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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  • tipoo - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Since it shows up as two volumes, I wonder if you could get it set up as a fusion drive? Reply
  • solipsism - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    I'm surprised AnandTech couldn't get this to work with via Terminal on OS X since it apparently shows up as 2 separate drives which means the CoreStorage commands should work, at least from my experience.

    • http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13727_7-57550128-263/... (Is there markup that works with this archaic forum design?)

    You can even use an SD card or USB flash drive with one or more other drives with OS X and CoreStorage to make an (overly) secure file system.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Perhaps the article should say "no official support"; but Anandtech hasn't gotten its sample in yet so there's no way that they could've tried any unofficial methods.

    Also, since the HDD portion only shows up after installing the WD driver my suspicion is that it's not implemented the same way as a multi-drive eSATA enclosure with a port replicator. If they're doing something 'clever' instead it might not be accessible without their custom driver.
    Reply
  • jaydee - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    So.. an $80 120GB SSD plus an $80 1TB 2.5" HD on the same package, with no interface between the two = $299? No thanks...

    Even for someone with a laptop, they mostly come with mSata ports for an SSD, with the 2.5" drive bay for a mechanical HD.
    Reply
  • slayernine - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    It should function as a cache, not as separate manageable storage. Thankfully this product is likely to push Seagate to make hybrid drives with a larger cache so they can compete for this market segment. Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Can the caching functionality be enabled by SW? Although it may not be as effective, I wonder if some small utility monitoring the data accessed in background can provide a similar service.
    That said, it would have been nice to have some king of firmware option to switch the caching On/Off.
    Reply
  • Gigaplex - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    In theory, yes. Currently no caching software that I'm aware of supports this particular drive, but if this drive becomes popular that'll probably change. Reply
  • Fergy - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Western Digital, please make a good SSD with 64GB that moves little used and streaming data to a 1-4TB. Let it be transparent so you don't need drivers and it works in every device with sata. The drive should tell that it is a 1-4TB SSD. That way you get 99% of the SSD experience and 100% of the HDD experience for $250. Reply
  • Angrychair - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    This is a really puzzling product. Seems to be more nand than necessary and at a price and configuration that makes it an unappealing product.

    What's so hard about putting 32-64GB of nand into a hybrid drive? Seagate has the right idea but too conservative of an implementation.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    $100 SSD, <$100 hard drive, price tag, $300. What?! :/
    Or people can just keep whatever hdd comes with their laptop and put a mSATA SSD in it.

    Also, i have the first gen Momentus XT in my laptop and pure SSD on my desktop. It's not substantially faster. I mean it is faster, but I only JUST notice it. Unless it's the first time I'm running something. But Windows launches fast, LOL launches fast, Mass Effect loads WAY faster than my old RAID stripe setup. If the game load times are slower than the pure SSD it's by so little a margin that I can't tell. So, with all that said, I'd really like to see a caching all in one with around 16GB on NAND on board. That should be plenty. They should do research though, test 16-24GB and figure out the optimal price/performance ratio. I suspect it's 16 but it could be 20 or 24.
    Reply

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