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WD Blue SSHD 4TB & 1TB Hybrid Drives

The premise behind the WD Blue SSHD is a solid one, combining 8GB of snappy NAND Flash with a 5400 hard drive to produce a single responsive yet affordable high capacity all-in-one storage solution.

November 9, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
WD Blue SSHD 4TB
3.5″ Solid State Hybrid Drive
WD Blue SSHD 1TB
2.5″ Solid State Hybrid Drive
Manufacturer
Western Digital
Street Price
US$170 US$90

The cost of solid-state storage has come down significantly since the first consumer SSDs appeared on the market but mechanical drives till offer a much superior value if you look at capacity alone. With SSDs becoming cheaper, the relevancy of SSHDs (solid-state hybrid drives) that combine affordable but slow spinning platters with nimble NAND Flash, diminishes. This is especially true for high-end systems as price is not an issue and physical space is less of a concern given the proliferation of mSATA and M.2 storage options which use a fraction of the room as an old fashioned hard drive. If there’s potential for growth in the SSHD market, it’s at the low-end which is perfect for WD’s new Blue SSHD line.

Before I get to the SSHDs, the new Blue family needs some explanation. The WD Green was an incredibly popular drive line due to affordability, energy efficiency, and acoustic quality, but it never managed to shake off its reputation as being a slow drive, despite hiding its 5400 RPM rotational speed behind the term “IntelliPower” for years. Recently they folded the Green line into the Blue series of mainstream 7200 RPM desktop drives, perhaps in an attempt to shake off the old stigma. This move creates some confusion as now both 7200 and 5400 RPM drives are part of the same family, though to their credit, WD is at least upfront about it. For desktop drives, all Blue models with capacities of 1.5 TB or higher are 5400 RPM, while drives 1TB in size and lower are available in both speeds. All of the new 2.5-inch Blue models are 5400 RPM only just like before.


WD Blue SSHDs.


Undersides.

The Blue SSHD is an offshoot of this new reorganization, debuting with just two models, a 3.5-inch 4TB drive for desktops and a 2.5-inch 1TB (9.5 mm thick) drive for notebooks. Both are equipped with 64 MB of cache and 8GB of NAND Flash, and are currently selling for about US$170 and US$90 respectively. From a physical standpoint, the two drives are similar to their WD Red counterparts though obviously there is a lot more going on under the hood.

According to WD, the drives use algorithms that “track data usage, prioritizing frequently used data for fast access in the solid state portion of the device, adapting, learning and optimizing as new applications and command requests change over time.” All of this sounds similar to how Seagate’s SSHDs function, an intelligent process that works in the background to make best use of the limited amount of onboard NAND Flash.


Labels. Our samples came off the assembly line in May.


WD Blue SSHD: Specifications
(from the product data sheet)
Model Number WD40E31X WD10J31X
Interface SATA 6 Gb/s
Formatted Capacity 4 TB 1 TB
Form Factor 3.5-inch 2.5-inch
Max sustained data transfer rate (host to/from drive) 150 MB/s 100 MB/s
NAND Type MLC
NAND Size 8 GB
Cache 64 MB
Average Power Requirements Read/Write: 6 W
Idle 4.75 W
Standby/Sleep: 0.57 W
Read/Write: 1.65 W
Idle 0.65 W
Standby/Sleep: 0.225 W
Acoustics Idle: 25 dBA
Seek (average): 26 dBA
Idle: 24 dBA
Seek (average): 25 dBA
Physical Dimensions (H x L x W) 25.4 x 147 x 101.6 mm 9.50 x 100.20 x 69.85 mm
Weight (± 10%) 0.45 kg 0.12 kg
Load/unload Cycles 300,000 600,000
Limited Warranty 3 years

According to the specifications, the 4TB model is considerably faster, which is typical when it comes to 3.5 vs. 2.5 inch drives. Both the quoted power and acoustic figures are right in line with their respective WD Red cousins. The specified 0.45 kg weight of the larger drive seems to be in error as our sample weighs 690 grams while the smaller drive tips the scales at 110 grams. Based on these measurements and other unofficial sources, the 4TB model sports four 1TB platters while the 1TB model is equipped with two 500GB platters — no changes in areal density.

TESTING

Our samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. As of mid-2008, we have been conducting
most acoustics tests in our
own 10~11 dBA anechoic chamber
, which results in more accurate, lower SPL
readings than before, especially with sub-20 dBA@1m devices.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two types of noise impact the subjective
perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive
is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and
subjectively. Airborne acoustics are measured in our anechoic chamber using a lab reference
microphone and computer audio measurement system
. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter from the top
of the drive using an A-weighted filter. Vibration noise is rated on a scale
of 1-10 by comparing against our standard reference drives.

As of late-2011, we have been conducting performance testing. A combination of timed real-world tests is used to represent a workload of common activities for a boot drive including loading games, running disk-intensive applications, copying files, and installing programs. Synthetic tests are also run to better judge the performance across the entire span of the drive.

Summary of primary HDD testing tools:

Key Components in LGA1155 Heatsink Test Platform:

  • Intel Core i5-2400 processor. LGA1155, 3.1 GHz, 45nm, 95W TDP, set to 1.6 GHz to emphasize differences in the performance of storage devices.
  • Intel DP67BG ATX motherboard.
    P67 chipset.
  • Asus
    EAH3450 Silent
    graphics card.
  • OCZ Platinum Extreme Low Voltage DDR3 memory. 2 x 2 GB, DDR3-1333 in dual channel.
  • Seasonic X-400 SS-400FL
    ATX power supply. 400W. Passively cooled.
  • Microsoft
    Windows 7 Ultimate
    operating system – 64-bit

Real World Performance Test Tools:

Real World Benchmark Details:

  • Boot: Time elapsed between pressing the power button to the desktop and the Windows start sound playing (minus the time for an average SSD to get to the “loading Windows” screen, 12 seconds on our test system)
  • COD5: Combined load time for the “Breaking Point” and “Black Cats” levels.
  • Far Cry 2: Load time for one level.
  • ExactFile: Creating a MD5 check file of our entire test suite folder.
  • TrueCrypt: Creating a 10GB encrypted file container.
  • 3DMark Vantage: Install time, longest interval between prompts.
  • PowerDVD 10: Install time, longest interval between prompts.
  • Small File Copy: Copy time for a variety of small HTML, JPEG, MP3, ZIP, and EXE files.
  • Large File Copy: Copy time for 4 AVI files, 2 x 700MB and 2 x 1400MB
    in size.

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments
are relevant to the samples we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There
are always some sample variances, and manufacturers also make changes without
telling everyone.

Ambient conditions at time of testing were 10.5 dBA and 20~23°C.

Synthetic Performance

We start off with synthetic tests results. They don’t tell the whole story of course, but it’s a quick and dirty way of gauging relative performance between drives, and of course, it’s easily reproducible by our readers at home.

HD Tune


HD Tune main benchmark result, 4TB model.


HD Tune main benchmark result, 1TB model.

 

The results from HD Tune’s main benchmark depict the WD Blue SSHDs as SSD-like in read responsiveness with access times under a third of a second, though for writes, its only slightly better than equivalent mechanical drives. Compared to their WD Red counterparts, the 4TB model exhibits slightly faster sequential transfer rates while the 1TB model can’t quite keep up.

CrystalDiskMark


CrystalDiskMark benchmark result, 4TB model on the left, 1TB model on the right.

 

According to CrystalDiskMark, the 4TB model’s random performance is excellent, trailing only the 7200 RPM Seagate SSHD among the drives compared. The 1TB model is strong with 512K blocks but similar to mechanical models with the smaller 4K block size.

Real World Performance

Our real world performance testing begins with a Windows 7 image, loaded with our test suite, being cloned to a 50GB partition
at the beginning of each drive. The suite is run start to finish three times with a defragmentation (except for SSDs and hybrid drives) and reboot
between runs.
Average times were collected for comparison. For hybrid drives, we perform six runs with only the last three averaged to give them time to learn and cache frequently used files.

In loading performance, the 4TB model comes close to matching the Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB, a hybrid drive featuring a 7200 RPM motor. The 1TB model actually loads both game tests a tad quicker but is sunk by a long boot delay. For context, SSDs typically load both games 2~3 seconds faster but boot up in under 12 seconds so both Blue SSHDs are a ways off from true solid-state speed.

One might assume that these hybrid drives are obviously faster than their older, purely mechanical predecessors but that isn’t necessarily the case. Our application tests show the 4TB model lagging behind in ExactFile by a substantial margin. The 1TB variant struggles in both tasks, unable to keep up with the WD Red of the same size/capacity.

Copying files is not one of the Blue SSHDs’ strengths either, with the 4TB variant falling further behind, embarrassingly overtaken by a 2.5-inch Samsung drive. It’s little brother again can’t quite compete with the WD Red 1TB.

The 4TB model produces better results when installing programs but again, it’s edged out by mechanical hard drives. Both the WD Red and Seagate NAS 4TB drives manage to hold a small lead over it. The 1TB model lags in these tasks as well, edged out by both the Red 1TB and the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, a five year old hybrid notebook drive.

To get a sense of the overall performance of the drives, each model has been assigned a proportional score in each real world benchmark series (loading, application, file copying, and installation), with each set and each individual test within, equally weighted. The scale has been adjusted such that 100 points represents a perfectly average drive among those listed.

According to this metric, the WD Blue SSHD 4TB is not particularly fast, scoring 13% lower than the WD Red 4TB and 11% lower than the Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB. Meanwhile, the 1TB model lags 7% behind the WD Red 1TB. These two drives have an edge when it comes to loading times but with lackluster results in our other tests, the overall performance is disappointing. At the top of the chart are a couple of the slower modern SSDs we’ve tested — both are almost twice as fast as the 4TB variant.

It should be noted that as Blue SSHDs are hybrid models that “learn”, the test suite was run three times before starting to collect results. However, the large file copy task on the 4TB model was the only test that sped up noticeably as testing progressed.

Power Consumption

The power consumption of the 4TB model is similar to that of the 4TB WD Red, using about 0.5W more sitting idle and slightly less when seeking. The 1TB model is somewhat power hungry for a notebook drive, using almost 3W when seeking, more than any 2.5 inch drive we’ve tested in several years, and pulling a higher than average 1.02W sitting idle, though the latter is a somewhat misleading figure.

Following some of our timed and synthetic tests, the 1TB model would seek for long stretches of time, seemingly for no apparent reason (its big brother exhibited similar behavior though only on occasion), settling down if left alone for a few minutes. It’s possible that this was caused by the drive moving commonly used data onto the NAND Flash but if that’s the case, it’s a very slow and annoying process.

Like most notebook sized drives, it has headparking but the delay for this to happen varied greatly, between 20~50 seconds, instead of the usual 6~7 seconds. When left idle, it would seek very briefly every 2~3 seconds for a seemingly random period before stopping. The heads would then park and the power draw would drop to 0.91W. 15 seconds later, the motor would audibly shut down, reducing the power consumption to just 0.62W.

Acoustics

Not surprisingly, the larger 4TB version is the louder of the two drives, registering 15~16 dBA@1m at idle. The 3.5-inch model produces a prominent “whoosh” but it’s soft and well balanced, sounding a lot like white noise. This effect can be reduced by pressing down on the top of the drive. Seeks are moderate in pitch and quiet, just barely adding to the measured noise level.

The idle noise emanating from the 1TB variant is higher in frequency but fairly pleasant like its big brother, and it measures lower at 13~14 dBA@1m. However, a faint wobble is audible, a result of the drive vibration, even though our acoustic tests are conducted on foam. Its seeks are more pronounced than the 4TB model, sharper and more aggressive, bringing the noise level almost on par with the 3.5-inch variant. It seems more noticeable as the lower idle noise creates a greater contrast.

Comparison Charts: Environmental Characteristics

2.5 INCH HARD DRIVES
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power
WD Scorpio Blue 500GB WD5000LPVT-22G33T0
March 2012
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
12
0.79 W
(0.69 W parked)
Seek
14~15
1.65 W
WD Red 1TB
WD10JFCX-68N6GN0
August 2013
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
13~14
0.92 W
(0.79 W parked)
Seek
14
1.95 W
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB ST95005620AS
June 2010
firmware SD22
7
Idle
13~14
1.34 W
(1.16 W parked)
Seek
14~15
2.08 W
WD Blue SSHD 1TB WD10J31X-00U3VT0
May 2015
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
13~14
1.02 W
(0.91 W parked)
(0.62 W motor off)
Seek
15~16
2.90 W
Seagate Momentus 7200.4 500GB ST9500420AS
March 2009
firmware 0002SDM1
7
Idle
14
1.1 W
(0.9 W parked)
Seek
15
2.35 W
Seagate Momentus
750GB ST9750420AS
October 2010
firmware 0001SDM1
8
Idle
15
1.06 W
(0.85 W parked)
Seek
15~16
2.60 W
Samsung SpinPoint M9T 2TB ST2000LM003
December 2013
firmware 2BC10001
9
Idle
15
0.92 W
(0.77 W parked)
Seek
15~16
2.22 W
WD Scorpio Blue 1TB WD10JPVT-00A1YT0
July 2011
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
15
0.89 W
(0.75 W parked)
Seek
16
1.86 W
WD Scorpio Blue 640GB WD6400BEVT
September 2009
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
15~16
0.87 W
(0.74 W parked)
Seek
16
1.95 W
WD Scorpio Black 750GB WD7500BPKT
November 2010
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
16
1.18 W
(1.01 W parked)
Seek
16~17
2.28 W

The 1TB Blue SSHD is quieter than most of the notebook hard drives we’ve reviewed the last few years but it fails to match the superb acoustics of the WD Red 1TB. On our vibration scale it scores a 7, which sounds pretty good, but keep in mind that’s the lowest result for a 2.5-inch model in quite some time.

3.5 INCH HARD DRIVES
Drive
Mfg date
firmware version
Vibration
1-10
(10 = no vibration)
Activity State

Airborne Acoustics
(dBA@1m)

Measured
Power
WD Caviar Green 2TB WD20EARS
August 2010
firmware 01.00A01
9
Idle
12~13
2.8 W
(2.4 W parked)
Seek
6.5 W
WD Red 1TB
WD10EFRX-68JCSN0
June 2012
firmware 01.01A01
8
Idle
12~13
2.9 W
Seek
4.1 W
Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB HD204UI
August 2010
firmware 1AQ10001
7
Idle
13
4.0 W
Seek
15
5.6 W
WD Red 3TB
WD30EFRX-68AX9N0

June 2012
firmware 80.00A80
9
Idle
13~14
3.6 W
Seek
4.9 W
WD Caviar Green 3TB WD30EZRS
September 2010
firmware 01.00A01
8
Idle
14~15
4.1 W
(3.7 W parked)
Seek
7.5W
WD Red 4TB
WD40EFRX-68WT0N0

August 2013
firmware 80.00A80
8~9
Idle
15
4.0 W
(3.2 W parked)
Seek
15~16
6.2 W
Hitachi Deskstar 5K3000 2TB HDS5C3020ALA632
April 2011
firmware 580
7
Idle
14~15
4.1W
Seek
15
5.6 W
WD Blue SSHD 4TB WD40E31X-00HY4A0
May 2015
firmware 80.00A80
8
Idle
15
4.5 W
Seek
15~16
6.0 W
WD Red 6TB
WD60EFRX-68MYMN1
July 2014
firmware 82.00A8
8
Idle
14~15
4.4 W
Seek
18
5.4 W
Seagate NAS HDD 4TB ST4000VN000-1H4168
September 2013
firmware SC43
7~9
Idle
15
4.8 W
(4.1 W parked)
Seek
16~17
5.5 W
Seagate Barracuda 3TB ST3000DM001-9YN166
November 2011
firmware CC47
8
Idle
16
6.4 W
(5.6 W after 30 secs)
(3.9 W after 50 secs)
Seek
16~17
9.9 W
Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB
ST2000DX001-1CM164
February 2014
firmware CC43
5~7
Idle
16
4.5
(4.0 W parked)
Seek
16~17
7.1 W
WD Se 4TB WD4000F9YZ-09N20L0
October 2013
firmware 01.01A01
7
Idle
16
8.1 W
Seek
18~19
9.7 W
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 2TB HDS723020BLA642
August 2011
firmware MNGOA5C0
5
Idle
17
5.3 W
Seek
18
7.8 W
WD VelociRaptor 1TB WD1000DHTZ-04N21V0
March 2012
firmware 04.06A00
7
[bare]
Idle
[16~17]
18
4.0 W
[bare]
Seek
[27]
32
5.3 W
Seagate Enterprise Class 3.5 HDD v4 6TB ST6000NM0024-1HT17Z
May 2014
firmware SN02
3
Idle
19~20
7.5 W
Seek
20~21
9.2 W

The 4TB model’s physical characteristics are a lot closer to its WD Red contemporary than the 1TB model. Vibration, airborne acoustics, and power consumption are all quite similar, making them both excellent choices for a big quiet storage drive.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11
dBA ambient anechoic chamber
, then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s.
We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from
the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what
we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds
in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer
or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient
noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. Be aware
that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from
one meter, chances are we couldn’t record it either!

The recordings start with 5 to 10 seconds of ambient noise, then 5 to 10 second
segments of the drive in the following states: idle and seek.

Desktop Hard Drive Comparatives:

Notebook Hard Drive Comparatives:

FINAL THOUGHTS

The premise behind SSHDs is to combine the responsiveness of solid-state drives with the capacity and low cost per byte of mechanical drives. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple task— Seagate has been doing this for a few years yet their drives still pale in comparison to true SSDs. Western Digital is not as experienced in this genre and their latest foray is even more disappointing, with their Blue SSHDs somehow managing to produce poorer overall results than their purely mechanical predecessors. Both the 4TB and 1TB models can boast quick loading times compared to most hard drives, but in all other areas, they lag behind their equivalent capacity WD Red counterparts. Assuming they are simply Green drives with NAND Flash tacked on, this shouldn’t be the case, suggesting that WD’s hybrid technology has some kinks to iron out.

The 1TB model in particular should be avoided as it is plagued by unusual seek activity. After some of our tests, it would seek for an inordinate amount of time and when it finally stopped, it would continue to seek less frequently in short sporadic busts, delaying headparking and motor spin-down. Not only is this annoying, it decreases its overall idle energy efficiency and will reduce battery time if used in a notebook. Furthermore, its seeks use a relative high amount of power and the drive also produces more vibration than most modern 2.5-inch drives.

The 4TB variant’s physical characteristics are excellent, almost indistinguishable form the equivalent WD Red, though it suffers more of a relative performance penalty than its little brother. It may be a good budget choice for a small system that can only fit one drive and needs to be snappy at loading applications above all else, but that’s a fairly limited use case. If you’re looking for a compromise, it should be noted that for the price of a Blue SSHD 4TB, you can purchase a decent 120GB SSD along with a 3TB WD Red. This route does mean managing an extra drive, however it’s tremendously faster solution.

Our thanks to Western Digital for the Blue SSHD 4TB & 1TB drive samples.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB M.2/PCI-E SSD
Kingston HyperX Savage 480GB SSD
Samsung M9T 2TB (2.5-inch) & Seagate SSHD 2TB
Crucial MX100 512GB & Samsung 850 Pro 256GB SSDs
WD Red 6TB and 1TB (2.5-inch) Hard Drives
Seagate Enterprise Class v4 6TB Hard Drive

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