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Samsung joins the fight against hard drives with a £137 1TB QLC NAND SSD

Samsung has announced its first QLC SATA drive for regular, hard-working folk

Samsung QVO 860 SSD

Samsung has announced its first QLC SATA drive for regular, hard-working folk. The consumer Samsung 860 QVO utilises 4-bit MLC – largely known as quad-level cell, or QLC for short – to cram even more stuff onto precious few V-NAND flash chips, blending SSD performance and cost-effective storage into one 2.5-inch drive.

The Samsung drive features either 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB of QLC NAND flash and comes equipped with Samsung’s own MJX controller, introduced with the 860 Evo and 860 Pro. The drive utilises the SATA 6Gbps standard, no speedy NVMe protocol here, and tops out at 550MB/s sequential read and 520MB/s sequential write. That’s the same as the Samsung 860 Evo, and all down to Samsung’s TurboWrite feature.

But as an affordable drive it all comes down to price. And the 860 QVO can deliver. The 1TB model will launch at £137 sometime mid-December. That’s just under £0.14/GB. The high-capacity 2TB and 4TB drives will follow later in January, and we can expect price tags upwards of £250 – £500 when that day rolls around. The 1TB TLC NAND 860 Evo launched at over £300, but has since dropped in price to at least £160, if not lower.

There is a price to pay for QLC: endurance. The 1TB drive is rated to 360TB TBW (Total Byte Written) within its three year warranty period. Meanwhile, the 1TB 860 Evo manages 600TB over its five year warranty period.

Samsung 860 QVO 1TB Samsung 860 QVO 2TB Samsung 860 QVO 4TB
Controller Samsung MJX Controller Samsung MJX Controller Samsung MJX Controller
NAND Flash Samsung 4bit MLC V-NAND Samsung 4bit MLC V-NAND Samsung 4bit MLC V-NAND
Form Factor 2.5-inch 2.5-inch 2.5-inch
Sequential read 550MB/s 550MB/s 550MB/s
Sequential write
[after TurboWrite]
520MB/s [80MB/s] 520MB/s [160MB/s] 520MB/s [160MB/s]
4KB Random
(IOPS) read
7,500 QD1 [96,000 QD32] 7,500 QD1 [97,000 QD32] 7,500 QD1 [97,000 QD32]
4KB Random
(IOPS) write
42,000 QD1 [89,000 QD32] 42,000 QD1 [89,000 QD32] 42,000 QD1 [89,000 QD32]
Total Byte Written 360TB 720TB 1,440TB
Warranty Three years Three years Three years
Price £137 TBD TBD

QLC NAND allows for greater capacity for the same number of cells – a 33% increase. This is achieved through increasing the number of bits per cell (check out our tech terms glossary if you want to know more). But there’s a hitch. With larger values within each cell, performance takes a hit as signal processing and error correction required increases, as does endurance as the cells wear out quicker than ever before. NAND flash is a finite resource, after all.

Luckily for us gamers those theoretical write limits are unlikely to be reached within a reasonable lifetime. Of course, some of you may be in the 0.1% of users supposedly writing 403GB per day – according to Samsung’s own internal study – but at that point a client-side QLC drive might not be for you. At least as a generous Steam library drive, the 860 QVO could come into its own.

Samsung’s Intelligent TurboWrite functionality will be key to performance on the QLC drive. TurboWrite ostensibly runs as a buffer partition in simulated SLC mode, with the slower QLC memory – rated at 80MB/s or 160MB/s on the >1TB models – only being written too once the SSD is idle. With the 1TB QVO drive the TurboWrite buffer is 6GB, although can be increased to 42GB if required for particularly hefty files.

With Samsung now in client-side QLC SSD business, the race is on to make the most affordable HDD replacements on the market. With a potential NAND oversupply hitting prices hard next year, cascading costs on QLC could see gamers start waving goodbye to hard drives in favour of high-capacity flash.