Spring 2010 Solid State Drive Roundup, Part 2

Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue (256GB)

Finally, there's Western Digital. The mechanical hard drive vendor has been popular for many high-capacity and high-performance products, the VelociRaptor drive being one recent excellent example. Now it’s time for WD to enter the SSD arena. The first product isn’t a high-performance part, but it offers a relatively roomy 256GB capacity. Models at 64GB and 128GB are also available. For those who still remember WD’s acquisition of Silicon Systems, this is the first mainstream product resulting from that deal.

The name SiliconEdge Blue makes it perfectly clear that performance wasn’t Western Digital's top objective. Instead, the company focuses on three items: reliability, decent performance, and shock and vibration resistance. While being rugged has been a focus for most SSD vendors, WD stresses reliability and data safety with its new Functional Integrity Testing (FIT) lab, which is tasked with ensuring maximum data safety and compatibility.

Let’s get to the testing. Predictably, the SiliconEdge Blue is not a speed demon when compared to other SSDs. The maximum bandwidth of 215 MB/s is low compared to drives like Crucial's RealSSD C300. Moreover, we found that write throughput suffers over time when the drive is used intensively. Still, the SiliconEdge Blue remains clearly faster than mechanical hard drives under all circumstances.

We found more performance drawbacks when testing I/O performance, but let's be fair: WD doesn’t make astronomical performance claims in this product’s data sheet. While WD wouldn’t tell us what controller it uses, we now know that this drive is based on JMicron’s latest JM610-series, very much like the hardware Kingston decided to use in the SSDnow V. This could explain the performance deficiencies, which are quite similar. Application performance on PCMark Vantage is at average or above, but performance may drop in certain workloads, despite TRIM support (which isn’t mentioned on the WD datasheet).

The Blue's idle power draw (1.0W) is higher than many competitors, but Kingston’s SSDNow V drive requires even more. Clearly, both are not ideal for laptop computers requiring the longest possible battery runtimes. Active power was also higher than on most other SSDs.

Lastly, we know that WD wanted to go mainstream with this drive, and the $999 price tag is definitely aggressive—just in the wrong direction. Even the two smaller capacities aren’t particularly budget-friendly. We have to consider the hardware being used and compare to what Kingston is asking for its SSDNow V-series products. In this light, we hope that street prices for this series will be more reasonable (and indeed, PriceGrabber gives us a $819 price point on the 256GB model).