You may have noticed on black Friday and cyber Monday that prices for storage continue to drop. And now the new quad-layer-cell (QLC) tech is packing even more capacity into smaller and more affordable packages. Now, Samsung is launching its first QLC product, which could eventually push prices down even further.
The Samsung 860 QVO is a SATA-based 2.5-inch drive that comes out December 15. It comes in a 1TB model for $ 150, 2TB for $ 300, and 4TB for $ 600. As with all other QLC NAND drives, the 860 QVO is relatively speedy for reads and short-burst writes. But it slows down drastically when it has to write large data sets. That’s where the single-layer cache comes in. This ensures that the 860 QVO should work really well in real-world scenarios for most average users.
“Today’s consumers are using, producing, and storing more high-resolution files than ever, including 4K videos and graphics-intensive games, escalating demand for greater capacities and performance in storage devices,” Samsung memory marketing boss Dr. Mike Mang said. “Samsung continues to lead the move toward multi-terabyte SSDs with the introduction of the Samsung 860 QVO, delivering fast performance, reliability, and value to more consumers around the world.”
Reliability was the key concern with QLC early on, but now that the products are actually hitting the market, it’s obvious that they are durable enough for consumer use. The 1TB 860 QVO, for example, has write endurance of 360 TB. That essentially means you could fill it to capacity 360 times. As a Steam drive, most people won’t come close to that durability rating throughout the three-year warranty of this product.
Where’s the value?
Samsung’s 860 QVO joins Intel’s 660p and Micron Crucial’s P1 as the first three consumer QLC products. But so far, none of these drives have significantly undercut the price of three-layer-cell (TLC) NAND SSDs. Even the TLC NVME modules that include DRAM cache are often less expensive than these early QLC products.
So the promised value isn’t surfacing for QLC as of yet, and that’s for a couple of reasons. First, TLC NAND is a very mature product. It is the storage that is most often inside of laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And many of those categories have seen slowing or flattening sales. That means the market has plenty of TLC NAND in the supply chain, which has pushed down prices. At the same time, QLC is only just getting off of the ground. And manufacturing of the P1, 660p, and 860 QVO is inherently less efficient. So Crucial, Intel, and Samsung are not yet seeing the cost saving at QLC.
But production yields for QLC will grow as these companies smooth out their manufacturing processes. And we should likely begin to see QLC storage in smartphones and tablets soon because those are among the devices least likely to need huge sequential write speeds for huge data sets.
So it’s just a matter of time before QLC pushes down prices in a noticeable way. The 860 QVO is sitting at 15 cents per gigabyte right now. Historically, that is impressive, but the sweet spot for QLC is going to be much closer to 11 cents per gigabyte. And anything lower than that is a bonus.