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The WD Blue SN550 SSD - Is It Worth Buying?

Why is the WD Blue SN550 SSD one of the best selling Solid State Drives? We look at the SSD market history, and how the SN550 fits perfectly into it.

 

The WD Blue SN550 SSD Is It Worth Buying?

 

In this article we’re going to look at the SSD market in general, and discover why the Western Digital SN550 SSD has become of the best sellers in a crowded and competitive market, matching performance with attractive pricing.

When you’re considering building a PC or upgrading your current system’s storage, then it is highly unlikely that you would choose SATA HDD for your operating system and most important applications. SSDs (Solid State Drive) such as the WD Blue SN550 are the way forward, with four times the read speed of HDDs, and their new attractive price point making them a no-brainer for a gaming PC, workstation or home PC build.

 

WD Blue SN550

 

The WD Blue SN550 shows just how far SSD has come in terms of manufacturing and consumer needs, as well as having a spec sheet that benchmarks extremely well against its competitors.

The Past, Present & Future Of SSD

Western Digital showed their cards back in 2015 when they acquired SanDisk, and again in 2018 when they shut down one of the hard disk manufacturing plants in Kuala Lumpur. The reason? The falling number of shipments of HDD.

“In response to declining long-term demand for client HDDs, Western Digital has taken steps to rationalize its HDD manufacturing operations globally,” Western Digital said in an announcement published on The Register.

“The company will decommission its HDD manufacturing facility in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, by the end of calendar 2019. This transition will be executed in close collaboration with employees, customers, supply partners and other critical stakeholders. [...] 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.

 

HDD Market Share Q1 2019 2021 chart

Source: Statista

 

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.

 

Total SSD Market manufacturer market share

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.

 

WD Blue SN550 1TB price history chart

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 Black SN750 SSD storage

 

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.

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.

 

Backblaze Lifetime SSD and HDD annualised failure rates

 

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. [..] Average power consumption on the QLC drive is lower, at 1.49W, but total power efficiency is actually worse because the savings do not make up for the dramatically slower performance.*”

Is The WD Blue SN550 Good For Gaming?

Everything considered, the WD Blue SN550 has made its mark in the gaming world, with RockPaperShotgun’s Editor in Chief, Katharine Castle, calling it “disgustingly good value” and extolling its virtues against market leaders Samsung and Crucial. Incidentally, the Samsung 860 EVO is a great comparison in terms of specification and gamer use. This Samsung SATA SSD drive has been applauded for lightning-fast performance on the lower rungs of the price ladder but cannot touch the WD Blue SN550 on price.

For gamers, load times are the most crucial part of an SSD benchmark, and Tom’s Hardware recently showed that the WD Blue SN550 is capable of beating more expensive competition – even making a meal of the WD Black SN750 with Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood.

 

Final Fantasy XIV performance across SSD storage

Credit: Tom’s Hardware

 

Gamers will also benefit from having just a couple of their most played " (as well as their OS) on the SN550 and storing the rest of their game library on a SATA HDD. With more usable space, the SSD will perform better, and moving games over when you are going to play them is very easy with most libraries like Steam.

WD Blue SN550 + DirectStorage = High Speed Gaming

With the advent of Windows 11 and Microsoft’s endeavours to make it the best OS for gaming ever, features like DirectStorage will further increase performance. This new DirectX12 Ultimate API needs “1 TB or greater NVMe SSD [..] that uses the 'Standard NVM Express Controller' driver.” and takes advantage of PCIe 3.0 to enable not just faster boot times for games, but also increases performance during gameplay.

DirectStorage takes advantage of modern GPUs being able to decompress data much faster than CPUs, and the WD Blue SN550 can serve up data very quickly to the GPU via higher NVMe bandwidth. The CPU is freed up from this workload and can focus on the audio, game logic calculations and other duties during gameplay. Developers are now able to create their worlds with DirectStorage in mind – a technology already being used in next-gen Xbox consoles – with the ability to display more textures & assets and having to use less workarounds in case of CPU bottlenecks. This new freedom is being explored already by developers, so there’s clearly some exciting times ahead for anyone using PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD and Windows 11.

WD Blue SN550 - The Last Word

With each and every feature above, it is patently obvious that Western Digital have taken many things into consideration with the SN550. The most obvious being price point. In a world where nothing is certain for GPU or CPU pricing, it’s good to know that SSD is still affordable and – vitally – can perform just as well as it’s more expensive counterparts in some respects.

The WD Blue SN550 is a sign of the times – but in a good way. Lower costs for manufacturers are seldom passed on this early in a product’s lifetime, but it seems Western Digital are already poised to be the people’s champion. By securing their foothold this early in the price wars, they are sure to be a “must have” for gamers moving forward.

If you are building a PC for gaming, the SN550 is a solid choice for high performance SSD, and you will not be left wondering if you have scrimped on storage. At 250GB, the SN550 is stupidly good value, but at 2TB it rivals some SATA HDD on price.

Benchmarks and high profile reviewers can agree on one thing – value and performance can be found in spades with the WD Blue SN550.

Check CCL Current Prices: WD Blue SN550