SanDisk Extreme Pro M.2 NVMe 3D SSD review: High-end performance at bargain prices

Targeted at creative types and power users with lots of big files to store

sandisk extreme pro ssd 1
Melissa Riofrio/IDG
At a Glance
  • Extreme Pro M.2 NVMe 3D SSD

The Sandisk Extreme Pro NVMe offers nearly the same performance as Samsung’s class-leading 970 Pro, but costs the same as that company’s slower and lower-priced 970 EVO. Targeted at creative types and power users with lots of big files to store, it’s a game-changer that bodes ill for budget NVMe vendors—and Samsung’s profit margins.

Before we go further, one thing that needs to be clear: The Extreme is the exact same SSD as the WD Black NVMe. Not similar, but exactly the same drive with a more colorful label and a slightly different audience. WD owns Sandisk. Aha.

Note: This review is part of our Best SSDs roundup. Go there for information about competing products and how we tested them. 

Design and specs

PCIe-based NVMe (Non-volatile Memory Express) is the successor to the SATA bus, designed from the ground up for solid state drives. While SATA 6Gbps drives top out at 550MBps, M.2 NVMe drives currently max at around 3.5GBps—six to seven times as fast. If your PC can boot from NVMe, you want a drive like the Sandisk Extreme Pro that can take advantage. The improvement over SATA is startling in the best possible sense of the word. 

expro m2 nvme 3d ssd 043 1tb 3000x3000 hr cropped Sandisk

The Sandisk Extreme Pro offers the exact same performance as the WD Black NVMe. Because, wait for it—it’s the same drve. And you don’t have to worry about ordering an older drive as you do with the WD Black.

The Sandisk Extreme Pro we tested is a 1TB, M.2, PCIe x4 NVMe drive that ships in the 2280 (22 millimeters wide, 80 mm long) form factor. It uses Sandisk’s 3D TLC NAND. A certain percentage of the NAND, which Sandisk/WD wouldn’t specify, is allocated as a secondary cache, where the TLC is treated as SLC by writing only one bit.

There’s also a primary DRAM cache: 1GB in the case of the 1TB model, and 512MB for the 500GB capacity. Unlike its identical twin, the WD Black NVMe, the Extreme Pro is not available in a 250GB capacity.

The Extreme Pro is warrantied for five years, and rated for 300TBW (TeraBytes Written) per 500GB of capacity. That is, you can write 300 terabytes (300,000 gigabytes) to the 500GB drive, and twice that to the 1TB drive before you need to start worrying about failure. That’s a lot more than most people will write in ten years, let alone five, and likely a conservative estimate. The 500GB version, not surprisingly, is rated for 300TBW.

Performance

The Sandisk Extreme Pro is an excellent performer—close to the Samsung 970 Pro in nearly every regard, and faster than the like-priced 970 EVO in most tests.

CrystalDiskMark 6, shown below, measures sustained speed with large files as well as small file performance at various queue (how may writes are stacked) and thread (how many OS threads are writing at the same time) depths. The Sandisk Extreme Pro is shown as the blue bars and did quite a bit better than the 970 EVO.

sandisk extreme pro cdm 6 IDG

The Sandisk Extreme Pro isn’t as fast as the Samsung 970 Pro, but it’s darn close and a whole lot cheaper.

AS SSD 2.0 also took a shine to the Extreme Pro, actually placing it ahead of the 970 Pro in one 4K test. Considering the huge difference in price, that’s a major coup for the Sandisk.

sandisk extreme pro as ssd 2 IDG

AS SSD 2.0 showed the Sandisk Extreme Pro to be highly competitive with the far more expensive Samsung 970 Pro, and faster than its direct competitor, the Samsung 970 EVO. Longer bars are better. 

Our large data set copy tests (48GB to and from a 50GB RAM drive) back up the results of the synthetic benchmarks. Note how the 970 EVO ran out of gas in the large file write. That’s because halfway through, the 500GB version ran out of cache. The 1TB and 2TB versions of the 970 EVO would fare much better in this test, though they, too, would eventually run out of cache. The whys and wherefores of this are discussed in the 970 EVO review.

sandisk extreme pro 48gb IDG

When copying large amounts of the data, the Sandisk Extreme Pro doesn’t bog down eventually like the Samsung 970 EVO, though the severity of that issue varies by capacity with the EVO. Shorter bars are better.

The Sandisk Extreme Pro held its own against the competition’s best, and is as cheap as most entry-level drives, making it all the more impressive.

Buying advice

When you run the numbers, including pricing, the Sandisk Extreme Pro (or its WD Black NVMe sibling) is easily the sweet deal in the NVMe market right now. The only other drive that can compete performance and price-wise is the Samsung 970 EVO, and that depends highly upon the capacity you’re talking about. Good stuff from a company we hadn’t heard from in the NVMe space for a long time.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • The Sandisk Extreme Pro NVMe is a worthy competitor to the Samsung 960 Pro performance-wise, and blows its doors off on price. Top-tier performance at a budget price pretty much says it all.

    Pros

    • High-end NVMe performance
    • Near budget-level in price

    Cons

    • Slower than the rival 960 Pro without caching involved
Shop Tech Products at Amazon