If you're interested in learning more about how SSD's work, be sure to read our SSD Relapse.

A year ago Western Digital acquired SiliconSystems, a manufacturer of solid state storage devices - primarily in the Compact Flash form factor. Companies like Ericsson and Cisco apparently buy tons of industrial grade CF from Silicon Systems for use in their telecom equipment and servers. It’s not particularly fast storage, but it’s reliable and much more expensive than what you stick in your SLR.

The industrial CF business is still doing well for Western Digital, but now it’s time for the company that brought us the fastest desktop hard drives to throw its hat into the consumer SSD race.

Western Digital’s first consumer SSD is called the SiliconEdge Blue. SiliconEdge is the brand of WD’s SSDs, and the Blue label indicates that this isn’t a high performance drive. WD’s color naming scheme is pretty simple to figure out. Green means energy efficient, blue means mainstream and black is reserved for the highest performing drives. In talking to the drive maker I got the distinct impression that we’d be hearing about a Black label SSD in the coming months, but for now it’s strictly mainstream.

MSRP 64GB 128GB 256GB
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue $279 $529 $999

 

Given the $529 MSRP on the 128GB SiliconEdge Blue, there’s certainly nothing mainstream about the price. Although Western Digital did tell me that the price was purely a suggestion and it expects significantly lower prices from etailers. Even if WD can deliver Kingston-like pricing, we’re still talking about a drive that sells for over $2 per Gigabyte of storage space. It may be mainstream for an SSD, just not for the majority of PC buyers.

Instead, what WD refers to when it calls the SiliconEdge Blue a mainstream drive is its compatibility. When Western Digital set out to build the SiliconEdge Blue, the focus was on compatibility and reliability. Western Digital wanted to build a drive that users could buy and pop in any system without worries of having to update firmware or the drive just not working. There are still systems today that don’t play well with SSDs, often exposing weaknesses either in the HBA (Host Bus Adapter) or in the SSD itself. Most machines are used to dealing with slow hard drives. Installing a drive that has an order of magnitude greater performance is sure to push the limits of any spec. We’ve seen that crop up in more than one case, the most public and unresolved being the use of certain 3rd party SSDs in Apple’s latest MacBook Pros.

Western Digital made it very clear that in order to build the most compatible, reliable drive possible - it often sacrificed performance. While the SiliconEdge Blue will always be faster than a mechanical hard drive, it’s not going to be in the class of the SandForce or Marvell based SSDs.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to back up WD’s claims. SandForce claimed that its drives were bullet proof thanks to their enterprise heritage. I had no problems killing my first SandForce drive in a matter of weeks (granted it was on pre-release firmware). More recently, Micron boasted a 1000 hour validation time on its RealSSD C300 before beginning to ship the drives. It took me even less time to brick my C300.

Every SSD maker claims that they do reliability and compatibility testing and use real world scenarios for validation. It’s not that the companies are lying, it’s that they can’t possibly test every single combination of hardware, software and usage. Smaller companies generally have fewer resources and thus test less. Larger companies, especially those with experience in shipping mission critical hardware, tend to test more. Neither type of company can avoid issues altogether, case in point being the number of times Intel has had to issue firmware updates to fix bugs missed during validation.

Western Digital couldn’t give me any proof or guarantees that the SiliconEdge Blue was more reliable/compatible than the competition. As I’ve said in the past, that’s up to everyone who ends up as an early adopter to find out.

The Controller
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  • chuckbam - Saturday, March 20, 2010 - link

    I buy Intel for the Intel SSD Toolbox utility. With win7, I load the Intel chipset inf, Matrix Storage Manager and am not sure if Trim still works.

    I am happy to see WD into this market. Prices need to come WAY DOWN!
    Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Saturday, March 13, 2010 - link

    As a great fan of the Raptor series drives, what I want from WD is the same concept in SSD: the top performance and super reliability it is. The down side of course in a VelociRaptor is its relative price - and, as expensive as SSDs still are, a comparable price for an SSD "VelociRaptor" would be extreme.

    Still, it's what I want, and I could certainly see me building a high-end system using smaller capacity WD SSD "Raptors" in Raid 0 for that extreme performance goofy people like me want to have. If I get an extra few grand handed to me, I would use larger drives, of course.

    Anyhoo, this drive is not what I want to see from WD (unless of course it really does kick reliability butt over its competitors). Hopefully by the time I build another high-end rig (just built one so it will be awhile, likely) WD will have what I want (or someone), a SSD successor to VelociRaptor mechanical hard drives.
    Reply
  • liquoredonlife - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    Great article Anand! Also thanks for reiterating the incompatibility with gen2 unibody macbook pro's and particular SSDs. Will you be able to test this SSD with your mbp? Reply
  • heulenwolf - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - link

    Anand mentioned some possible convergence between magnetic and solid state drive firmware development. Could this mean the mythical hybrid drive is down the road somewhere? With single spindles holding in excess of 300 GB and SSDs not even filling the 2.5" form factor, isn't there room for both? If not both storage types in one drive then maybe both storage types in one drive slot? Then you could have the boot drive be the super fast SSD and the advantage of cheaper, higher-capacity storage of a single-spindle magnetic drive in a single laptop. I think this dual-drive approach could be a better solution than the hybrid drive until caching in drive controllers becomes smarter. Reply
  • GullLars - Sunday, March 07, 2010 - link

    These drives clearly don't support NCQ, as IOPS don't scale with QD.
    The rating of 5000 IOPS is about the same as the rating of a single NAND TSOP. You can literaly get the same random IOPS performance from a thumbnail USB drive.
    Reply
  • ky - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Can someone explain why there's a dropoff in performance between the 100GB and 50GB Mercury Extreme SSDs in the 4K Aligned random write test? Reply
  • cactusdog - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Oh well nothing to see here either. I dont see how they can justify the price. A SSD with a PCB and some chips should be cheaper to make than a mechanical hard drive with moving metal parts. Fair enough to pay a little extra for new tech but this is ridiculous. Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    I'd really like to see performance of two 7200rpm drives in a striped RAID thrown into these charts. So please get on that. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    I'll save you the time of waiting.

    -Sequential Read and Write: Near twice the performance of a single drive

    -Random 4K read/write: Just as bad as a single drive

    Fin~
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    Going from WD's HDD naming conventions I would expect average but reliable performance from a "Blue" SSD, and that appears to be exactly what they've delivered, albeit at a ridiculously high price.

    The WD SSD I'm really interested in is the "SiliconEdge Black", a drive that will hopefully be forthcoming after their sales division puts down the crack pipe and gets serious about SSD pricing.
    Reply

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