A hot second after CES 2019, Western Digital announced their latest successor to the WD Black line of high performance gaming drives with the WD Black SN750 with option heatsink. We had the opportunity to check out the 1TB version of the SN750 and did it ever deliver… with a catch: the price.
Two month later, Western Digital announced a refresh of another one of their esteemed products into the realm of NMVe drive. Updating from a purely SATA-based drive (even in M.2 form), the WD Blue line now gives consumers an option that mixed performance with value that the line has been known for. With promises like these, has Western Digital killed the modern PC builder’s need to use SATA-based boot drives? We are going to find out in our review of the 250GB WD Blue SN500 NVMe drive.
Let’s take a look under the hood.
- MSRP: Starting at $54.99
- Form Factor: M.2 2280
- Controller: WD NVMe Architecture
- Storage Memory: 64-layer 3D NAND
- Bus: PCIe Gen 3 x2
- Form Factor: M.2 2280
- Sequential Read: up to 1,700 MB/s
- Sequential Write: up to 1,300 MB/s
- Power Consumption: 75mW (average power), 2.5mW (sleep)
- Available in 250 GB, 500 GB
- Endurance: 150 TBW
- Warranty: 5 years
If you are newer to the realm of PC building, there has been a roadmap that has been around for a while that helps ensure the fastest possible boot speeds out of your build in order to get you to the action faster. The roadmap for storage begins with a smaller capacity solid state drives (SSDs) to load your operating system onto and then get a higher capacity hard drive disk (HDD) for mass storage. This map, or should I say - the landscape, has changed because there is a new option: NVMe drives.
Instead of using a traditional and limited SATA protocol, NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) SSD drive takes advantage of PCI bus lanes, leveraging flash memory’s high performance capacity for both reading and writing. Think of NVMe like using the carpool lane on a busy city highway. Your car (the SSD) has the capability to travel at higher speeds, but is limited by the lane it is in (SATA). Changing into the the carpool lane (PCI) can help it get you where you need to be faster by taking a more direct route.
What Western Digital has done by introducing the WD Blue SN500 is create a far more accessible entry point into the realm of NVMe drives while still maintaining the tradition of the family. With promises of peak read speeds of 1,700MB/s, the WD Blue SN500 offers nearly three times the performance of a SATA-based SSD at a meager ~$10* premium. When compared to the next performance tier from with the Western Digital family, the 250GB WD Black SN750, the 250GB WD Blue SN500 is ~$25** cheaper, but comes at a disadvantage, which we will cover in more detail in the benchmarking. However, when it come to a performance-to-dollar conversion, the SN500 is about as good as it gets.
Let’s take a look at how those promises hold up under the microscope.
To begin, we ran a series of synthetic benchmarks to give base-line performance numbers for the WD Blue SN500. To collect these, we ran AS SSD Benchmark, CrystalDiskMark64, and ATTO Disk Benchmark. Before we get into the data, here are the system specifications for our test bench:
- CPU: Ryzen 5 2600X
- Cooler: CoolerMaster ML240R RGB (Closed loop cooler)
- RAM: 16 GB Patriot Viper Gaming RGB
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X470 AORUS Gaming 7 WiFi
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition
- Storage: 250GB WD Blue SN500, 2 TB Seagate FireCuda
- PSU: NZXT E850
- Case: NZXT H500
For these tests, we will be drawing comparisons with the 1TB WD Black SN750, 250GB Samsung 970 EVO Plus, 256GB Patriot Scorch, and 640GB Colorful Technology SATA III SSD. However, we will be mainly focusing on the Patriot Scorch as the closest proxy to the SN500. Here is why: both the Samsung 970 EVO Plus and the WD Black SN750 both use four PCI lanes versus the two used by the WD Blue SN500 and the Patriot Scorch. By including the SN750 and 970 EVO Plus, you will get a picture of just how much those two extra lanes impact read/write speeds as well as the performance advantage of larger SDDs. The SATA-based SSD is included to highlight the speed difference between SATA and NVMe protocols. Each drive was tested in the same system configuration with one minor variance - the GPU. This should have no impact on the data presented.
On to the data!
In AS SSD, the SN500 showed sequential speeds of 1592 MB/s (read) and 1215 MB/s (write). Comparatively, the Patriot Scorch also boasts up to 1700 MB/s read speeds with a meager 780 MB/s write. It comes in shy at 1394 MB/s (read) and 809 MB/s (write). Looking further down the food chain, out SATA SSD came in at 495 MB/s (read) and 450 MB/s (write).
In ATTO Disk, the SN500 tested at 1669 MB/s (read) and 1237 MB/s (write). Not too shabby with where the top end of the advertised read/write speeds land. If you aren’t familiar with how this test collects data, it will queue up several data chucks of varying sizes, providing a breakdown on how the drive handles both reading and writing of that data onto the drive.
The final synthetic picture we get is from CrystalDiskMark. The WD Blue SN500 performs at or above the top end estimated read/write speeds, performing, again, nearly three times better than the SATA-based SSD. As you look at the chart, remember that niché of the WD Blue: performance and value. The SN750 and the 970 EVO Plus are high performing drives, outpacing the SN500 by operating on four PCI lanes… but at a much higher price point.
The WD Blue SN500 cold boots into Windows 10 in around 20 second. This was pretty standard across the board with each drive tested, but it is no less impressive. When testing launch speeds within games, we see equally speedy load times, minimizing time spent on splash screens.
In the Final Fantasy XV benchmark, the front end loading took 18 seconds with scenes transitioning with nearly non-existent delays in between. In the Final Fantasy XIV Stormblood benchmark, running at maximum settings at 1440p, we saw a total scene loading time of 16 between the six scenes it plays out. Keeping it Switching over to World of Warcraft, loading into the Battle for Azeroth Horde hub Zuldazar took 10 seconds to load in from the character select screen. And finally, loading from the character screen into the Tangled Shore in Destiny 2 took a meager 24 seconds.
It is also worth noting that Western Digital’s SSD Dashboard software can help you keep tabs on the health of your drive along with enhancing its performance.
At the front end of this review, I asked a question about whether or not the era of SATA-based SSD boot drives was over. While SATA drives are arguably more cost effective for mass storage, if you were going to go with a dedicated OS drive setup, look no further for your primary drive.
With the WD Blue SN500’s price point when placed side-by-side within its own product family* and the performance difference between protocols, the modern builder may have a different roadmap to follow. If you are budget-conscious and have not yet taken the NMVe plunge, but you have a motherboard equipped with for one, the WD Blue SN500 could just be your entry point into new realms of speed.
? New budget NMVe option without sacrificing performance
? Accessible alternative to SATA-based boot drives
? Western Digital SSD Dashboard software provides fast access to drive status
- If you have the extra ~$25** to spend in your budget and a motherboard that supported 4x lane NVMe drives, the similarly sized SN750 would give you better performance.
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.
*Based on list price of the WD Blue 3D NAND 250GD SATA III drive sold on Newegg at the time of writing this article.
**Based on list price of the 250GB WD Black SN750 NVMe drive sold on Newegg at the time of writing this article.