A dramatic improvement over the 980 Pro. The 990 Pro is a drive that can genuinely match the best that Seagate, WD and Kingston have to offer. However, you pay for this privilege, and the largest drive size is only 2TB. Those looking for a better TBW and lower cost per GB might consider other options.
Samsung was one of the first SSD makers to offer a product for PCIe 4.0 NVMe with the excellent 980 Pro. This was a design that stood head and shoulders above many of the early alternative offerings, and today is still considered a solid choice for gamers and workstations users.
The snag with being early into any new technology is that your competitors get to learn from your endeavours and use that knowledge when they come to assemble their designs. Eventually, the likes of Kingston, Sabrent and Seagate produced Gen 4 designs that went even quicker than the Samsung 980 Pro with new controllers and better NAND memory.
Before Gen 5 SSDs arrive, Samsung aims to stir the cauldron of Gen 4 technology with the new 990 Pro.
Representing its attempt to regain the performance NVMe crown, is the 990 Pro worth the premium price over competitor designs or its previous model?
Design & build
Simple & sleek
Heatsink not always included (but we’d recommend one)
Other than that Samsung probably now needs a new naming convention, the one thing that most potential purchasers know about the 990 Pro is that it’s the latest in a long chain of 900 series SSDs that goes back to when all the options were SATA and NVMe wasn’t an option.
The drive isn’t substantially different from the majority of 2280 spec M.2 NVMe drives, having all of the components mounted on the upside of the board and then discretely hidden from view by labels.
Given the high throughput and its potential for heat generation, the fact that the 990 Pro can come without a heatsink seems a mildly odd choice. Our review hardware was without one, and we’d not want to run such a high-performance device without one attached.
Looking at the heatsink-installed design, it is a slim metal covering that should easily fit on any PC, Sony PS5 or inside a laptop with PCIe 4.0 rated M.2 2280 slots.
Placing it alongside a 980 Pro, the new 990 Pro has a similar number of components and similar flash modules but a smaller controller. Samsung doesn’t use a third-party controller but one created in-house. While it was fabricated on the same 8nm process as was used before, that it is a smaller chip suggests a more efficient and compact design.
These changes are reflected in the power consumption of the new design, and we’ll talk more about that later.
Specs & features
Achieving the full potential of this drive requires an NVMe 2.0 M.2(2280) slot that supports PCIe Gen 4 x4 operations, although it will work in a Gen 3 slot, but at reduced speed.
Samsung describes the controller as an ‘in-house’, which presumably is derived from the Elpis controller developed for the 980 Pro series. Although, it didn’t bother naming this one.
A critical feature maintained from before is that the 990 Pro supports hardware encryption, a feature many of the alternative brands have decided is too niche to provide.
An area that often gets overlooked in SSD reviews is how the drive performs when confronted with a very large write, like when a drive is cloned. New to the 990 Pro is TurboWrite 2.0 technology, a change that could triple the buffer size of the previous design.
On the 2TB drive, that provides up to 226GB of buffered space before the process is forced to directly write to the NAND. Though, as with all caching technology that uses SLC buffers, those numbers assume the drive is empty, as the potential buffer amount will decrease as the drive fills.
One fascinating aspect of the new design is that the new controller has unlocked power efficiencies that the 980 Pro lacked. Samsung claims that the 990 Pro is 50% more power efficient, making it the better choice for laptop users.
The power consumption of the 990 Pro while writing is between 5.0 W and 5.1W depending on the drive’s capacity, and the read varies from 5.4W on the 1TB option to 5.8W on the 2TB model.
For comparison, the 1TB 980 Pro used up to 6.2W reading and 5.7W writing, though it did have a marginally lower 35mW idle draw. When matched with the demands of the CPU and GPU in any system, these numbers are modest. However, any improvement is welcome for those who use battery power, and less power consumed translates into reduced heat generated.
Up to 7,450MB/s read speed & 6,900MB/s write
Only up to 2TB total capacity
Critically, the Samsung 980 Pro offered only ‘up to’ 7,000MB/s read and not above that threshold, something that we’ve seen subsequently from the WD Black SN850, Kingston KC3000, Adata XPG Gammix S70, Seagate FireCuda 530 and Corsair MP600 PRO XT.
The quoted speed of the 990 Pro is 7,450MB/s read speed, making it theoretically at least 6% quicker than its predecessor, at least in that context.
Write speed supposedly caps out at 6,900MB/s, and these speeds are consistent across both the 1TB and 2TB models.
Where the versions diverge is in the quoted IOPS, with the 2TB drive having slightly higher read IOPs QD32 16 Thread test than its 1TB counterpart. The larger part consumes more power reading, up to 5.8W from the 5.4W of the smaller capacity, and it also has a great idle overhead of 55mW over 50mW on the 1TB option.
And, typically the larger drive has a better TBW (total bytes written) rating of 1200TB over the 600TB on the 1TB stick. These are unchanged from the 980 Pro, making the 990 Pro nothing special in resilience when compared to that offered by the Seagate FireCuda 530, being triple as much. And that no capacities over 2TB are available is also a little disappointing.
In our testing, it was interesting to compare the 990 Pro with the previous scores achieved by the 980 Pro and see where the changes have had the greatest impact on the new drive.
Using ATTO as an example, it appears that the 990 Pro is better with smaller files, reading and writing, the 980 Pro by about 15% until it reaches about 128K files and greater.
As welcome as the enhanced small file performance is, the killer difference here is the write speed. On our 980 Pro testing, this peaked at around 4,900MB/s, but on the 990 Pro hit the quoted 6,450MB/s. That’s nearly a 32% increase, and it makes the 990 Pro one of the fastest NVMe drives for writing that we’ve seen.
That enhanced write performance will be highly noticeable for anyone editing large files, like 4K video, or dumping large datasets onto this storage.
Using the default profile of CrystalDiskMark 8.04, the 1TB review drive managed a read speed of 7,474MB/s and write speed of 6,861MB/s.
As an overall impression of all the benchmark data, the Samsung 990 Pro stands out for how consistent it is, as all operations are performed without big fluctuations. This reveals that the use of cache is tightly controlled to avoid any noticeable performance oscillations and achieve maximum throughput.
In performance terms, except for its TBW, this Samsung 990 Pro is undoubtedly the cream that’s floated to the top of highly pasteurised retail SSD milk.
Considering its mantel as the fastest Gen 4 NVMe drive, the price of the 990 Pro isn’t high.
To put that into some perspective, the previous 980 Pro without a heatsink costs $119.99 and $219.99 for the same capacities, and with a 500GB model in that release, it can be had for as little as $79.95.
Choosing the 990 Pro is a 50% increase in cost over its predecessor, making the 980 Pro look like something of a bargain at its current asking price.
The blot on Samsung’s fiscal landscape here is that the Kingston KC3000 is often cheaper than the 980 Pro, and yet that drive is closer to the performance of the 990 Pro.
Over the past year, the cost of NAND has continued to fall, and it is likely to drop even more dramatically when the new 256-layer Flash chips appear and usher in 8TB and 16TB modules. And, with Gen 5 just around the corner, this might not be the best time to buy an NVMe drive.
See our chart of the best SSDs to see what other options you have.
There is no doubt that the 990 Pro is quicker than the 980 Pro and the wealth of competing products. However, as these designs run into the bandwidth limitations of PCIe 4.0, they approach full saturation of the connection to the PC, and there are few genuine gains to make. The 990 Pro is probably the quickest Gen 4 drive, but the differences between this and other recent NVMe launches are subtle.
Being faster than other products is important to Samsung, possibly trading resilience to achieve those raw speeds.
That brings us to the price, which seems reasonable until you start to look at what other brands are asking for their Gen 4 products. The Samsung 990 Pro makes even the Seagate FireCuda 530 look cheap. Those products also offer a 4TB capacity that’s confusingly missing from the 990 Pro range.
Samsung says a 4TB option will appear, presumably in 2023, but that it isn’t ready at launch is disappointing.
We suspect that after the festive season, the 990 Pro might see a price reduction to bring it closer to competitor products, and if that happens, the 980 Pro could become an even better deal.
Therefore, the Samsung 990 Pro is made for those that want the absolute fastest drive available and aren’t overly concerned about the cost or the lack of a larger capacity. It isn’t for those that are looking for the best value or who expect added features like a heatsink to be included.
Interface: NVMe 2.0 M.2(2280) PCIe Gen 4.0 x4
Speed: 7450MB/s read and 6900MB/s write
Capacities: 1TB, 2TB
TBW: 600TB (1TB), 1200TB (2TB)
Dimensions: 80 x 22 x 2.3 mm
Weight: 9 g
Operating temperature: 0-70C
Warranty/support: limited 5-year warranty within the scope of the TBW