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
POST A COMMENT

64 Comments

View All Comments

  • Frallan - Friday, March 05, 2010 - link

    Performance isn't average its abyssimal. It can only compete with the other brands low-performance offers and is priced hicher then the High performance offers.

    I don't understand why WD turned up at the party at all - this deflates the good will that they still have.

    /F
    Reply
  • capeconsultant - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    Bigfoot? Nope. Smallfoot :) Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    You're really pumping out the articles lately, you must be swamped!

    I just wanted to comment on your closing remarks: "It just strikes me as odd for hard drive manufacturers with decades of experience in firmware development and data access patterns, to not come out of the gates swinging."

    I'm sure you realize that the two technologies are almost completely different. Sure they have common components and similar storage logistics, but WD made it's way on the quality of the physical aspect and head speeds of hard disks.

    The comparison is almost the same as how floppy disks have been phased out by thumb drives, or film cameras being replaced with digital cameras. We didn't see those companies that excelled in the in the first generation of their technology come out swinging, did we? Verbatim and Kodak are still struggling.

    What's more surprising is not seeing a company with a big wallet to come out aiming for the fences. That's what I'd like to see, just like Intel.

    Cheers for another good article,
    vol7ron
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, March 04, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately you must have missed the FIRST sentence of the article. They purchased a large company that had a great deal of experience in the SSD arena.

    That kind of makes your comment moot.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Monday, March 08, 2010 - link

    IF everything stayed the same than yes the point would be moot but sadly when acquisition happens changes are always in effect and mostly for the bad reasons. You can acquire the best SSD house in the world and bring it into your team with little experience in it and have them run it. Give it a few days and that "best" becomes WTF, guarantee. Reply
  • vol7ron - Friday, March 05, 2010 - link

    Haha, you do go me there. :)

    Except, SiliconSystems is really a mock company and I use that term loosely. Even if you say they focused on CF, although it is more similar to SSD NAND, as a storage product it is still significantly different. I would say, though, that the combination of WDs current storage management, combined with some experience with the NAND controllers should have put out something better than this WD SSD.

    Still, WD acquired Silicon Systems in March of last year and (even then) I thought SS was an inexperienced company. They put out Enterprise/OEM products, that didn't really deal with speed, but more with reliability; more specifically, being able to recover from unforeseen power downs, data errors, etc. While that is very important, SSDs are supposed to provide speed and that's not something SS is known for.

    So, yes, I still stand by my statement. Still different technologies and a hard transition.

    vol7ron
    Reply
  • Soltis - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    lol... these drives are on the lower end of the performance spectrum and the higher end of the price spectrum..

    But who knows? maybe with this new "reliability" WD drives will now survive the trip to your house! ~zing
    Reply
  • CTT - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    A comprehensive/insightful article, as always. I would have a couple of remarks about the graphs though: the low values are printed over the drive names and the the WD drive is listed as JM618.

    I see the TRIM support is given the due attention, but there are quiet a few users that don't benefit from it (e.g. using Windows XP, TrueCrypt). Would it be too much trouble to ask for some tests with drive full/some percent free and TRIM disabled?

    Did the WD experienced any significant (read abysmal) drop in write performance after some use (such as HD Tune Pro benchmarks at Legit Reviews and StorageReview)?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, March 03, 2010 - link

    I've been trying to figure out the best way to test performance in non-TRIM aware OSes. I'm playing around with some things and will eventually present my findings :)

    My drive didn't show any significant drop in write performance after use. That appears to be an issue with the HD Tune benchmark itself.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Iketh - Saturday, March 06, 2010 - link

    Yes it's an issue with HD Tune. It sometimes reports my mechincal drives as reading 1/3 of what they normally do. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now