Five-year warranty. Excellent reliability. Available in five capacities, up to 4TB.
High cost per gigabyte.
- Bottom Line
The Samsung SSD 860 Pro offers outstanding endurance ratings and on-point SATA speed, but deal seekers who need a 2.5-inch solid state drive for everyday use can find cheaper alternatives.
Today's fast clip of PC-storage innovation presents a conundrum for prospective buyers of the Samsung SSD 860 Pro ($379 for the 1TB version we tested). This is a meticulously engineered solid state drive, available in capacities from 256GB to a whopping 4TB. Endurance is its hallmark; it's rated by warranty to last for at least five years while eking out just about every last possible megabyte per second of speed from the Serial ATA (SATA) interface. You'll pay handsomely for these capabilities, though, which is harder to stomach in these days of commoditized SATA drives, as well as faster PCI Express (PCIe) NVMe SSDs that are making the idea of a "premium SATA" drive a bit of an oxymoron. It's an excellent upgrade for those who need a 2.5-inch drive in the traditional form factor, but we'd like to see a good bit more aggression on price for this family of SSDs.
Straight-Up and Old-School SSD
A SATA drive, the SSD 860 Pro uses the 2.5-inch form factor that has been the default for laptop hard drives since long before the first mainstream SSDs arrived on the market. This means you can install it in nearly any PC or Mac that will let you access its internal components. This versatility is one of the SSD 860 Pro's key strengths, compared with much smaller M.2 PCI Express NVMe drives, which require motherboards that offer the relatively new M.2 connector and support the appropriate bus. (For a primer on SSD lingo, see Buying a Solid-State Drive: 20 Terms You Need to Know.)
Because of its physical versatility, the SSD 860 Pro is therefore ideally suited to upgrading an older PC, which might not have an M.2 slot if it's more than a few years old, or is an older laptop with nothing more than a 2.5-inch hard drive bay. And if you're the sort of PC owner who likes to upgrade components and keep a computer for five years or more, you can take additional comfort in knowing that Samsung's Pro-family SSDs are rated for extreme reliability. The SSD 860 Pro comes with a five-year warranty, which means that its cells shouldn't degrade during that period under normal usage patterns. (Like most things, the memory cells in SSDs wear out after you've read and written to them a certain number of times.)
More specifically, our 1TB review unit is rated to withstand 1,200 total terabytes written (TBW). That's especially impressive compared with the 400TBW rating of the 1TB Western Digital WD Blue 3D NAND SSD, which we reviewed in an M.2 form factor. It means that the drive will likely never experience worn-out cells if it's used as the boot drive in a mainstream consumer PC, which would take decades to write 1,200TB to its drive under ordinary usage patterns.
Part of the exceptional endurance of our review unit comes from the drive's capacity. All else being equal, the more capacious the SSD, the longer it will last before its memory cells start to degrade. As a result, the 256GB version of the SSD 860 Pro has a 300TBW rating, while the top-of-the-line 4TB model (which costs a whopping $1,700) is rated at 4,800TBW.
Samsung's memory technology is also partly responsible for the drive's longevity. The company arranges its memory cells in what it describes as a V-NAND format, essentially vertical blocks of NAND cells instead of flat arrays of cells (a "planar" arrangement) that made up the first crop of SSDs. In fact, competing cutting-edge SSDs like the WD Blue 3D are now also using a stacked-cell arrangement, but Samsung brought it to market first with the SSD 850 Pro and so has had more time to refine it. The company claims that this experience is what gives it the confidence to offer such high TBW ratings.
Reliability Will Cost You
All that R&D is expensive, however. SSD prices change frequently, but Samsung is currently selling the 1TB 860 Pro for $379, or 38 cents per gigabyte. Since we consider the reasonable cost ceiling for internal SSDs to be around 40 cents per gigabyte, the 1TB drive is right near the edge.
Other capacities of the SSD 860 Pro, though, are costlier on a per-gig basis: The 512GB, 2TB, and 4TB models all ring up at 42 cents per gigabyte, while the 256GB version is at 49 cents per gigabyte. Assuming you have a newer laptop or desktop with an M.2 port that supports NVMe (which, admittedly, is far from ubiquitous), you can easily find a 1TB PCI Express NVMe SSD for 40 cents per gigabyte, which will likely offer enough endurance for the average consumer PC but far more speed.
Ultimately, it is the question of speed that should give many prospective SSD 860 Pro owners pause, if they have the option of selecting an NVMe drive instead. The SSD 860 Pro is certainly fast, at least as far as SATA drives go. But the best SATA models have long since bumped up against the actual limits of the interface. Samsung's drive achieved a sequential read speed of 564MBps and a sequential write speed of 533MBps on our Crystal DiskMark 6.0 benchmark test. The theoretical limit for the current version of the SATA interface is 600MBps, so the SSD 860 Pro is pushing the limits of what's currently possible with SATA technology.
In a vacuum, this would be great, except for two problems. While Samsung's memory cell technology is top-notch, the drive is not far beyond the competition in raw speed. As you can see in the performance charts below, the WD Blue 3D and the Crucial MX500 are breathing down the SSD 860 Pro's neck in just about every metric that we evaluate. Especially of note are the extremely similar results on the Crystal DiskMark 4K read and 4K write tests, which are indicative of how the drive will perform when it's handling everyday activities like booting up and opening and closing apps.
The Crucial and the Samsung both recorded 4K read speeds of 39MBps, while the WD Blue 3D achieved 36MBps. The 4K write scores are slightly more varied, ranging from 94MBps to 111MBps, but that's still a sufficiently narrow band that you'd be hard-pressed to notice the difference during everyday activities.
The second performance challenge the SSD 860 Pro faces is that pushing the limits of SATA technology is no longer impressive when you can buy a similarly priced PCIe NVMe drive boasting sequential read and write scores of around 3,000MBps, roughly six times greater than the SATA limit. Such drives include Samsung's own flagships, the SSD 970 EVO and SSD 970 Pro, as well as the Western Digital Black NVMe, which we reviewed in a 1TB capacity that costs 39 cents per gigabyte. Normally, the vast difference between NVMe and SATA drives would be important to people building tricked-out gaming rigs and media-editing workstations, where every last drop of performance counts. With the SSD 860 Pro, however, the high cost comes into the equation, as well. If you have a spare M.2 slot and aren't planning to keep your drive around for decades, why not spring for the drive that's far, far faster but costs the same?
There are few good answers to this question. Perhaps the only serious one is capacity concerns. You won't readily find a 4TB version of an NVMe drive, nor can you configure them as easily in a RAID array to boost capacity, speed, or redundancy. You can do both of these things with the SATA-based SSD 860 Pro without much fuss. But these are niche cases applicable to video-editing workstations and the like. Most consumers don't need 4TB of SSD capacity in one drive, nor do they want to deal with the complexity and expense of a RAID array.
Consider NVMe (If You Can), or Go Cheaper
Nearly everything about the Samsung SSD 860 Pro is top-notch. In addition to as wide a range of capacity choices as you'll see in any SSD line, you get locked-in-by-warranty reliability and SATA-straining performance. It boasts niceties such as the venerable Magician app for Windows that corrals driver updates, performance optimizations, a RAM-caching function, and troubleshooting into a very easy-to-use interface. If it wasn't so expensive, the drive would deserve four or more stars, since it doesn't get much better than this, as far as SATA drives go.
But the SSD 860 Pro is expensive, and its excellent performance isn't meaningfully better than other flagship-grade SATA drives that cost less. These include the Crucial MX500 (currently $200 for 1TB) or the WD Blue ($249 for 1TB). As a result, people who need screaming throughput will want to consider an NVMe drive instead if their motherboard supports it, and people looking for an inexpensive but still capable and reliable SATA 2.5-inch SSD upgrade for their mainstream PC should consider a cheaper drive such as the Crucial MX300 or MX500, or the WD Blue 3D.
About the Author
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag's s… See Full Bio
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