To date all the hybrid storage solutions we have seen have been rather limited. Seagate got the idea right with the Momentus XT but having only 8GB of NAND (4GB in the first generation) limited the gains of caching dramatically. There simply wasn't enough NAND cache to fit all the data that users frequently used. Sure it was better than a traditional hard drive but the experience was far away from the real SSD experience. I'm actually surprised that there hasn't been any major evolution in the hybrid market -- the original Momentus XT was released over three years ago and fundamentally the current third generation Momentus XT is very similar. Back then I would've expected more and better offerings to be released within a year but obviously that hasn't happened. Until now.

WD Black2 combines a 120GB SSD and a 1TB 5400rpm hard drive into one 2.5" 9.5mm solution. WD doesn't actually call the Black2 a hybrid drive, but a dual-drive because the the SSD and hard drive are completely separate. In other words, the drive will appear as two separate volumes: 120GB SSD and 1TB hard drive. There's no caching involved and the end-user can decide what goes to the SSD as if it were a standalone drive. By default only the SSD portion is usable but WD supplies a USB drive with drivers in the retail package to make the hard drive portion visible to the OS as well. All Windows versions from XP and up are supported but there is no OS X support at the time of launch.

WD Black2 Specifications
Interface SATA 6Gbps
Sequential Read 350MB/s
Sequential Write 140MB/s
Power Consumption 0.9W (idle/standby) / 1.9W (read/write)
Noise 20dBA (idle) / 21dBA (seek)
Warranty 5 years
MSRP $299

The performance specs above are for the SSD part. Unfortunately WD wasn't willing to disclose any hardware details about the SSD other than that it uses 20nm NAND but we will find out the details once our review sample arrives this week. I was, however, able to get the information that WD worked with a partner to bring the Black2 to the market and that partner wasn't SanDisk (which was my first guess due to their prior partnership in hybrid drives). The actual hard drive spins at 5400rpm and consists of a single 1TB platter but WD didn't release any separate performance data for it. When the hard drive isn't in use, it can spin down to reduce power consumption, although 0.9W is still fairly high compared to most SSDs. 

Update: Techreport has already received their sample and opened it up, which revealed JMicron's JMF667H controller. We don't have any prior experience with the controller but generally JMicron's controllers have not been the greatest but it's been years since we've tested a JMicron based drive so things might have changed.

Update 2: WD initally told us that the drive is a single-platter design but they've now corrected their earlier statement. The hard drive consists of two 500GB platters as some of you suspected in the comments.

Given that most laptops only have room for one 2.5" drive by default, I do see a potential market for the Black2. In the past consumers have had to make the choice between a fast but small SSD or a large but slow hard drive. The Black2 eliminates the need to do that compromise. However, I'm disappointed for the lack of caching support. WD told us that they conducted market studies and according to those end-users wanted full control of the SSD and data. I don't completely agree because the reason why most consumers have negative thoughts about caching is because the available cache sizes are just way too small. Apple is the only one who has done it right with Fusion Drive by not going any smaller than 128GB, while others are trying to get by with 8-32GB. The Black2 has enough NAND for a pleasant caching experience, so not including caching software is a letdown. Technically you could use third party caching software but I still would have hoped for a solution from WD, preferably something user-configurable so it's not forced like in the Momentus XT.

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  • Diction - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Good idea, but they really need to charge closer to $200 to make this worth it, IMO.
    Caching software would also be great, at least as an option.
    Reply
  • Bob Todd - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Agreed. I was excited when I read the headline, then quickly disappointed when I looked at the details. Any one of the faults on their own wouldn't be a deal breaker, but combined they make this a bit of a stinker for me. For example, I wouldn't mind managing my own storage, but doing that with a $300 price point and not being 7mm (so not able to install in a bunch of new laptops) is a big no from me. It's less than half the storage, but for that price I'll just pick up a 512GB SSD, even a midrange one like the Toshiba Q series which is $299 right now at the egg. Still waiting for a 500+GB hybrid drive in 7mm with a healthy chunk of NAND (e.g. 64GB) that is priced competitively. Reply
  • The Von Matrices - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Full performance and disassembly is online at http://www.storagereview.com/wd_black2_ssd_hdd_rev...

    The JMicron SSD controller seems to be competitive at reads but is only about 50% as fast as comtemporary SSDs at writes. The HDD is near the top of the pack in performance compared to other contemporary HDDs.
    Reply
  • ericore - Tuesday, December 03, 2013 - link

    It's an expensive toy. Why do you think they only release these things to the consumer; because it's an experiment. It's crap compared to normal ssd for two very perceivable reasons: 1. Like the reviewer, the ssd gets tired up when both drives are accessed, and 2. Not enough memory channels. In SSDs the more memory channels the greater the speed, you can tell from the pics that this drive is garbage. It should be considered a hybrid drive, because its not a 120 GB ssd, not by a long shot. Reply
  • barleyguy - Monday, December 02, 2013 - link

    Agreed that I think this is overpriced. A 500 GB SSD is now $299, and I'd rather have one of those. A 1 TB "SSHD" with a smaller cache is in the $100 range.

    And on top of that, this drive isn't portable across operating systems. I want at least the option to run Linux or MacOS on any drive I buy.

    So lower the price and make the implementation transparent to the OS (at least as the default option), and maybe it's worth it. In the long term I'll bet that's the direction things will go though. The price will eventually drop, and the implementation will improve.

    So in short, cool idea, but not ready for prime time.
    Reply
  • johnny_boy - Monday, May 05, 2014 - link

    This is spot on. Support for a single OS on a hard drive is baffling. Imagine you're a Windows user who buys the drive but decides later to switch OSes or move the drive to a non-Windows system. Too bad!

    The price isn't great but not outrageous. It has significantly dropped ($194, Amazon) since its release which puts it below the cheapest 480GB SSD. And if you need 1TB of space in your note of super small mITX case PLUS an SSD boot drive, this may be your only option. Of course I wouldn't complain with more competitive pricing.
    Reply
  • johnny_boy - Monday, May 05, 2014 - link

    Correction: "...in your noteBOOK OR super small mITX case..." Reply
  • Xajel - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    I was waiting for this, but wait.. USB drive ?? what the hell !! + 9.5mm is not good...

    I will go for 120GB SSD with 200MB/s+ write speed and a 500GB-1TB companion drive in 7mm package using single SATA connection and both appears as separate, I know the problem of SATA is that you can't connect two drives to it, but using a SATA multiplier solution...
    and because no company made such a solution, I turned to option 2

    A laptop that has both 2.5" bay and miniPCIe/mSATA port... so we can add 128GB or 256GB SSD drive in the mSATA/miniPCIe and use the 2.5" bay for what ever drive we want... sadly for the Ultrabook market, most makers uses only one of these coz of size problems...
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    This isn't a USB drive, the interface is SATA 6Gbps as written in the table. The USB drive WD provides is only for drivers because by default Windows can only recognize the SSD part. Reply
  • Subyman - Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - link

    I read that portion as a USB interface as well for some reason. To completely clarify, the author means the drivers are included on a thumb drive, correct? Reply

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