Flash memory prices have been on a downward trajectory for years. A decade ago, this trend was helping SSDs establish a foothold in the consumer market—largely for enthusiasts. Now, SSDs have taken over as the default storage medium for consumer PCs and further advances in flash memory are no longer pushing consumer SSDs into new product segments. Instead, cheaper flash is driving an increase in SSD capacity.

That growth in drive capacity has not been steady. For both technical and marketing reasons, consumer SSD capacities stick close to powers of two. The first 2TB consumer SSDs started to show up in 2015, and now 2TB options are common across all the SSD market segments. 4TB drives started to show up in 2018 but are still quite rare, and this year we've seen the first 8TB consumer SSDs.

Today we're looking at the first two consumer-oriented 8TB SSDs. The 8TB Samsung 870 QVO is a SATA drive from the brand that has been at the forefront of the past several capacity increases and leads the SSD market by most other measures. The other drive is the 8TB Sabrent Rocket Q, a M.2 NVMe drive from a brand that's working to stand out from the crowd of many other Phison partners. Unsurprisingly, both of these drives use four bit per cell QLC NAND flash memory which offers the lowest cost per GB and the highest per-die capacities currently available. QLC NAND generally puts SSDs into an entry-level market segment, but due to their extreme capacities these 8TB SSDs are still some of the most expensive drives in the consumer SSD market.

Sabrent Rocket Q 8TB

Sabrent Rocket Q Specifications
Capacity 500 GB 1 TB 2 TB 4 TB 8 TB
Form Factor M.2 2280 single-sided
PCIe 3 x4
M.2 2280 double-sided
PCIe 3 x4
Controller Sabrent-branded Phison E12S
NAND Flash Micron 1Tbit 96L 3D QLC
DRAM Kingston DDR3
Sequential Read (MB/s) 2000 3200 3300
Sequential Write (MB/s) 1000 2000 3000 2900
Random Read IOPS (4kB) 95k 125k 255k 550k 550k
Random Write IOPS (4kB) 250k 500k 670k 680k
Power
Consumption (W)
Read 3.5 5.0 5.5 5.0 5.6
Write 3.5 4.5 6.0 6.5 6.5
Warranty 5 years
Write Endurance 120 TB
0.13 DWPD
260 TB
0.14 DWPD
530 TB
0.14 DWPD
940 TB
0.13 DWPD
1800 TB
0.13 DWPD
Current Retail Prices $64.99 (13¢/GB) $109.98 (11¢/GB) $219.98 (11¢/GB) $599.98 (15¢/GB) $1299.99 (16¢/GB)
 

The Sabrent Rocket Q is a bit unusual among QLC NVMe SSDs, and not just because it offers such high capacities. Most consumer QLC SSDs use fairly low-end SSD controllers rather than let the performance potential of a high-end controller be wasted on slow QLC NAND. But the Rocket Q uses the Phison E12, a familiar mainstay of the high-end NVMe market segment (but seen here in the more compact E12S packaging). This means the Rocket Q has an 8-channel controller at its disposal rather than just four channels, and that helps immensely at the higher capacities where there's enough flash to compensate for the low performance of QLC NAND.

The Rocket Q does cut corners a bit by using just one fourth of the DRAM we usually see on mainstream SSDs. That hurts a bit at the lower capacities (though nowhere near as much as a fully DRAMless design would), but is much less of a problem for this 8TB model: 2GB of DRAM is still plenty for the SSD to handle any typical consumer workload.

The Rocket Q lineup goes from 500GB to 8TB, but we generally consider QLC drives smaller than 1TB to be a poor alternative to DRAMless TLC drives. That's even more true for the Rocket Q, because the 500GB model can only use half of the Phison E12's 8 channels.

Sabrent has also introduced the Rocket Q4 as a partial successor. This uses the Phison E16 controller and brings PCIe 4 support and improved performance. However, the E16 is not yet (and may never be) available in a small package size like the E12S controller, so it is not yet practical for Sabrent and Phison to squeeze 8TB of QLC onto a PCIe gen4 M.2 drive.

Samsung 870 QVO 8TB

Samsung 870 QVO Specifications
Capacity 1 TB 2 TB 4 TB 8 TB
Form Factor 2.5" 7mm SATA
Controller Samsung MKX
NAND Flash Samsung 1Tbit 92L 3D QLC
LPDDR4 DRAM 1 GB 2 GB 4 GB 8 GB
Max SLC Cache Size 42 GB 78 GB 78 GB 78 GB
Sequential Read 560 MB/s
Sequential
Write
SLC 530 MB/s
QLC 80 MB/s 160 MB/s
Random
Read
IOPS (4kB)
QD1 11k (SLC)
5k (QLC)
11k (SLC)
5k (QLC)
QD32 98k (SLC)
45k (QLC)
98k (SLC)
74k (QLC)
Random
Write
IOPS (4kB)
QD1 35k (SLC)
22k (QLC)
35k (SLC)
34k (QLC)
QD32 88k (SLC)
22k (QLC)
88k (SLC)
42k (QLC)
Power
Consumption
Read 2.1 W 2.1 W 2.2 W 2.4 W
Write 2.2 W 3.0 W 3.2 W 3.3 W
Idle 30 mW 30 mW 35 mW 45 mW
DevSlp 3 mW 4 mW 7 mW 10 mW
Warranty 3 years
Write Endurance 360 TB
0.3 DWPD
720 TB
0.3 DWPD
1440 TB
0.3 DWPD
2880 TB
0.3 DWPD
Current Retail Prices $89.99
(9¢/GB)
$199.99
(10¢/GB)
$419.99
(10¢/GB)
$899.99
(11¢/GB)
 

We reviewed the Samsung 870 QVO when it first launched, but the 8TB capacity arrived a bit later. Other than the higher capacity, there's not much new to say about the 8TB model of their second-generation QLC SSD. It has twice the NAND and twice the DRAM and twice the total write endurance, but the same performance ratings and SLC cache sizes as the 2TB and 4TB models. Samsung's SATA SSD controller doesn't offer much potential for higher performance once all channels are populated with at least two NAND dies.

Compared to the Rocket Q, the Samsung 870 QVO has higher write endurance ratings both in terms of drive writes per day and total TB written. However, the Rocket Q comes with a 5 year warranty and the 870 QVO only has a 3 year warranty. The Samsung 870 QVO is far cheaper at these high capacities; NVMe SSD controllers are only a little bit more expensive than SATA SSD controllers, but lack of competition leaves Sabrent free to charge a much higher price per GB for their QLC NVMe product. Samsung's vertical integration probably helps them maintain decent profit margins even on their more competitively-priced drive.

QLC NAND's Impact on the Consumer SSD Market

The introduction of QLC NAND as a cheaper alternative to three bit per cell TLC NAND has not revolutionized consumer SSD affordability, but it has made higher SSD capacities practical. QLC NAND offers just a 33% increase in theoretical storage density, but in practice most QLC NAND is manufactured as 1024Gbit dies while TLC NAND is manufactured as 256Gbit and 512Gbit dies. This means that it is easier to fit much more flash into the same form factor using QLC than with TLC NAND. Indeed, the Sabrent Rocket Q is bumping up against the practical limits for a M.2 drive.

For drives with more commonplace capacities, QLC NAND has several distinct disadvantages. Storing more bits per physical memory cell requires more precise control over the voltage of each cell, and as a result writing to QLC NAND is much slower than writing to TLC NAND (reading is also a bit slower). That sensitivity to cell voltage also reduces the usable write endurance of QLC NAND before data retention becomes a problem. Drives using QLC NAND have to be rated for fewer drive writes per day (DWPD) in order to meet industry standards for data retention of a worn-out consumer SSD.

However, almost all of those downsides of QLC NAND can be mitigated with sheer capacity. The sequential transfer speed of a single die of NAND flash memory has never been particularly impressive, regardless of how many bits are stored per cell. These 8TB QLC drives use a total of 64 NAND flash dies each, which allows for a lot of parallelism in data transfers (though the SSD's controller becomes a bottleneck). SLC caching helps address most of the remaining performance problems, but when the SLC cache on a QLC drive runs out, the performance impact is much more severe than for TLC drives.

Write endurance ratings of 0.1 to 0.3 DWPD appear inferior to the 0.5 DWPD or more from good consumer TLC drives, but looking at endurance as a fraction of drive capacity perhaps isn't the most useful measure for these drives. Both of these 8TB QLC drives are warrantied for over 1TB of writes per day (over 2TB per day for the Samsung drive, but its warranty is only three years rather than five). Most consumer use cases for a multi-TB drive do not involve re-writing most of that data often. Large collections of games, movies and photos can use up the capacity of these 8TB drives, but such infrequently-modified data won't put much of a dent in the drive's total write endurance. A mere 3% of the capacity of these drives (240GB) is plenty to hold an OS and most data that will see frequent modification. Filling the rest of the drive with relatively static data won't hurt the drive's lifespan.

Who Needs 8TB SSDs?

A capacity of 8TB is a bit on the large side even for mechanical hard drives. Sure, consumer-oriented hard drive product lines are starting to go beyond 14TB, but average capacity sold is much lower. Many use cases for large drives don't require high performance. An 8TB SSD will offer significant noise and power efficiency advantages over an 8TB hard drive, but either one is adequate for storing a large movie collection. A mechanical hard drive is definitely preferable for long-term archival/backup duty, but an SSD has advantages for keeping data readily accessible.

That's especially true in a mobile setting, which may be where these 8TB drives make the most sense. Most desktops can accommodate several drives of lower capacity, and so far these 8TB drives carry a significant price premium on a $/GB basis compared to 1TB or 2TB models. But in a notebook, it's uncommon to have more than one drive bay/slot, and more than three is only found in machines that stretch the definitions of "notebook" and "portable". So the most sensible or plausible use cases we can imagine for these drives are scenarios that more or less fall into mobile workstation territory. But the sustained write speed of these drives will be a problem when it comes to ingesting uncompressed video even if performance is adequate for editing a large amount of video already residing on one of the drives, so these drives definitely aren't suitable for every scenario where multiple TBs of data are thrown around.

It's also easy to imagine other niche use cases for these drives where cost is of no object: a small form factor nearly-silent NAS, for example. (QLC performance doesn't matter if it sits behind a 1Gbps network bottleneck, and still isn't much of an issue even with a 10Gbps network.) But for today, we're going to evaluate these drives with our usual consumer SSD testing methodology.

The Competition

It's tricky deciding what to compare these 8TB drives against. The use of QLC NAND would traditionally flag these drives as low-end options. But their extreme capacity is unmatched by consumer TLC drives, and the raw cost of 8TB of NAND makes for a high-priced drive overall. Aside from QLC drives, most other low-end consumer SSDs are DRAMless TLC designs—and those product lines mostly top out at 1TB. We've included the Mushkin Helix and Toshiba BG4 as representatives of the DRAMless TLC NVMe market segment.

The largest consumer SSDs we have to compare against are Samsung's earlier 4TB SATA SSDs. We've included the 4TB 860 EVO. For some tests, we also have included results from a few enterprise drives: 8TB NVMe models from Intel and SK hynix, and 4TB SATA drives from Kingston and Samsung. These all use TLC NAND, but without SLC caching.

High-end consumer SSD product lines are starting to include more multi-TB capacities, but for now the largest high-end consumer NVMe drives we have on hand are a "mere" 2TB each: Samsung's 970 EVO Plus and the HP EX950.

AnandTech 2018 Consumer SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1709
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.6
Spectre/Meltdown microcode and OS patches current as of May 2018
Cache Size Effects
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  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, December 7, 2020 - link

    "50% of people know what QLC means? Is that a joke? 50% of ATers don't understand what that means"

    Care to back up your staement with evidence? AT is mostly perused by techie people who understand the difference between SLC, MLC, TLC, and QLC.
    Reply
  • at_clucks - Wednesday, December 9, 2020 - link

    @TheinsanegamerN, yeah, you're swimming in the evidence. Check out the comment section carefully and you'll see how well the average ATer understands this. Some may know something about "bits per cell, whatever that means", some may know it's less reliable because "it wears out faster whatever that means", so they know the marketing concepts but not what lies underneath them. Most will blindly assume SLC > MLC > TLC > QLC not why or how, not what the cell is, how it works, how many levels of charge it can have, how it's read or how it's written, how they're organized, not the impact of the implementation, controller, firmware, OS, not why exactly wear is a thing, not why writes wear the cell but reads aren't an issue, not what planar/2D vs. 3D means, etc. Being a "techie" today means you *buy* a lot of tech and gloss over some articles with bar charts of which product is faster. That's it.

    If you want me to give "evidence" of every statement I make prepare to provide answers that have enough references in the footnote to look like a PhD thesis.

    In the meantime it's all but guaranteed that a regular consumer has no clue what QLC means or that the product name is a reference to QLC. They see an SSD that fits their computer, has a certain capacity, and costs a certain price. Maybe the manufacturer on the label alleviates their concerns.

    Knowing QLC has less endurance than SLC ("wears out") or that this is slower than that doesn't mean you understand the tech more than knowing some cars drive faster than others or have lower safety ratings makes you a piston head or mechanic.
    Reply
  • ripbeefbone - Friday, December 11, 2020 - link

    you're way too online Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, December 6, 2020 - link

    In large part because product pushers like slickdeals don't list the type of NAND in the listing title.

    This is the opposite of how manufacturers wanted to use LED to push TV sales so LED was always listed in product listings.

    People become aware of what manufacturers want them to become aware of. That's why we have so many marketing programs generating graduates all over the world.
    Reply
  • Samus - Sunday, December 6, 2020 - link

    Fortunately we know, and we know to stay away from this crap at this price. An 8TB 870 EVO is "worth" $600 to me and that's all I'm willing to pay for a drive that should logically cost much less than 8x1TB SSD's, not the SAME EXACT PRICE at 8x1TB SSD's (the 870 QVO 1TB regularly sells for $80-$90, and is currently $90 at Best Buy.

    Using Samsung's metric to scale, an 8TB hard drive should cost $400. The controller, DRAM and overall package are the same between drives. The only difference is platters\NAND.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Tuesday, December 8, 2020 - link

    We knowing is irrelevant because consumer ignorance working in manufacturers’ favor is about the bulk of consumer demand not a small number of people who make extra effort to learn specs manufacturers don’t want us to know about and therefore choose to not push. Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, December 6, 2020 - link

    "Every one of those deals has people saying no to QLC."

    Apples and oranges. The listing titles don't list the type of NAND.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, December 6, 2020 - link

    There is also the trick of them calling TLC and QLC "MLC". Technically, it is multi-layer NAND so they can get away with it, even though it is completely shady. Reply
  • shabby - Sunday, December 6, 2020 - link

    First company to do that will be stoned to death. Reply
  • Samus - Monday, December 7, 2020 - link

    Do you really think the 860 EVO is MLC like it is advertised as? No, “3-bit” VNAND or more commonly known as TLC. Samsung has been calling TLC [MLC] for years and has it been stoned to death yet. Reply

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