Western Digital Black^2 Dual Drive Review

by J.R. Nelson Reads (4,908)

TG Rating

Rating 1 to 10, top score 10.
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8.14

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Software & Support
    • 10
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 8
    • Usability
    • 8
    • Design
    • 10
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Features
    • 8
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 6
    • Total Score:
    • 8.14
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • SSD + HDD in a single bay
    • Easy installation (just pop it in)
    • Fast SSD read speeds
  • Cons

    • More expensive than some SSD options
    • Write speeds on the SSD could be a smidge higher

Quick Take

You can make your laptop faster and store more stuff with a single upgrade. Who can say no to that?

When it comes to storage, it’s hard to deny the benefits that a solid state drive offers. Extremely fast boot times, speedy read and write speeds, ultra low latency – you get the idea. The downside, however, is that unless you’re willing to pay big money, you still can’t get an SSD that approaches traditional spinning storage in terms of just how much data you can store.

In an attempt to bridge the gap, some companies have introduced the SSHD, or solid state hybrid drive.  These drives mix a hard drive with somewhere between 4GB and 8GB (usually) of solid state storage and some clever algorithms. Software built into the drive analyzes the data you access the most and moves it to the low-latency SSD part of the drive – as a result, your most frequently accessed programs can often get a huge boost to start. Boot times can also be improved.

Western Digital Black^2 Dual Drive

Similarly, some notebook manufacturers have taken to adding very small (16GB or 32GB) mSATA flash storage drives to their notebooks along with a normal drive. This is often to make sure that a specific model can secure Intel’s Ultrabook nomenclature, which requires the presence of an SSD. Like SSHDs, however, these small drives are useful for caching and little else. If you’re wanting to install your OS and a couple of programs, you might be out of luck.

This week, Western Digital introduced a unique new drive that purports to deal with some of these issues.

Design and Installation

Known as the WD Black2 Dual Drive, this new drive fits into “most” 9.5mm, 2.5-inch drive bays. Inside its compact stature, however, lies two separate physical drives: a 120GB solid state drive plus a 1TB spinning hard drive. Pretty cool, right?

The drive itself features an attractive black and gold design, with part of the circuit board showing through and also tinted black. Despite the fact that most people won’t be looking at these drives for more than five or ten minutes, it’s nice that WD took the time to make a premium product look premium, too.

Western Digital Black^2 Dual DriveWestern Digital Black^2 Dual Drive

Installing the drive is as easy as installing any other 2.5-inch drive – you slip out your old drive and slip in the new one. In terms of getting your data onto the Black2 Dual Drive, you have a couple of different options. Western Digital recommends installing a fresh copy of Windows – and the Dual Drive is Windows-only for now – over cloning your current drive over.

I did choose to clone a small partition onto the Dual Drive, however, and it worked fine.

Either way, you won’t be able to access the 1TB hard drive portion of the Dual Drive at first. When you plug it in, either into your computer’s SATA slot or via the USB 3.0-SATA connector that WD includes in the DD package, all you’ll see is the 120GB SSD (which delivers around 111GB once it’s formatted). In my case, the drive was completely raw, so I had to open up the Disk Management console (type ‘diskmgmt.msc’ into your Windows search box) and format it before it was actually visible to Explorer.

Western Digital Black^2 Dual DriveWestern Digital Black^2 Dual Drive

This may have simply been an oversight on the part of the press samples, but if you happen to pick one of these up today, and it doesn’t show when you plug it in over USB, don’t worry. Internal drives are often shipped unformatted, but usually, ones that ship with transfer kits get a quick format before they’re sent. Anyway, just a heads up.

By the way, WD has a free copy of Acronis True Image available on their website if you need a utility to copy your files over for you.

Regardless, let’s assume you’ve got the drive installed inside of your computer – Western Digital is targeting laptops, all-in-ones, and other small form factor desktops with this drive. They mention some gaming desktops in the marketing materials, but there are simply other options for tower PCs.

In order to start using the larger hard drive section, you have to install WD’s special Dual Drive software. You can head for their website, or plug in the included USB key – which simply takes you to the relevant portion of said site. It won’t recognize the drive if it’s connected over USB, so you’ll have to do it after you plug it into your computer’s SATA port.

Western Digital Black^2 Dual DriveWestern Digital Black^2 Dual Drive

The software makes the hard drive available as another partition on your main drive. You can’t do any sort of RAID setup with these drives; they’re only available for traditional data storage. WD suggests copying over your SSD contents as a sort of mini-backup onto the hard drive, but I can’t see the point. When we asked, WD did say that if one drive fails, either the SSD or the HDD, the other drive would be available.

Still, it’s not much of a backup to have all of your data in an easily stealable target such as a laptop.

Western Digital Black^2 Dual DriveBenefits and Performance

It’s pretty obvious why you might want to go with a product like this over something related, like the Solid State Hybrid Drives on offer. The user – that is to say, you – get to choose exactly what goes onto the flash portion of your disk, and what goes onto the hard drive portion. If you’re a designer, you can easily put Windows and most of all of the Creative Suite onto the SSD and store all of your project files on the hard drive space.

Gamers might choose to put a few of their current titles on the flash storage, instead.

What kind of performance can you expect out of these drives? WD suggested a R/W max speed on the SSD of 350MB/s and 140MB/s, respectively. We found read speeds to actually hit just over 400MB/s, and write speeds just under 150MB/s. Even random 4k read/writes scored over 100MB/s for each. These numbers might not hit the cutting edge of SSDs, but they’re perfectly suitable for even performance-oriented mobile users.

I’d like to see the write speeds just a smidge higher, but I’m not going to complain too much.

The hard drive section is a single-platter, 1TB drive. Western Digital didn’t give up the numbers, but I suspect it’s spinning at 5400RPM, as read speeds maxed out at just 108MB/s, with write speeds slowing down to 106MB/s. That’s also in an ideal scenario with zero fragmentation, so real world performance may be quite a bit lower.

As a bulk storage drive for media files, profects, and huge games, however, it works out perfectly.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an easy way to add both speed and storage to your laptop or Ultrabook, and you only have one drive bay, I can’t think of a really good reason not to recommend the WD Black2 Dual Drive. The SSD and HDD performances are satisfactory, it gives you more control over competing products like SSHDs, more speed that HDDs, and more space than most SSDs.

Of course, this functionality comes at a cost.  The Dual Drive is available today for an MSRP of $299. That’s actually pretty expensive, but WD has to recoup engineering costs somewhere, and let’s be honest – this is a really neat piece of kit.

It really comes down to how much space you need. If you can make do with 256GB, you’d be better off picking up Samsung’s newer 840 Pro SSD (review incoming!) which is currently available on Amazon for just $213. If you need a lot more space than that, but can’t afford a 512GB or 768GB SSD, then the Dual Drive starts to make a lot more sense.

Either way, we’re happy to give the Western Digital Black2 Dual Drive a NotebookReview Editor’s Choice Award.

Pros:

  • SSD + HDD in a single drive bay
  • Easy installation (just pop it in)
  • Fast SSD read speeds

Cons:

  • More expensive than some SSD options
  • Write speeds on the SSD could be a smidge higher


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