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

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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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Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.
  • 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.