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QLC Flash Wars Heating Up: QLC SSDs Headed To Desktop PCs This Year

The QLC flash wars are heating up as Intel announced via Twitter yesterday that it was producing its first QLC SSD for the data center. Toshiba and WD released their own QLC flash announcements shortly thereafter.

SSD pricing is already plunging due to the industry's transition to TLC flash. TLC flash stores three bits per cell, making the technology denser and cheaper than previous-gen flash. The move to QLC flash, which stores four bits per cell, promises to bring even lower prices and higher-capacity SSDs to the market soon.

But QLC flash comes with trade-offs. The extra 33% in storage density results in lower endurance and performance, but advances in 3D manufacturing technology have made the new NAND viable for light-use applications, which includes desktop PCs.

Micron started the QLC party a few months ago with the announcement of the industry's first shipping QLC SSD, so it was only natural that its flash-fabbing partner Intel would soon follow suit. Intel's tweet includes an image of its new drive, but from the exterior, it appears similar to all of Intel's previous-gen 2.5" U.2 SSDs.

Intel's tweet says that the company's latest drives will come outfitted with the high-speed PCIe interface, so naturally, that means the drives will support the now-ubiquitous NVMe protocol. Intel promises to share more details about the new SSDs, which will become a new "D5" product line, at next month's Flash Memory Summit. The tweet also claims that the drives are the world's first QLC SSDs for the data center.

In either case, Intel has historically produced consumer SSDs with the same technology that it uses for the data center. Recent unconfirmed leaks indicate Intel has a new consumer QLC SSD on the roadmap for this year, so it is likely only a matter of time before its QLC flash comes to the desktop PC.

Not to be upstaged, flash partners Toshiba and WD both announced their jointly-produced 3D QLC NAND yesterday in separate announcements. The announcements contained quite a bit more information, so we know that the new 96-layer BiCS4 flash has a density of 1.33 terabits2 per die.

SSDs come with up to 16 die per package, so that means Toshiba and WD will soon be able to pack in a whopping 2.66TB of storage into a single NAND package. The duo plans to begin sampling the BiCS4 QLC NAND in September and mass production is slated for early 2019. More importantly, WD's release clearly states that QLC SSDs will come to the consumer market under the SanDisk brand name. We expect Toshiba to follow suit with its own consumer SSDs.

SSDs have slowly chipped away at HDD market share over the last few years and WD even recently decided to shut down one of its primary HDD production plants due to reduced demand. SSD prices continue to plunge and many analyst firms predict even larger drops as the Chinese Yangtze River Storage Technology fabs begin to pump out 3D NAND. Samsung is also reportedly gearing up to increase its NAND production dramatically with a $2.6 billion increase in spending in 2019. Next year is shaping up to the year of QLC SSDs, which could be the final ingredient needed to push HDDs out of the primary storage role entirely.

  • jimmysmitty
    This is great but to truly take HDD market share they need to get prices down a lot. Right now you can get a WD Blue 1TB for $45 bucks on Newegg, making it $0.045/GB. The 1TB NVMe WD Blue is $204 making it $0.204/GB. So SSDs are still about 5x the cost of an HDD.

    For the same $200 you can get a Seagate SkyHawk 6TB which makes it $0.033333/GB, even cheaper overall than the 1TB.

    Of course this depends on the brand and class you get and WDs are not top of the line but I was comparing like to like.

    Personally I was to see a 4TB for $150-200 then I will probably switch out to an SSD exclusively and drop HDDs altogether except for external storage.

    Then again I am tempted to wait till NVDIMMs become common and cheap enough.
    Reply
  • derekullo
    Out with Tender Love and Care

    In With Quite Lovely Capacities
    Reply
  • razor512
    Yes, QLC flash, for when you want plausible deniability when subpoenaed records suddenly go missing.
    Reply
  • derekullo
    21160252 said:
    Yes, QLC flash, for when you want plausible deniability when subpoenaed records suddenly go missing.

    Having a hypothetical 1 terabyte drive with 1 full Drive Writes Per Day is the same as having a 100 gigabyte drive with 10 full Drive Writes Per Day in terms of endurance.

    The only difference is that with the 100 gigabyte drive you can't install much more than Grand Theft Auto 5.
    (I don't still play GTA5. I just remember it was massive lol)

    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    21160258 said:
    21160252 said:
    Yes, QLC flash, for when you want plausible deniability when subpoenaed records suddenly go missing.

    Having a hypothetical 1 terabyte drive with 1 full Drive Writes Per Day is the same as having a 100 gigabyte drive with 10 full Drive Writes Per Day in terms of endurance.

    The only difference is that with the 100 gigabyte drive you can't install much more than Grand Theft Auto 5.
    (I don't still play GTA5. I just remember it was massive lol)

    We will have to really see them in action but until 3D stacking becomes more viable upping the bits per cell is one of the best way to increase storage density per chip and thus lower the overall costs. Otherwise costs wouldn't drop.

    Reply
  • hotaru251
    "light use"

    how would this type of memory work in consoles? (as im down for any cheap ssd that can repalce the stock hdd in em..)
    Reply
  • stdragon
    So basically if you're primarily reading data and not writing as often, then QLC is fine. But if you're writing data back often, either stick with TLC or ensure you've over-provisioned the QLC drive with plenty of free space to ensure adequate wear leveling.
    Reply
  • wirefire99
    To anyone who compares SATA mechanical drives to NVMe drives are like comparing oil and water. SATA is a very aged technology, the interfaces are ubiquitous and the cost is in turn less than its NVMe also in unit sales in the consumer space most computers have 4-8 SATA connectors but only 1 or maybe 2 slots for NVMe. In time there will likely be a SSD technology that puts SSD and HDD at near identical price points but for now (and probably the next 5-10 years) it isn't happening. At that point there will be a new interface or NVMe 1.4 drives will be much cheaper than NVMe 2.0 drives... ETC. the market changes fast and a 1TB HDD has been around for many more years than a 1TB SSD and in turn a 1TB NVMe Drive.
    Reply
  • oneblackened
    So... we get higher capacity at the expense of durability decreasing and latency increasing.
    Reply
  • lxtbell2
    21160167 said:
    This is great but to truly take HDD market share they need to get prices down a lot. Right now you can get a WD Blue 1TB for $45 bucks on Newegg, making it $0.045/GB. The 1TB NVMe WD Blue is $204 making it $0.204/GB. So SSDs are still about 5x the cost of an HDD.

    For the same $200 you can get a Seagate SkyHawk 6TB which makes it $0.033333/GB, even cheaper overall than the 1TB.

    Of course this depends on the brand and class you get and WDs are not top of the line but I was comparing like to like.

    Personally I was to see a 4TB for $150-200 then I will probably switch out to an SSD exclusively and drop HDDs altogether except for external storage.

    Then again I am tempted to wait till NVDIMMs become common and cheap enough.

    1TB SATA SSDs can be found at $170 (4 times HDD). It's not entirely fair to compare only NVMe to Mechanical.

    Also to me the SSDs are indeed 5 times better, not only the massively better random and parallel performance, but also lack of noise, vibration, safety of moving while running (for laptops), and space savings (especially for NVMe. I've removed all the HDD cages in all my cases for airflow or radiator/pump and rely on 1TB SSDs and NAS. Laptops gain even more from NVMe)
    Reply