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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  • DanNeely - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Because they're cramming an SSD into the package along with the HDD, the drives you should be comparison shopping against are 7mm ones not 9.5. For WD that's the WD10SPCX which is $129 on Newegg. The same size constraints mean the SSD part is probably closer to mSata/m2 in cost than the 2.5" desktop models. Combined with the engineering involved in integrating them a baseline of $250 seems reasonable. However they're clearly branding it as as premium product; and +$50 for a black branded drive is on par with their higher end desktop drives.

    PS This analysis actually has left me more skeptical about the single platter claim because there doesn't appear to be enough room in the $300 total to also stuff the obligatory new-process-soak-the-customer premium that always accompanies platter density increases.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    That would justify the price if larger SSD which can cover a lot of people's storage needs weren't already darn close to that price point. It like if they had come out with this a year earlier they might've made a killing and probably gotten a lot of OEM sales in ultrabooks and such... Not so sure now, they can always drop the price tho. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Yeah, the hybrid drives still appear to be a day late and a dollar short. The last year has seen ultra portables drop the 2.5" bay entirely and larger gaming/workstation models have included both an mSATA/m2 slot and a 2.5" bay allowing them to roll their own. If WD had bundled it with a good windows driver for automatic cached/hierarchical storage they'd have something that would be a lot more compelling. Reply
  • Belegost - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Yea, you can find 500GB class SSDs (480-512GB) for 300-350, in 7mm format no less. For most purposes that's enough storage in a laptop, and it gives max performance for all data without any effort in managing storage.

    If this had been a caching hybrid drive and priced closer to 200 it would have sold like ice water in Death Valley, but the separated drive setup at 300 just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
    Reply
  • Hubb1e - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    I have the 1st gen Momentus XT in my laptop and an SSD in my desktop as well. And I agree with you. The Momentus XT even with just 4GB of space speeds up most applications to the point that I don't notice much difference between my laptop and my desktop in my normal workload. Yes, the desktop is faster, but the laptop with the hybrid drive does just fine. After initial boot Chrome, Firefox, and IE all launch in just a few seconds with little lag (I have 3 google email address I monitor and three browsers makes that easy to manage) and all my common Apps launch very quickly on my hybrid drive. Some of this may be Windows 8.1 doing a good job of managing a cache, but it really is a good experience.

    That said, other actions such as installing new software and windows updates (the two things I notice that take the most time for me) are not sped up at all so they are like they would be on a spinner.

    Overall I like my Momentus XT and would consider another one in the future. In my laptop I don't have a mSATA slot so this new WD drive looks interesting, but a $300 price is too much. I'd consider it for $220 or so. My 500GB Momentus XT was only $85 for reference.
    Reply
  • Hubb1e - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    I forgot to add that I don't think the testing that most reviewers do does the hybrid drives any favors. In real world use I think they are more effective than they get credit for and I imagine the 3rd generation is even better than mine. Reply
  • Laststop311 - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    The problem with this drive is almost all ultrabooks have adopted 7mm z height drives as the standard. If they release a single platter 500GB version with 120GB SSD that can fit in the 7mm height requirement it will probably sell better even tho 1 TB would be nicer. Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    But then it's barely larger than similarly priced SSD, there's a market for this, but it's a narrow one... And it's gonna shrink every year. Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    I was hoping this was 120GB of flash caching a 1TB 7200RPM drive, similar to the 60GB of Intel SmartResponse I'm using. It's disappointing to find it's just a cheap 120GB SSD and a separate 5400RPM HD in the same physical package. Only people with a single 9.5mm bay laptop will benefit much from this. Reply
  • Guspaz - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Anybody who has ever tried to set up Intel SRT and knows what a nightmare that is would understand why the complete lack of support for caching by default is a huge mistake. OEMs and enthusiasts are the only ones who will get any real benefit from this drive...

    Should the caching be done in software? Perhaps, but in that case WD needs to provide the software to do it, at least until OS-level support makes tiered storage as simple as plugging in a new regular HDD or SSD.
    Reply

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