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Western Digital's Black 1 TB NVMe SSD reviewed

WD brings a BiCS NVMe drive to retail

Western Digital has a long and rich history in the storage market, but for a long time it wasn't a player in the consumer solid-state storage space. The company first started to dabble in SSDs with its acquisition of Siliconsystems almost ten years ago, but that was a ticket into the business-focused market only. It wasn't until the company's much more recent and more expensive purchase of SanDisk that WD became truly ready to enter the mainstream SSD fray.

Freshly armed with SanDisk's existing client SSD portfolio and the technologies and foundries of the SanDisk-Toshiba joint venture, WD wasted little time in getting SSDs carrying its own brand out the door. Its initial salvo was an unassuming set of re-badged SanDisk SATA drives, but the firm followed up with something more interesting: the Black PCIe SSD. The Black was an NVMe M.2 gumstick marketed as a lower-cost alternative to faster and more established NVMe product lines.

This year, however, Western Digital issued a new iteration of the Black SSD with a markedly different goal. Meet the WD Black NVMe SSD.

Capacity Max sequential (MB/s) Max random (IOps)
Read Write Read Write
250 GB 3000 1600 220K 170K
500 GB 3400 2500 410K 330K
1 TB 3400 2800 500K 400K

The naming scheme may not be crystal clear, so let's break it down. The older Black is 2017's "Black PCIe SSD." It came in 256-GB and 512-GB capacities and was intended to be a low-cost entry point into NVMe PCIe drives. This year's Black drive is the "Black NVMe SSD." It comes in 250-GB, 500-GB, and 1-TB versions. WD touts the new drive as a high-performance player, unlike its more humble predecessor. The 1-TB version boasts particularly lofty performance numbers. That's the one WD sent us to play with, so we'll gladly put them to the test. As an aside, Western Digital will also be selling this exact drive under the SanDisk brand as the Extreme Pro M.2 NVMe 3D SSD, but only in the 500-GB and 1-TB capacities.

So what's changed in a year? A lot. The 2017 drive's blue PCB has been replaced with a more namesake-appropriate black one. Beneath the sticker are more significant changes. Marvell's 88SS1093 controller has been booted out in favor of a new in-house design: a SanDisk-branded controller sandwiched in between the memory packages. The controller features the latest version of SanDisk's proprietary nCache 3.0 pseudo-SLC caching scheme. Additionally, the controller is capable of bypassing nCache to write directly to TLC when the caches are too busy to service incoming writes. 

The drive's NAND is  the same goodness we reviewed in Toshiba's XG5 OEM SSD, but this time the cells are bundled up in packages bearing SanDisk's name. We were very taken with the XG5 when we tested it and are still impatient for a retail version of the drive. Maybe the Black NVMe can scratch the itch in the meantime.

Western Digital warrants the Black drives for five years and rates the 1 TB version's endurance at 600 terabytes written, matching the guarantees of the 970 EVO 1 TB that WD is so clearly gunning for.

The Black also matches the 970 EVO's price. The WD Black NVMe is available at Newegg for $400 even. Despite carrying the same tag as Samsung's latest, the Black unfortunately provides no hardware encryption acceleration features. But if the performance is good enough, we may be willing to relax our privacy principles. Let's see what Western Digital's new halo drive can do.