Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue Review: WD Enters the Consumer SSD Marketby Anand Lal Shimpi on March 3, 2010 12:00 AM EST
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If you're interested in learning more about how SSD's work, be sure to read our SSD Relapse.
A year ago Western Digital acquired SiliconSystems, a manufacturer of solid state storage devices - primarily in the Compact Flash form factor. Companies like Ericsson and Cisco apparently buy tons of industrial grade CF from Silicon Systems for use in their telecom equipment and servers. It’s not particularly fast storage, but it’s reliable and much more expensive than what you stick in your SLR.
The industrial CF business is still doing well for Western Digital, but now it’s time for the company that brought us the fastest desktop hard drives to throw its hat into the consumer SSD race.
Western Digital’s first consumer SSD is called the SiliconEdge Blue. SiliconEdge is the brand of WD’s SSDs, and the Blue label indicates that this isn’t a high performance drive. WD’s color naming scheme is pretty simple to figure out. Green means energy efficient, blue means mainstream and black is reserved for the highest performing drives. In talking to the drive maker I got the distinct impression that we’d be hearing about a Black label SSD in the coming months, but for now it’s strictly mainstream.
|Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue
Given the $529 MSRP on the 128GB SiliconEdge Blue, there’s certainly nothing mainstream about the price. Although Western Digital did tell me that the price was purely a suggestion and it expects significantly lower prices from etailers. Even if WD can deliver Kingston-like pricing, we’re still talking about a drive that sells for over $2 per Gigabyte of storage space. It may be mainstream for an SSD, just not for the majority of PC buyers.
Instead, what WD refers to when it calls the SiliconEdge Blue a mainstream drive is its compatibility. When Western Digital set out to build the SiliconEdge Blue, the focus was on compatibility and reliability. Western Digital wanted to build a drive that users could buy and pop in any system without worries of having to update firmware or the drive just not working. There are still systems today that don’t play well with SSDs, often exposing weaknesses either in the HBA (Host Bus Adapter) or in the SSD itself. Most machines are used to dealing with slow hard drives. Installing a drive that has an order of magnitude greater performance is sure to push the limits of any spec. We’ve seen that crop up in more than one case, the most public and unresolved being the use of certain 3rd party SSDs in Apple’s latest MacBook Pros.
Western Digital made it very clear that in order to build the most compatible, reliable drive possible - it often sacrificed performance. While the SiliconEdge Blue will always be faster than a mechanical hard drive, it’s not going to be in the class of the SandForce or Marvell based SSDs.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to back up WD’s claims. SandForce claimed that its drives were bullet proof thanks to their enterprise heritage. I had no problems killing my first SandForce drive in a matter of weeks (granted it was on pre-release firmware). More recently, Micron boasted a 1000 hour validation time on its RealSSD C300 before beginning to ship the drives. It took me even less time to brick my C300.
Every SSD maker claims that they do reliability and compatibility testing and use real world scenarios for validation. It’s not that the companies are lying, it’s that they can’t possibly test every single combination of hardware, software and usage. Smaller companies generally have fewer resources and thus test less. Larger companies, especially those with experience in shipping mission critical hardware, tend to test more. Neither type of company can avoid issues altogether, case in point being the number of times Intel has had to issue firmware updates to fix bugs missed during validation.
Western Digital couldn’t give me any proof or guarantees that the SiliconEdge Blue was more reliable/compatible than the competition. As I’ve said in the past, that’s up to everyone who ends up as an early adopter to find out.