Et tu, Samsung? Electronics giant accused of quietly switching SSD components

Squirrely semiconductor swaps make performance difficult to predict


Samsung has altered the parts used to make its 970 EVO Plus 1TB SSD card, leading a version manufactured in June 2021 to perform differently than an older formulation from April 2021.

In a video posted to the channel YouTube channel 潮 玩 客 ("Trendy Player"), Chinese video blogger Jian Ge recently compared two versions of the product – one from April labelled with part number MZVLB1T0HBLR and another from June labelled MZVL21T0HBLU – and found the performance characteristics have changed, some for the better and some for the worse.

To judge by the performance figures Samsung cites in its spec sheets, nothing has changed. But that's not necessarily the case for specific operations.

German tech publication Computerbase.de says that the major difference is the continuous writing performance with the HD Tune Pro software. It reports that the old version (Phoenix controller) starts with a write speed of about 1,750 MB/s and drops to about 1,500 MB/s after about 40 GB of data.

The new version (Elpis controller), it's said, starts at about 2,500 MB/s and maintains this until writing about 115 GB of data, after which performance falls to 800 MB/s. From this author ​​Michael Günsch concludes the newer NAND packages have fewer memory chips but higher storage capacity.

In a statement emailed to The Register, a Samsung spokesperson attributed the SSD reformulation to the ongoing semiconductor shortage and said the company has updated its website to make the product changes more evident.

"In order to continue offering the Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD to consumers during supply constraints, Samsung changed the controller and upgraded to the sixth-generation V-NAND," a company spokesperson said. "To be transparent with consumers, we updated information on Samsung.com."

The company's product spec sheets tell the tale well enough.

The Revision 2.0 specification for the Samsung V-NAND SSD 970 EVO Plus was released in March 2019 [PDF]. Footnote 4 says:

Sequential and random write performance was measured with Intelligent TurboWrite technology being activated. The sequential write performances for the portion of data exceeding over Intelligent TurboWrite buffer size are: 400 MB/s for 250GB, 900 MB/s for 500GB, 1700 MB/s for 1TB and 1750 MB/s for 2TB. The random write performances for the portion of data exceeding over Intelligent TurboWrite buffer size (tested with QD 32 Thread 4) are: 100,000 IOPS for 250GB, 200,000 IOPS for 500GB, 400,000 IOPS for 1TB and 420,000 IOPS for 2TB. Performance may vary depending on SSD’s firmware, system hardware & configuration and other factors.

The Revision 3.0 specification of the Samsung V-NAND SSD 970 EVO Plus was released in June 2021 [PDF]. It's largely the same in terms of cited speeds, but Footnote 4 in version 3.0 no longer makes any specific performance commitments. It says only:

Sequential and random write performance was measured with Intelligent TurboWrite technology being activated. Intelligent TurboWrite operates only within a specific data transfer size. Performance may vary depending on SSD’s firmware, system hardware & configuration and other factors. For detailed information, please contact your local service center.

There you have it: with Samsung's SSDs, your mileage may vary as the recipe changes.

The problem with making component changes in a product line without clear notice like altering the name is that customers may have certain expectations based on the way a given SSD performs and may find that more recently manufactured versions defy those expectations.

Quiet component shuffling among makers of storage products turns out to be common practice. Only yesterday, Western Digital acknowledged that it had swapped out some SSD components without much notice. Crucial and Adata have also been recently accused of poorly disclosed SSD part swaps, to the detriment of product performance.

Caveat emptor. ®

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