In what seems to be an accidental leak, a product page for the highly-awaited Samsung 980 PRO SSD was posted and later taken down from Samsung's website for Singapore. The 980 PRO was first previewed in January at CES as their first consumer SSD to support PCIe 4.0, but with very little technical information. No release date was announced but Samsung's PR said to expect more information in Q2.

The timing of this leak is unsurprising: if Samsung was planning for a Q2 or early Q3 release before COVID-19 hit, it makes sense for them to be preparing for a release in the near future. However, this leak brings a few surprise about what kind of product the 980 PRO will be. Since this wasn't an official, coordinated announcement, the specifications revealed may not be final and we still have no indication of pricing or launch date. But the big surprise is that the 980 PRO will apparently be using TLC NAND, a first for Samsung's PRO models. Samsung has been the last holdout offering high-end MLC-based SSDs while the rest of the SSD industry has moved on to TLC (and QLC), for both consumer and enterprise markets. Samsung provided an early indication that they may finally be abandoning MLC NAND in early 2019 when the TLC-based 970 EVO was replaced with the 970 EVO Plus, a refresh that switched from 64L to 92L TLC. There was never any sign of a corresponding 970 PRO Plus model in the works.

The switch from MLC to TLC means the rated write endurance of the 980 PRO will be half that of the 970 PRO and equivalent to the TLC-based 970 EVO and EVO Plus. The upside is that the 980 PRO may be more competitively priced against other high-end consumer NVMe SSDs. It's also quite possible that Samsung needed to introduce SLC caching in order to hit the 5GB/s write speeds they're promising for the 980 PRO.

Samsung High-End NVMe SSD Comparison
Model 980 PRO 970 PRO 970 EVO Plus
Capacities 250 GB
500 GB
1000 GB

512 GB
1024 GB
250 GB
500 GB
1000 GB
2000 GB
Interface PCIe 4 x4
NVMe 1.3
PCIe 3 x4
NVMe 1.3
PCIe 3 x4
NVMe 1.3
Form Factor M.2 2280 Single-sided
Controller Samsung Elpis Samsung Phoenix Samsung Phoenix
SLC Write Caching Yes No Yes
Specifications below are for 1TB models specifically
Sequential Read 7000 MB/s 3500 MB/s 3500 MB/s
Sequential Write 5000 MB/s (SLC)
2000 MB/s (TLC)
2700 MB/s 3300 MB/s (SLC)
1700 MB/s (TLC)
Random Read 
QD1 22k IOPS 15k IOPS 19k IOPS
Max 1M IOPS 500k IOPS 600k IOPS
Random Write
QD1 60k IOPS 55k IOPS 60k IOPS
Max 1M IOPS 500k IOPS 550k IOPS (SLC)
400k IOPS (TLC)
Active Power 6.2 W (Average)
8.9 W (Burst)
5.2 W (Read)
5.7 W (Write)
5.5 W (Read)
6.0 W (Write)
Write Endurance 600 TB
0.3 DWPD
1200 TB
0.66 DWPD
600 TB
0.3 DWPD
Warranty 5 years 5 years 5 years
Launch Date 2020? May 2018 January 2019
Launch MSRP TBD $629.99

The product page for the 980 PRO indicated that sequential read speed is now planned to be 7 GB/s, an improvement over the 6.5 GB/s listed earlier this year at CES. We also get our first look at random IO specifications, with the 1TB model hitting a maximum of 1M IOPS for either reads or writes. Performance at a queue depth of 1 is slightly improved over the 970 PRO and 970 EVO Plus, and post-cache sequential write speeds are also up from the 970 EVO Plus. This points to the 980 PRO as likely using Samsung's 1xx-layer 3D TLC rather than the 92L used in the 970 EVO Plus.

Power consumption from the 980 PRO is unsurprisingly higher than its predecessors, with the spec sheet showing 6.2W average and 8.9W in "burst mode". Samsung's high-end NVMe SSDs have already been fairly power-hungry, and making use of PCIe 4.0 speeds requires even more power. However, the 980 PRO should bring a substantial improvement in efficiency, because peak performance is doubling but power draw is not increasing by anywhere near that much. Samsung is likely following the same strategy as most other SSD controller designers by moving to a much newer fabrication process as part of the PCIe 4.0 transition.

The capacity options for the 980 PRO are a bit odd. The 970 PRO was offered in 512GB and 1TB capacities, and a 2TB capacity was hinted at but never made it to market. The lack of a 256GB option made some sense as that low capacity would likely not have been able to offer "PRO"-level performance. The 980 PRO moves to Samsung's typical TLC capacities: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, but still omits the 2TB option that has been available from the EVOs. It seems likely that a 2TB 980 PRO model would be released at a later date.

Moving the 980 PRO to TLC NAND raises big questions for what to expect from a 980 EVO. Moving it to QLC NAND might be a bit premature, and would definitely be a big step down for that product line even if it added PCIe 4.0 support. My expectation is that any 980 EVO would more likely be a lower-performance, lower-power mainstream TLC drive, possibly without PCIe 4.0 support. Or to put it another way, an answer to the SK hynix Gold P31, which we think represents the direction the mainstream NVMe market segment is moving towards.

Source: Samsung

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  • FXi - Friday, September 4, 2020 - link

    Agreed. 2TB is the target today and when 4's become more common I'll more of those.
  • trivik12 - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    So Samsung wont release any more MLC drives. That is disappointing. At this rate in next 5 years "Pro" will move to QLC !!!!
  • Mr Perfect - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    Ouch. Those endurance numbers look pretty bad for the new Pro part. What possible reason is there to buy it over the inevitable 980 Evo?

    Well, unless they move the Evo to QLC and it's endurance gets halved too. I was hoping Samsung wasn't part of the race to the bottom, it's why they're worth buying.
  • dwillmore - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    Agreed. With the move from MLC to TLC nerfing the sustained write performance of the new drive, it really starts to look like a 970 EVO plus successor and not a 980 PRO successor.
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    According to the specs, the 980 Pro walks all over the previous pro drive. As far as the drive endurance, I am a heavy user and none of my SSDs have even a fraction of that rating thanks to wear leveling.
  • dwillmore - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    Let's compare then, then. The sequential read performance has doubled. That's great. It's not a common operation, but it's a nice simple benchmark. Both drives have the same write endurance. The PRO uses 50% more power. Sequential TLC write is 2000 vs 1700 which isn't much of a lead. Random read IOPS is 22K vs 19K which isn't much of a lead, either. The only things that the PRO do signifigantly better are sequential reads, high queue depth read/write, use power, and cost money.

    So, I really see it as an upgrade to the EVO plus, not the older PRO.
  • Makaveli - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    The endurance is pales in comparison to what the competition is offering.

    All the currently PCIe 4.0 drives based on the PS5016-E16 controller at 1TB are all rated for 1,800 TBW compared to 600 TBW for this drive.

    The PS5018-E18 controller that was just announced is already faster than this drive based on specs offers Nvme 1.4 over the 1.3 on this drive. And will most likely have the same TBW as the previous controller(they haven't posted this info yet)

    So why would I buy this samsung drive since it looks they have reduced the wear leveling base on that TBW number.
  • XabanakFanatik - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    I expect you'll be very surprised when the destroyer shows the new 980 PRO TLC drive performing on par or worse than the old 970 PRO MLC drive.
  • shabby - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    Hopefully it's priced like the evo then.
  • dwillmore - Monday, August 31, 2020 - link

    That would be what makes or breaks the value of this drive. If it's priced like an MLC PRO drives, then it's not a good choice. If it's priced more like an upgraded EVO plus, then it may be okay for some uses.

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