Samsung begins mass-producing a QLC SSD for consumers

The Flash Memory Summit is underway in Santa Clara, CA this week, and NAND news is likely to fly hard and fast. For its part, Samsung is taking the wraps off what it calls the first quad-level-cell, or QLC, SSD for consumers. The company says these drives are in mass production now.

This as-yet-un-catchily-named 4-TB drive uses Samsung's latest 1-Tb, 64-layer QLC V-NAND chips to reach its high capacity. Samsung says the drive has 32 of those chips inside, all connected to what sounds like a TLC SSD controller, to deliver sequential read speeds of 540 MB/s and sequential write speeds of 520 MB/s—no worse than the average TLC SATA drive. The magic mayo in this flash sandwich is apparently Samsung's TurboWrite caching scheme.

That claimed-TLC-equivalent performance is important in a consumer drive because the challenge of actually reading and writing data from a QLC cell has the potential to degrade performance. The first QLC drives we've seen are accordingly targeted at read-heavy workloads where density is more important than all-around performance.

QLC NAND also presents endurance problems for write-heavy workloads, and Samsung's warranty for these drives suggests that could still be a potential point for concern with its upcoming QLC products. The company only plans to back these drives with three years of warranty coverage, compared to five years for the 860 EVO and 860 Pro drives.

For the kinds of read-heavy mass-storage SSDs PC enthusiasts want for large game libraries, for just one example use case, these Samsung QLC drives could be just the ticket. Samsung plans to introduce several QLC consumer drives this year in 1-TB and 2-TB capacities to go with the aforementioned 4-TB drive. All of these bit buckets will use the 2.5″ form factor. Pricing and retail availability weren't discussed in Samsung's press release.

Comments closed
    • psuedonymous
    • 1 year ago

    Lot’s of “Oh no!” over write endurance, but has anyone actually had an SSD fail – outside an [url=https://techreport.com/review/27909/the-ssd-endurance-experiment-theyre-all-dead<]endurance benchmark test[/url<] - due to the NAND teaching it's PE cycle limit? Every single failure I've seen in our environment (probably 10k+ devices with SSDs, maybe 15k drives due to weird retention requirements, and easily triple-digit failures over the last half-decade) have been controller failures or rare physical failures (e.g. someone kicks the box too hard and snaps a SATA connector off).

      • chuckula
      • 1 year ago

      On a vastly smaller sample size I have the same experience. SSDs can fail, but they don’t fail because the NAND reached a write limit.

        • BurntMyBacon
        • 1 year ago

        Even in TR’s SSD endurance test, it looks to me like the controller played at least as big a role as the cell endurance. While the wear indicators of many of the drives diminished as expected, the number of reallocated sectors before drive failure was often quite small. Even some of the drives that had many reallocated sectors (including the winner <840 Pro>) appear to have had a lot of reserve space left. With a lighter workload (read: pretty much any other workload) the controller would likely play a larger role.

          • JustAnEngineer
          • 1 year ago

          I had a Corsair Force GT SSD brick itself. The RMA took forever and when Corsair did finally deliver a replacement, it was defective. 🙁

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 1 year ago

    I might be the only one here, but I’m looking forward to cheap 1TB drives with QLC NAND. If you’re not doing a lot of writing then the reduced endurance might be a fair trade off for the lack of bearings in a NAS application.

    • ronch
    • 1 year ago

    Don’t worry guys, I’m sure this drive offers rock-[s<]bottom[/s<]solid reliability and longevity. Seriously though, as bad as we all think QLC is, it should be just fine as a data drive. Like, we copy data to Drive D: and just let it sit there for years. I only use DiskFresh to rewrite data on my mechanical drive every what.. 2-3 years?

      • strangerguy
      • 1 year ago

      According to Intel’s own numbers, 3D QLC isn’t that bad at least 1000 write cycles/cell which is equivalent to EVO 840’s planar TLC. While I think TBWs are a ridiculously overblown issue for consumer workloads, everything still boils down to price competitiveness but you will not find that in current age Samsung.

        • BurntMyBacon
        • 1 year ago

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that 1000 write cycles/cell only in conjunction with their (much more powerful than Samsung’s 840 EVO) error correction algorithms. I’m sure QLC will be plenty usable, but I don’t see these as equal.

    • Growler
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<]This as-yet-un-catchily-named 4-TB drive [/quote<] Simple. make a deal with id software and call it "[url=http://quake.wikia.com/wiki/Quad_Damage_(Q2)<]QUAD STORAGE[/url<]".

    • Neutronbeam
    • 1 year ago

    “large game libraries”, riiiight…game libraries. That line’s STILL funny Jeff–it’s a classic!

      • Anton Kochubey
      • 1 year ago

      I mean, porn does not profit from high random read/write speeds – so HDDs are still much better bang for the buck (literally)

        • kvndoom
        • 1 year ago

        The correct term is “Linux distros”

          • just brew it!
          • 1 year ago

          Hey, gotta set up full mirrors of your favorite distro(s)’ repositories, right?

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 1 year ago

      The 2+ million files in my 3¼ TB Steam library won’t all fit on a currently-available SSD that I can afford. This new drive might fit the bill.

    • barich
    • 1 year ago

    The lesson has been learned: let someone else purchase the first SSDs with a new kind of NAND.

      • Anton Kochubey
      • 1 year ago

      Learned that lesson with the original Samsung 840 – finally started trusting TLC again only this year, when I got an SX8200 to replace my good-but-kinda-old MLC MX200 (which, in turn, replaced the 840).

      • ronch
      • 1 year ago

      But if we ALL followed that advice… who on Earth would be this ‘someone else’?

        • BurntMyBacon
        • 1 year ago

        Sounds like a “Not my problem” issue.

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 1 year ago

    I’d like to see the great endurance experiment relived with these newer drives.

      • Takeshi7
      • 1 year ago

      And actually test data retention. It doesn’t help if you can exceed the write rating for the drive, but then the data gets lost if you leave the SSD unplugged for a month.

    • ikjadoon
    • 1 year ago

    These QLC drives have only [b<]one[/b<] purpose: to become the final nail in the coffin of cheap laptops with 500GB/1TB spinners. That’s it. Now we have capacity at a bargain price. Stop making my unsuspecting family members suffer. I can’t stop all their purchases. Please, laptop makers: save me. If I see [i<]one[/i<] more 2018 notebook with a godforsaken HDD...

      • Wilko
      • 1 year ago

      As long as there is a price premium, I don’t think they’re going to stop putting out cheap laptops with sole HDDs. =/

      Maybe next year?

        • barich
        • 1 year ago

        You can get 120 GB SSDs for $30 or less at retail. A 500 GB HDD generally goes for more than that.

        We just need to get OEMs to stop chasing bigger numbers. Few people need that much local storage these days – basic users use the cloud or just don’t have that much data, and power users have NAS.

          • brucethemoose
          • 1 year ago

          Selling numbers customers don’t need is exactly how OEMs make money.

          They would sell our mothers a 501GB HDD laptop over a 500GB SSD one, at the same cost, without even blinking.

            • barich
            • 1 year ago

            Well, they managed to figure out how to sell lower capacity SSDs in “premium” thin computers and tablets. It can be done. Just start advertising IOPS or something if they want a really big number.

            • brucethemoose
            • 1 year ago

            Honestly I think they did that for thinness, and even then Intel basically forced them to do with with the Ultrabook push way back when.

            This is my really cynical self speaking, but I think they prefer HDDs since it encourages earlier upgrades: either from breaking down, or from the OEM bloatware + extra stuff eventually slowing down Windows.

            • barich
            • 1 year ago

            Well, I can’t argue with that.

    • chuckula
    • 1 year ago

    Quad level SSDs: At last we bring you a product that gives you a free quad damage upgrade for each write operation that doesn’t run out after 30 seconds but lasts for the life of the drive*!

    * Warning: The life of the drive may be 30 seconds too.

      • uni-mitation
      • 1 year ago

      Hehm, I hope you understand you can only shill for AMD. We are the ones that cut you the check. No side hustles for spinning rusts please.

      Rick MoarCoars
      AMD PR Head Chief

        • uni-mitation
        • 1 year ago

        MoarCoars? What kind of name is that? chuckula works for us now, get lost chumlee!

        The Right Hon. Sir. Joachim Rustlot, the Third
        Seagate PR Head Chief

        • chuckula
        • 1 year ago

        How do you know that AMD isn’t about to get back into the SSD [s<]sticker replacement[/s<] uh "innovative branding" business?!?!

          • uni-mitation
          • 1 year ago

          I have not received word from Su the Beast-Machine about any new plans of synthesizing our core competencies to increase our core consumer engagements in that market. We are obviously exceeding expectations, and ripping threads everywhere as you saw with our new magnificent, most excellent extra-ordinare Threadripper packaging. You have been on the ball. I can’t complain.

          We are looking to have a tie-in promotion with the new upcoming Jaws movie (top secret scoop), so we will continue to rip new threads everywhere!

          Rick MoarCoars
          AMD PR Head Chief

    • Waco
    • 1 year ago

    They better be substantially cheaper than TLC drives for the reduction in durability.

      • uni-mitation
      • 1 year ago

      True. I think there is a large segment of consumers that fit the bill. Instead of having the stuff that you barely use in a spinning disk have it in an SSD. They are mechanically superior. I think a new remix of TR’s SSD endurance experiment would be a welcomed point of new data to compare to this new generation of TLCs & QLCs.

      Competition FTW!

      uni-mitation

        • strangerguy
        • 1 year ago

        Given Samsung’s pricing track record this year where they are getting absolutely manhandled by their competition, I expect this to be somewhat to comically overpriced.

          • brucethemoose
          • 1 year ago

          Yet their drives are top sellers on Amazon.

          I think alot of people are buying for the brand recognition.

            • smilingcrow
            • 1 year ago

            The word on the street seems strong so they can keep prices high regardless, well for a while anyway.
            Samsung seem to be the Intel/Nvidia of consumer retail SSDs where they can charge a premium purely on the name.

      • smilingcrow
      • 1 year ago

      They are gaining 33% more storage and the NAND is not the only cost of an SSD so I doubt that the RRP would be more than 15 to 20% less at best. This assuming there aren’t other costs of QLC that are higher than for TLC; worse yields etc.

      I don’t see the endurance being an issue for most consumer workloads. I’d be more interested in data retention especially as Samsung have history there.

        • Waco
        • 1 year ago

        The numbers I’ve seen for endurance are pretty disappointing (and could actually be troublesome for normal use). I guess we’ll know more when we finally see the full specs of the drives.

          • smilingcrow
          • 1 year ago

          For Samsung in particular or just generally?
          The numbers I’ve seen seem fine to me if they are realistic and backed by an appropriate warranty in terms of endurance.

            • just brew it!
            • 1 year ago

            A warranty doesn’t compensate you for the inconvenience of dealing with a hardware failure and any data lost since your last backup.

            I am also a little surprised that we haven’t already reached the point of diminishing (or negative) returns in terms of the additional over-provisioned space required to make up for the lack of write endurance of the raw flash cells.

            • smilingcrow
            • 1 year ago

            Endurance and reliability are very different things which are regularly misunderstood in relationship to each other with SSDs.
            A drive with high endurance could turn out to be unreliable and vice versa.

            • just brew it!
            • 1 year ago

            …but a drive with low endurance, if pushed close to its limit, is more likely to be unreliable, all else being equal.

            • smilingcrow
            • 1 year ago

            … then that’s the buyer’s fault for buying a product that doesn’t match their requirements.

            But from what I’ve seen of the endurance ratings for QLC drives it’s a comlete non-issue for typical consumer workloads. Unless your home computer is used more like a full time workstation in which case you are more likely to be tech savvy and research your hardware requirements. And if you don’t then we are back to where we started, it’s the buyer’s fault.

            • just brew it!
            • 1 year ago

            So if these end up having issues like the 840 EVO, it is the buyer’s fault for trusting Samsung? I guess I could back that position.

            • smilingcrow
            • 1 year ago

            In some cases yes but that still has nothing to do with endurance.
            I won’t be buying any QLC drives for 2 or 3 years partly due to Samsung and also because I am good at buying higher quality drives on offer.
            I very much doubt that endurance will be a factor in my buying decision though unless they are released with comically low ratings.

            My current O/S drive is 50% full and MLC and my data drive is server grade TLC with a high level of over provisioning hence also very high endurance. The data drive is nearly full but handles it okay.

            • Waco
            • 1 year ago

            They’re realistic for *enterprise* QLC. I’ve seen no solid numbers for consumer QLC that make me happy, but none of them are official yet either.

            • smilingcrow
            • 1 year ago

            So what are the ballpark figures you’ve seen for consumer drives?

            • Waco
            • 1 year ago

            Nothing official. Think ~1/5th to ~1/10th of what “enterprise” stuff is rated for.

        • BurntMyBacon
        • 1 year ago

        With 33% reduction in RRP being an absolute maximum and 15% to 20% reduction in RRP as your stated likely scenario, I have to wonder if it is approaching the point of diminishing returns. How much performance and endurance (and possibly reliability) am I giving up for such a small reduction in price? Do I really need the extra performance and endurance offered by MLC/TLC? Will the warranties be any better with MLC/TLC than these new QLC drives? With the greater processing load on the controller (due to more powerful error correction schemes), will the controller be a more common point of failure than the flash cells anyways? Will we have data retention issues if the drive remains powered off for long periods (relevant for external storage)?

        Reliability of these new drives is an unknown, so I’ll reserve judgement. Perhaps the extra performance or endurance is unneeded, but at some point the added cost gets small enough that the value is there. Mostly, it depends on the workload it will be used in. On the other hand, as the primary storage of personal computers gets faster, the storage models will be updated to take more advantage of it. Given that most consumers (power users excluded) don’t really need a lot of space anymore, it would be better to see smaller faster storage become more common so that the storage model shifts more quickly. I’m certainly not saying there is no place for QLC, as QLC could even drive this change by replacing the primary storage for cheap laptops. I do, however, prefer that any success of QLC is not to the failure of MLC.

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