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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  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    Yeah the premise was cheaper NAND for bulk storage with compromises. That way all okay in my mind. But as shown, there's just no good value proposition here yet. Just inherently I figured QLC would be 33% cheaper than TLC and then mass production and the higher density stacking would bring that down further. But...I guess not. Reply
  • nagi603 - Friday, November 30, 2018 - link

    At $400 I'd toss out all the current HDDs of my NAS. Maybe in a few years.... or not, as the HDD prices/capacities move too. Reply
  • azazel1024 - Friday, November 30, 2018 - link

    My price point is roughly 8 cents a GB and performance of at least 250MB/sec sustained writes/reads.

    Which these aren't at. That might mean a few more generations of TLC drives to get there. I don't know. My use case is replacing the spinning rust in my desktop and server. I mirror storage between them and I am running dual 1GbE interfaces with SMB Multichannel. So I can push about 235MB/sec across.

    Sometimes I am just shoving a few GB file (sometimes one or two single digit MB sized files, but more often larger ones). On rare occasions I am backing up completely from one machine to the other, because reasons. So when tossing 2-3TB of data, I don't need my transfer "stalling" at 80MB/sec, or even 160MB/sec. Hopefully soon networking prices on 2.5/5/10GbE will drop enough I will upgrade there. I don't necessarily need to saturate a 2.5GbE, let alone 5 or 10GbE interface with big transfers.

    So my benchmark is 250MB/sec sustained on full disk transfers. That way I don't need to set up drives in RAID to accommodate higher speeds. As one of things I am looking forward to/hoping for with SSDs is being able to move to storage pools/JBOD type setup so that as I start pushing my capacity limits, I can just add a new drive, rather than needing to replace an entire array. And those sustained speeds better be able to manage that with the disk 80-90% full. One of those things that makes me shy away from using HDD arrays that full is the performance suffers a lot once you start getting that far in on the tracks (my current 2x3TB RAID0 arrays can push about 320MB/sec when on the outer tracks, on the inner ones it is only about 190MB/sec).

    Once of these days I could justify dishing out $600-800 to replace my 2x3TB arrays with 5-6TB of storage in each machine. Especially if it is storage that I can potentially keep using for a long time (I don't know, call it a decade or so) by just adding a new disk once capacity starts getting low, rather than replacing all of them. But I need/want good performance while I am at it.

    For my server I can still comfortably live with a 60GB system drive. When I upgrade it, I will likely FINALLY replace the old SATAII SSD in there with a newer SATAIII 120GB SSD or get an M.2 120GB depending on what the board will support. Basically the smallest capacity I can get. It doesn't need heaps of performance. My desktop I will likely get a 500GB M.2 TLC drive once I finally upgrade it (currently running a last generation 256GB TLC SATAIII drive as the system disk).There I'd like some nice performance, but frankly a good M.2 TLC drive with 512GB is big enough jump in performance I don't care to spend the money on an MLC drive for the system disk.
    Reply
  • TheCurve - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Another great review from Billy. Love reading your stuff! Reply
  • rocky12345 - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    This is great and a step closer to getting rid of spinning drives but they are not there yet. The prices of these Samsung drives are far better at the 4TB range but I just picked up a 4TB WD Blue for $99 Canadian on the black Friday sales granted that same drive before the sale was $209.99 Canadian but even still far cheaper than the $599.99US for the Samsung 4TB almost SSD drive.

    With all of that said I am very happy to see large TB drives for SSD coming into a lower price range probably going to be another 5-6 years before the prices match for spinning and SSD drives or if Seagate and WD totally stop making spinning drives then of coarse we have nothing to fall back on if we want large TB hard drives in our systems for data storage and we will have to pay the price of these types of SSD drives.

    On a side note my fear is that when Seagate and WD stop making spinning drives SSD drive prices might sky rocket because we have no other option. The only reason SSD drives are coming down in the larger sizes is these companies are trying to compete with large TB spinning drives on price points.
    Reply
  • kpb321 - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    I'm not sure SSD's will ever pass up HD's for $ per GB for pure bulk storage. Even the "Cheap" 4tb SSD is around the cost of 2x 10 TB HDs so somewhere around 5X more expensive in $ per GB. Not an impossible margin but still a lot of ground to make up vs a moving target. What has happened is SSDs have gotten "big enough" and "cheap enough" that for many people they are viable as the only drive in their machine. Looking at Newegg it's ~$45 for your basic 1tb hd and you can pick up a cheap ~250gb SSD for a little less or a ~512gb SSD for a little more. I'd certainly prefer a 250 or 512 gb SSD as the drive in my system over a 1tb HD but if you do need bulk storage (1tb+) HDs are still hard to beat. 3TB hd's start off at ~$85 and continue to be more cost effect at higher sizes so I don't think HDs will completely vanish. They may become increasingly specialized to bulk storage and cloud providers with things like SMR trading off some performance for increased density but I doubt they will go away. Cheap PC mfgs do still seem to like the cheap 1tb hds. About the same cost as a small but usable SSD but give big numbers for the ads. Reply
  • dontlistentome - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    It's about 10 years ago that I bought an Intel 80GB drive for $250. We're getting 2TB flash for that now - about a factor of 25 times reduction in price.

    Another 5 times cheaper? Easy.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    For comparison, in 2008 the biggest HDDs were apparently 1.5TB in size; that drive launched at ~$215 (although it rapidly dropped afterward). For comparison a 14TB Ironwolf is $530 at B&H. That's 9.3x more capacity at at 2.4x the price; or roughly at 3.8x improvement in price per TB at the top end. Or only 2.7x is you use the ~$150 price estimated price for nov 08.

    Flash might end up needing to drop 10x in price per TB to beat spinning rust; but it has momentum behind it, and the more market share it wins based on size/power/performance the more economies of scale and larger R&D budgets will tilt the floor in its favor.

    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/hdd-terabyte-...

    https://camelcamelcamel.com/Seagate-Barracuda-7200...
    Reply
  • Lolimaster - Thursday, November 29, 2018 - link

    Ever heard of law of diminishing returns?
    At 1st tech is hard to produce and sell than it scales till you reach a wall, same with flash cards at the times of N64, 32-64MB for $100.

    Even HDD's which a well known tech is having a hard time executing the next step, HAMR which should boost capacities to 20-50TB, 4 years of delay.
    Reply
  • The_Assimilator - Thursday, November 29, 2018 - link

    Just like HDDs never passed tapes in cost/GB for bulk storage. Reply

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