The Controller

Like Seagate, Western Digital didn’t make the controller inside their SSD. The SiliconEdge Blue uses a 3rd party controller but despite my prodding, WD wouldn’t tell me who made it. As SandForce has proven, the actually manufacturer of the controller is not as important as the firmware itself. That being said, I still wanted to know.

Despite having Western Digital’s logo printed on the controller, WD didn’t opt for a custom PCB on its drive:

I’ve seen this PCB somewhere before. Ah yes, PC Perspective’s review of the JMicron JMF618 based Kingston V Series SSD. Based on JMicron internals and manufactured by Toshiba, this is the latest from the company that was responsible for my obsession with weeding out SSDs in 2008. Update: Allyn tells me that the JMF618's unique feature is its support for Toshiba NAND. If you use Samsung NAND that makes the controller a JMF612.

The JMF618/612 are allegedly a lot better than the JMF602 that everyone was trying to push a couple of years ago, but this is my first experience with it. The good news is that Kingston sells its JMF618 based drive for less than $2.20 per GB. This means that we might see etailer pricing on the SiliconEdge Blue at roughly half of its MSRP.

Like most other consumer SSDs, Western Digital sets aside roughly 7% of the NAND flash on board for spare area to be used for cleaning and bad block allocation.

Sitting next to the WD branded JMF618/612 controller is a 64MB DDR2-800 DRAM made by ESMT. That’s not a ton of memory by any means, but it is ridiculously fast memory. By comparison Intel uses 32MB of PC133 SDRAM, offering 1/6 of the bandwidth. With that much memory off-chip, JMicron is most likely using the DDR2 DRAM as a cache for user data in addition to the mapping tables and block allocation algorithms. The more data you store off chip, the more bandwidth you need to service that data.

16 chips x 16GB Samsung MLC NAND Flash

Western Digital claims rights to an exclusive firmware with the SiliconEdge Blue. The initial firmware appears to be supplied by JMicron, but Western Digital has modified it to tune for compatibility. In theory that means that we won’t get the same performance out of the SiliconEdge Blue that we do from Kingston’s SSD that uses the same controller.

The JMF618/612 supports TRIM which is enabled on the SiliconEdge Blue. Western Digital won’t be offering a manual TRIM tool for non-Windows 7 OSes, stating that the performance of the drive never drops to a point where you’d need to manually TRIM it. I can’t say that I agree with that since I managed to make the drive perform quite poorly after hammering on it for a while:

But it does attempt to be fairly resilient and after being TRIMed it manages to stay very close to peak performance:

You can use the SiliconEdge Blue in a non-TRIM aware OS, but I’d recommend sticking with Windows 7 if possible.

Index Scrambling Data to Improve Reliability?
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  • The0ne - Monday, March 8, 2010 - link

    Just wanted to say I love those firmware guys at SanDisk! :) Great job guys and keep up the good work.
  • BelardA - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    "SSD will become commoditized (but it won't ever going to be as cheap as mechanical drives!)"

    Yes they will... in a sense. The same way a Quad Core intel will never become as cheap as a $30 Celeron... or a X1900XTX a $500 card turning into a $100 card - as a $75 ATI 5570 is easily faster... something else will come out that is cheaper and faster.

    The HD are hitting the limits of technology. Anything above 1TB are not as reliable as the smaller drives. The densities are too tight and eventually even the smaller drives will be using the same tech.. :( When 4GB drives come out... we'll be seeing even more failures and problems.

    But with SSDs, everything is a matter of price today. Its not impossible to make a 2GB or 4GB SSD drive... but just cost.

    When memory gets around 10ns and mass-production is up to much higher standards... then we'll see SDDs replace HDs. The benefits are very good, its still baby tech. Compare a 1986 HD to a 1990 HD, the 80s drives where every bad in reliability & speed. The 1990 drives don't even compare to the 1995 or 2000 drive.

    The HDs will eventually go away to be replaced by cheaper and faster SSDs... it won't be next year... but I'd project that in 4~5 years, SSDs will make up 50% of the market... Most people just don't need 2~4TB drives. What is needed is a $75 120GB drive, $100~120 256GB and a $150~175 500GB drive. We're not even close to that today.

    And in 1-2 years from now, I expect reliability to be much better.

    WD new drives are not impressive. I'll stick with the intels.
  • Voo - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    "What is/will be important is the interface and the optimization of the SSD drives"
    The interface? Well that would be SATA, so that's a moot point. And optimization? That's exactly what they didn't do here. Also just because they know how to build a HDD that won't help them a bit for flash drives.. completely different technology.

    The only thing they could have going for them would be more reliabilty and that's to be seen. At the moment these drives are too expensive and do not offer exceeding performance..

    Also just because you're big doesn't mean you can't fail - wouldn't be a first in the industry..
  • Frallan - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    Sinca Anand was way to kind to WD I will summarize the testing he has done:

    WD want us to pay through the nose for a drive with mediocre performance because they say that it is "more" compatible then other drives however they will not guarantee this!

    Since WD is trying to butt-feck us I suggest the put this drive where the sun do not shine and usr Dijon mustard as a lube.

    Just my $0.02
  • Pessimism - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    only if its grey poupon.
  • BCarr - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I see newegg is selling the 256gb for $799, better but not quite there, since other brands are selling for $600-$750.
  • c4v3man - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I agree with the other poster. Samsung SLC SSD's that are the standard of the OEM industry are slower, more expensive, but more reliable than what an enthusiast would purchase. Pretty much the exact same description that these drives have. I'm betting this is primarily targeted at OEM's, and they are simply releasing them into the retail market to start a buzz before they release a WD Black SSD sometime in the future. If anything, this will double capacity of most OEM offerings for little to no increase in cost. With the crazy markup they're offering, they're also justifying their partners charging you an exorbitant amount of money to upgrade to SSD when configuring your system.
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I think WD's marketing/pricing department fell asleep back in 2008. What are they thinking? My only guess is they are banking on pre-built systems where companies such as Dell/HP/etc. already have agreements with them. They want the ram upgrade pricing for their SSD's. Otherwise, what a joke.

    It's always nice to see another player enter the fray, but I'd hate to see these drives selling at MSRP as your only option when buying a system due to the weight WD has in the storage market.
  • Pessimism - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    I'll pass. They are the new VIA, delivering one unstable, standards uncompliant product after another.
  • Mr Alpha - Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - link

    What if I've read through the SSD Relapse five times already and am interested in learning even more about how SSDs work?

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