WD SiliconEdge Blue 256GB SSD
Hard drive maker's solid state offering
Review Hard drive manufacturer Western Digital has taken not one but two steps into the Solid State Drive market. Up in the Enterprise stratosphere we have three WD N1x drives that use SLC memory and are hellishly expensive at £310 for 32GB, £649 for 64GB and £1099 for 128GB.
Solid offering? Western Digital's SiliconEdge Blue
Back on terra firma mere mortals can ponder on the SiliconEdge Blue family that uses MLC flash memory in three drives and carry more reasonable prices. The entry-level 64GB model costs £149, the 128GB sells for £269 and the 256GB drive on review has a price of £629. There’s no denying that’s a lot of money but it is par for the course with an SSD of this capacity.
Externally, the design of the SiliconEdge Blue is appealing. The case of 2.5in form factor drive is formed in two parts that appear to be made from coated stainless steel and at 9.5mm thick, it will fit inside most laptops. Remove the four tiny screws from the sides of the drive and you can pop off the top cover with the judicious use of a small screwdriver.
I removed four more screws to release the circuit board and, with the hardware in the palm of my hand, I could figure out part of the specification. There appear to be eight chips on each side of the board but close inspection revealed that the chips are double stacked which gives a total of 32 flash chips.
Circuit board inspection revealed a JMicron controller chip
The controller chip is branded with a WD logo and the firmware on the drive is version 5.12, which gives us no clue about the chip’s true identity. However, the layout of the board and the location of the 64MB cache chip both suggest a JMicron design. A call to WD confirmed that the controller is ‘the latest JMicron chip’ which makes it a JMF612.
JMicron has had a torrid time with its SSD controllers, some of it undeserved. Despite reports that the JMF602 suffered from terrible stuttering I have never personally experienced this problem. As it happens, when I reviewed the Kingston SSDNow V 128GB I found that the drive had fairly low performance but it didn’t suffer from stuttering problems.
Double stacked chips make 32 in total
Since then I have tested an A-Data S596 combo drive which uses a JMicron JMF612 controller to add a USB 2.0 port alongside the Sata 2.0 connector and it also behaved itself during testing, although the performance was uninspiring. I had every expectation that the WD SiliconEdge Blue would work reasonably well, despite its use of a JMicron controller. The quoted read speed is 250MB/s and the write speed is 170MB/s, which is slightly lower than an Indilinx Barefoot SSD but none too shoddy.
2GB Files Transfer Results
Time in Seconds (s)
Shorter bars are better
HD Tach Results
Bandwidth in Megabytes per Second (MB/s)
Longer bars are better
Data throughput in Megabytes per Second (MB/s)
Longer bars are better
I tested the WD using my regular Core i5 set-up with 64-bit Windows 7 and found that the results were similar to those from the A-Data S596, although there were some clear differences between the two drives. The Write IOPS test in Iometer was distinctly perkier on the WD SiliconEdge, where the score came in at 641 compared to a mere 69 for the A-Data.
That sounds like an impressive piece of development work by the WD team so it’s worth reminding you that an Indilinx drive will score more than 1,000 in the same test, the second generation Intel X25-M will go north of 3,000 and the Micron RealSSD C300 has scored 7,622 using a SATA 3.0 interface.
It is my firm opinion that the SSD controller firmware can have a massive effect on Iometer test results so it’s time to point out some very bad news in the WD test results. Transferring 2GB of files within the drive took 79.9 seconds, which is disastrously slow as most SSDs take less than 30 seconds. I had to run the file transfer test a number of times and take an average as the figures fluctuated significantly from one run to another.
So So Drive?
The Windows progress bar visibly stopped and started during the transfer process, so the drive was clearly suffering from significant stuttering problems. The A-Data S596 – which is a slow SSD by any standards – took 68.2 seconds in the same test.
On this showing, it seems that WD has used an uninspiring controller chip in conjunction with its own firmware to deliver an SSD that delivers poor performance and also suffers from stuttering. In addition to those sins, the price is too high.
In its current state, the SiliconEdge Blue is something of a stinker but I feel sure it could be saved with a firmware update. After that the next step is to slash the price to £499 but until that time I simply cannot recommend this drive. ®
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