If we had an award for most improved in the SSD space, it would have to go to Samsung. When we first encountered Samsung MLC drives a few years ago they were pretty bad. Prices were high and performance was low. Samsung offered no end-user upgradable firmware for those early drives either, although that was eventually rectified. The first Samsung MLC SSDs were reliable, they just weren't worth the money when you had much better options from companies like Intel.

Samsung had all of the right pieces for success however. Like Intel, Samsung made its own NAND, controller and wrote its own firmware. Unlike Intel, Samsung stuck to the vertically integrated formula.

I remember arguing with Samsung engineers a few years ago about the importance of random IO performance compared to sequential speed. I remember feeling like they were making the same mistake that all SSD makers were making back then: heavily prioritizing sequential IO when it was a failure to deliver good random IO performance as well that really hurt SSD adoption. Although the first Samsung SSDs weren't very good, they got better over time. While the first generation couldn't be recommended, the Samsung SSD 470 could. It still wasn't our favorite drive, but it finally brought performance up to a reasonable level. Last year's 830 release showed us that Samsung woke up. Today, Samsung is adding two new members to the family: the Samsung SSD 840 and the 840 Pro. The former is the first productized consumer SSD to use Samsung's 21nm 3-bit-per-cell MLC (aka TLC) NAND, while the latter is Samsung's new flagship drive using 21nm 2bpc MLC NAND.

Unfortunately we don't have samples of the unique TLC SSD 840, just the MLC 840 Pro. Despite the use of TLC NAND, Samsung claims the vanilla 840 should offer similar performance to the current 830. Samsung also claims that endurance should be reasonable for consumer workloads.

The 840 Pro should be tangibly faster than the 830 thanks to a new controller, new firmware and new NAND:

Samsung SSD 840 Pro vs 830
  Samsung SSD 830 (256,512GB) Samsung SSD 840 Pro (256,512GB)
Sequential Read 520MB/s 540MB/s
Sequential Write 400MB/s 450MB/s
Random Read 80K IOPS 100K IOPS
Random Write 36K IOPS 78K IOPS
Active Power Use 0.24W 0.068W
Idle Power Use 0.14W 0.042W

While the 830 used Samsung's 27nm MLC NAND, the 840 Pro uses Samsung's latest 21nm MLC NAND. The move to 21nm will eventually drive NAND pricing lower, although today Samsung expects price parity between the TLC equipped 840 and the old MLC 830. The 840 Pro should sell for a 25 - 30% premium over the current 830.

Samsung SSD 840 Pro Pricing
  64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
Samsung SSD 840 Pro $99.99 $149.99 $269.99 $599.99

The move to 21nm is also coupled with a move to a 400Mbps Toggle 2.0 NAND interface. Block and page sizes remain the same for 2bpc MLC 21nm NAND, and maximum capacity per die is still 8GB. Although beyond the scope of this article, 3bpc TLC 21nm NAND sees 50% slower program/erase times compared to the 2bpc MLC 21nm NAND.

Both the 840 and 840 Pro use Samsung's 4th generation SSD controller. Samsung's MAX controller was used in the SSD 470, its successor, the MBX controller, wasn't used in retail drives, while MCX debuted in the 830 and MDX is in the 840/840 Pro. The basic architecture of the controller hasn't changed. Internally there are three ARM9 cores now running at 300MHz. Update: Samsung originally listed ARM9 cores but has since told us that there are three ARM Cortex R4s inside of the new MDX controller.

The MDX controller features a hardware AES-256 encryption engine that's managed using a system BIOS password like most other drives in this class.

The MDX controller is paired with 512MB of LPDDR2-1066 in the Samsung SSD 840 Pro, doubling up the DRAM used in the 830 as well as increasing bandwidth to DRAM by 33%:

SSD DRAM Size Comparison
Drive Controller DRAM Size DRAM Speed
Corsair Neutron GTX LAMD LM87800 256MB DDR2-800
Crucial m4 Marvell 88SS9174 256MB DDR3-667
Intel SSD 320 Intel X25-M G3 64MB SDR-166
Intel SSD 520 SandForce SF-2281 0MB -
OCZ Vertex 4 Indilinx Everest 2 512MB/1GB DDR3-800
Samsung SSD 830 Samsung MCX 256MB DDR2-800
Samsung SSD 840 Pro Samsung MDX 512MB LPDDR2-1066

The 840 Pro will be available in 64 - 512GB capacities. Although the controller supports up to 1TB of NAND, Samsung believes that the ultra-high-density NAND required to hit 1TB is too cost prohibitive at this point. Spare area is set at around 7% by default, although users will be able to adjust it via Samsung's SSD Magician utility. The vanilla 840 on the other hand will boast more spare area (likely to help manage endurance on the TLC NAND) and will launch at 120GB, 250GB and 500GB capacities as a result.


The 256GB SSD 840 Pro features 8 x 32GB NAND devices on the front of the PCB and nothing on the back

The 840 comes with a 3 year warranty compared to a 5 year warranty on the 840 Pro.

The 840 Pro drops the brushed aluminum look of the 830 for slightly more modern, flat black styling. The drives will be available in a 2.5" 7mm form factor, similar to the 830.


Samsung SSD 840 Pro (top) vs. Samsung SSD 830 (bottom)

 

 

Both drives will be available on October 15th, however in advance of the release Samsung provided us with a beta sample for review. We were only able to get a 256GB 840 Pro initially but we've already asked Samsung for additional capacities. The other bad news is after running through our client test suite and preparing the drive for a run through our enterprise suite, our pre-production sample died. This isn't the first time we've had an SSD die during our test process, pretty much every company has seen a failure during one of our reviews, but despite Samsung's excellent track record even it isn't immune from early issues. These drives are a few weeks away from retail and Samsung will be getting our sample back this week to figure out what went wrong.

Update: My replacement 840 Pro also died, I have shipped both drives back to Samsung and are waiting for their analysis of the failures. 

Update 2: It looks like this may have been a firmware issue. Retail drives should ship with fixed firmware.

The Test

CPU

Intel Core i7 2600K running at 3.4GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled) - for AT SB 2011, AS SSD & ATTO

Motherboard:

Intel DH67BL Motherboard

Chipset:

Intel H67

Chipset Drivers:

Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel RST 10.2

Memory: Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1333 2 x 2GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64

 

Random & Sequential Performance
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  • stoked - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Do these drives include power loss protection like the Intel 320's? Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Simply and shortly, no. However, Samsung showed a few enterprise SSDs as well, which may have (they were simply on display, so I'm not sure). Reply
  • lunadesign - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Anand - How does this drive do in cases where TRIM isn't an option? How does it compare to the M5 Pro in this area? Reply
  • kpo6969 - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Anand- If you only had a choice of two drives to put in your own system would you go with this one or the Plextor M5 Pro? Just wondering, thanks. Reply
  • Zoomer - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    However, the new Sandforce controller isn't out yet. We'll see. Reply
  • Magichands8 - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Technically this all looks great. Nice performance and power characteristics across the board. But where is the real distinguishing factor? All these drives are getting capped out thanks to SATA limitations and how much am I going to notice the difference between 500 MB/s and 490 MB/s in real world usage? Prices remain high and capacities remain low. We have reliability, high performance, low power usage and even TRIM over RAID now. SAMSUNG, INTEL, MICRON, OCZ, SANDISK, are you listening?! We need higher CAPACITIES, NOT irrelevant PERFORMANCE gains from intermittent firmware tweaks every six months!

    I read somewhere that it's going to take another year/year-and-a-half for them to build/expand/retool plants to the point where we can see reasonable capacity increases at reasonable prices but it's very frustrating and disappointing to see basically no improvement upon capacities with extremely sluggish price improvement. It's getting to the point where I'm not even interested in new SSD reviews anymore.

    However if capacities ever hit 2TB+ for $250-$300 I have a hard time imagining what could compel me to buy traditional HDDs when my main concerns with such an array would boil down to a mechanical failure somewhere, heat, noise and space (which are all addressed by SSDs). I'm sure that the new tech coming down the pipes for magnetic storage are going to do wonders for capacities but at some point that almost becomes a liability since there will always be a huge performance bottleneck.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Considering that I paid ~$2/GB for an Intel SSD just 18 months ago, and now drives that are twice as fast are selling for half as much, I'd say you're being unreasonably impatient. Reply
  • Grok42 - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Prices are going down, they are still just very high per GB compared to magnetic drives. If they can get in the range of double the cost of HDDs in the next 2-3 years I think you'll see everything move over to SSD given all the other benefits.

    I think what you're feeling is that the capacity isn't going up at all. I can't really see being able to buy a 2TB SSD for less than $400 in the next few years. I do see being able to buy a 250GB drive for $80 which is about 2x what an equivalent 500GB regular HDD costs if you bought two SSDs. Seems capacity is very non-linear and nothing has improved.
    Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - link

    The capacity issue could be mitigated a whole bunch if the SSD folks built them on 3.5 form factor. Some truly enterprise SSD vendors till do. The volume difference is substantial. Instead, we get TLC stuff. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - link

    3.5" drives have the same dice in there as 2.5" drives and the controller PCB layout wouldn't be any cheaper either. If you look at prices of current generation SSDs, the 256GB version usually have the best price/GB. Unless you are saying that NAND packages with more dice are more expensive (which I can't see when I compare drives of different NAND package sizes with one another, often enough those with 4 dice are cheaper than those with 2 dice), then I don't see how going to 3.5" SSDs is going to make capacities cheaper. Reply

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