I’ll admit a dirty little secret. For a long time now, SSD launches rarely spark any interest in considering an upgrade of my personal midrange SSD. Just like with processors, after a certain threshold,, the performance gains just aren’t tangible outside of specialized programs and benchmarks. Samsung apparently decided to fix that by pouring some jet fuel directly onto that spark. Please, just take my money.
Meet the SM951. It’s an unassuming gumstick SSD, no skulls or anything besides a regular spec label. The big news is that the SM951 is an actual 3rd Gen PCie x4 slot SSD, making it the first one to hit the market. So it should be no surprise that Samsung is quoting SATA-cable-melting sequential read speeds of 2,150MB/s and 1,550MB/s for writes.
For comparison, Samsung says a Gen 2 PCIe x4 slot will limit the SM951 to just 1,600MB/s and 1,350MB/s (or 130K/100K IOPS), respectively. Perhaps now is a bad time to point out a typical Z97 motherboard only has a PCIe 2nd Gen x2 (yes, x2) connection to its M.2 slot, meaning one would need to halve those figures again.
Insane performance in a tiny svelte form-factor isn’t the only surprise either, the SM951 has a few more. The biggest is the inclusion of NVMe support, a protocol specifically designed for SSDs that replaces the de facto AHCI used today. Amongst other things, it promises to lower both CPU overhead and processing latency by 1/3rd of that needed by AHCI, which, we might mention, is starting to get appreciable at the 2GB/s speeds this drive offers.
The second feature is power consumption. Samsung says the utilization of a Gen 3 PCIe interface allows it to save on power as well as offer an ultra-low power model called L1.2. In this state, power consumption is reduced to a paltry two milliwatts, making this an even more attractive drive for laptops.
The SM951 will be offered in 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and even 1TB capacities in the M.2 2280 form-factor, but unfortunately it’s currently shipping only to OEMs. As such, we have no details yet on pricing or warranty. All hope is not lost though: if its XP941 predecessor is any indication, we can expect that the drive will eventually make its way to online retailers.
As to why, presently only X99 motherboards from ASUS, ASRock, and MSI even offer 3rd Gen PCIe x4 M.2 slots to consumers. With Z97, the situation is even worse, as the only Z97 boards I’m aware of that support Gen3 x4 M.2 slots are the ASRock Extreme6 and Extreme9.
It makes sense Samsung would target OEMs that can design the system to offer a M.2 slot capable of handling what the SM951 can dish out. There are also concerns about NVMe support as reportedly some motherboards cannot boot to an NVMe enabled drive. Early adopters might remember that this was a problem with early PCIe based solid-state drives as well. Nonetheless, Samsung says drives are already shipping in mass and should be available in OEM systems soon.