Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD Review
Samsung’s 840 Pro is hardly a new drive but it also happens to be one of the most highly regarded SSDs currently available. The reason for this is simple: it’s relatively inexpensive, offers awesome performance and comes with a 5 year warranty. It’s also been thoroughly reviewed by other publications but we’ve decided to add it to our charts despite some reservations.
We’ve been holding off highlighting Samsung’s SSD’s on the pages of Hardware Canucks for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Samsung’s storage division was turned over to Seagate back in 2011 which resulted in a convoluted RMA process for anyone that purchased a Samsung SSD. While folks south of the border had the situation quickly resolved, since Samsung never “officially” sold SSDs here in Canada prior to 2013, many of our readers were SOL when it came to support for their drives. With that in mind, we chose not to support Seagate’s Samsung arm until that situation was resolved since in good conscience we couldn’t recommend a storage device that shipped without a manufacturer-backed warranty to the majority of our readers. The situation has now changed a bit since Canadian customers can now go through Total Tech Solutions (Samsung’s Canadian RMA partner) for warranty support. The process isn’t straightforward but replacing a dead drive is now a lot easier.
With all of that being said, let’s get back to the 840 Pro since even now, more than a year after its initial release, other manufacturers are still struggling to match what it offers. By combining their versatile fourth generation MDX controller with 21nm Toggle Mode 2.0 NAND, Samsung changed the very landscape of the marketplace and continue to do so long after the Pro was first introduced. Back then, competitors who were 'getting by' with SandForce controller based drives had to rethink their strategy and are still scrambling to release comparably performing models.
The 840 Pro’s beauty lies within its long history of evolution. While other companies have launched twice-yearly updates to replace their existing lineups, this drive has been a relatively constant within Samsung’s product stack since day one. The reasons for this are quite simple: through the use of improved NAND, upgraded firmware and even advances in software the 840 Pro has been granted a longevity rarely seen in this fast paced marketplace.
As we can see above, the current 840 Pro iteration competes on a nearly level footing with some of today’s most popular enthusiast-grade SSDs. It also remains quite affordable at just $220 or less than $1 per GB of capacity.
A large part of the Pro’s longevity is due to Samsung’s acquisition of Nvelo. Nvelo first became a household name among enthusiasts through 'hybrid' devices such as the Corsair Accelerator and OCZ Synapse which combined a small solid state drive with a user’s existing hard drive via specialized Nvelo Dataplex software. In many ways, it mirrored Intel’s Smart Response SSD Caching technology, though arrived much earlier on the scene.
Now that Nvelo is owned by Samsung a few changes have been made to the Dataplex application. The second generation 'Rapid' software only works with 840 series SSDs, giving them a leg up on the competition in a number of ways. Now instead of pairing the SSD to a HDD it allows for the creation of a custom RAMdrive-esque option which uses a small portion of system memory as an ultra fast read/write buffer for the drive. This grants higher IOPS performance and anything in this portion of RAM will be almost instantaneously available.
Only during low I/O periods (and at undisclosed intervals) is this data then written to the drive. Also unlike typical RAMdrives which simply show up as separate drive, the magic is done behind the scenes and is a completely transparent to the end user. All consumers need do is turn on the 'Rapid Mode' in Samsung's Magician software and enjoy the performance uplift that comes with its addition.
Externally the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB looks like any other enthusiast grade SSD, though its black brushed aluminum case is quite unique. It uses a 7mm form factor instead of 9.5mm which allows this series to fit inside everything from Ultrabooks to Ultra Tower PC systems. This is par for the course but is actually noteworthy since this is a model first launched in 2012, at a time when others were ignoring the Ultrabook and thin / light markets altogether.
We would love to show you the internals of this drive, but due to shipping issues the screws were frozen in place and without drilling them out would have been impossible to remove. What we can tell you is that every part of the internal architecture is made by Samsung. The NAND, the controller, the RAM all are fabricated 'in-house'. This allows Samsung a luxury very few manufactures ever have as they can refine the firmware to a razors edge. They know exactly what the strengths and weakness of all parts being used and can maximize the performance potential without any unintended side effects.
Internally, Samsung has opted for eight instead of the typical sixteen NAND ICs. This is unfortunate since in the past it has led to problems due to lack of interleaving. On the positive side, the NAND is among the best Samsung makes, being highly binned Toggle Mode 2.0 modules.
While the Samsung 840 and the Pro's predecessor, the 830, will be a known quantity for anyone reading this article, it should be noted that the 840 Pro is a different monster. That means 21nm MLC NAND (the 830 was launched with 27nm modules), enhanced firmware and a number of other features all rolled into one flagship drive. This review should allow you to better understand where the Pro currently lands in respect to the dozens of other drives which have been introduced since its initial availability.
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