Samsung 840 Pro SSD Review

Samsung releases its new 21nm NAND and MDX controller in one formidable package. Throwing the weight of its NAND foundry and engineering expertise into the push for dominance of the high end results in a compelling product. We take a look at the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD and its performance.

Samsung 840 Pro Basics

Samsung’s release of the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD is viewed by many as the sign of "things to come" for the Solid State Drive market. The Samsung 840 SSD follows the wildly successful 830 series that has an excellent reputation in the field for reliability and stability.

Samsung is a company that has impressive resources and the ability to leverage those resources in the SSD market. One of the biggest examples of this leverage is that Samsung owns its own NAND fabrication facility. This automatically gives Samsung a leg up over many of its competitors, as the price of the NAND is the most expensive component of any SSD. By eliminating any middleman and utilizing its own NAND, Samsung can position its premium products closer to the value pricing range while maintaining healthy profit margins.

Samsung is actually the largest manufacturer of NAND in the world, controlling 42.5% of the market. The primary competitor, with 24.7% of the market, is the joint venture Flash Forward, Ltd., which is composed of the SanDisk and Toshiba team. IMFT (Intel-Micron Flash Technologies) is a rapidly growing NAND producing venture between Intel and Micron that commands 20.7% of the NAND market. SK Hynix also manufactures NAND used directly in its own SSD products, but in comparison is much smaller at 11.8%.

To keep things in perspective one must take into account the fact that Samsung’s NAND production is as large as its next two competitors combined. Lucrative supply contracts with Apple, the world’s largest flash customer by far, have helped to solidify Samsung's position in the market. This relationship is rumored to be souring quickly, as the two companies have become bitter courtroom foes and intense competitors in the mobile space. For now, Apple still relies heavily on Samsung NAND and DRAM, but that could change in the future as Apple looks to limit its dependence upon one of its primary competitors.

Samsung also manufactures its own memory components used on-board its SSDs, which brings about even more flexibility in design and construction.

Several of Samsungs competitors own fabs, but where Samsung dominates the competition is in the design and manufacture of its own SSD controller. Bringing this critical component into the picture with Samsung’s design, engineering, and manufacturing gives Samsung somewhat of a "royal flush" in the SSD market.

No other NAND fab owner has its own controller for consumer SSD products, though SK Hynix recently purchased Link_A_Media to bring the award-winning LAMD controller into its product line. This marriage of LAMD and SK Hynix will take some time to bear fruit, since Corsair still maintains its exclusivity contract with LAMD for its new controllers for an as-of-yet undisclosed amount of time.

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The controller is the key element in the design of the SSD. This engine of the SSD is only as good as the firmware that powers it, and in this respect Samsung has enjoyed an excellent reputation for solid and reliable controllers and firmware. An experienced engineering and development team have propelled Samsung forward from its earlier generations of SSDs, which were lackluster performers, to the formidable force that Samsung is now in the SSD market.

The entrance of a Solid State Drive that is physically composed of elements manufactured entirely under "one roof" is indicative of the direction that the overall SSD market will likely follow in short time. Much like the consolidation of the HDD manufacturers over the years, the SSD market will most likely gel into several manufacturers with fabrication capacity at its disposal and controller technologies in-house.

OCZ and others are looking to vacate the mainstream consumer SSD and value markets for this very reason. As the big OEMs and NAND fabs come into play, many of the smaller manufacturers will be either positioning to be acquired by larger OEMs or fleeing the value market, retreating into the high-end consumer market and enterprise.

As the other NAND fabs bring the needed SSD technologies in-house, this will likely weed out smaller companies out over the course of time. Samsung has the heavy diversification as a company to afford it a powerful position if a price war breaks out, and the deep pockets to give it plenty of time to let it play out.

For consumers this can be a double edged sword, since the commoditization of SSDs will lead to lower prices, but also eventually lead to less product options and the possibility of innovation stagnation that we have witnessed in the HDD market.

No other SSD manufacturer currently has all of the pieces in house, and this clearly makes Samsung a force to be reckoned with. Today we will take a look at Samsung’s new flagship offering, the Samsung 840 Pro, to see if this component consolidation brings speed and innovation along with it.