Western Digital recently announced its first hybrid traditional and solid state drive, the WD Black2 (or WD Black^2). Solid state drives are becoming the norm when it comes to laptops. Apple has transitioned their entire lineup to flash storage, and most of the PC industry has followed. One of the problems with SSDs is that their cost per gigabyte is still really steep, meaning you usually have to give up storage space if you want the fastest drive possible.
With the newly announced Western Digital Black2, you get the best of both worlds. It’s a 128 GB SSD and a 1TB mechanical hard drive, all in the regular 2.5-inch laptop drive configuration. There have been combo (or “hybrid”) drives in the past from Seagate. Seagate’s hybrid drive line called SSHD’s of 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives tend to use small NAND quantities (usually to around 8GB.) The WD Black2 is the first drive to have a relatively large sized SSD in addition to a huge standard drive at 128GB.
Western Digital’s engineers managed to fit the rotating spindle disk and the 128GB SSD into a 2.5″ form factor that is 9.5mm high.
Key Challenge – Additional Software Required
The biggest challenge the WD Black2 faces is that when it is installed the computer will only recognize the 128GB SSD. In order to unlock the mechanical side you have to install your OS, then install Western Digital’s proprietary WD Black2 software. For Windows users, this is not an issue. For users of OS X, Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris there is no support at this time. See here for the supported OS list.
Once that is done, you’ll see two separate drives on your computer, one 1TB partition and one 128GB partition. Here is what this looks like.
Although one could, in theory create a device spanning both volumes, WD suggests there would be errors when crossing writes from the SSD to the HD.
ASMedia Controllers and RAID Configurations
One caveat listed on the FAQ is that ASMedia controllers are not compatible with the WD Black2
The dual drive does not support the ASmedia controller.
Although this does not apply to the majority of configurations, many motherboards utilize the ASMedia SATA controller, even the ultra high-end ASUS P9X89-E WS we reviewed recently. ASMedia controllers are commonly used to provide additional SATA III 6.0gbps ports on motherboards. This was especially important in the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge architectures that had few SATA III ports available. Certainly this is something to check before attempting to install the drives.
Western Digital suggests that the drive cannot be utilized using BIOS level RAID. We will confirm this once we get our sample to test but it is a limitation noted on the FAQ.
Pricing – Very Premium
Pricing wise Amazon is listing the Western Digital WD Black2 as well as some third party sellers. Pricing seems to be in the $300 range based on this listing. Compare this to a Seagate 1TB plus 8GB NAND SSHD which costs about $100. Clearly Western Digital is charging a hefty premium.
On the other hand, in laptops with a single SATA port available, there used to be a major trade off between capacity (hard drive) and performance (SSD) with only one slot available. Combining both into a single drive bay makes sense in these constrained applications.
At around $300 it is also less expensive than a 1TB class SSD. For example, the Crucual M500 960GB recently started selling for $439.99 and the Samsung 840 EVO 1TB sells for just over $500. The WD Black2 has a much lower initial purchase price and has additional capacity (since it is 1TB + 120GB rather than 1TB only). For the time being SSD pricing is still higher but the numbers are closer than they used to be.
In summary 1TB + 8GB of NAND with in-drive caching is $100. 1TB + 120GB of NAND is $300. 1TB of NAND drives are $440-500. That gives a good distribution.
The biggest benefit that a drive like the WD Black2 gives you is the ability to utilize the speed of solid state drives without leaving the comfort and size of traditional mechanical hard drives. The drive costs $299, which is pretty steep for the amount of storage you’re actually getting. But when you consider that it you cannot currently buy a 1.2TB SSD for that price, it is in align with what we might expect.
This is certainly a step in the right direction, especially for the severely space constrained notebook market. It is also a good sign that the traditional hard drive players are seeing hybrid drives as the future and are innovating accordingly.
What do you think? Talk back in the comments below!