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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  • Lolimaster - Thursday, November 29, 2018 - link

    HDD's sweet spot for manufacturers is the 4TB and up, they can't really make them cheaper than $40-50 no matter the size, it got tons of physical moving parts, a big chunk of well crafted aluminum, special sealing, etc vs an SSD that is just nand and a plastic casing before at least you got a thin aluminum case. Reply
  • Glaurung - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Spinning drives aren't going away - capacities are still going up and spinning drives are still the best deal for extremely high capacity storage - like NAS and datacentre storage. That's unlikely to change any time soon. But the amount of storage that you're realistically going to want inside your computer? It's now affordable to go all SSD for your local internal storage.

    But storage inside your laptop has until now been a case of needing two drives, a fast SSD to boot off of and a slow HDD for your data. Or else pay a ton for a high capacity SSD, or make do with a small drive
    Reply
  • Dr. Swag - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Selling an inferior SSD to the 860 evo for more! What a great idea Reply
  • PaoDeTech - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Lower cost (QLC) higher capacity SSDs are very welcome. Is as simple as that. I read an interesting study that basically concludes that an SSD lifespan is usually limited by age not total writes. Interesting. Can anybody confirm or deny? Reply
  • hojnikb - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Not really. SSDs don't tend to die of old age or exhausted endurance (not in client workloads anyway) but rather random controller faulires and firmwar bugs.

    One considuration with such flash is data retention. As these are fairly large drives, they will be used for storage and hence this can become an issue.
    Reply
  • PaoDeTech - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Here's the article: https://www.zdnet.com/article/ssd-reliability-in-t... Reply
  • hojnikb - Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - link

    Quickly skimming the article, it does seem to suggest, that age has an effect on raw bit errors. What it doesn't include (not that i can find) is wheter drives were the same model and manufacturer.

    Older drives could be of inferior controllers and weaker firmware design which can't cope with bit errors as well.
    Reply
  • spkay31 - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Personally I think the Intel 660p NVMe SSD's offer a very nice price performance tradeoff when on sale. Yesterday an Intel 660p 1TB drive was on sale for $130. At around 1800Mbps it's ~ 3.5X faster than a SATA ssd and about 45% cheaper than a Samsung 970 EVO 1TB NVMe drive. OK, so it's 1800Mbps vs 3200Mbps but again for my uses that is certainly excellent speed improvement from a SATA ssd and I'm willing to accept some of the other shortcomings of QLC. My experience is that QLC is already a very reasonable value proposition for many applications. Reply
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    While I have nothing against the Intel 660p, not QLC, and I very much welcome these technologies, even considering black friday """deals""", I still don't think it has become price competitive (yet).

    I purchased an 860 EVO 1TB for $127 ($127 after tax/shipping), and then later an MX500 2TB for $209 ($229 after tax/shipping). (Bought the 860 EVO 1TB since the 2TB was $299 and therefore much more expensive in $/GB, and because I hadn't seen anything better by the time it was Saturday, but CyberMonday on Amazon brought the $209 MX500. I may or may not return the 860 EVO.)

    Both of these drives are 3D TLC based, and still have their marginal sustained read/write advantages over 3D QLC. Given the (roughly) equivalent price between a 1TB 860 EVO 1TB and Intel 660p 1TB, I don't think it's unfair to say that the 860 EVO should be every customer's pick every single time (again, given these """deal""" prices).

    As always, it'll take some time before newer technologies drop in prices and mature in overall value. I'm sure it'll happen for QLC drives, as they did with MLC and TLC before them, but it just hasn't happened quite yet.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, November 29, 2018 - link

    Wait what? The 2TB MX500 hit $209 this year? Was it a flash sale or something? I had price alerts set on it, the 860 EVO, and the WD Blue/SanDisk Ultra and the cheapest I saw for a 2TB was $255... Granted I was mostly looking at Amazon, where'd you score that deal? Reply

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