Samsung learned quite a bit from enthusiasts with the SM951 and SM951-NVMe PCIe OEM SSDs. That knowledge has gone into making the 950 Pro, the first retail m.2 NVMe SSD to hit the market.
The new 950 Pro will hit retail shelves October 15, but only in 256 GB and 512 GB capacities. Both sizes use the m.2 2280 form factor and will plug directly into motherboards that support the NVMe protocol (mainly Z97 and Z170 chipsets from Intel). Notebook compatibility will be spotty at first, as many existing notebooks that support m.2 PCIe don't ship with NVMe-friendly firmware. Form factor is also an issue for notebook upgrades, as some systems from Lenovo, Dell and HP only support PCIe m.2 drives in smaller form factors, such as 2240 and 2260.
The 950 Pro uses the same UBX controller that Samsung also used in the SM951-NVMe SSD. However, the new 950 Pro has several advantages over the OEM model that we can see. For one, the drive will ship from more retailers, so availability will not be a problem. The 950 Pro also uses Samsung's latest 3D V-NAND technology for increased endurance and performance, along with official support from Samsung's Magician SSD toolbox software.
Although the 950 Pro delivers impressive specifications and will probably sell like hotcakes, we're disappointed in the capacity sizes offered. Samsung is coming off the release of two 2 TB-capacity products from the 850 Pro and 850 Evo product line, so it doesn't make a lot of sense for Samsung to leave a 1 TB 950 Pro model off the table at launch. Samsung did state that a 1 TB model will launch next year, and we should expect a 4 TB model to follow in 2016. Both the 1 TB and 4 TB products will rely on Samsung's new 48-layer V-NAND, which will enter products in Q4 2015.
The 950 Pro also comes in limited form factors that can hurt sales. We know of several notebooks that support only m.2 in smaller form factors like 2240 and 2260, while the 950 Pro ships in only 2280. We suspect Samsung will address the form factor issues later as support for the NVMe protocol grows through the PC ecosystem.
The Samsung 950 Pro delivers the kind of performance that previously used to be measured in rack spaces, but in a form factor that is about the same size as a stick of gum. The 512 GB model with up to 2,500 MB/s sequential read and 1,500 MB/s sequential write speeds is a step above impressive. The smaller 256 GB model with 2,200 MB/s sequential read and 900 MB/s sequential write isn't far behind, because the high performance numbers will come from high queue depths. Client workloads come from the low queue depth range. We suspect both capacity sizes will deliver equal or nearly equal performance under typical client workloads.