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The WD Black2 is an answer to the prayers of mobile users who have just one drive bay but want the speed of an SSD with the capacity of a hard drive. Unlike a hybrid drive, which stores all data on a hard drive but uses a limited amount of flash storage for caching, the WD Black2 features an all-new design whereby a single 2.5-inch enclosure houses both a hard drive and an SSD—two distinct drives that appear to the OS as such, so you can put your OS on the SSD and your data on the hard drive. It’s a brilliant solution that unfortunately gives up a bit of performance in order to conform to the small form factor, but if we had just one storage bay in our notebooks, we’d upgrade to this bad mutha immediately.
The Black2 delivers a 120GB SSD and a 1TB HDD in a slim 2.5-inch package.
The drive is a 9.5mm unit, so it won’t be sliding into any ultraportables—those require a 7mm drive—but it will fit just fine in a larger notebook. The SSD portion of the drive is a 120GB unit that uses 20nm MLC NAND flash, though the NAND manufacturer is unknown. It utilizes a JMicron controller as well as DRAM onboard cache. There is also a Marvell SATA bridge chip that allows both drives to share the lone SATA 6Gb/s interface. The hard drive portion is a two-platter, 5,400rpm model with 1TB of capacity, and its “Black” designation indicates that it’s one of Seagate’s “high-performance” drives, but with hard drives we don’t expect blistering performance anymore. We’d just like them to not suck too hard, and for mobile duties they need to conserve power, so they don’t have very big shoes to fill. The drive includes an outstanding five-year warranty, and is Windows-only at this time, as it requires software to “unlock” the 1TB partition. Once unlocked though, the partition is visible on any system, or at least it appeared on all the Windows machines we connected it to; we did not verify this with a Mac or Linux machine. You can’t use two of these drives in RAID, nor can you span data across both partitions.
WD lists the drive’s performance specs for the SSD as offering 350MB/s read speeds and 140MB/s write speeds, but it doesn’t list any numbers for the hard drive. In our testing we found the SSD to offer slightly faster read speeds, hitting 429MB/s in ATTO, and its write speed of 129MB was very close to spec. That’s not as fast as even a midrange SSD, however, so we would not enlist it for heavy usage or any video work. The hard drive portion averaged 114MB/s read and write speeds in testing, which is good enough for data storage but not super impressive. Also, since both drives share a SATA interface, transferring data to both drives simultaneously can cause a traffic jam—we saw read speeds on the SSD drop about 100MB/s when copying data to the hard drive at the same time.
All in all, this drive is clearly a compromise, but one we’d be willing to live with if we were constrained by a single storage bay. The SSD is fast enough, and 1TB of storage is bodacious, as well. If it were faster it would earn a Kick Ass award, but for now we’ll probably have to wait until Gen 2 to satisfy all of our desires.
Note: This review was originally featured in our March 2014 issue of the magazine.
Great engineering; speed and capacity; includes SATA-to-USB cable.
Pricey; SSD is not super-fast.