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WD SiliconEdge Blue 256GB SSD Review
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Date: Mar 03, 2010
Section:Storage
Author: Marco Chiappetta and Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications

Solid State Storage products are obviously setting the computing market on fire as of late.  There is little question that the writing is on the wall.  Like the vacuum tube transistors of yesterday, spinning hard drives are bound to go the way of the Dodo bird.  It's only a matter of time; not if, but when.  However, the "when" in reality will likely not come for years yet of course.  In the Data Center, where ridiculously cheap bulk storage is critical, there is just no substitution for the cost per gigabyte metrics of traditional spinning disk media.  However, in the end user notebook and desktop markets, especially where performance is often times a differentiator, SSDs are making huge inroads. It's only a matter of time (and cost reduction) before SSDs are the de facto standard for notebooks and then comes the desktop.  We won't make any grand predictions here but there's good reason why the major hard drive manufacturers are lining up now to get some skin in the game.

It's only natural that the major storage players are watching this market closely to align at the proper entry points.  Let's face it, the storage model historically has been all about volume and razor thin margins.  There's plenty of room for error with leading the curve in SSD technology, with the break-neck pace of evolution the product is going through currently.  There's literally a new product arriving to market monthly it seems.  And this time, the major storage players are going to be slugging it out in yet another razor-thin margin arena with the major memory manufacturers and that little company called Intel, gunning for their share of the kill.

So why would good ol' Western Digital want in on this mayhem?  Because they have to eventually; it's that simple.  Storage is going solid state and the move to acquire Silicon Systems back in March of 2009, was a very deliberate course of action for WD that spoke clearly about their intentions.  We've heard rumblings of offerings forthcoming from WD's primary competitor, Seagate, as well but today WD makes it real with their new SiliconEdge line of SSD products.  We've taken a 256GB SiliconEdge Blue drive out for a spin, or perhaps lack thereof, and have our impressions for you on the pages ahead of WD's first foray into solid state drive technology.

WD SiliconEdge Blue SSD
Specifications and Features


Western Digital's SiliconEdge Blue SSD lines up its storage capacities at traditional NAND Flash memory boundaries of 64GB, 128GB and 256GB.  There is no usage of Flash memory space on the drive to accommodate for maintenance algorithms or caching.  On board is a standard 3Gbps SATA interface along with what we would call "higher midrange" performance specifications.  It's hard to believe actually, that 250MB/s read transfer rates and 170MB/s write transfer rates could be considered "midrange" but in reality random read/write performance is more of a measure these days for real world end user performance, versus burst transfer rates alone.  That said, the numbers listed here at least give you a sense of what this drive is about.  On paper, the SiliconEdge Blue is a firm competitor, but perhaps not setup for breaking benchmark records.  Of course we'll try to help you be the judge of that for yourself, shortly.

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WD SilconEdge Blue SSD

 

The Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue SSD uses the same 2.5" form factor as the vast majority of consumer-level solid state disks currently on the market, as you can see in the images below...

  

 

The SiliconEdge Blue's casing consists of a sturdy metal shell, with only the power and data connectors and few screw and screw holes visible. The top of the drive is adorned with a large decal that lists the device's model numbers, serial number, and other minute details. The bottom of the drive, however, is completely free from any marking.

 

 

With the Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue SSD disassembled, you can see all of the really interesting stuff going on inside. The particular drive we tested is a 256GB model, and if you look close, you'll see that all of the NAND flash chips are double-stacked--that is, there are two chips per location on the PCB. An ESMT DRAM, which is used for cache, is visible adjacent to the drive controller, which surprisingly bears Western Digital branding. WD hasn't officially disclosed who actually makes the drive controller used in the SiliconEdge Blue SSD, but WD has branded it as their own regardless.  If we were to hazard a guess, based on performance and some of the markings on the chip, we'd say it comes by way of JMicron, though WD was emphatic that this controller is coupled with highly tuned firmware that is custom to Western Digital.

We should also note that we were told that Western Digital put forth significant effort in co-developing the firmware of the SiliconEdge Blue, in cooperation with the controller manufacturer. This is in keeping with the previous manufacturing model of the Silicon Systems product lines from years past before the acquisition.  WD tells us the drive have been extensively tested and that every effort was made to ensure maximum stability and compatibility with the SiliconEdge Blue, while still offering strong performance.

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Test System and IOMeter

Our Test MethodologiesUnder each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO benchmark tests. And all drives were secure erased prior to the start of the tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 965


Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme
(X58 Express Chipset)


GeForce GTX 280

6144MB Corsair DDR3-1333
CAS 7


Integrated on board

WD SiliconEdge Blue
Micron C300 256GB
OCZ Vertex Turbo Series 120GB
Intel X25-M Gen2 160GB

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate
Intel 9.1.1.1025 w/ Matrix Storage
DirectX 11

NVIDIA ForceWare v196.34

Benchmarks Used:
HD Tach v3.0.1.0
ATTO v2.41
CrystalDiskMark v3
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP4

 

 IOMeter
 I/O Subsystem Measurement

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns with IOMeter; one with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and one with IOMeter's default access pattern of 2K transfers, 67% reads and 100% random access.

IOMeter had the new WD SiliconEdge Blue SSD trailing the rest of the pack across the board. In both the default access pattern and our custom workstation pattern, the SiliconEdge Blue just missed the mark set by the OCZ Vertex 120GB in almost every category except for maximum response time, where the WD drive trailed significantly.

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SANDRA Testing

For our next set of tests, we used SiSoft SANDRA, the the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting and read and write performance metrics are detailed below. We have also included SANDRA's detailed graph so you are able to see how the drive performs over time along with the average rated result.

 SiSoft SANDRA 2009
 Synthetic Benchmarks


WD SiliconEdge Blue
Read

 


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G)
Read

 


Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read


OCZ Vertex 120GB
Read


The new WD SiliconEdge Blue drive trailed all of the other drives in read bandwidth according SANDRA's physical disk benchmark. It was only a few MB/s behind the Vertex and X25-M but about 10% slower than the C300, when the latter is connected via a SATA 3G interface.


WD SiliconEdge Blue
Write

 


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G)
Write

 


Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Write


OCZ Vertex 120GB
Write


Western Digital's new SiliconEdge Blue SSD outpaced Intel's X25-M in SANDRA's sequential write test by about 50%, but trailed the rest of the pack. At about 158MB/s, the WD drive was about 38MB/s behind the Vertex and 50MB/s behind the C300.

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO is a more straight-forward type of disk benchmark that measures transfers across a specific volume length.  It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart.  We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes over a total max volume length of 256MB.  This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with NTFS partitions.

ATTO Disk Benchmark - Read/Write Performance
Version 2.41


WD SiliconEdge Blue

 


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G)

 


Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB


OCZ Vertex 120GB


Read speeds for the SiliconEdge Blue were just a notch behind the X25-M and Vertex drives according to ATTO, but were well behind the C300. WD's drive pulled well ahead of the X25-M in terms of write performance, however, it still lagged behind the others.

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CrystalDiskMark Testing

CrystalDiskMark is a new synthetic test we've started looking at that tests both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers.  It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with SSD performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers. 

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests


WD SiliconEdge Blue

 

Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G)

 

Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB

OCZ Vertex 120GB


The new WD SiliconBlue Edge finished the CrystalDiskMark tests well ahead of the OCZ Vertex in every category except 4K reads, regardless of queue depth. And its sequential and 512K reads and writes were much better than Intel's offering, but the C300 reigned supreme and Intel's drive rocked the random write tests, relatively speaking.

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HD Tach Testing

Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

HD Tach v3
http://www.simplisoftware.com/


WD SiliconEdge Blue

 


Micron RealSSD C300 (SATA 3G)

 


Intel X25-M Gen 2 160GB


OCZ Vertex 120GB


H

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PCMark Vantage

Next we ran the three drives through a battery of tests in PCMark Vantage from Futuremark Corp. We specifically used only the HDD Test module of this benchmark suite to evaluate all of the drives we tested. Feel free to consult Futuremark's white paper on PCMark Vantage for an understanding of what each test component entails and how it calculates its measurements. For specific information on how the HDD Test module arrives at its performance measurements, we'd encourage you to read pages 35 and 36 of the white paper.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance for its real-world application measurement approach to testing.  From simple Windows Vista start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel confident that these tests best illustrate the real performance profile of our SSDs in an end user/consumer PC usage model.

  

The OCZ Vertex and WD SiliconEdge Blue performed at near identical levels in PCMark Vantage's Gaming, Vista Startup, and Windows Defender test, but the WD drive had a marked advantage in the Windows Photo Gallery test over the Vertex. Versus the Intel and Micron drives, however, the WD SiliconEdge Blue trailed significantly.
 

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PCMark Vantage (cont.)

Our next series of Vantage tests will stress the write performance. Applications like video editing, streaming and recording are not what we would call a strong suit for the average SSD, due to their high mix of random write transactions.  We should also note that it's not so much a weakness of the memory itself, but rather the interface and control algorithms that deal with inherent erase block latency of MLC NAND flash.  SSD manufacturers are getting better at this, as is evidenced by our results below...

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

 

The remaining PCMark Vantage tests once again had the OCZ Vertex and WD SiliconEdge Blue performing at very similar levels. And in a couple of tests, WD's new drive pulled ahead of the Intel X25-M. Nothing could though the C300 though.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue SSD performed relatively well throughout our testing, but after evaluating its performance, it's easy to see why WD chose to position the drive in the "Blue" product category, rather than the company's flagship "Black" series. While the SiliconEdge Blue offers strong performance, especially in comparison to any spinning hard drive, in light of competing solid state storage solutions, it performs a little on the average side. The closest competitor to the SiliconEdge Blue performance-wise, would have to be OCZ's standard Vertex series SSD. The OCZ and WD drives performed right on top of each other in many tests, with each drive trading victories depending on the application. The Micron C300 and Intel X25-M were measurably faster overall, however, with the exception of the WD's sustained write performance.  The SiliconEdge Blue is much faster than the X25-M in that category, as are many recent generation SSDs.


The WD SiliconEdge Blue 256GB SSD that we took you on a tour of today, drops into the market at a time when product differentiation is key, at least in terms of the end user segment.  Perhaps in the OEM space, where WD does so well with large volume agreements, the company will be able to capture some lost market share, where SSDs have started to nip at the heels at hard drive revenues. That said, we have to consider WD's new offering in light of dizzying array of product from competitors as fierce as Micron and Intel. It's a tough gig, as they say, to be sure.  If you do the math, WD is going to really have to sharpen their pencil to compete.  Intel's 160GB SSDs are selling for as little as $429 currently and Micron's 256GB C300 SSD is currently selling for $799.  With MSRPs of $529 for the 128GB variant and $999 for the 256GB model, the SiliconEdge Blue isn't going to turn many heads its way right out of the gate.  Although, we have been told that street prices of the drive will likely drift lower after launch. We'll have to see how things shake out over the next few weeks and WD notes the drives will be readily available in various channels as of today.

We have to hand it to Western Digital for making the bold move they needed to about a year ago now, that afforded them an entry into the burgeoning SSD market.  The SiliconEdge Blue is just the beginning we are certain and we're hopeful of bigger and better things to come from their not so fledgling Solid State Drive division.  There is no question the SiliconEdge Blue doesn't light up the benchmarks like some of the more recent SSDs we've tested, but it's a solid product from a well-respected brand name storage company.  If WD is able to get their prices in line better soon, we'd readily recommend it.  As it stands currently, based on its initial MSRP, we'd say there are some better values out there to be had right now.  Of course, WD branded this first SSD with their Blue label for a reason.  There is likely a Black edition (read high performance) drive coming in the future as well, though we're not yet privy to when exactly.  We'll look forward to that day and will be here to tell you all about it when that day comes.

 

  • Sturdy Casing
  • Decent Performance
  • Backed by WD
  • High Capacity

 

  • MSRP Way Out Of Line
  • High Cost Per GB
  • Outperformed By Older Gen Drives



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