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

Conclusion

WD's new NVMe controller is a step in the right direction for one of the world's largest flash producers. Every flash manufacturing company dreams of having an in-house controller, it allows the company to make better use of the flash and build superior products, but few have the engineering expertise to make it happen. It worked out very well for Samsung, and Western Digital hopes to have similar results.

The WD Black is faster than the 1TB 960 EVO in most of our tests. WD's controller is still new, and we expect to see firmware updates over time. Western Digital hasn't given us any indication of pending updates, but that's standard operating procedure with consumer SSDs. That is one benefit of working with a third-party controller design house like Marvell or SMI: the testing tends to be more robust because other companies also validate the same controller. We found some odd behavior in some tests, but it wouldn't would keep us from recommending the new Black SSD.

We feel like WD missed an opportunity with Marvell and SMI. Both companies failed to deliver an enthusiast-class controller with the previous generation but rebounded. Marvell announced new 8- and 16-channel controllers on the same day we sat down with Western Digital to discuss its new controller. At CES, we saw Marvell's 8-channel controller pushing over 670,000 IOPS.

SMI responded to its 2017 SM2260 folly with the SM2262 controller that powers the Intel 760p and HP EX920. We haven't tested the 1TB 760p, but the HP EX920 delivers better performance than the 1TB Black and it debuts at $369.99 in a few weeks. Intel and HP are just the beginning of things to come. Adata has already announced two products with the SM2262 controller, and more will follow.

The situation gets worse as the year rolls along. SMI positioned the SM2262 to slot in the middle of the mainstream and enthusiast market, but the high-performance SM2262EN will come to market later this year. By then we should see even lower flash prices.

This all means that while Western Digital is in a good position with the Black right now, it will need to address pricing in the future. It's a safe bet that Samsung will lower 960 EVO and Pro pricing just like it did when Crucial released the MX500.

The success of the Black SSD series depends on the steps WD takes in the weeks to come. We can't recommend the 1TB Black at its $449.99 price point. Our outlook for the Black will become more favorable if WD matches the EX920's $369.99 price point. But like the current market conditions, this is a moving target with several unseen variables. The Black NVMe SSD is a very good product, but it will need either a firmware update to achieve performance dominance or a price drop to be more competitive with emerging products.

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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.