The new Samsung SSD 860 QVO solid-state drive (SSD), announced today, is Samsung’s most affordable SSD yet.
Indeed, the new drive is available in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB with the suggested retail price of $150, $300 and $600, respectively, or 15 cents per gigabyte. That’s less than half the 860 EVO‘s cost at launch, and you can expect the street price to get even lower over time.
But the new SSD is inexpensive for a reason. Here’s the deal: If you care about how long it takes to fill an 860 QVO up — the drive’s write speed is a drag — you’d want to go with the 860 EVO instead.
On the other hand, if you don’t need to write a lot, the 860 QVO is an excellent deal. The new SSD is shipping next month, on December 16.
Samsung SSD 860 QVO: First 4-bit MLC SATA SSD
The 860 QVO is not to be confused with the 860 EVO that came out earlier this year. Despite belonging to the same 860 series and sharing the same 2.5-inch standard design, the two are different on the inside.
Instead, the new 860 QVO is more similar to Micron’s Crucial P1 NVMe drive, which also uses 4-bit per cell NAND flash memory. Samsung calls this type of memory 4-bit MLC NAND, while Micron calls it quad-level cell (QLC) NAND.
Four-bit MLC in a nutshell
Solid-state drives use NAND flash memory as their storage space, in units called cells. You can place only so many cells on a piece of silicon wafer, a.k.a printed circuit board (PCB), which is the main component of an SSD.
Initially, each cell holds just one bit of information, and the flash memory is therefore called a single layer cell (SLC). SLC SSDs are super-fast, reliable but very expensive. As a result, it’s now used mostly in enterprise applications.
Later on, to lower the cost, the vendors pack two bits per cell to create multiple layer cell (MLC) NAND in drives like the Samsung SSD 830. Since then, 3-bit per cell, or triple-layer cell (TLC), has been the mainstream with products like the Samsung 860 EVO or Crucial BX500.
Now the 860 QVO is the first SSD from Samsung that uses 4-bit MLC NAND.
The more bits per cell, the higher the density — you have more storage space per PCB — which translates into lower cost. That generally also means slower performance and a shorter life span. And that is the case of the 860 QVO.
But don’t get disappointed just yet, there’s more to this drive.
Samsung SSD 860 QVO’s hardware specifications
The 860 QVO looks the same as previous Samsung SSDs. It takes the standard 2.5-inch design of an internal SATA hard drive but only about 7mm thick. Looking down at its top, you can’t distinguish it from previous Samsung SSDs. Consequently, the new drive will work in the place of any regular SATA hard drive.
And it also shares the same feature set. For one, there’s the well-known Samsung Magician software that you can use to manage the drive’s features. Secondly, it also sports Samsung’s TurboWrite technology, which goes back to as far as the 840 series.TurboWrite uses a small portion of expensive SLC SSD as the cache to speed up the drive’s write process. What’s more, the 860 QVO also supports hardware encryption, meaning you have the option to protect your data in case of loss or thief.
But due to the use of 4-bit MLC NAND, the new SSD does have some significant differences from earlier models.
Samsung SSD 860 QVO’s detail photos
Samsung SSD 860 QVO: Comparatively low endurance but that’s OK
The first difference is the low endurance rating — the amount of data you can write to an SSD before you can’t anymore. Indeed, the 860 QVO’s endurance is just about half that of the 860 EVO.
For example, Samsung says you can write up to 360 terabytes of data on a 1TB 860 QVO before the drive becomes unreliable. For comparison, with a 1TB 860 EVO, you can write up to 600TB. Possibly due to the low endurance rating of 4-bit MLC NAND, Samsung doesn’t offer the 860 QVO in capacity lower than 1TB. (Generally, higher the capacity means higher endurance).
That said, if you write some 50GB per day and every day to a 1TB 860 QVO, that’d still take you some 20 years before you can wear out the drive. Now, that’s a long time.
The majority of us don’t write even close to 50GB per day. And most importantly, in the 860 QVO’s case, you do not want to write a lot to it. Unless you want to sit there and wait.
Terrible sequential write performance in heavy loads
That’s right! The new 860 QVO was awful at writing in my testing.
Similar to the case of the Crucial P1, it could only handle a relatively small amount of data (about 15GB) with high performance, at some 500 megabytes per second. After that, its sequential write (copy) speed quickly shrank to around 85MB/s, about as fast as a regular hard drive.
Note that you only get the 15GB pass at boot or after the drive has been idle. Otherwise, the amount of data you can w at fast speed gets progressively smaller the more writes the drive has previously done.
In other words, if you write a small amount of data to the drive intermittently, it’s fast, and you won’t notice any difference between it and other SSDs. But if you write, say, more than 15GB at a time, starting at around the 16th GB, it’s the slowest SSD you’ve ever experienced. The more data you want to write continuously, the larger portion of it will be written at slow speed, as slow as about 80 MB/s.
My guess is, the fast write speed only lasts until the drive runs out of the cache. As a result, if you want to write tens of gigabytes at a sitting, expect the 860 QVO to take as long as a regular hard drive to finish.
Excellent performance for daily tasks
Initially, I was taken aback by the 860 QVO’s terrible sequential write speed. However, as it turned out, that was its only shortcoming.
I tested the 1TB version of the drive, and as shown on the charts, the drive’s sequential read speed was consistently fast, and its random access performance was on par with other SSDs.
Most significantly, during more than a week I used it as my primary drive — doing everything I’d usually do on my computer — I didn’t notice any significant slowdown at all. My gig still booted up fast (taking just a few seconds) and all of my games took about the same amount of time to load as when I used the 860 EVO (also in a matter of seconds).
And when I needed to copy data to the drive — mostly photos from my DSRL — there was no difference since I rarely copied more than 10GB anyway. In all, other than the initial restoration of my computer’s 250GB image to the new drive — which took about an hour and a half — there were hardly any occasions where I felt bothered by the 860 QVO’s slow write speed.
The Samsung SSD 860 QVO is a compelling case, all because of Samsung’s new 4-bit MLC NAND flash memory. The drive mitigates its low endurance by being available in high capacities and compensates for its slow write copy speed by its low cost.
As a result, we have an affordable SSD that performs well where it matters: General daily computing. That said, if you’re looking for a way to significantly boost the performance of your computer that still runs on a regular hard drive, and you don’t need to write a lot, the Samsung 860 QVO is an excellent buy.