Update (1/20/2021): An earlier version of this story stated incorrect prices on the new drives, due to a mistake in Samsung’s press copy. This story has been updated with new pricing.
Remember SATA? We don’t talk about the older storage standard much anymore, not since M.2 became popular, but there are still a huge number of SATA SSDs on the market. Samsung’s 870 EVO SSD family is the latest iteration of Samsung hardware to serve that market, and multiple reviews online today testify to the product’s overall effectiveness.
The question of whether to use a SATA versus an M.2 SSD is an interesting example of an area where benchmarks can be accurate and yet fail to convey the experience of using a product. The practical differences between day-to-day use of an M.2 versus a SATA drive tend to be unnoticeable. If your daily use patterns involve a lot of heavy data copying, you’ll probably benefit from an M.2, but if they don’t, you can sometimes save some money and maximize available capacity by opting for a SATA drive. A 2.5″ enclosure offers a lot more room for NAND ICs than an M.2 stick.
We’ve rounded up reviews from PCMag, PCWorld, and Hot Hardware to see what folks have to say. Everyone across the board has praise for this new family of drives. The 870 EVO is based on Samsung’s triple-bit (TLC) V-NAND and is launching at capacities of 250GB ($49), 500GB ($80), 1TB ($139), 2TB ($269), and 4TB ($529). Price per GB ranges from 20 cents on the 250GB drive, down to 13 cents on the 4TB drive. All of these drives carry a five-year warranty.
One reason to buy a SATA SSD as opposed to an NVMe M.2 drive is the difference in price. Looking back at previous drives, Samsung’s 1TB 860 EVO 2.5″ SSD is $109 at Newegg, while its M.2 counterpart — which also uses SATA 6G signaling, even if it fits into an M.2 slot — is $149. While M.2 drives will outperform their SATA counterparts, the difference in commercial software may not be large. (Artificial tests on sequential read/write performance will always favor M.2 drives).
According to PCMag, “[T]he Samsung SSD 870 EVO proved itself not only as a leader among SATA drives, but also a regular competitor with both PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0-based NVMe M.2 drives. While both of those standards are great for what they do (hitting all-time sequential throughput records), their added bandwidth doesn’t always translate to better 4K random read and write scores, which is what a large percentage of SSD buyers in this category tend to care about most.”
The performance figures they refer to can be seen below:
Separately, PCWorld notes that while the 870 EVO and 870 QVO offer similar performance in many respects, the 870 EVO can keep its performance high even when writing huge single files. The 870 QVO is a QLC NAND drive that relies on an SLC cache in order to keep performance at acceptable levels. This is a common method of improving SSD performance when using QLC NAND, but once the SLC cache runs out, the performance of the drive drops substantially.
Image by PCWorld
The 870 EVO does not have this problem. Again, how often you’ll encounter it depends on how many huge file-writes you do on a regular basis, but these are the scenarios where an MLC or TLC drive proves itself over a QLC + SLC cache device.
In this case, the conclusions are straightforward. Hot Hardware writes: “If you’re in need of a high-capacity, top-performing SATA SSD and want something from a well-respected brand with a long track record in the space, the Samsung SSD 870 EVO series should be on the top of your short list.” PCWorld says: “The Samsung 870 EVO is easily the best performer in its class, and a top performer in any class across all usage scenarios.” PCMag writes that the 870 EVO “should be at the top of anyone’s list who wants the best combination of performance, product quality, and price in a 2.5-incher.”
If you’re trying to figure out whether to buy a SATA SSD or an M.2 SSD, here’s ExtremeTech’s advice: If you’re happy with the I/O performance of your current SATA SSD, don’t be afraid to save a few bucks by opting for SATA, especially if you need to trim costs or if you want to put the money towards a better CPU or GPU. If you want to maximize capacity and you’re happy with current performance, don’t be afraid to opt for a larger SATA drive over a smaller M.2. If you’re still sitting on an old-fashioned hard drive and you’ve held off upgrading because SATA is old and your motherboard doesn’t support M.2, forget about that and buy yourself a SATA SSD. Switching from an HDD to an SSD is one of the few guaranteed ways to improve the performance of even an old machine.
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