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Samsung SSD 990 EVO Review


The Samsung SSD 990 EVO (starts at $124.99; $209.99 for 2TB as tested) does well as a mainstream internal solid-state drive (SSD) for general home and business storage use. This DRAM-less SSD is moderately priced and energy-efficient, has advanced security features, and includes the Samsung Magician suite of SSD optimization tools. It’s a PCI Express (PCIe) 4.0 M.2 drive, and while Samsung notes that the SSD 990 EVO can run in a PCIe 5.0 slot, it can use only two of that interface’s four lanes. A better role for it is as a workaday PCIe 4.0 stick, and as such it earns our Editors’ Choice award.

Design: DRAM-less Keeps Power, Heat, and Price Down

The SSD 990 EVO is manufactured on an M.2 Type-2280 (80mm long) “gumstick” printed circuit board and uses the NVMe 2.0 protocol over the PCIe 4.0 bus. It combines Samsung TLC V-NAND flash memory with a homegrown DRAM-less controller—the first such controller we have encountered that isn’t made by Maxio Technology.

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By using host memory buffer (HMB) technology, the drive employs the PC’s own main DRAM for caching. That helps Samsung keep costs down and achieve reasonable performance with a DRAM-free controller. According to the tech giant, the SSD 990 EVO provides a performance boost of up to 43% and a 70% improvement per watt in power efficiency over its predecessor, the five-year-old SSD 970 EVO Plus. The SSD 990 EVO’s heat-spreader label helps keep the drive cool and performing well, preventing thermal throttling.

Samsung SSD 990 EVO: In PCI Express 4 slot

(Credit: Joseph Maldonado)

Samsung also highlights the SSD 990 EVO’s PCI Express 5.0 compatibility—for instance, the company’s product web page lists it as the “990 EVO 5.0 NVMe SSD”—although the drive utilizes only two of a PCIe 5.0 M.2 slot’s four lanes, and it has rated read and write speeds that are half (or less than half) of those of native PCIe 5.0×4 SSDs, which use all four channels. As you will see below in the discussion of our performance testing, using the SSD 990 EVO in a PCIe 5.0 slot (if your computer even has one) may give you a modest performance benefit in some circumstances over using it in a PCIe 4.0 slot. But don’t mistake the SSD 990 EVO for a full-fledged four-lane Gen 5 SSD.

The SSD 990 EVO’s durability ratings, expressed in terms of lifetime write capacity in total terabytes written (TBW), are 1,200TBW for the 2TB version and 600TBW for the 1TB. They equal those of many other PCIe 4.0 SSDs at those capacities, including the Samsung SSD 980 Pro, the Crucial P5 Plus, and the WD Black SN850X. But a few PCIe 4.0 drives offer substantially higher durability ratings; the MSI Spatium M470, for example, is rated at 1,600TBW for 1TB and 3,300TBW for 2TB. At the other extreme, the Mushkin Delta, which uses less-durable QLC memory, is rated at just 200TBW for 1TB, 400TBW for 2TB, and 800TBW for 4TB.

The terabytes-written spec is a manufacturer’s estimate of how much data can be written to a drive before some cells begin to fail and get taken out of service. Samsung warranties the SSD 990 Pro for five years or until you hit the rated TBW figure in data writes, whichever comes first.

Samsung includes its Samsung Magician suite of SSD optimization tools with the SSD 990 EVO, which allows you to streamline the data migration process for SSD upgrades. In addition, Samsung Magician protects data, monitors drive health, and provides firmware updates. The SSD 990 EVO also supports AES 256-bit full-disk hardware encryption, and meets the TCG/Opal V2.0 security standard for self-encrypted devices.

Testing the SSD 990 EVO: A Mid-Speed PCIe 4.0 Stick

We test PCIe 4.0 internal SSDs using a desktop PC with an MSI X570 motherboard and AMD Ryzen CPU, 16GB of Corsair Dominator DDR4 memory clocked to 3,600MHz, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics card. We put the SSD 990 EVO through our usual suite of solid-state drive benchmarks, comprising Crystal DiskMark 6.0, PCMark 10 Storage, and 3DMark Storage.

As Samsung prominently advertises the SSD 990 EVO’s PCIe 5.0 compatibility, we also ran the same tests with the drive in the PCIe 5.0 x4 M.2 slot of our PCIe 5.0 testbed PC. It consists of an ASRock X670E Taichi motherboard with an AMD X670 chipset, and 32GB (two Crucial 16GB DIMMs) of DDR5 memory. It sports an AMD Ryzen 9 7900 CPU and a GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics card. The PCIe 5.0 tests were run on an ad-hoc basis; although we will discuss their results later, our official scores—those shown in the tables below—are the ones run on the PCIe 4.0 testbed.

Crystal DiskMark’s sequential speed tests provide a traditional measure of drive throughput, simulating best-case, straight-line transfers of large files. On these tests, the SSD 990 EVO slightly exceeded its sequential read-speed rating, while falling well below its rated write speed. In Crystal DiskMark’s 4K read and write tests, which measures how long it takes for an SSD to access or save a group of files in 4K cluster sizes, the SSD 990 EVO’s scores were average among our group of comparison drives, which consists of mainstream PCIe 4.0 SSDs with similar sequential read scores.

The PCMark 10 Overall Storage test measures a drive’s speed in performing a variety of routine tasks such as launching Windows, loading games and creative apps, and copying both small and large files. On this, the SSD 990 EVO performed splendidly, matching the WD Black SN770 for the top score among our comparison group.

While the PCMark 10 Overall Storage score aggregates the results of multiple tasks, you can also see the scores for some of the 990 EVO’s individual trace-based tests. It did best on the Windows launching and Adobe Premiere Pro launching traces, with the high score among our test group.

In 3DMark Storage, which measures an SSD’s proficiency in performing a variety of gaming-related tasks, the SSD 990 EVO’s score was in the middle of the pack. As I’d mentioned previously, we also ran our full set of tests with the SSD in the PCIe 5.0 slot on our PCIe 5.0 testbed. The scores from the EVO’s PCIe 4.0 and PCIe 5.0 testing were largely very similar, except that on this test the drive turned in a score of 3,260, about 7% better than its PCIe 4.0 score.

The different versions of PCI Express are both forward- and backward-compatible with each other, in the sense that you can run a PCIe 4.0 SSD in a PCIe 3.0 slot, for example. In this case you’d be limited to PCIe 3.0 throughput speeds, which max out at about 3,500MBps. Running the SSD 990 EVO in a PCIe 5.0 slot might give you a slight benefit in some use cases over running it in a PCIe 4.0 slot. What it won’t give you is anything resembling the speeds of even the lowest tier of native PCIe 5.0×4 SSDs—which utilize all four channels in a PCIe 5.0 M.2 slot, unlike the two channels that the SSD 990 EVO uses. That first generation of PCIe 5.0 SSDs—which includes the Gigabyte Aorus 10000, the ADATA Legend 970, and the Seagate FireCuda 540—are rated for throughput speeds of around 10,000MBps, and more recent sticks have exceeded that. The fastest we have tested has a read speed topping 14,000MBps.

Verdict: The Go-To Mainstream Internal SSD

The Samsung SSD 990 EVO proved a capable performer among mainstream PCIe 4.0 internal SSDs in our testing, with generally excellent scores in our PCMark 10 benchmarking, which measures an SSD’s speed in performing various workaday tasks. It has the warranty, software, and security features that we have come to expect from Samsung’s SSDs. The drive’s DRAM-less architecture keeps its price down, the heat spreader keeps it cool, and it is very energy-efficient.

Samsung makes a point of noting the SSD 990 EVO’s PCIe 5.0 compatibility in its labeling and marketing. We put it through its paces on both our PCIe 4.0 and PCIe 5.0 testbeds, and it performed slightly better on one of our tests when running in the PCIe 5.0 slot. However, it can only use two of the slot’s four lanes, and its overall performance is typical of a mainstream PCIe 4.0 SSD, whichever interface you are actually running it over.

Samsung SSD 990 EVO: Bottom

(Credit: Joseph Maldonado)

If you decide to take on the considerable expense of buying or building a Gen 5 rig, you should spring for a high-performance native PCIe 5.0×4 drive to get the most out of it. Sure, if you have a 990 EVO kicking around, and a desktop PC with an unused PCIe 5.0 slot, by all means use it, at least until you can upgrade your SSD. Or fill the slot with any decent PCIe 4.0 SSD—they should also work.

But enough about what the Samsung SSD 990 EVO isn’t. We see it as a fine mainstream PCIe 4.0 SSD, good for general home or business storage needs. Its throughput scores fell well short of the Crucial P5 Plus, a previous Editors’ Choice winner, and it couldn’t meet its own sequential write-speed rating, but it bested the Crucial on PCMark 10 Overall and nearly all the trace tests. It also matches the P5 Plus in warranty length, software, and security. With the P5 Plus now at the end of its life, the SSD 990 Evo becomes our latest Editors’ Choice pick for mainstream internal M.2 SSDs.


  • Supports AES 256-bit full-disk hardware encryption

  • TCG/Opal V2.0 security compliant

  • Heat-spreader label minimizes throttling

  • Five-year warranty


The Bottom Line

The SSD 990 EVO is an excellent-value mainstream M.2 internal SSD, with whizzy performance and the class-leading warranty, software, and security that you’d expect from Samsung.

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