Samsung 990 Pro vs 980 Pro: Which SSD should you buy?

The Samsung 990 Pro and 980 Pro are some of the best you can buy, but is the newer model worth the extra cost?

It’s the end of the road for PCIe 4.0 SSDs, which debuted in 2019. The best drives are hitting the limit of what’s possible with PCIe 4.0, which begs the question: how much faster is Samsung’s 990 Pro than the 980 Pro, two of the best drives on the market, and which one is the best overall for laptops and desktops? For most users, thankfully, the choice won’t be difficult to make.



Pricing, availability, specs

At the time of writing, the 1TB models of the 990 Pro and 980 Pro are both $80, which obviously makes the 990 Pro the better buy by default since it’s newer and features some improvements. However, there is a larger price gap when it comes to the 2TB models. The 990 Pro 2TB costs $160 at writing time, while the 980 Pro 2TB is priced at $120 (they have a nearly $100 difference at MSRP). We can’t say if this is going to hold or not, though, since Samsung has made it clear it will be reducing the production of SSDs, which will allow pricing to go up.

The pricing situation is also pretty similar when you look at the heatsink models of each drive. The 1TB 990 Pro and 980 Pro cost around $10 more with the optional heatsink, although the 2TB models are $170 for the 990 Pro and $150 for the 980 Pro, a smaller difference than when comparing the standard drives (there’s also a way smaller price gap between the two at MSRP). On paper, this is more favorable for the 990 Pro with its theoretically higher performance.

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Additionally, a 4TB model of the 990 Pro was previously promised to launch at some point, but it’s been nearly a year since the 990 Pro first came out, and there’s no 4TB model in sight. With PCIe 5.0 Samsung SSDs on the horizon, it’s entirely possible the 4TB 990 Pro was canceled, and Samsung just hasn’t said anything about it. As it stands, there’s no storage capacity benefit with the 990 Pro.

990 Pro vs. 980 Pro: Hardware differences

The 990 Pro uses Samsung’s 8nm Pascal controller, a modest improvement over the 980 Pro’s Elpis controller, which is also on the 8nm node. Additionally, the 990 Pro also makes use of newer V7 TLC NAND flash, as opposed to the V6 TLC solid-state storage in the 980 Pro. The 990 Pro is essentially a faster 980 Pro using the latest technology Samsung has, but on a technical level, these aren’t major differences, and you shouldn’t expect the 990 Pro to be a massive upgrade over the 980 Pro.

Each drive also has a variant that comes with a heatsink that’s supposed to improve cooling and, by extension, performance. The heatsink on the 990 Pro is slightly improved compared to the 980 Pro’s and has RGB. Whether either of these drives even requires a heatsink is debatable, as neither consumes a particularly significant amount of power. In any case, if you’re buying these drives, then odds are you’re putting it in a PC that likely already comes with an SSD heatsink on at least one of the M.2 slots, so it’s not exactly necessary anyway.

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990 Pro vs. 980 Pro: Performance

Samsung makes some big claims on its product page for the 990 Pro: 40% and 55% faster random reads and writes, respectively, versus the 980 Pro, plus an extra 450 MB/s in sequential reads and 1,900 MB/s in sequential writes. Those random performance figures, though, are particularly crucial because this is the kind of work everyone encounters day to day, especially for more casual users. Samsung also claims the 990 Pro is 50% more efficient in sequential workloads.

However, real-life tests have shown that the 990 Pro only provides a small performance improvement over the 980 Pro and offers similar efficiency except in very sequential work, which is what we’d expect since real-world usage is different from the kind of tests Samsung and other companies use for marketing. The wider consensus among reviewers is that the 990 Pro is faster than the 980 Pro, but by a slim margin rather than the massive one Samsung advertises. In our review of the 990 Pro, it didn’t even significantly outperform the 970 EVO Plus in random workloads, though it did obviously destroy it in sequential ones.

If you currently own a 980 Pro and are thinking about upgrading to the 990 Pro, don’t expect to see wildly better performance in either sequential or random workloads. The 990 Pro on paper and in real workloads is a 980 Pro with some optimizations to get even more performance out of Samsung’s PCIe 4.0 silicon, and that’s okay.

Which one should you buy?

Considering the difference between the 1TB models (with or without heatsink) is nothing at the time of writing, the 990 Pro is the obvious choice. If you have a high-end laptop or a fast gaming laptop, you might want the 990 Pro just for its somewhat better efficiency, which will translate to better battery life. Unless the pricing situation changes, the 990 Pro is almost always going to be the better buy despite the fact that it’s not a huge improvement over the 980 Pro. The 990 Pro is just so cheap that it’s not a big deal to spend a few extra dollars at most to get a little more speed. If the 980 Pro is ever closer to 70% of the price of the 990 Pro, it might be more appealing.

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Samsung 990 Pro SSD 1TB $80 $130 Save $50

Samsung’s 990 Pro is truly pushing the limits of what PCIe 4.0 storage can offer. It offers the fastest transfer speeds we’ve seen so far for a Gen 4 drive while not costing much more than slower SSDs.

$170 at Amazon $80 at Samsung $130 at Best Buy

On the other hand, the heatsink-less 2TB model is a bit of a different story, as the 980 Pro 2TB is $30 cheaper than the 990 Pro 2TB at the time of writing. $30 is a fairly significant amount of money to save on a single component and could be worthwhile for some. However, the 990 Pro does enjoy a slightly wider advantage in random read performance at 2TB, so spending that extra money on the 990 Pro wouldn’t be a waste.

Samsung 980 Pro 1TB $80 $110 Save $30

The Samsung 980 Pro M.2 NVMe SSD competes with the best M.2 modules on the market for a top spot. It offers an impressive read and write speed of 7,000MB/s and over 5,000MB/s, respectively.

$80 at Amazon $80 at Samsung $80 at Best Buy

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