, though, as there really isn’t much between them in terms of actual practical benefit. Duration times, for instance, differed by just over a second in the ISO test and mere milliseconds in the program and game tests.
As a result, you’d probably be perfectly happy choosing either SSD for your PC, as I think you’d be hard-pushed to tell the difference in overall speed or OS responsiveness. Instead, it really comes down cold hard cash, as there’s no point paying over the odds for fast SSD when a potentially cheaper one can do the same job just as well.
Unfortunately, current prices don’t make this particular buying decision much easier, as at time of writing the WD Blue 3D NAND costs £82 for 250GB (32.8p/GB), while the 250GB Samsung 850 Evo costs £84 (33.6p/GB). At that price, you might as well pay the extra – although it is worth noting that while the WD Blue 3D NAND only comes with a three-year warranty, its overall endurance rating is higher than the 850 Evo across all its various capacities. Samsung makes things a bit easier at 500GB, coming in at £6 less than the WD at £135, but even then it’s not much of an immediate saving. In the US, it’s a bit more straightforward, as you’re looking at $90 for the 250GB 850 Evo, $158 for the 500GB version. The WD Blue 3D NAND, however, is just $80 for 250GB and $140 for 500GB.
I realise this probably sounds a bit negative, but when all’s said and done, the Samsung 850 Evo is still a great SSD. It’s just that all SSDs are pretty good these days, so unless one’s significantly cheaper than the other, it doesn’t really make a huge amount of difference which one you go for unless you’re regularly moving mad quantities of video files or you’re the most monstrous power user the world’s ever seen (in which case, you’d probably want an NVMe M.2 SSD like Samsung’s 960 Pro and not a 2.5in model, but more on that another time).
In the meantime, though, the Samsung 850 Evo is still an excellent choice in the 2.5in category, but if you can find the WD Blue 3D NAND for a bit less, then you’ll almost certainly be just as happy with that instead.