Western Digital is bringing 3D NAND to their high-end consumer SSD family with the launch today of two new NVMe SSDs featuring SanDisk's 64-layer 3D TLC NAND flash memory. As with the SATA SSDs that first brought 3D NAND to their consumer portfolio, Western Digital is releasing the same drive under both their WD and SanDisk brands. Under the stickers, the hardware is identical.

The names are recycled and familiar: the WD Black and SanDisk Extreme PRO. The first WD Black SSD was Western Digital's first consumer NVMe product. It used a Marvell controller and 15nm planar TLC NAND, and ended up near the bottom of the performance rankings for NVMe SSDs, with no appreciable performance advantage over SATA SSDs for heavier workloads. The SanDisk Extreme PRO name hasn't been used on an internal SSD for quite a while, but it carries a strong legacy: the original SanDisk Extreme PRO was a top-tier SATA SSD with MLC NAND and was competitive with the Samsung 850 PRO. The SATA SanDisk Extreme PRO hit the market right before the 850 PRO and was the first consumer SSD to carry a 10-year warranty, forcing Samsung to follow suit with the 850 PRO.

Re-using product names like this without any clear generational indicator or model year will cause confusion. Western Digital has at least ensured that the new drives are using different capacities from their predecessors: the first-generation WD Black was 256GB and 512GB, the original Extreme PRO was 240GB, 480GB and 960GB, and the new WD Black and SanDisk Extreme PRO are 250GB, 500GB and 1000GB. Still, last year's WD Black will be coexisting in the marketplace for several months with this year's model, and the two are very different products.

The new WD Black and SanDisk Extreme PRO SSDs are based on the same platform as the SN720 business/OEM SSD Western Digital announced earlier this year. In addition to the major advance of switching from 15nm planar TLC NAND to 64-layer BiCS 3D NAND, the new SSDs also feature Western Digital's own new SSD controller instead of using a controller from Marvell. This is a major shift toward vertical integration for Western Digital/SanDisk, and is the best strategy for Western Digital to differentiate their products in a market crowded with dozens of brands sourcing their controllers or the entire drive design from the same small handful of vendors.

Western Digital WD Black and SanDisk Extreme PRO Specifications
Capacity 250 GB 500 GB 1 TB
WD Black Model WDS250G2X0C WDS500G2X0C WDS100T2X0C
SanDisk Extreme PRO Model - SDSSDXPM2-500G SDSSDXPM2-1T00
Form Factor M.2 2280 Single-Sided
Interface NVMe PCIe 3 x4
Controller Western Digital in-house
NAND SanDisk 64-layer 3D TLC
DRAM SK Hynix DDR4-2400
Sequential Read 3000 MB/s 3400 MB/s 3400 MB/s
Sequential Write 1600 MB/s 2500 MB/s 2800 MB/s
4KB Random Read 220k IOPS 410k IOPS 500k IOPS
4KB Random Write 170k IOPS 330k IOPS 400k IOPS
Power Peak (10µs) 9.24 W 9.24 W 9.24 W
PS3 Idle 70 mW 70 mW 100 mW
PS4 Idle 2.5 mW 2.5 mW 2.5 mW
Write Endurance 200 TBW
0.4 DWPD
300 TBW
0.3 DWPD
600 TBW
0.3 DWPD
Warranty 5 years
MSRP $119.99
Amazon Price $119.99 (48¢/GB) $226.75 (45¢/GB) $449.99 (45¢/GB)

The performance specifications of the new WD Black and SanDisk Extreme PRO promise a high-end drive, with sequential read speeds of 3+ GB/s even on the smallest 250GB model, and high random access specifications on the 500GB and larger models. Write endurance ratings are a reasonable 0.3-0.4 drive writes per day for five years. The MSRPs position the WD Black directly against the Samsung 960 EVO and above most other recent consumer NVMe SSDs—the fast-growing entry-level NVMe segment is what most brands are focusing on at the moment.

The WD Black can at least momentarily hit the power limits of the M.2 form factor, but it doesn't feature any heatspreader. Instead, Western Digital is using an uncommon layout that places the controller in the middle of the stick with NAND flash memory on both sides of the controller. This was deemed adequate to prevent overheating, and has the side effect of making it easier to route the 8 channels from the controller to the NAND.

The new drives will initially be available in capacities from 250GB to 1TB, though the SanDisk-branded versions won't include the smallest 250GB model. These drives should all be shipping by the end of the month. Western Digital has not mentioned any plans for a 2TB models, but since they have already announced a 2TB SN720 they obviously have the option to quickly deploy a 2TB WD Black or SanDisk Extreme PRO model if the demand is sufficient.

AnandTech 2017/2018 Consumer SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1709
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.1
The Western Digital NVMe Architecture - NAND & Controller
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  • Cooe - Friday, April 6, 2018 - link

    This is why the 250GB 960 EVO (and inevitably for the new WD Black as well) is far and away the most popular SKU just about everywhere. At around $110-120 vs $80-90, you're only paying a premium of around 20-25% over an equivalent tiered SATA III drive (ala an 850/860 EVO), though yes, you are sacrificing your sequential write speeds past the 13GB Turbowrite cache to just 300MB/s to get that comparatively tiny price premium for good NVMe vs SATA-III ratio.

    Tbh though in most general consumer PC workloads the above simply isn't an issue, as sustained writes of >13GB are few & far between, and the cache turnover speed while idling is speedy quick. I think this is exactly the reason why Western Digital & SanDisk adopted the kind of handicapped nCache 2.0 into a very Turbowrite-esque system with nCache 3.0 (but more like 850 EVO's simplier static TW cache just a lot bigger, rather a dynamic one like the 960 EVO uses).
  • Dragonstongue - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - link

    competition is good, but not if they all want to keep pricing within a few $ of each other IMO.

    for nvme/M.2 drives they need to make sure is more universal that it is more plug and play so consumers can be assured it will work on their motherboard as a bootable OS drive right off the bat without driver specific support (quite a few drives quite a few no matter on Intel or AMD chipset seem to have this issue hence they need more plug and play support)

    costs more than a normal sata based one (performance is much higher though that does not always mean can see this difference) but having to screw around making the bios/windows able to use the drive in question sucks (not saying this is a problem with this specific model, but it is a problem)

    nice write up though ^.^
  • PeachNCream - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - link

    I agree with you on pricing. It would be good if WD had priced their drive a bit lower in order to force Samsung to respond since they have a competitive product, but they have to get a return on development costs so it's safe for them to match Samsung's price. I don't like it because the consumer isn't realizing a benefit in additional competition if neither company budges on cost, but I can understand the business justifications that are probably behind it.
  • Cliff34 - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - link

    What I do wish is that the m2 sata drives should be the same price as sata ssd. After all, the specs are the same just diff forms. Too bad for us consumers.
  • The_Assimilator - Friday, April 6, 2018 - link

    M.2 SATA drives should cost *less* than their 2.5" equivalents, and the 2.5" drives should simply be an M.2 drives in an enclosure with an M.2-to-SATA connector.
  • Cliff34 - Saturday, April 7, 2018 - link

    It should but it doesn't. My guess is because m2 form is a niche market because most computer accept SATA. Therefore, companies can charge more because they can get away with it. Unless there's a huge swing of adoption of m2 form for desktop and laptops, m2 will always cost more than SATA.
  • zodiacfml - Friday, April 6, 2018 - link

  • wr3zzz - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - link

    WD's pricing strategy is probably indicative that current demand for NVMe is still outpacing supply.
  • Arbie - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - link

    Great article and follow-up analysis of the tests; thanks.
  • iwod - Thursday, April 5, 2018 - link

    What are the difference in real world usage? We thought we needed better QD1, and even that doesn't return any significant difference in optane.

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