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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  • boozed - Sunday, March 24, 2019 - link

    Recouped Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    "moving off of spinning rust and onto SSDs with my bulk storage. "

    well... cold storage of NAND ain't all that hot even at SLC. at QLC? not up to bulk storage, if you ask me. and, no, you didn't.
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Bulk storage on the PC, not offline storage.

    I could use a big SSD myself, but at this price I'm better off picking up an EVO or WD 3D NAND instead.

    I'm sure it will drop in a couple of months and we may even see the 1TB hit the $99 mark. Samsung QLC is looking pretty decent, overall endurance isn't much worse than my WD Blue 1TB 3D NAND, though smaller capacities drop off horribly.
    Reply
  • azazel1024 - Friday, November 30, 2018 - link

    What conditions? SLC lasts a LONGGGgggggg time powered off. Decades.

    MLC on a lightly used drive is also years and years. TLC is also measured in years on a lightly used drive under the right conditions.

    Yes, an abused TLC drive today, left in a hot car in the summer time is going to start getting corrupt bits in a matter of a few weeks. That isn't most people's use case and for bulk storage, TLC at least kept vaguely room temperature has a storage life of something >1yr even when pushing up near the P/E endurance of the drive. I forget what JEDEC calls for (or whoever the standards body is), but the P/E endurance on TLC IIRC is 9 months at room temperature. IE your drive should typically not lose any stored bits when at room temperature and powered off for 9 months once you have exhausted your P/E endurance (obviously going past it reduces the powered off endurance as well as the potential for other things, like blocks not being able to be written to due to high power requirements or not being able to differentiate voltages, etc.)

    I don't know what the endurance on QLC is supposed to be, but IIRC it is still measured in multiple months at the limit of P/E endurance (and typically when new the cold/off endurance of a drive is several times longer than when it is at the end of its life). I wouldn't want to use QLC, TLC or even MLC or SLC as archival storage that is supposed to last decades, but HDDs could be problematic for decadal storage also.
    Reply
  • Araemo - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Honestly? Give me a 4TB for $300 and I start getting tempted. I have an array of 4 3TB spinning rust (5900 RPM even) disks I would love to upgrade to SSDs and at least a moderate size increase. I'd prefer 6TB or 8TB disks, so I can double the array size, but 4TB at a reasonable price gets tempting. Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    Wait. Just wait. Every time the capacity goes up and the price goes down, another poster comes along with a new higher capacity they want at a new lower price. You'll get it one day but right now it's physically impossible. Reply
  • rpg1966 - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    Ha, I came here to say this. These guys would (supposedly) have jumped at these capacity/price/speed/endurance combinations a year ago, but now, oh no, they're way too expensive. It's a wonder they ever buy anything at all... Reply
  • azazel1024 - Friday, November 30, 2018 - link

    My limit has always been spending $600-800 to replace the storage in my desktop and server. Right now I am utilizing 3.5TiB of the 5.4TiB capacity of my 2x3TB RAID0 arrays. Now that has been creeping up. 12 months ago it was probably 2.8-2.9TiB utilized. At any rate, I need enough performance (minimum 250MB/sec sustained large transfers once SLC cache is exhausted, or if below, it better be very close to that figure) to not need feel the need to make a RAID array so I can run JBOD and add disks as my storage pool gets utilized so they don't need to all be matching drives.

    4TB would maybe just barely cut it, but it also likely wouldn't leave me enough growth room as I'd be running out to add probably 2TB disks in a few months. 5-6TB would probably be enough to last me 18-24 months before I'd need to add any disks.

    Anyway, so you are talking 10TB of total storage (minimum) for no more than about $800. My song hasn't changed on that in the last couple of years. We still aren't there. Though getting close. 8 cents a GB isn't THAT far away. And by the time we get there, my needs might have only creeped up to 12TB for the same no more than $800 (and who knows, maybe in a couple more years I could gin up another $100 or $200 to get it, even if prices haven't gotten down to 6-7 cents a GB).

    So if I was looking at 3x2TB drives in JBOD and could just add another 2TB disk to it as my storage got filled up for a measly ~$350 between both machines every couple of years (and hopefully getting cheaper each time I did it, or it is cheaper enough when I need more capacity a couple years after building the SSD storage pools to get a new 4TB disk for each machine or something).

    One of the things I don't like have HDDs and RAID (well it would be the same with SSDs and RAID) is really needing matching drives. So if my storage runs low, it means replacing entire arrays instead of just adding a new disk to provide the extra capacity, but being able to keep both higher performance and keeping a unified volume.

    Right now my minimum HDD standard once I start hitting capacity/performance limits is probably going to be getting a set of Seagate Barracuda Pro drives for the performance of 7200rpm spindle speeds. That means 2x2x4TB drives (so 4 drives total) which is around $600 right now, and only gets me 1/3rd more capacity...

    In other words I'd likely need to replace both arrays again maybe 3 years later (at most). Going to 2x2x6TB drives might make longer term financial sense, but it also has a startup cost of around $1000.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, November 29, 2018 - link

    It'll probably take several years for prices to get to that point... Optimistically. Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    "They are trying to milk saps"
    There's no evidence whatsoever for that claim. TLC drives weren't cheaper than MLC when they started out, now they (mostly) are - it's how product introductions work. The same will happen here. Enough of the bleating and moving of goalposts to ridiculous locations already.
    Reply

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