Samsung’s EVO series has owned the title of fastest TLC-based M.2 NVMe SSD since there has been such a thing. But unfortunately for the company, that distinction went the way of the dodo with the release of the WD’s game-changing Black NVMe earlier this month.

Samsung’s response? The brand new 970 EVO. However, it’s a case of darn close, but no cigar—the Samsung 970 EVO outperforms the WD in several tests, but falls short in sustained write performance with larger amounts of data. That said, the shortfall is liable to affect few users.

Specifications, price and warranty

The Samsung 970 EVO is your standard M.2, 2280 (22 millimeters wide, 80 mm long), NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) PCIe x4 solid state drive. That x4 means it can utilize four PCIe lanes for roughly 4GBps of available bandwidth, assuming a PCIe 3.0 connection.

The drive uses Samsung’s 64-layer TLC (Triple-Level Cell/3-bit) NAND and is available in $120/250GB, $230/500GB, $450/1TB, and $850/2TB capacities. In terms of both price and capacity, that puts it in direct competition the aforementioned WD Black NVMe.

You may see Samsung refer to its TLC NAND as 3-bit MLC. MLC stands for Multi-Level Cell, so by the letter of the language, they are correct. However, the acronym MLC is generally reserved for the faster-writing 2-bit NAND to which it was first applied. Long story short—the 970 EVO’s NAND is what is commonly referred to as TLC.

Semantics aside, to overcome TLC’s write-performance handicap (writing three bits simply takes longer than writing one or two), the Samsung 970 EVO treats some of the TLC as SLC (Single-Level Cell/1-bit) by writing only single bit. This creates a much faster cache as shown in the chart below.

970 evo1 Samsung

Huge thanks to Samsung for this chart which shows exactly the amount of cache available for sustained writes, as well as what the speeds drop to when off cache. 

Kudos to Samsung for providing the information above. Most companies won’t talk about the amount of NAND cache they employ in their TLC drives, even though it becomes readily apparent during testing. Note that TurboWrite is the Samsung’s name for intelligently adjusting the NAND cache size for the amount and type of data being written.

The Samsung 970 EVO also features DRAM cache to accelerate performance: 512MB on the 250GB and 500GB drives, 1GB on the 1TB drive, and 2GB on the 2TB drive. 

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