Sabrent Rocket Q 1TB Review: Great Low-Cost NVMe SSD
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Just over 8 years ago I quoted this study, which outlined “The Bleak Future of NAND Flash Memory”. It centered around the phenomenon that, as density increases and additional bits are added to each cell in the memory chips, performance, and endurance decreases.
Part of the depressing conclusion was that:
SSDs will continue to improve by some metrics (notably density and cost per bit), but everything else about them is poised to get worse.
While it’s clear that going from SLC (single-level cell) to MLC (multi-level cell) to TLC (triple-level cell) NAND, at increasingly small production processes, will negatively affect performance and longevity, the conclusion still turned out to be mostly wrong.
High-end SSDs using TLC NAND have been thriving for years, and now the denser QLC (quad-level cell) NAND variety is starting to appear in the entry-level segment. Much like TLC a few years ago, denser and more cost-effective QLC is expected to replace its predecessor little by little in the years to come. Today we will have a closer look at some of the latest developments in QLC, in the form of Sabrent’s Rocket Q.
Introduction: Sabrent Rocket Q 1TB
As its name implies, the Sabrent Rocket Q uses QLC memory chips, meaning that it’s positioned as a more affordable alternative to Sabrent’s other Rocket SSDs – the (non-Q) Rocket and the PCIe 4.0-enabled Rocket Gen4. That said, the drive is delivered in premium-looking packaging, including an aluminum box that will keep the tiny SSD secure until it’s time to install it.
Other than the NAND itself, the Rocket Q uses a Phison E12S controller, which is more recent but otherwise similar to the Phison E12 (without the S) used in the original NVMe Rocket. Unlike many other entry-level SSDs, the Rocket Q is equipped with a 256 MB DRAM cache to speed up write performance. It also uses an SLC-mode cache to negate the performance disadvantages of the QLC NAND. This is also how high-end TLC drives operate. but the Rocket Q will take an even larger performance hit if the SLC cache dries up, but that will only happen when writing extremely large files.
The available capacities include the 1TB model that we are looking at here, as well as a 2TB version and one in the uncommon 4TB capacity.
Sabrent Rocket Lineup Specifications
Although it can’t compete with current high-end TLC drives, the Rocket Q offers a higher level of performance compared to similarly-equipped rivals such as the Intel 660p/665p and Crucial P1, both of which are M.2 drives that use QLC NAND in combination with the PCIe/NVMe interface/protocol. Here are the specs versus the other 1TB M.2 Rockets from Sabrent:
|Sabrent Rocket NVMe SSDs||Rocket Gen4 (1TB)||Rocket (1TB)||Rocket Q (1TB)|
|Sequential Read (Max.)||5,000 MB/s||3,400 MB/s||3,200 MB/s|
|Sequential Write (Max.)||4,400 MB/s||3,000 MB/s||2,000 MB/s|
|Random Read (4K/QD32)||750K IOPS||650K IOPS||125K IOPS|
|Random Write (4K/QD32)||750K IOPS||640K IOPS||500K IOPS|
|Endurance||1,800 TBW||1,665 TBW||260 TBW|
Notably, the Rocket Q’s sequential read rates are surprisingly close to the more expensive TLC Rocket. Compared to the non-Q Rocket, another noteworthy (if less surprising) difference with the Rocket Q is the endurance rating. At 260 TBW (terabytes written) for the 1TB capacity, it is well behind the Rocket’s 1,665 TBW. On the other hand, 260 TBW equals about 142.5 GB/day worth of writes during the 5-year warranty period, so the vast majority of users are highly unlikely to wear the drive down within its expected life span.
Our test system uses Windows 10 Pro version 1903 (build 18362.720) and drives are cloned using Acronis True Image.
Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities measures a wide variety of parameters related to the performance of a storage device. In its default setting, it uses 100% compression, meaning that the test data is in effect incompressible as the SSD cannot utilize internal compression.
The Rocket Q scored an impressive 12,081.56 overall score, which is on par with many TLC-based drives. Its maximum sequential performance using 4MB file sizes reached 2,673.63 MB/s (read) and 1,771.63 (write). Random 4K QD16 performance topped out at 134,600 IOPS read and 273,318 IOPS write (note that spec sheet maximums are based on 4KQD32).
ATTO is an old benchmark that is still great for determining maximum transfer rates at specific block sizes.
The Sabrent Rocket Q starts to exceed its maximum rated read performance slightly at block sizes from 256K and up, but fails to reach the rated 2,000 MB/s write speeds when acting as system drive.
AS SSD & CrystalDiskMark
AS SSD by Alexej Schepeljanski is another benchmark tool that uses incompressible data. It puts the SSD through a set of tests and gives it a final score. There is also an inbuilt file copy benchmark.
Unlike ATTO, AS SSD doesn’t produce 100% repeatable results. They tend to vary a bit, but on the whole, these numbers are well ahead of what you tend to see in competing QLC-based SSDs like the Crucial P1. Sequential read speeds, in particular, are some 50% better than the Rocket Q’s closest competitors.
CrystalDiskMark gives you the opportunity to compare the results for incompressible versus compressible data (0Fill). It’s interesting to note that, once again, the rated sequential max. transfer rates are again exceeded quite a bit, while the write speeds are struggling to reach 2,000 MB/s.
Theoretical maximum transfer rates are one thing, but the actual user experience is the main driving force for the average PC-building enthusiast. Swapping your system drive from a mechanical hard drive to just about any SSD will of course radically improve the experience. However, moving between SSDs – even from a comparatively slow SATA SSD to a PCIe/NVMe variety – may result in quite meager benefits.
To provide some perspective, we compare the Sabrent Rocket Q to the 2TB Seagate Firecuda 510 – a high-end TLC-based PCIe 3.0/NVMe SSD and other affordable M.2 SSDs including the Samsung 980 and WD Blue SN550. First, some numbers from PCMark 10’s app startup test (cold start mode, repeated five times, and flushing the system cache between repetitions).
The differences are in the small fractions of a second with no clear winner, although the Rocket Q ends up slightly behind on average, not least due to the unexpectedly slow start-up of the Writer app.
We also tested the game loading times from the standalone Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers benchmark, which should offer a great deal more accuracy compared to using a stopwatch. Five different scenes are loaded and the loading times are then combined to a total loading time in seconds. A 4TB 7,200 rpm hard drive (Seagate Barracuda) is also added to the mix here.
The Corsair Force MP510 shaves off slightly more than a second of the total loading time, while the mechanical hard drive spends more time on loading than the two SSDs combined.
Conclusion: The Best QLC SSD So Far?
Every significant computer part has historically been and still is in the race towards higher densities and smaller production processes, which tend to improve both cost-efficiency and performance. As mentioned, SSDs are a special case, as their NAND memory chips will deteriorate in performance as densities increase. At least in theory. In reality, we have seen significant performance jumps for higher-density NAND because SSDs have moved from the old SATA interface to PCIe (in combination with the SSD-oriented NVMe protocol).
The move to QLC NAND is still a significant challenge for SSD manufacturers. As long as all other things are equal, QLC drives will have a hard time competing with the fastest TLC-equipped counterparts in the M.2 PCIe/NVMe space.
But when the Sabrent Rocket Q’s more than decent performance and lower price point are both taken into account, it becomes a much more attractive value proposition. It is perhaps the best drive on the market in its category as of this writing, with transfer rates that match or exceed some high-end TLC drives from the previous generation. And as far as the everyday user experience goes, there are few situations (if any) where you would be able to tell the difference between the Rocket Q and a more expensive alternative.
If the price differences between the smaller capacities of this drive and their TLC counterparts were a bit larger, the Rocket Q would be even easier to recommend. As of now, the 1TB model is about $20 less than the non-Q Rocket on Amazon and Newegg. This is still a good deal for a budget-conscious PC builder, but at this capacity, some may opt for the slightly more expensive Rocket due to its improved specs and durability. Also, it has an increasing amount of challengers in the budget M.2 space.
For those looking for a roomy 4TB or 8TB NVMe SSD, on the other hand, choosing the Rocket Q will save at least $100, and with that, you also get improved write speeds and a more-than-adequate endurance rating at 940 TBW.
Sabrent's Rocket Q is possibly the best QLC-based SSD on the market at this writing and a great option for budget-conscious PC builders.
- Excellent QLC performance
- Acronis True Image software included
- 5-Year warranty
- Write speeds slightly below spec
- QLC endurance rating