Once a decade we find a product that gets us excited about storage again.
It is pretty safe to say that we don’t see a huge amount of consumer-facing innovation in the hard drive space. Most of the significant advancements over the past few years have revolved around fitting larger and larger capacities into smaller and smaller form factors.
This peaked midway through 2013, when both Seagate and WD announced new single-spindle drives, designed to fit into Ultrabook sized PCs. While these lacked the speeds seen with the standard low capacity SSDs found in such devices, they had the expansive storage that a lot of people find lacking when using an Ultrabook as a primary PC.
This lack of space is a major driver of storage, especially as development focused more and more on mobile. Oftentimes space means a trade-off between performance and capacity, and apart from the bulkier gaming laptops, most only have a single spot to install a 2.5in hard drive (assuming they aren’t solely built around mSATA drives.
It is this kind of quandary that Western Digital’s latest enthusiast drive is designed to tackle. The Black2 Dual drive started out life when WD was testing its hybrid drive solutions, and has turned into quite a fascinating product. Hybrid drives have become more and more common in recent years, and use a small amount of flash memory in combination with caching algorithms to deliver performance somewhere between that of a mechanical drive and an SSD. But like most hybrids, this means a compromise, and WD found itself being asked why users couldn’t just directly address the flash memory.
WD took this and ran with it, creating the WD Black2 Dual Drive. This is a 2.5in drive targeted firmly at enthusiasts, one that combines a 120GB SSD with a 1TB HDD in a single package. It sports a single SATA connector, and is designed for those who are comfortable with juggling files to take advantage of the two drives.
The drive itself comes in a beautifully designed package, containing not only the drive but also a SATA to USB adaptor and a cardboard USB key that, when loaded, takes you to WD’s website so you can download software.
It works best with a fresh Windows install. When you do this you’ll only see the SSD portion of the drive; however once Windows is up and running, you can fire up the WD software and this exposes the mechanical drive as well. It is a one-time deal, and if you are so inclined you can even move Windows to the mechanical drive once the software is installed.
This process went smoothly, although we would have preferred WD to actually ship the software on the USB key rather than requiring a download. This is a relatively minor issue, however, and our installation was hassle free.
Performance was excellent, although the 120GB SSD is a little on the small side for our liking (a 256GB option would be nice, but we understand that WD wants to start out small with this product). This, and the rather significant price tag, means that despite our initial fantasising about different uses for the drive, it is at its best value for money when being installed in a laptop with a spare 2.5in bay. This is where you’ll get most bang for your buck, especially if you are moving from a mechanical drive. You’ll see the speed boosts that come from the SSD, but you won’t have to worry about where your bulk data lives. This, in and of itself, makes the WD Black2 Dual Drive a real standout product, one that makes a heck of a lot of sense.
If you don’t have a laptop to upgrade, however, you’ll probably struggle to see the value. Even Mini-ITX chassis now have ample room for a few SSDs and 3.5in drives, and they will prove much better bang for your buck than going with this integrated wonder.