By Brady Betzel
Since we began the transfer of power from the old standard SATA 3.5-inch hard drives to SSD drives, multimedia-based computer users have seen a dramatic uptick in read and write speeds. The only issue has been price. You can still find a 3.5-inch brick drive, ranging in size from 2TB to 4TB, for under $200 (maybe closer to $100), but if you upgraded to an SSD drive over the past five years, you were looking at a huge jump in price. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. These days you are looking at just a couple of hundred for 1TB and even less for 256GB or 512GB SSD.
Western Digital hopes you’ll think of NVMe SSD drives as more of an automatic purchase than a luxury with the Western Digital Blue SN500 NVMe M.2 2280 line of SSD drives.
Before you get started, you will need a somewhat modern computer with an NVMe M.2-compatible motherboard (also referred to as a PCIe Gen 3 interface). This NVMe SSD is a “B+M key” configuration, so you will need to make sure you are compatible. Once you confirm that your motherboard is compatible, you can start shopping around. The Western Digital Blue series has always been the budget-friendly level of hard drives. Western Digital also offers the next level up: the Black series. In terms of NVMe SSD M.2 drives, the Western Digital Blue series drives will be budget-friendly, but they also use two fewer PCIe lanes, which results in a slower read/write speed. The Black series uses up to four PCIe lanes, as well as has a heat sink to dissipate the heat. But for this review, I am focusing on the Blue series and how it performs.
On paper the Western Digital Blue SN500 NVMe SSD is available in either 250GB or 500GB sizes, measures approximately 80mm long and uses the M.2 2280 form factor for the PCIe Gen 3 interface in up to two lanes. Technically, the 500GB drive can achieve up to 1,700MB/s read and 1450MB/s write speeds, and the 250GB can achieve up to 1700MB/s read and 1300MB/s write speeds.
As of this review, the 250GB version sells for $53.99, while the 500GB version sells for $75.99. You can find specs on the Western Digital website and learn more about the Black series as well.
One of the coolest things about these NVMe drives is that they come standard with a five-year limited warranty (or max endurance limit). The max endurance (aka TBW — terabytes written) for the 250GB SSD is 150TB, while the max endurance for the 500GB version is 300TB. Both versions have a MTTF (mean time to failure) of 1.75 million hours.
In addition, the drive uses an in-house controller and 3D NAND logic. Now those words might sound like nonsense, but the in-house controller is what tells the NVMe what to do and when to do it (it’s essentially a dedicated processor), while3D NAND is a way of cramming more memory into smaller spaces. Instead of hard drive manufacturers adding more memory on the same platform in an x- or y-axis, they achieve more storage space by stacking layers vertically on top — or on the z-axis.
Testing Read and Write Speeds
Keep in mind that I ran these tests on a Windows-based PC. Doing a straight file transfer, I was getting about 1GB/s. When using Crystal Disk Mark, I would get a burst of speed at the top, slow down a little and then mellow out. Using a 4GB sample, my speeds were:
“Seq Q32T” – Read: 1749.5 MB/s – Write: 1456.6 MB/s
“4KiB Q8T8” – Read: 1020.4 MB/s – Write: 1039.9 MB/s
“4KiB Q32T1” – Read: 732.5 MB/s – Write: 676.5 MB/s
“4KiB Q1T1” – Read: 35.77 MB/s – Write: 185.5 MB/s
If you would like to read exactly what these types of tests entail, check out the Crystal Disk Mark info page. In the AJA System Test I had a little drop off, but with a 4GB test file size, I got an initial read speed of 1457MB/s and a write speed of 1210MB/s, which seems to fall more in line with what Western Digital is touting. The second time I ran the AJA System Test, I got a read speed of 1458MB/s and write speed of 883MB/s. I wanted a third opinion, so I ran the Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test (you’ll have to install drivers for a Blackmagic card, like the Ultrastudio 4K). On my first run, I got a read speed of 1359.6MB/s and write speed of 1305.8MB/s. On my second run, I got a read speed of 1340.5MB/s and write speed of 968.3MB/s. My read numbers were generally above 1300MB/s, and my write numbers varied between 800 and 1000MB/s. Not terrible for a sub-$100 hard drive.
In the end, the Western Digital Blue SN500 NVMe SSD is an amazing value at under $100, and hopefully we will get expanded sizes in the future. The drive is a B+M key configuration, so when you are looking at compatibility, make sure to check which key your PCIe card, external drive case or motherboard supports. It is typically M or B+M key, but I found a PCI card that supported both. If you need more space and speed than the WD Blue series can offer, check out Western Digital’s Black series of NVMe SSDs.
The sticker price starts to go up significantly when you hit the 1TB or 2TB marks — $279.99 and $529.99, respectively (with the heat sink attachment). If you stick to the 500GB version, you are looking at a more modest price tag.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.