Note: This article was first published on 11th April 2017.
Into the age of flash
A decade ago, the future of flash was shaky and still a little unpredictable. In theory, flash drives would be quicker, but the earliest SSDs were a little erratic in terms of performance. Fortunately, any doubts were soon erased when Intel released the Intel X-25M SSD back in 2008. Today, even the most pedestrian entry-level SSD would run rings around the fastest hard disk drive.
While SSDs are undeniably quick, hard disk drive manufacturers like Western Digital and Seagate were quick to point out that they are expensive and offer little capacity. But things have changed quickly over the past decade. In 2008, an 80GB Intel X-25M SSD would set you back - you want to sit down for this - US$595. Using historical exchange rates, that’s S$845. Do the math and that works out to an eye-watering S$10.50 per gigabyte.
Fast forward to today and a 250GB SSD only costs about S$150, which works out to 60 cents per gigabyte. It is incredible how much prices of SSDs have fallen. Even so, hard disk drives still have the upper hand in terms of outright capacity and cost per gigabyte, but the performance benefits of SSDs make them a far more attractive proposition, especially for performance critical applications. Besides, if SSDs continue on their current trajectory, it won’t be long before we see even higher capacity and more affordable SSDs.
Western Digital, the world’s largest manufacturer of hard disk drives, is not oblivious to this trend and in the middle of last year completed one of their most important acquisitions in the history of the company. In May 2016, Western Digital finalized the acquisition of SanDisk, one of the world’s leading producers of flash memory, for US$19 billion. With SanDisk under their fold, Western Digital has instantly become a major player in the flash memory business. And they have wasted no time in attacking the consumer SSD market when in November last year they announced their new WD Blue and WD Green SSDs. We have the WD Blue SSD with us, so let’s find out how if it can challenge established players like Samsung and OCZ in the crowded consumer SSD marketplace.
The WD Blue SSD
Much like WD’s hard disk drives, their range of SSDs are also categorized by colors. The WD Blue is their mainstream SSD, whereas the Green is their entry-level SSD and the Black is their high-end enthusiast-grade SSD. The WD Blue comes in two form factors: the standard 2.5-inch SATA form factor and as an M.2 2280 stick. Regardless of form factor, all WD Blue SSDs will support the SATA 6Gbps interface.
The WD Blue SSD is offered in three capacities: 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB. Inside, you’ll find a Marvell 88SS1074 controller - also used in numerous other SSDs such as the Plextor M7V - and 15nm TLC NAND from who else but SanDisk. SSD enthusiasts will probably notice that these components are similar to the SanDisk X400. Indeed, they are, but the WD Blue SSD uses a different firmware and sets aside more space for over-provisioning. One thing to note is that the WD Blue SSD does not support hardware encryption. If this is important to you, you will need to look at alternatives that do, like the Samsung SSD 750 Evo.
Manufacturer's claimed performance is pretty typical for a drive of its class. Sequential read and write speeds is claimed to be in excess of 500MB/s and random read and write speeds are in the region of around 80k to 100k IOPs.
However, what is interesting is the WD Blue SSD’s claimed endurance. For the 1TB drive that we have here, the rated endurance is a very impressive 400TBW, which is more than double that of a Samsung SSD 850 Evo of similar capacity. In fact, it is even more than the Samsung SSD 850 Pro, which is one of the few SSDs to boast of a 10-year long warranty. It is only bested by the Plextor M7V, which we noted in our review for having some of the highest rated endurance we have ever seen for a TLC NAND SSD.
Here is a table comparing the endurance of the WD Blue SSD with other comparable SSDs.
|Model||240GB to 256GB||480GB to 512GB||960GB to 1024GB|
|OCZ Trion 150||60TBW||120TBW||240TBW|
|Samsung SSD 750 Evo||70TBW||100TBW||-|
|Samsung SSD 850 Evo||75TBW||150TBW||150TBW|
|Samsung SSD 850 Pro||150TBW||300TBW||300TBW|
Finally, the WD Blue SSD also comes with its own drive management utility called WD SSD Dashboard. It is straightforward and easy to use, and lets users quickly monitor and check up on the status of their drives, and also perform maintenance tasks like updating its firmware and checking on its performance.
So far so good, the WD Blue SSD certainly looks promising so let’s find out how it fares over the next couple of pages as we put it through our usual benchmarking tests.
The WD Blue SSD will be tested on our updated storage testbed using the Windows 10 operating system, which has the following specifications:
- Intel Core i7-4770K (3.5GHz)
- ASUS Z97-Deluxe/USB 3.1 (Intel Z97 chipset)
- 2 x 4GB DDR3-1600 memory
- MSI GeForce 8600 GTS
- Windows 10 Pro
Our benchmarks list is as follows:
- AS-SSD benchmark 1.8.5636.36856
- CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2
- PCMark 8 (Storage suite)
- Atto Disk Benchmark 3.0.5
- Iometer (version 2006.07.27)
This is the list of drives and their capacities tested:
- WD Blue SSD (1TB)
- Plextor M7V (512GB)
- OCZ Trion 150 (480GB)
- Samsung SSD 750 Evo (250GB)
- Samsung SSD 850 Evo (250GB)
One thing to note about the results of the WD Blue SSD that you are about to see is that it comes from a 1TB WD Blue SSD. Because capacity does have an effect on performance, we typically like to keep the capacities of all tested drives the same, but Western Digital was unable to provide us with a smaller 500GB sample so we are using the 1TB model for our tests.
Fortunately, according to Western Digital’s specifications, the 1TB model has the same performance as the 500GB model. In light of this, the 1TB model should be a fair representation of the kind of performance you will get from the 500GB model.
On the other hand, the 1TB model is rated to be slightly quicker than the 250GB model, so keep this in mind when comparing results of the WD Blue SSD to the Samsung SSD 850 Evo and SSD 850 Pro, since they are both smaller capacity drives.
PCMark 8 is the most up-to-date system benchmarking software from benchmarking specialists Futuremark. It was designed for Windows 8 machines (now updated for Windows 10) and the storage suite test puts drives through a collection of 10 different real life workloads involving applications such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Word, Excel and even games like Battlefield 3 and World of Warcraft.
The WD Blue SSD began well on our first benchmark test, PCMark8. It recorded a score of 4981, which was only 17 points off from the top-performing Samsung SSD 850 Evo. Looking at the actual speeds, the WD Blue SSD managed 274.26MB/s, which makes it over 34% faster than the Plextor M7V and OCZ Trion 150. On the other hand, the Samsung SSD 850 Evo was only 10% faster than the WD Blue SSD. Finally, looking at the actual runtimes of the workloads, we can see that the WD Blue SSD was only marginally slower than the fastest performing drive, the Samsung SSD 850 Evo.
CrystalDiskMark 5.0.2 Results
CrystalDiskMark is an easy-to-run and quick utility to use to gauge a drive’s performance. It measures sequential read and write performance and random read and write speeds of random 4KB and 4KB (queue depth 32) data.
The WD Blue SSD performed really well on CrystalDiskMark. Beginning with sequential read and write, the WD Blue SSD racked up the highest speeds. Of course, some of this might have to do with the advantage of having 1TB of capacity, but nonetheless, it is a good showing. 4K read and write performance was stellar too, as the WD Blue SSD, once again, recorded the highest read and write speeds. On the more intensive 4K, 32 queue depth workload, the WD Blue SSD recorded the highest read speeds, but its write speeds was oddly the lowest. We repeated the test a couple of times and got similar results, its write speeds under heavy loads are not as good as the competition.
AS SSD 1.8.5636.36856 Results
AS SSD is a benchmark that uses non-compressible and completely random data. This benchmark is useful because some controllers, like the once popular but now defunct SandForce SF-2281, compress data first before moving them around. However, with non-compressible and random data, controllers cannot compress the data first, which forces them to deal with data as they are. Therefore, this is a useful benchmark to prevent drivers using controllers like the SF-2281 controller or similar from gaining an upper hand.
On AS SSD, the WD Blue SSD performed respectably, but it wasn't as dominating as it was on CrystalDiskMark, which suggest that it isn’t quite as adept at handling non-compressible data. On the Copy Benchmark, the WD Blue SSD’s copy speeds were pretty average and middle of the pack - losing out to the faster OCZ Trion 150 and Samsung SSD 850 Evo. Moving on, the WD Blue SSD’s sequential read and write performance was a little underwhelming as it was one of the slower drives. This was the same for the 4K workload too. Fortunately, it managed to claw itself back on the more intensive 4K, 64 queue depth workload. Here, it recorded the highest read speeds and its write speeds were decent. But this could be due to its larger capacity.
ATTO Disk Benchmark 3.0.2 Results
ATTO is one of the oldest benchmarks around, but it’s still a useful tool to gauge a drive’s adeptness at managing compressible data. It’s also useful for seeing how a drive performs across a variety of different transfer block size. The WD Blue SSD’s performance on ATTO was generally good. With larger data blocks of 8MB and 512K, read and write speeds were comfortable above 500MB/s and as fast as the fastest drives tested. As we move to smaller data blocks of 32K and 4K, the WD Blue SSD continued to maintain pretty decent read speeds, but we noticed that its write speeds declined more dramatically.
Iometer Results (Part 1)
Lastly, we put the drives through the rigorous grind of Iometer, with different workloads and I/O queue depths. We have chosen to show results from a queue depth of 1 to 5 as this better represents the workloads a typical consumer might face.
On Iometer, the WD Blue SSD’s 64K Streaming Reads performance was pretty respectable as it was clearly one of the better performing drives. However, its write performance was less impressive as we can see on the 64K Streaming Writes graph that it was outclassed by the Samsung SSD 850 Evo, Samsung SSD 750 Evo, and the OCZ Trion 150. On the more intensive File Server workload, its performance was decent and we can see that it is tied for second-place with the Plextor M7V. It was, however, a great deal slower than the Samsung SSD 850 Evo. Finally, on the Web Server workload, we can see that it was outclassed by most of the SSDs here and it was only faster than the OCZ Trion 150.
Iometer Results (Part 2)
Finally, we look at the I/O response times for the workloads reported on the previous page. The WD Blue SSD’s average response times mirrors our findings on the previous page. Generally speaking, its response times can be a little erratic depending on the workload, which explains its varying performance on earlier pages. But it seems to us that it is faster and more comfortable reading data than writing data.
A good first attempt
Being a late entrant to a crowded market is a scary proposition for any brand. But this is made even more difficult by the fact that the mainstream consumer SSD market is so crowded and that there is no lack of strong contenders. Samsung, in particular, has held a firm grip over this segment of the market with its SSD 850 Evo and SSD 750 Evo. And there’s no shortage of alternatives in other great names like Crucial, OCZ, and Plextor. Fortunately, Western Digital has the scale and resources to weather this challenging situation.
Overall, the WD Blue SSD is a very decent firm attempt at the SSD market. Western Digital has got SanDisk to thank for that as the WD Blue SSD is essentially a SanDisk x400 SSD with a reworked firmware. Nonetheless, the 1TB model that we tested put up some very interesting and encouraging numbers.
On the performance front, the WD Blue SSD is certainly quite competitive. As we mentioned earlier, having a large capacity probably did give the WD Blue SSD a small advantage in some tests, but overall, we think it fared quite well. Samsung’s SSD 850 Evo would likely be faster overall, but the WD Blue SSD was no slouch. Our only criticism would be that write performance seems to suffer quite significantly during more intensive workloads. Though this is commonplace for TLC NAND-based SSDs, the degradation in performance in the WD Blue SSD is more pronounced than its competitors. Insofar as performance is concerned, the drives from Samsung still have the upperhand.
Where the WD Blue SSD really shines is its rated endurance. Only the Plextor M7V can claim higher endurance. Compared to other TLC NAND-based SSDs, the WD Blue SSD’s rated endurance is one of the better ones. Unfortunately, it still gets the same 3-year warranty as other comparable drives. Western Digital should have given it a slightly longer warranty to make it a more attractive proposition.
|Capacity||Price||Price per GB|
The WD Blue SSD also makes a strong case for itself in terms of pricing. It might not be the most affordable, but we think it is attractively priced for what it offers in terms of performance and features. For example, with a recommended retail price of S$499 for the 1TB variant that we reviewed here, the WD Blue SSD is more affordable than its closest competition - the Samsung SSD 850 Evo - and also one of the more accessible 1TB SSDs. Even at other price points, the WD Blue SSD is still competitive. At S$139 and S$259 for the 250GB and 500GB models respectively, the WD Blue SSD is also easily one of the more affordable SSDs at both capacity points.
All in all, the WD Blue SSD is a rather decent first attempt from Western Digital that offers good performance and endurance at an attractive price. Its only real shortcoming is that it lacks any real features to make it standout amongst the competition. Nevertheless, if you are building a new system or looking to upgrade, the WD Blue SSD is definitely worth checking out.