Best of Both Worlds: WD Launches Black2 Dual Drive

Posted on November 25, 2013 9:00 AM by Rob Williams

Well, it’s about time this exists. While I’m not about to suggest that WD’s just-launched Black2 drive isn’t going to have appeal to any desktop users, “notebook” is the word that slaps me in the face when I look at it. Unlike some solutions out there, where a paltry amount of SSD space sits alongside mechanical storage, WD has managed to cram 120GB worth of MLC NAND inside of Black2. On the side? 1TB of mechanical storage.

You’re reading this right: 120GB NAND flash and 1TB mechanical storage in the same 2.5-inch drive.

WD Black2 Hybrid HDD and SSD

According to WD, the SSD portion of the drive is on par performance-wise with standard consumer models, but we benched much less; 200MB/s on average with HD Tune 5.5. We’d anticipate that the 1TB mechanical portion should offer similar performance to other ~5,300 RPM mechanicals, including the one inside of WD’s My Passport Ultra 1TB.

Who Black2 was made for: Creative pros, business pros (or mobile warriors), gamers, and DIYers. Is it for you? If you’re a desktop user, the answer is a definitive “no” unless you’re a user of 2.5″ storage to begin with (either due to being power-conscious or having a small form-factor build). While WD does mention gamers, it’d be more economical to purchase an individual 120GB SSD (which is going to be faster than what we benched this internal SSD to be) and then a 4TB 3.5″ drive on the side – Black2 is going to be priced at $299 USD out of the gate.

It might seem unfair to compare discrete solutions to one where both are combined, and it is. However, the comparison mentioned above highlights why this product really isn’t going to suit many desktop users. But could it suit notebook users? Absolutely. The vast majority of notebooks don’t include dual HDD bays, so to be able to have fast SSD storage and beefy mechanical storage on the side is going to be well worth the premium pricing for some (me included).

WD Black2 Installed in PC

All that said, I admit that I’m left wanting here. When I first learned of Black2, I felt as though my prayers had been answered. “WOW, a 1TB caching drive!”, I exclaimed. Minutes passed… and then I realized that this isn’t a caching solution. Both the SSD and HDD portions are treated individually, and I’m not too sure that a caching solution could be forced given special WD software is required to unlock the HDD portion (it doesn’t seem safe to tie two pieces of storage together when a piece of software needs to unlock one part on each boot).

That leads us to another issue: Black2 requires a Windows OS (well, unless you don’t actually care about the 1TB storage). At the current time, there’s no Mac support, and there’s no mention that it’s in the works. Linux? Nah. Let’s hope Linus Torvalds doesn’t catch wind of the hard drive that cannot be used under his famed OS.

Alternatively, WD could have one-upped Seagate by releasing a caching drive that utilized 120GB of fast NAND – quite a leap compared to the 8GB found in Seagate’s Momentus XT. Solutions like these don’t require software, and are OS agnostic. Most importantly? Users would feel like they have a 1TB SSD. Yes, this SSD solution would have been a little slower than a pure one (this is 200MB/s, as mentioned above), but raw throughput has never been the important factor with SSDs; access times and IOPS are, and this drive delivers on both those fronts.

I feel that WD missed the mark on this one. It could have released the most attractive caching solution ever released, but instead, it targets Black2 at notebook users running Windows. As that solution? This is Editor’s Choice material, but even then, I’m willing to bet that most notebook users would forego 120GB to enjoy the ultimate in caching.

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