WD Black 3D NVMe SSD Review: WD Debuts Its New Controller

1TB Performance Testing

Comparison Products

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Our review includes both the WD Black and the nearly-identical SanDisk Extreme Pro. The Extreme Pro may perform slightly better during extended workloads thanks to the metallic sticker, but SanDisk hasn't made that claim.

The 1TB Black carries the same MSRP as the 1TB Samsung 960 EVO, making it clear which competitor Western Digital is targeting with this release. The 1TB 960 EVO joins the 960 Pro, Intel 600p, and Plextor M9Pe in our tests. We also included the Toshiba XG5 that uses the same 64-layer BiCS flash.

The new 1TB HP EX920 review will come in a few weeks, but you can see the test results in this review. This will be one of the most popular NVMe SSDs this summer. It has nearly the same hardware configuration as the Intel SSD 760p that has yet to ship in the 1TB capacity.

Sequential Read Performance

To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. We cover four-corner testing on page six of our How We Test guide.

The WD Black's low queue depth (QD) 2 random read performance stands out. Both the Black and the Extreme Pro experienced the same dip in all three of our test runs. This is likely the result of background activities cleaning cells during our test.

The new WD Black performs well at QD1 with just over 1,500 MB/s of throughput, but we would like to see better QD2 to QD8 performance.

Sequential Write Performance

Compared to other NVMe SSDs, the new nCache 3.0 delivers amazing results during the sequential write workload. The results are among the highest we've ever recorded. The new 1TB Black is even faster than the Samsung 960 Pro.

Random Read Performance

With great highs come great lows. The Black's random read performance isn't very impressive. We recorded just over 10,000 IOPS at QD1 in our burst test. It takes time to leap back to full performance after the PCIe bus transitions from a low power state. Most of the random reads in this test happen during the transition period, which better reflects real-world usage. In contrast, the Black delivered slightly over 12,000 IOPS in our longer test.

Random Write Performance

The new WD controller performs very well with random write data. Many of the NVMe SSDs deliver similar results at low queue depths. We recorded a ~10,000 IOPS delta between the best and worst products at QD1.

70% Mixed Sequential Workload

We describe our mixed workload testing in detail here and describe our steady state tests here.

The dip in QD2 sequential reads doesn't impact performance during the mixed sequential workload. The WD Black chewed through our test at all queue depths. The 1TB drive even topped 3,000 MB/s, but that result came at QD16. That's far above what you will see with most common applications.

70% Mixed Random Workload

The low random read performance played a role in the mixed random workload results. The Black fell to the middle of QD2 test results, which is very close to the Toshiba XG5 and Plextor M9Pe that also use 64-layer BiCS flash.

Sequential Steady-State

The 1TB WD Black and SanDisk Extreme Pro deliver enterprise-class performance after the ten-hour preconditioning period. The duo outperforms the Samsung 960 Pro and nearly double the results of the next best SSD. We didn't expect these great results with TLC flash, but we're happy to see it.

Random Steady-State

The steady-state random write test exposes some variation between the SanDisk Extreme Pro and WD Black. This might be due to the Extreme Pro's metal sticker that dissipates heat from the controller.

The new drives aren't very consistent under these conditions. The low endurance ratings of the new drives will keep data centers from using these SSDs for heavy random write workloads.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

The early random read results were a precursor of what to expect in the application tests. WD and SanDisk will have to address this area if they want to take the performance crown from Samsung. It's possible to improve random read performance via firmware updates, but we don't know if WD is working on an update to address the issue. For most users, all of the drives in our test will deliver acceptable results and almost indistinguishable performance with common applications (under most conditions).

Application Storage Bandwidth

The new Black and SanDisk Extreme Pro deliver just over 500 MB/s of throughput in our application tests, but we expected more from the high-performance SSDs.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

The new Black trails only the Samsung 960 Pro in this test. The drive is only slightly faster than the Samsung 960 EVO, but it is much faster than the other products in a heavy write environment. Most users will never push these drives this hard during normal use. The recovery results, which have idle time between each pass, are more important.

Total Service Time

You're surrounded by throughput specifications when you go shopping for a new SSD. Throughput is how you measure the speed of a file transfer, but it's not the most common activity. Instead, low latency is what makes our computers feel fast. This metric is representative of the snappiness of your user experience, such as how fast your computer feels as you move between windows and applications. The Black and Extreme Pro deliver the lowest service times throughout the recovery cycles.

Disk Busy Time

Disk busy time is a measurement of how long the drive worked to complete the tasks. This measurement doesn't include system processing time. It's an important measurement because faster time-to-idle results in lower overall power consumption.

The new WD and SanDisk SSDs match the two Samsung SSDs with very low disk busy time during our application workloads.

BAPCo SYSmark 2014 SE Responsiveness Test

The BAPCo SYSmark 2014 SE Responsiveness Test uses actual applications to measure latency instead of traces. We run this test in a Lenovo Y700-17 gaming notebook with the default power settings to mimic normal user activity. The WD Black trails most of the popular NVMe SSDs, including the new HP EX920.

The test also gives us our first look at power consumption. The software measures power at the system level, but it offers enough granularity to show how the storage device can alter overall system power draw.

BAPCo MobileMark 2012.5 Notebook Battery Life

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

MobileMark 2012.5 measures notebook battery life. BAPCo designed the test to compare different notebooks, but we repurposed it to compare storage devices by simply swapping out SSDs. This test runs in a Lenovo Y700-17 like the SYSmark test, but we remove the AC power. The gaming notebook isn't designed for all-day battery life, but it still provides roughly five hours of use while running a typical office workload.

The WD Black delivered 317 minutes of battery life in our gaming notebook. The result isn't great, but it's far from the worst we've recorded. The performance score came to 1705 with the system running in the low power states that reduce CPU, DRAM and PCIe speeds. The Samsung 960 Pro is the only SSD that performed better.

MORE: Best SSDs

MORE: How We Test HDDs And SSDs

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18 comments
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  • Snipergod87
    What does "The 960 EVO uses a five-core ARM design for the 960 Pro and various enterprise variants." mean on page 1
  • AgentLozen
    SniperGod87 said:
    What does "The 960 EVO uses a five-core ARM design for the 960 Pro and various enterprise variants." mean on page 1


    It sounds like the controller that powers both the 960 EVO and the 960 Pro is built on a five-core ARM architecture. Also, Samsung has enterprise level solid state drives built on the same controller.

    edit: In retrospect, I'm not sure if I interpreted your question correctly.
  • photonboy
    "The 960 EVO uses a five-core ARM design for the 960 Pro and various enterprise variants."

    I guess that's been changed to this:
    "WD chose a 28nm tri-core design to target the same market Samsung addresses with the 960 EVO. Samsung uses a five-core ARM design for the 960 Pro and various enterprise variants."
  • Ninjawithagun
    Your benchmarks are wrong. I own a Samsung EVO 960 and am using the latest firmware as well as the most current Samsung NVMe driver for Windows 10. My EVO 960 easily beats the WD Black NVMe in every single benchmark you ran. Something tells me that you did not update your test hardware properly.
  • CRamseyer
    The 960 EVO was updated and retested on December 9th, 2017 for the new burst test results. The results are accurate for the tests. If you use CrystalDisk Mark then your test parameters are different than mine.
  • 2Be_or_Not2Be
    Can it be explained how the Toshiba was #1 in the 70% Mixed Sequential Workload when it finished mid to low in every other test, including the sequential read/write tests?
  • silver12
    In other SSDs reviews you showed the HD Tune Pro test for sequential write. I find that information very interesting. Is there a chance you can add that test?
    Thank you very much
  • mischon123
    Good review. So its basically a broken design with flawed firmware that cannot outperform a 6 year old Samsung product and WD cannot fix the flaws themselves and it took an external firm to tame some of the bugs in the sd design. Now your supposed to pay the same price as you would for a fully working Samsung SSD? Yeahhh, riiiighhht.
  • CRamseyer
    The cache on the 1TB drive is right around 20GB with 128KB blocks. In the future we will publish that data in a line chart. I'm just working on getting a few products retested.
  • Geef
    Does WD use write cache like the Samsung EVO does? Once the cache is used the performance drops off. The Samsung PRO doesn't use cache, its just faster overall. Its a big reason the price difference between the two.
  • CRamseyer
    Yes. The WD/SanDisk cache is called nCache and this product uses the new 3rd generation version.
  • HERETIC-1
    Was often suspicious that some of Toshiba's controllers were Phison-in disguise.
    Hopefully that's not the case here....................................
  • Istarion
    I think this is one of the most pesimistic reviews I've ever read in tomshardware.

    WD did a poor job with its previous "black ssd", with bad performance using a 3rd party controller and setting a high price tag and using the same label as their previous products as it was "fast" when it wasn't, I totally agree with that and was extremely disappointed too, but this is not that product...

    In this case we have a product that:
    -has 960evo-like performance (a bit better overall except for some odd results for some tests)
    -matches 960evo price
    -it's the FIRST CONTROLLER they have done which equates the performance of one of the best considered products in the market (samsung) that has been around wearing the performance crown FOR YEARS
    -it's the first review and it's not even in the market, so these "odd results" may (or may not ofc!) get better when there's availability. In that case, it will outperform samsung 960evo.

    For me the conclusion points are not objective and thus wrong:
    -Some performance anomalies
    -Expensive compared to emerging products
    -Could use some additional firmware tuning

    Whats the difference between point 1 and 3?? "Some performance anomalies" vs "Could use some additional firmware tuning", isn't that the same? If you fine-tune the firmware, you'll fix "odd results", which is the most critical issue (unless there's some other bug). And if you say that the software is "good", this confirms the previous statement I've just said.

    But my favorite is the 2nd one "Expensive compared to emerging products". So you are saying incoming products will have better price. Seriously... You can add that to ALL the reviews!
    I'd say "odd timing" maybe, but for me now this drive is a real alternative to samsung 960evo, at least for today. Ofc next products will outperform the drive! But that's so obvious it doesn't make sense to be part of a conclusion. It's like saying "wait for the incoming products because they will be better"...


    @MISCHON123 I'm sorry but you're quite wrong, I think due to reading only some bits and pieces of the review:
    1. This is a good design with great performance, which has some bugs in certain cases. I can agree to an extent to say "flawed firmware".
    2. Samsung evo 960 is from the end of 2016 (it was announced around september and available around dec / jan of 2017), that is 1 and a half years, not 6.
    3. I don't even understand what you mean with "WD cannot fix the flaws themselves and it took an external firm to tame some of the bugs in the sd design". It makes no sense. Its not what is happening here. You'd better reread the review, you are just wrong :\
    4. I guess that a drive that has similar performance as another drive can have the same price. It has some up and downsides, and the downsides can outwin the upsides in your scenario, but it can be the other way around. I still understand they have some things to address so I could understand asking for a bit less than 960evo, but are we willing to pay more if they fix it? Because if they do, the peformance will be just better.

    I'm extremely happy for WD to take seriously the SSD market and do that inhouse controller. This means more competition and better prices for everyone! Moreover, this is one of the good-old harddrive makers, with good reputation and, from my point of view, respectable engineers.
    Maybe this comes at an odd time, I just hope they keep walking this road, and improve the following controllers. And obviously adjust the pricing when other products appear.

    I can't stop thinking that their first controller just matched crown products performance, thats impressive!!!
  • CRamseyer
    When we say "software" we're talking about the Dashboard software and not the physical SSD.

    "Emerging" in this case was less than 24 hours after the review went online. We knew the other product would hit Newegg/Amazon within days of our writing the review. We didn't know if it would be available before this review went online. It's not quite "wait for the incoming products because they will be better".

    I agree with your closing remarks. In the long term the new architecture will increase competition, impact pricing and be a viable alternative to Samsung. All of those are very good things. WD/SD having a controller is good for performance as well.

    Does that mean we have to recommend the Black 3D NVMe right now? The EX920 is available now, the SX8200 will be next week (reviewers have samples now). We already have an idea of what Samsung's next generation performance looks like from our review of the PM981. WD/SD targeted the 960 EVO in performance and price and that would have been fine for January 2018. If this was a CES launch then I would be cheering, leading the parade with a baton even. This is April and the 960 EVO has lost it's performance crown to a product (and many others very soon) that sell (and will sell) for quite a bit less.
  • Istarion
    Well that's true :) They're 1 generation late, they'll have to adjust pricing. To be fair, we only know the 1tb performance drive, right?
    Let's hope they keep up the pace so we have more competition :3
  • HERETIC-1
    @ISTARION-Personally I think Chris was quite generous with this drive.
    One of the most important measurements I look at is-QD1 4K Read-
    Samsung has been hitting 10K IOPS on it's SATA drives for years-
    I consider that POOR for NVMe.
    Next look at PCMark 8 total bandwidth(what we actually use our drives for)
    POOR results there-when the Intel 760 replaces the 600 the WD ends on the
    bottom.
    To top it all off-where I live they try to sell WD drives dearer than Samsung
    when they have 80 to 90% of the performance..........................
  • Lutfij
    CRAMSEYER,
    Nice article, keep up the good work. This should come to use with my friends.
  • coolitic
    Similar to the 960 EVO, but this has a 5-year warranty whereas the 960 EVO has a 3-year warranty.