Samsung has announced a new version of its flagship PCIe SSD, dubbed the 990 Pro. Not only does the PCIe 4.0 M.2 storage device get even closer to being as fast as it can theoretically be, but there’s also the option of getting it with a heatsink that comes complete with RGB lighting (though, if you get that version to upgrade a PlayStation 5, which requires add-on SSDs to have a heatsink, those lights will likely get lost behind a layer of textured plastic).
The 990 Pro’s big selling point over its predecessor is that it’s even faster: in sequential reads and writes, it can do up to 7,450 MB/s and 6,900 MB/s, respectively, and it can achieve 1,400K random read input / output operations per second (or IOPS). That’s compared to the 980 Pro’s maximums of 7,000 MB/s for sequential reads, 5,000 MB/s for sequential writes, and 1,000K random read IOPS. While these speeds aren’t completely unheard of, they’re certainly not the norm — even high-end models from WD and Sabrent don’t really come close when it comes to write speeds.
Impressive as it is, the performance jump isn’t anywhere near what we saw from the 970 Pro to the 980 Pro when Samsung upgraded from PCIe 3.0 to 4.0. Still, given how close Samsung was to maxing out the 8,000 MB/s theoretical limit of a PCIe 4.0 SSD with the 980’s read speeds, it’s impressive that it managed to get even closer. It’s also probably a bit overkill for all but the most advanced PC and console gaming; per Sony, an add-on SSD for the PS5 only has to be able to do 5,000 MB/s in sequential reads.
Samsung didn’t immediately answer The Verge’s question on how it was able to squeeze even more speed out of its SSDs without upgrading to a newer version of PCIe, but its press release does mention that the 990 Pro has a “newly designed controller” handling the task of actually reading and writing bits to and from the NAND flash chips. To me, that seems to be the most likely suspect; the company says it’s 50 percent more power efficient than the 980’s controller, and otherwise, the two generations of SSD seem relatively similar when it comes to DRAM and the actual storage chips they’re using.
As for what all this means in the real world — well, I’m sure there are some applications where the 990’s extra performance will make a difference. If you’re hoping to shave seconds off your computer’s boot times or improve game loading speeds, though, I don’t think it’ll offer an appreciable difference over the 980. The upside of that is that if you see a great sale on the older model, you can pick it up without worrying that it’s an inferior product. That’s even true if you’re looking to upgrade the somewhat picky PS5; Samsung sells a version of the 980 with the required heatsink.
For those that want the bleeding-edge performance of the latest and greatest — or that sweet RGB heatsink — the 990 Pro will go on sale in October, retailing at $179 for the 1TB model and $309 for the 2TB version. (For those counting, that’s $20 and $30 more than the comparable 980 Pro models’ MSRPs. Inflation is indeed hitting tech.) A 4TB model is coming next year, according to Samsung.