Technology has advanced even further in the budget category and with thanks to Samsung’s new entry level tier of SSDs, we can now enjoy cheap(er), reliable and performing solid state drives. The QVO range marks the company’s first QLC NAND or 4-bit-per-cell offering and as of the moment of writing, only ADATA offers QLC in the 2.5″ SATA format. Intel and Crucial (with their P1 which we also reviewed) are the other brands that have QLC products but only in the M.2 format.
Everybody knows Samsung:
Samsung is a South Korean multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Samsung Town, Seoul founder in 1938.
It comprises numerous subsidiaries and affiliated businesses, most of them united under the Samsung brand, and is the largest South Korean business conglomerate.
Notable Samsung industrial subsidiaries include Samsung Electronics (the world’s largest information technology company measured by 2012 revenues, and 4th in market value), Samsung Heavy Industries (the world’s 2nd-largest shipbuilder measured by 2010 revenues), and Samsung Engineering and Samsung C&T (respectively the world’s 13th and 36th-largest construction companies).
Other notable subsidiaries include Samsung Life Insurance (the world’s 14th-largest life insurance company), Samsung Everland (operator of Everland Resort, the oldest theme park in South Korea), Samsung Techwin (an aerospace, surveillance and defense company) and Cheil Worldwide (the world’s 15th-largest advertising agency measured by 2012 revenues).
Prices and Availability
The QVO 860 series comes only in the 2.5″ SATA format and in 3 sizes: 1TB, 2TB and 4TB. You can grab one from Amazon.
Presentation and Specification
We all know by now that Samsung is a leading brand in the realm of storage because they develop and build everything in-house from the cells, firmware and controller. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have competition from other brands in terms of price per GB ratios. So far Samsung is the first to offer this new NAND technology on SATA SSDs.
What’s so important about the new QLC cells? Well, they are cheap to manufacture and thus they aim to beat the prices of even DRAMless TLC-based SSDs thanks to the increased density of QLC NAND. Of course, as we know from when the TLC first came out, that if the bit-per-cell increases, this will lower the endurance levels and overall write speeds of the drive.
To compensate the performance gap, most manufactures had to include a form of “supercharging” the speeds. Samsung uses TurboWrite which basically means it has a faster cache that handles the initial workload. More on this later. Then to cure the low endurance numbers, we needed advancements into the multi-layer 3D NAND territory.
Both problems can be tackled by the use of more NAND as in total drive capacity, (that’s why the QVO range starts at 1TB as the ‘smallest’ drive) allowing writes to be spread across more NAND dies in parallel. But even at that capacity, the 860 QVO can only sustain writes at 80 MB/s on the 1TB or 160 MB/s on the 2/4TB models, which we know is what most average HDDs can do. But in the land of MLC/TLC SSDs, these aren’t stellar performance numbers. That means that the SLC write cache on the 860 QVO is even more important than the TLC SSDs (as we saw in the Crucial P1 QLC).
So the QVO has 2 types of caches – a fixed one at 6 GB and then an ‘intelligent’ one which goes up to 42 GB on the 1TB model or 78 GB on the 2TB and 4TB models. The Intel and Crucial consumer QLC drives also feature variable-size SLC caches but with much higher limits on the maximum cache size and a system of retaining data in the cache until the drive needs the extra space. Comparing the 860 QVO, it seems it takes a more typical approach of aggressively flushing the cache during idle time in order to prepare for future bursts of write activity.
So to summarize, Samsung’s current SATA SSD line-up consists of the PRO (MLC/2-bit), EVO (TLC/3-bit) and now the QVO (QLC04-bit) which all use the 64-layer 3D NAND and proprietary MJX controller. The QVO will rely heavily on its hybrid Turbo Write dynamic buffer to offer the promised performance numbers.
The claimed theoretical performance numbers are 550/520MB/s of sequential read/write throughput and up to 97,000/89,000 random read/write IOPS across the entire QVO line-up. All come with a 3 year warranty and an impressive endurance rating of 360 TB, 720 TB and 1440 TB respectively for the 1TB, 2TB and 4TB models. The last spec is regarding the built-in DRAM (LPDDR4) which is proportional with each drive, so on the 1TB we have 1GB, 2GB on the 2TB and 4GB on the 4TB.
Packaging and Visual Inspection
The packaging makes it very easy to identify that it is a Samsung SSD. Even more important, an orange strip highlights the QVO designation for the new cell technology, while in the upper right corner we have a black sticker with the capacity.
On the back the important bit is the 3 year warranty period. No specs – for those we need to go onto the website.
Inside we only find a quick start up guide.
The new 860 QVOs look like the old 840 EVOs, with that grey paint job. Love to see that Samsung still uses metal in their enclosures since most manufactures, for their budget drives, resorted to plastic.
Only from the back sticker we can clearly see that it is the 860 series with V-NAND technology and the QVO 4bit cells, totaling 1TB. We also discover the manufacture date 2018.10 so there can be no confusing with the old 840 EVOs.
Installation and Testing methodology
– Synthetic and real life tests.
– All test subjects have identical content.
– All SSDs were secure-erased before our tests started
– Steps have been taken to ensure that the CPU’s power-saving features don’t interfere with any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled.
– In order to minimize random variation, each of the real-life performance tests are run a few times with reboots in-between tests to minimize the impact of disk cache.
– (SATA SSDs only) Make sure you use a SATA 6Gbps capable motherboard and a matching cable to avoid bottle-necking.
– Then double check in the BIOS that you have the AHCI mode activated for another maximum performance tip.
– CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 1700 AM4 – 8c/16t
– CPU Cooling: Noctua L9a – 92 mm
– Motherboard: ASUS ROG STRIX B540-i Gaming mITX
– Boot SSD: Samsung M.2 950 PRO 512 GB MLC
– Video card(s): ASUS STRIX GTX 1060 6G
– PSU: Corsair SF600 SFX
– Case: Thermaltake P3 Core Open Frame ATX
– Windows 10 Pro x64 Version 1809
– HD Tune Pro v5.00
– ATTO v4.00
– Crystal Disk Mark v6.0.0
– Anvil Storage Utilities v1.1.0
Competition and other storage subjects/formats:
Samsung Magician Software
Speaking of software, let’s explore Samsung’s proprietary SSD application. They offer many apps, even an SSD migration wizard and NVMe Windows drivers (v3.0 with the new 970 EVO series, from V2.3 since the 960s). All of them are available for download from Samsung.
The front tab offers critical information for your Samsung SSDs like usage, S.M.A.R.T info and if you need to update the firmware. It even verifies if the drive is a genuine product from Samsung.
It also features a built in benchmark. All good here as well.
Other extra tinkering includes access to adjust the Over Provisioning, enable data security (the drive supports AES 256-bit full disk encryption, TCG/Opal V2.0, and Encrypted Drive ) and securely erase the drive.
Testing and Results
First, we start with HD Tune Pro – which is a hard disk / SSD utility with many functions. It can be used to measure the drive’s performance, scan for errors, check the health status (S.M.A.R.T.), securely erase all data and much more.
Here we have the Samsung’s 860 QVO 1TB average speed results and IOPs for the ‘Random’ size cluster.
The following graph will show us the complete picture when compared to other drives.
Moving to the next utility – Crystal Disk Mark – this one is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. The program supports four tests: “Seq Q32T1″ (sequential read/ write with multiple threads and queues), “4K Q32T1″ (random read/ write with multiple threads and queues), “Seq” (sequential read/ write with a single queue and thread) and “4K” (random read/ write with a single queue and thread).
We see the full bandwidth is displayed for the “read” test in this benchmark for all test subjects.
Moving to the “write” test, we get the same hierarchy.
Then let’s take Anvil’s Storage Utilities – which is a powerful tool that was designed in order to provide you with a simple means of assessing the read and writer performance of your Solid State Drive or Hard Disk Drive. The benchmark tool helps you monitor and check the response time of your unit as well as view the system information collected using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI).
It gives us a total performance index score.
To conclude the synthetic test, ATTO – is another performance measurement tool to test any manufacturers RAID controllers, storage controllers, host bus adapters (HBAs), hard drives and SSD drives.
Now for the file transfer tests so we can specifically test the ‘Intelligent Turbo Write’ feature. This is mixed folder with multiple .mkv video files, each over 1GB. The write performance averages out at 500 MB/s which is pretty impressive.
As expected, when the total 42 GB cache fills up, since our test folder is at around 50 GB, we witness the famous ‘dip’ in performance.
Synthetic benchmarks are almost irrelevant with most modern SSDs regardless of their bit-per-cell technology since they all perform 99% the same in these tests. They all (almost) saturate the SATA SSD 6Gbps bandwidth with ease. I mean you saw how close the 860 QVO is to the 860 PRO. So we are more interested in the file transfers and how the SLC cache behaves given how dependent QLC cells are to it.
The 860 QVO at 1 TB has that initial fixed 6GB SLC buffer and then it dynamically uses up to 36 GB which should give you plenty of headroom to fully enjoy the promised speeds without witnessing the degradation limit. Our file transfers show exactly what happens when the cache does eventually fill up – the overall write performance doesn’t go beyond 80 MB/s. Or 160 MB/s if you get the 2/4TB models. This is a very known phenomenon since the TLC era, so it brings no surprise of how these QLC drives would perform.
Endurance wise, even though it only has a 3 year warranty, which is the same as some TLC drives, it still provides more ‘official’ TBW than the older 1TB MLC Samsung 850 PRO’s which had 300 TB of endurance.
Samsung is a giant in the tech world and it is no surprise that they were the first to bring the QLC to the mass market in the SATA format and given their track record with SSDs, the 860 QVO delivers as promised. The name of the game here for the QLC cells is quantity over quality. But Samsung managed to overcome the inherent flaws of the new 4-bit-per-cell generation with their in-house technologies. Even though it was pretty predictable that they used the same formula from the EVOs into the QVOs. The same (overall performance) story applies, as we saw in the other review with the P1 from Crucial, where the QLC cells are highly depended on the SLC buffer. Day to day use you will not feel the difference between the QVO, EVO or even the PRO range.
If you want the best overall cheap solution at 1 TB capacity for your Steam games collection for example, then the 860 QVO is the drive to get. As per our question in the title, if we can finally retire our HDDs because SSDs are finally catching up on the price per GB ratio, well the answer is almost yes. The QVO it’s cheaper than the 860 EVO at 1TB and ADATA doesn’t have yet a 1TB equivalent on the QLC cells. In time, this might change, but for now, this is the current market. Other slightly cheaper options exist, of course, at 1 TB, even on TLC from WD or SanDisk but it is a matter of compromise between absolute performance numbers in favor of Samsung’s or in terms of endurance, where it also a close call.
Thus Samsung to completely win the 1 TB SATA SSD bracket, they need to lower the prices even further. On the 4T range for example, they have no competition.
+ The first QLC/4-bit-per-cell SATA SSD drives
+ Proprietary/in-house cells, firmware and controller
+ Great overall performance in sequential read and write day to day tasks
+ Intelligent Turbo Write cache
+ Good endurance numbers for QLC cells
+ Metal enclosure
– On the limit of being pricey given its purpose
– Only 3 years warranty
– Write performance degrades after the cache is fully saturated
Glob3trotters “Must Have” Award 4.5 out of 5