Conclusion

The Samsung 860 QVO is not the first consumer QLC SSD we've tested, but in many ways it better conforms to our expectations for QLC than the Intel 660p and Crucial P1 did. Those NVMe SSDs don't do much to satisfy demand for a cheap entry-level drive or for a high-capacity drive, the two applications where QLC NAND seems most useful. QLC has been pitched to us several times as a HDD replacement, rather than a performance product. It was a bit of a surprise to see QLC first arrive in NVMe SSDs. By contrast, the 860 QVO is an extremely predictable product with no surprises whatsoever in its design. Samsung is building on a tried and true formula, just adapting the 860 EVO to work with QLC NAND.

QLC NAND is fundamentally about sacrificing quality for quantity. The viability of QLC SSDs rests on the assumption that existing drives are more than fast enough, which is something that's certainly true of many Samsung SSDs. The Samsung 860 QVO is not as fast or as power efficient as the 860 EVO, but it doesn't need to be. Samsung has tended to stay out of the true entry-level segment of the SSD market, and there's been room for something like the QVO in their product lineup for much longer than they've had the technology to make a QLC SSD.

As with the other two QLC drives we've tested, the important takeaway is that the use of QLC NAND does not have a revolutionary impact on the final product. The 860 QVO is still suitable for general-purpose consumer storage duty. It is slower than the 860 EVO, but the QVO is far from the slowest SATA SSD we've tested. Thanks to a combination of SLC caching and the SATA link bottleneck, the 860 QVO's behavior is often indistinguishable from other SATA SSDs. Based on benchmark results alone, it would be difficult to conclusively identify the QVO as a QLC-based drive, rather than just a relatively slow TLC drive. The true giveaways are the sustained write performance after the SLC cache is full, and the amount of idle time required for the drive to recover after using up its write cache. Neither of those scenarios are a common occurrence during typical consumer usage.

From a technological perspective, QLC NAND seems to be ready to make an impact on the consumer storage market. It's fast enough to still be a huge step up from hard drives, and the write endurance is still adequate. Samsung should be commended for only offering the 860 QVO in 1TB and larger capacities. The competitors that use QLC in smaller drives will be facing downsides that are much harder to overlook. Even as they introduce a lower tier, Samsung is keeping their products out of the gutter.

With the Intel and Micron QLC drives using NVMe to the 860 QVO's SATA, there's a lot to get in the way of comparing Samsung's QLC to Intel/Micron QLC. From our testing so far, there doesn't seem to be a clear winner. Tests where the 860 QVO hits the limits of the SATA interface aren't helpful. Among the other tests, the Intel/Micron QLC seems to generally be a bit faster, but some of that is still due to the NVMe interface. Power efficiency seems to be broadly similar between the two QLC designs.

SATA SSD Price Comparison
  250GB 500GB 1TB 2TB 4TB
Samsung 860 QVO (MSRP)     $149.99 (15¢/GB) $299.99
(15¢/GB)
$599.99
(15¢/GB)
Samsung 860 EVO $55.99 (22¢/GB) $72.99
(15¢/GB)
$127.98 (13¢/GB) $294.88
(15¢/GB)
$797.99
(20¢/GB)
Samsung 860 PRO $97.00 (38¢/GB) $147.00 (29¢/GB) $284.99 (28¢/GB) $577.99 (28¢/GB) $1179.99 (29¢/GB)
Toshiba TR200 $39.99 (17¢/GB) $79.99 (17¢/GB) $274.89 (29¢/GB)    
WD Blue 3D NAND $53.00 (21¢/GB) $77.99 (16¢/GB) $134.99 (13¢/GB) $322.99 (16¢/GB)  
Crucial MX500 $52.51 (21¢/GB) $74.99 (15¢/GB) $139.99 (14¢/GB) $325.99 (16¢/GB)  
Seagate Barracuda $58.99 (24¢/GB) $84.99 (17¢/GB) $149.99 (15¢/GB) $349.99 (17¢/GB)  
Micron 1100       $284.25 (14¢/GB)  
NVMe:  
Intel 660p   $74.99 (15¢/GB) $169.99 (17¢/GB)    
Crucial P1   $104.13 (21¢/GB) $219.99 (22¢/GB)    

The downsides of QLC NAND—be they mild or severe—are all accepted in exchange for the promise of affordability. Other things being equal, QLC NAND should ideally be 25% cheaper than TLC NAND. There are several reasons why this is an unobtainable goal at this point, but even accounting for those, the few QLC SSDs we have so far are all failing to deliver the improved affordability. NAND flash memory prices are dropping across the board, so now is not the best time to try to use new technology to get ahead on pricing. The 860 QVO looks likely to suffer the same fate that affects many entry-level DRAMless SATA SSDs: the higher-volume mainstream SSDs are on the leading edge of the price drops, and that means they often close the gap with entry-level SSDs.

Samsung's MSRPs for the 860 QVO reflect that. The current street prices for the 860 EVO are lower than the 860 QVO for two out of three capacities, and that's comparing against one of the best SATA SSDs out there. There are plenty of mainstream drives with slightly lower performance. The exception is in the 4TB segment where Samsung is unopposed. The 4TB segment is only just now starting to look viable, but at $600 for the 4TB QVO it is still well out of a normal consumer price range. It might be worth revisiting the 860 QVO in a few months on pricing to see where it stands.

Samsung plans for the 860 QVO to be available for purchase starting December 16. By then, the holiday sale pricing and related shortages should have settled down, and Samsung will have had the chance to re-consider their pricing. In the meantime, the 860 EVO remains the obviously superior choice.

Power Management
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  • R0H1T - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    >moozooh
    QVO is the first SATA QLC drive, so yeah first of it's kind unless we're being pedantic. As for the price ~ it should & will likely come down soon enough.

    >Right now there is exactly zero reason to choose it over the EVO.

    The 500GB EVO costs about $130 US where I'm from, there's very little incentive for me to buy it given the "inflated" price.
    Reply
  • moozooh - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    > "QVO is the first SATA QLC drive, so yeah first of it's kind unless we're being pedantic."
    The fact that it's the first or the only doesn't matter to anyone who's buying things based on anything resembling a performance/price ratio. It's the first to be inferior to an already existing product. Who would be the early adopter of something that's clearly worse than something else that costs more or less the same?

    > the price ~ it should & will likely come down soon enough
    So why didn't Samsung recommend a lower price to begin with, considering how badly this products needs it? I'm sure they follow the market close enough to see this series competes with their own EVO (and loses hands-down).

    > The 500GB EVO costs about $130 US where I'm from, there's very little incentive for me to buy it given the "inflated" price.
    Yet this makes the QVO more attractive for you, especially considering it doesn't even feature a 500 GB model? I don't understand your argument. The point is this drive needs to be much, much cheaper than the EVO to be attractive at all. The downsides of the QLC NAND are numerous and significant; they need to be offset using the price. It's also clear this is where the multi-bit madness should end, because QLC is already encroaching onto the HDD territory in certain aspects (except the price, sadly) and scenarios. If PLC were a thing, I'd most likely stay away from it even if it were cheaper than hard drives. That's just asking for trouble, like those glass platters in IBM's Deskstar 75GXP (one of the most disastrous HDD series of all time).
    Reply
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    >The fact that it's the first or the only doesn't matter to anyone who's buying things based on anything resembling a performance/price ratio.

    The fact is you quoted me when I said first of a kind, which holds true for this drive, end of!

    >So why didn't Samsung recommend a lower price to begin with, considering how badly this products needs it?

    I dunno, how about you ask Samsung why didn't they sell the 860 EVO for $130 at launch?

    >Yet this makes the QVO more attractive for you, especially considering it doesn't even feature a 500 GB model?

    Yes because the QVO model, when it launches here, should be cheaper ($/GB) than the EVO drives. It's not like I can't afford $130 drive, but the 1TB or 2TB would be better VFM for me, considering I'm looking to replace some HDDs permanently. The EVOs would probably still be 40~60% more expensive.
    Reply
  • moozooh - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    > The fact is you quoted me when I said first of a kind, which holds true for this drive, end of!
    Once again, the fact that I'm pointing out is that it is a non-argument. Early adopter premium only exists for something that such an early adopter would want to have NO MATTER THE COST. Such as a new feature or better performance with existing features. Here, the cost is the ONLY thing an early adopter would want about it and the only potential advantage, period. Why do you not see how you're not making sense? "One of a kind" is an idiotic argument to use for the product that's intended to be cheaper, not better.

    > I dunno, how about you ask Samsung why didn't they sell the 860 EVO for $130 at launch?
    They launched the 860 EVO at the same time with the 860 Pro with a significant enough difference in MSRP that one didn't cannibalize the other, and the EVO was also fast enough to overtake most of the competition widely available at that price point. So the pricing made sense at the time, not so much here.

    > The EVOs would probably still be 40~60% more expensive.
    Hopefully so, but Samsung's lack of aggression and insight in undercutting their own existing product is disappointing. They are well aware of the going price of the EVO.
    Reply
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    >moozooh

    We're forgetting arguably the most important thing ~ yields. There were some (unconfirmed) reports that QLC yields were below par, so it's quite possible that these products being priced so close to TLC drives is a result of that.
    Reply
  • moozooh - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    I don't really think yields are important. It's not an attribute for customer to base their decisions on, it's not something that can be tested or seen, and needn't be either—it's the manufacturer's problem. After all, customers aren't altruists and aren't out there to help Samsung or any other vendor do their business—what they need to care about is that the products they buy are priced fairly. Samsung won't convince anyone to overpay for QLC because the yields are too low to justify a fair price.

    Two possible ways to handle this launch better would be either to bite the bullet and suggest a sensible MSRP from the get go or stabilize the technology before coming out with the product and selling it at a healthy margin. Either way there won't be many people buying this until it's sufficiently cheap so the difference isn't as big as it might feel.
    Reply
  • FullmetalTitan - Thursday, November 29, 2018 - link

    'Yields don't matter to initial consumer product pricing' is a pretty spicy take.
    It doesn't matter whether the consumers want to be altruistic (definitely not the correct usage here), this is the price if you want high density SSD storage in a single unit, like it or not. You clearly don't, so kindly shut up and move on.
    Reply
  • Manch - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    If the 500GB EVO is double the going price in your area, what makes you think the 860 QVO won't be?

    Me thinks, you've dug a hole. Stop digging LOL
    Reply
  • R0H1T - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    >double the going price

    Double the what? Do you know the price 860 EVO debuted in every country of the world, now can you guess the price QVO would retail for?

    How about you stop assuming $130 US (1TB) is the normal EVO price everywhere around the world? Then stop reaching.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Saturday, December 01, 2018 - link

    If you're knowingly buying from an expensive source, you're buying it wrong. If you insist on buying it wrong, then stop wasting other people's time with your BS.
    Time to hit eBay, nowadays Taobao may help.
    Reply

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