Western Digital is one of the world’s most well known storage manufacturers. Over the years, they’ve developed a reputation for developing hard drives that not only perform well but offer one of the most competitive dollar-to-gigabyte ratios in the market. As the world of solid state drives has shifted to 3D memory cell technology, consumers have waited to see what WD would bring to the table. Now we have it. Today we’re putting the company’s first 3D NAND SSD to the test, the brand new 2.5” WD Blue.
Speaking as an enthusiast, understanding the nuances of storage in particular can be tricky, so you’re forgiven if you’re not entirely clear on what 3D NAND is or why it’s important. Keeping things basic, NAND refers to the type of flash memory used in solid state drives. Until the last few years, most SSDs featured 2D or “planar” NAND, which refers to memory cells being laid out on a single plane to communicate electrical information. Today, 3D NAND technology rules the roost. As its name implies, memory cells here are stacked vertically, resulting in lower power consumption, higher reliability, and the possibility for higher transfer rates.
On the user level, 3D NAND provides you with a faster, more reliable, power sipping drive for little to no additional cost. As 3D technology continues to advance allowing for more vertical layers to be stacked, these benefits will only increase. If you’re still concerned about solid state drives being less reliable than mechanical drives, it’s time to put those fears to rest.
The WD Blue drive we received is the company’s first featuring this new technology. We were sent a 1TB capacity, 2.5” SATA drive, but capacities also include 250 and 500GB, as well as a whopping 2TB model. The drive can also be purchased in the M.2 form factor. It’s rated for 560 MB/s sequential read speeds and 530 MB/s sequential writes, up from 545 MB/s and 525 MB/s on the planar NAND model. It also consumes 25% less power, while retailing at the same $289.99 MSRP. Interestingly, the endurance rating on these drives remains unchanged, with our 1TB unit being rated at 400TBW.
As with all SSDs, we put the new WD Blue through a series of benchmarks to see how it fared. We use ATTO as our primary method of cross-checking rated sequential read and write speeds, but then back that up with both CrystalDiskMark and AS-SSD. These tests give us additional insight into the speeds of random drive accesses, providing a look at transfer rates you might expect to see in actual use. We also perform a copy test with a real game directory and have a look at load times in major MMOs.
Test system: i7-7700k at 4.5GHz, MSI Z270 Gaming M7 Motherboard, 64GB Ballistix Elite DDR4-3200, GTX-1080Ti (SLI), 500GB Samsung 960 EVO, 1TB WD Blue SSD, 3TB HDD, Corsair HX-1050 1050-watt PSU.
Looking first to ATTO, the highest sequential read and write speeds we were able to achieve were 548.67 MB/s and 523.13 MB/s respectively. While that is slightly lower than the rated speeds, virtually all drives fall somewhat short of the numbers quoted by their manufacturers. The Samsung 960 EVO we looked at in June, for example, matched well on read speeds but came up more than 200MB/s shy of their sequential write rating. In that context, these speeds are actually remarkably close.
Turning to CrystalDiskMark next, we find our sequential speeds falling close to ATTO, but what we were really interested in were the random reads and writes. On the 4KQ32 test, we see read speeds of 386.1 MB/s and 348.8 MB/s. Every drive experiences slow downs when accessing random information, but we were impressed by how fast the Blue continued to be. For context, both the aforementioned 960 EVO and the ZOTAC Sonix we looked at earlier in the year, two PCIe SSDs rated for nearly 4x the speed, dropped 50-70 percent when performing random transfers. SATA drives like the Blue and PCIe NVME drives like the two mentioned are on different busses, but WD’s resilience here is impressive.
AS-SSD performs a similar set of tests, but adds value in simulations of copy speeds of different file types. We did see our sequential speeds dip some, but overall, we’re holding steady with random performance, backed by even more impressive copy benchmarks.
Real World Testing
Our first test involved copying a 20.9GB Skyrim directory between our existing NVME drive and the WD Blue, allowing the Blue to operate without bottlenecks. As you can, the Blue performed very well due to excellent sustained bursts at the beginning of transfers and extremely steady transfer rates. This is the first drive we have tested that did not suffer from extended valleys midway through the transfer of this directory. The first and third transfers were completed in 29 seconds each and the second in only 27. To be clear, the WD Blue to WD Blue test tied the 960 EVO and beat the ZOTAC SONIX Anniversary Edition due to this mid-transfer consistency.
Game load times, as we expected are very close across all of our drives. The simple fact is, most games won’t push the fastest drives on the market to their limit. Consequently, the practical difference between the Blue and the NVME PCIe drives we’ve tested is a matter of 1-2 seconds across the board.
Going into this review, I lamented the lack of SATA solid state drives we had to test against. It turns out, I didn’t need to be concerned. While PCIe drives, like the WD Black we examined last month, offer obvious speed benefits, what the WD Blue 3D NAND lacks in speed, it makes up for in consistency. The high peaks and lack of valleys make for a drive that is remarkably fast. If you don’t have an M.2 drive or simply don’t want to sacrifice PCIe lanes to run one, the new WD Blue is a solid choice for a high performance system.