How to fix a slow Samsung solid state drive

Samsung Portable SSD T1 coins
With their lightning-fast speeds, solid state drives (SSDs) are a vast improvement on disk drives. They’re dependable, if pricey, options — for the most part.

Thing is, SSDs aren’t free of errors and can experience some serious, unexpected slowdowns. Samsung SSDs in particular may be vulnerable to certain problems that cause SSDs to lose all that wonderful speed. Here’s what to look for when you have a slow Samsung solid state drive, and how to get the right solutions.

Samsung’s slow history with SSD updates

samsungdrives

All SSD drives can encounter problems, but Samsung’s recent history with them is particularly fraught with issues. If you bought a Samsung SSD within the last couple years that is experiencing speed problems in the “not cool” levels, you’re far from alone.

In 2014, Samsung updated some of its current drives with TLC NAND modules, particularly its 840 and 840 EVO drives. Note that Samsung drives affected by this TLC issue can also be found in Windows Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13 2015 Edition, so your computer doesn’t need to say “Samsung” all over it to encounter this SSD problem.

You can find out more about the problem in older 2014 threads from smart users, but essentially the SSD drives quickly slow down when it comes to older files. Download some files on one of these drives, and about 9 weeks later bringing them up will cut speeds down to below 100MBps (Samsung’s original speed for these drives was a claimed 520MBps).

The 840 drives had previously been well-priced and reliable, so this unexpected slowdown ruffled a lot of consumer feathers. As did Samsung’s handling of the issue. The company issued a patch to address the problem in late 2014 which, uh, didn’t appear to work. Slow Samsung solid state drive owners were left waiting until April 2015, when Samsung issued another fix, which was better received.

“Oh crap,” you may be thinking. “Is this my problem? How do I know?” Well if you have an 840 SSD drive with big slowdown problems for older files, you probably don’t need to look any further. But for more testing you can download a Speed Tester for SSDs. Run a few tests and examine the graphs closely to see what your speed looks like as your file age increases.

Downloading a Samsung patch

samsung-850-evo-ssd

How do you fix the recalcitrant Samsung SSD? These days, it’s a lot easier than back in 2014. According to the Samsung FAQ, everything you need is included in the latest Magician update. Magician is the Samsung optimization and management tool for its hard drives, and includes firmware updates and other useful features for fixing bugs.

You can download Magician software here on Samsung’s site. Note that even if you already have Magician, it’s a good idea to download the most recent version of it. Samsung’s latest patch updates are included in the updated Magician (which currently sits at version 4.6). Also note that there are separate versions for Windows and Mac. Download the latest version, run Magician, and say yes to all firmware updates. Then see if this solves your problem.

There’s another way you can have Magician work its magic, but this may be less reliable. Download a third-party maintenance and optimization tool like DiskFresh and try it out. Will this perform any better than Magician? That’s a solid maybe. Give it a try if nothing else is working out.

Performance and compatibility issues

Samsung Portable SSD T1 hand 2

Samsung has a few other suggestions for those encountering slow SSDs but don’t have the 840 problem. Most involve double-checking your compatibility and settings, because the wrong settings can really mess up your SSD’s functionality.

To start, visit your hard drive settings and make sure that Write Cache and AHCI are enabled. If you are running a Windows computer (or the latest Mac OS X), check to see if TRIM is enabled — this can make your garbage collection more efficient and maintain SSD speeds over time. You can visit the Samsung FAQ for more information on these settings. This is also a good time to run the latest version of Magician, which will help optimize performance and correct settings even if you don’t have the 840 bug.

A word about SATA compatibility as well: SATA III is required for proper Samsung SSD performance, and if you have a SATA II mainboard then you can expect much slower speeds. Basically, if your computer is old or has an older motherboard, functionality will go down. Keep this in mind when choosing an external SSD or when upgrading your internal drive to SSD – a point comes when upgrading the motherboard is also necessary for real improvements.

Down to the data

Intel 750 Series SSD
Intel 750 Series SSD Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Here’s another common problem with SSDs, especially older models, that happens when you fill them up. Think of an SSD as a moving truck, with boxes constantly being shifted in and out via P/E cycles. The moving crew is very efficient, but only as long as the truck has enough empty space to put in new boxes. When the moving truck is almost full, every time the crew gets a new box they need to take some time adjust the old boxes, find new room, and maybe split up the contents into smaller boxes so it will fit. That really slows down the P/E process.

The point is, you don’t want your SSD too full or you will start seeing significant delays. You can maximize efficiency by enabling abilities like the TRIM command, but only to a certain point. When the SSD gets too full, performance will plummet. It’s best to only fill up your drive to a certain point (preferably, around 90 percent or less) and then use an external drive or other option to avoid speed issues.

This is true of most mechanical drives, as well. Hard drives just don’t like being packed to absolute maximum capacity.

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