Market transformation is driving increased adoption of SSDs and NAND flash in traditional HDD applications,”
This move by WD was yet another signal for things to come for SSD but does not sign the death warrant of the company’s popular HDDs in any way. HDDs still have an extremely vital role to play in gaming PCs and other systems, in that this cheap mass storage can still be utilised, and the unparalleled speed of SSD can be take advantage of simultaneously.
HDD Market Share - Margin Narrows
The HDD market is now a close-run race between Western Digital and Seagate. This does seem intentional on WD’s part, however, following their deviation on HDD and renewed focus on SSD. The chart below shows Q1 for 2019 – 2021, and the market share claimed by Seagate.
SSD Market Share – Predictable Success
The SSD market, however, is divided less simply, but predictably. Samsung – the leader in NAND Flash production – reigns supreme with 24.4% of the SSD market, and Western Digital has a healthy 18.8% of the market.
Image credit: StorageNewsletter/Trendfocus
It’s always great to hear good news in the PC component realm; GPU and processor news is seldom encouraging. But the good news is that SSD storage prices are lowering year upon year and enables a budget-focused system builder to leverage some of their savings on their GPU, as we’ve discussed in other articles.
The WD Blue SN550 1TB price history chart below shows the price decrease over time, and the savings system builders could obtain on this drive in particular. This is excluding, of course, the pandemic anomaly in April/May 2020. Starting as a sub-£100 SSD, the WD Blue SN550 1TB had a short period of higher value, then remained sub-£100 from late September 2020 onwards. For over a year now, the SN550 has become a “great value SSD” in the eyes of most reviewers, with WD balancing performance with consumer needs perfectly.
Price history source: PriceSpy.co.uk
What is WD Blue?
Western Digital manufacture SSD in six flavours: WD Blue, WD Green, WD Black, WD Red, WD Purple, and WD Gold. Black denotes WD’s highest performance SSD storage, with drives like the WD Black SN750 being a perfect example of this. The WD Black SN750 boasts high performance for PC users and is also compatible as storage expansion for the PlayStation 5. With Sony’s Mark Cerny recommending this SSD (with a heatsink), this has lent further weight to the Black range.
WD Green SSDs consist of mostly 2.5" drives, though M.2 AHCI (SATA) SSD has also been included in the Green range. The WD Green drives were discontinued in 2015 and consolidated into the Blue range. The Green range were originally envisioned as energy efficient storage, but now Western Digital use this green tech in all of the Blue storage drives. WD Purple is for 24/7 operation storage, usually in CCTV systems. WD Red is earmarked for NAS storage solutions. WD Gold is reserved for data centre cold storage.
Each one of the different colour options have been optimised for specific use, which is testament to Western Digital’s knowledge of their market. Selling into many different sectors, the ranges have been designed with use cases and optimal performance in mind.
The WD Blue range is specially designed for the home user. The all-rounder and general purpose Jack-of-all-trades of the bunch. With attention on both energy efficiency and read-write use of a home user, the WD Blue range sits in the middle of the pack, with savings over their higher performance cousins.
Why Is The WD Blue SN550 So Popular?
We could just say the price of the SN550 makes it so appealing, but it isn’t that straightforward. The first bonus is that the SN550 comes in four different sizes: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB. This allows any entry level user to purchase the SN550 in a price bracket they are happy with, ranging from under £40 for the 250GB model, to just under £180 with the 2TB version.
Note: For a lot of our comparison purposes (and the fact that 1TB drives tend to be the sweet spot for system builders) we are mostly looking at the 1TB version.
Besides the size options, there’s the fact that the WD Blue SN550 is PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe compatible, making it instantly attractive for all manner of uses. For gamers in particular, the 1TB version offers up to 2400MB/s read speed and 1950MB/s write speed, which means boot time of games is extremely quick.
The absence of a heatsink should have negligible effect on performance, as most tests have found, owing to flash storage having an optimal operating temperature of as low as -40 degrees C or as high as 85 degrees C, without loss of function.
When we compare the WD Blue SN550 1TB to Seagate’s Firecuda 510, which is a faster SSD overall, we can see from benchmarks that the Firecuda is around 15% - 20% faster that the Blue SN550. With a price difference of +50% from most retailers, the Firecuda is comparatively too expensive.
The lack of DRAM in the WD SN550 Blue does mean less performance against SSD with DRAM, and will mean your PC uses system RAM for storage access. The SN550, however, also uses built-in SRAM cache to offload some of work, which enables it to compete with DRAM SSD. Obviously, the performance is not the same as DRAM SSD, but the performance loss is actually lower than other DRAM-less drives with the same specification.
The performance/price trade-off of the above features means the WD Blue SN550 is a great choice for all types of use, from video editing to gaming.
Is The WD Blue SN550 Reliable?
To pitch a range of SSD to consumers, Western Digital had to be confident in the reliability of their Blue drives. Although WD sell to the business market, this is much easier handled than the consumer market. Generally speaking, if a series of SSD did not perform too good in a business setting, WD would swap out the drives and replace with better performing tech. However, if consumer units began failing regularly when used for gaming, the entire internet would light up with negative reviews and experiences with their product. With this in mind, Western Digital have made their consumer WD Blue SSD storage pretty much bulletproof.
While the data is still coming in for SSD failure rates from companies like Backblaze, Western Digital has performed solidly since this detailed and scientific testing began. Although poring over this data is a chore in itself.
WD Blue SN550: SLC vs MLC vs TLC vs QLC
The NAND flash memory data stored on an SN550 SSD is represented as bits (digital signals) and then stored on NAND - flash memory - cells. The number of bits that are stored on a cell then determines the type of flash memory used – SLC, MLC, TLC and QLC.
Single-level cell (SLC) flash memory contains 1x bit per NAND cell. Multi-level cell (MLC) is double this capacity, with 2x bits per cell. Triple-level cell (TLC) allows 3x bits per cell. Respectively, quad-level cell (QLC) contains 4x bits per cell meaning QLC allows four times the capacity of SLC NAND flash memory.
The WD Blue SN550 uses TLC, which is currently able to perform better long-term than the QLC SSD drives. Under sustained use, TLC NAND drives outperforms QLC because TLC can withstand a greater number of program/erase cycles before the NAND cells begin wearing out.
Why you should care: Crucial recently made the mistake of shipping their P2 SSD with QLC rather than the TLC they originally sent out for review. This was met with buyer beware* articles from the likes of ExtremeTech, who felt consumers were being duped. The latency increased significantly on the new QLC SSD. ExtremeTech were quick to point out the downfall of this swap-out, saying “The new version of the P2 has two fewer NAND chip packages than the original, and significantly fewer total dies. This reduces the total potential bandwidth the SSD controller.