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Every mobile user who is limited to just one storage bay wants the best of both worlds: SSD speeds with HDD capacities. Both Seagate and WD have a one-drive solution to this problem, with Seagate offering a hybrid 1TB hard drive with an SSD cache for SSD-esque performance, and WD offering a no-compromise 2.5-inch drive with both an SSD and an HDD. These drives are arch rivals, so it’s time to settle the score.
The WD Black2 Dual Drive is two separate drives, with a 120GB SSD riding shotgun alongside a two-platter 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive. Both drives share a single SATA 6Gb/s interface and split the bandwidth of the channel between them, with the SSD rated to deliver 350MB/s read speeds and 140MB/s write speeds. The drive comes with a SATA-to-USB adapter and includes a five-year warranty. The Seagate SSHD uses a simpler design and features a 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive with an 8GB sliver of NAND flash attached to it, along with software that helps move frequently accessed data from the platters to the NAND memory for faster retrieval. It includes a three-year warranty and is otherwise a somewhat typical drive aimed at the consumer market, not hardcore speed freaks. Both drives include free cloning software, but since the WD includes two physical drives, a USB adapter, and a longer warranty, it gets the nod.
WD’s Black2 Dual Drive is two individual drives in one enclosure, and it has the price tag to prove it.
Winner: WD Black2
This category is somewhat of a toss-up, as the WD Black2’s overall reliability is degraded somewhat by the fact that it has a spinning volume attached to it, giving it the same robustness of the Seagate SSHD. There’s also the issue of the WD Black using the slightly antiquated JMicron controller. We don’t have any reliability data on that controller in particular, but we are always more concerned about the SSD controller you-know-whating the bed than the memory, which is rated to last for decades, even under heavy write scenarios. Both drives also use two-platter designs, so neither one is more or less prone to damage than the other. In the end, we’ll have to go with the Seagate SSHD as being more durable, simply because you only have to worry about one drive working instead of two.
Winner: Seagate SSHD
Seagate is very clear about the performance of its hybrid drives, stating that they “boot and perform like an SSD,” but it never says they’re faster. It also claims the drive is “up to five times faster than a hard drive,” which seems like a bit of a stretch. It’s difficult to actually benchmark a caching drive because it won’t show on standard sequential read tests, and it gets killed by SSDs in access time tests. That said, we did see boot and PCMark Vantage scores improve significantly over time. Our boot time dropped by more than half, going from 2:27 to 1:07 after several boots, and our PCMark Vantage score shot up from 6,000 to 19,000. Still, these times are much slower than what we got with the WD SSD, which booted in 45 seconds (the system had three dozen programs installed), and hit 33,000 in PCMark Vantage.
Winner: WD Black2
Both drives include free software to help you clone your old drive and, in an odd twist, both companies use Acronis software to get ’er done. Seagate’s software is called DiscWizard, and works on OSes as old as Windows 98 and Mac OS 10.x. WD throws in a copy of Acronis True Image, though it only works with WD drives attached via the included USB-to-SATA adapter. We tested both software packages and found them to be nearly identical, as both let us clone our existing drive and boot from it after one pass, which can be tricky at times. Therefore, we call the software package a tie since they both perform well and use Acronis. However, WD’s $300 bundle includes a USB-to-SATA adapter that makes the cloning process totally painless. Seagate makes you forage for a cable on your own, which tips the scales in WD’s favor.
Winner: WD Black2
This round has a crystal-clear winner, and that’s the Seagate SSHD. That’s because the Seagate drive is dead-simple to use and behaves exactly like a hard drive at all times. You can plug it into any PC, Mac, or Linux machine and it is recognized with no hassle. The WD drive, on the other hand, only works on Windows PCs because it requires special software to “unlock” the 1TB hard drive partition. For us, that’s obviously not a problem, but we know it’s enraged some Linux aficionados. Also, the WD drive only has a 120GB SSD. So, if you are moving to it from an HDD, you will likely have to reinstall your OS and programs, then move all your data to the HDD portion of the drive. The Seagate drive is big enough that you would just need to clone your old drive to it.
Winner: Seagate SSHD
Seagate’s hybrid drive offers HDD simplicity and capacity, along with SSD-like speed for frequently requested data.
This verdict is actually quite simple. If you’re a mainstream user, the Seagate SSHD is clearly the superior option, as it is fast enough, has more than enough capacity for most notebook tasks, and costs about one-third of the WD Black2. But this is Maximum PC, so we don’t mind paying more for a superior product, and that’s the WD Black2 Dual Drive. It delivers both speed and capacity and is a better high-performance package, plain and simple.
Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of the magazine.