Update January 2020: Unfortunately, after sixteen months of minimal writes but plenty of reads, the drive began failing and no longer can be recognized by my PC.
Of the few hard drive and SSD manufacturers out there, Western Digital is one of the most recognizable and trusted brands. They are known to offer a wide variety of solutions for every type of consumer, be it a mainstream user, an enthusiast or a gamer. While they lack a direct implementation for the console marketplace, at least releasing brand-specific drives, their force is felt in the PC community, especially considering they also own both HGST and SanDisk. Considering solid state drives have been becoming significantly cheaper over the last five years, and standard hard drive space being dirt cheap, NVMe devices are becoming a more sought after way of storing data, especially with read/write speeds into the gigabytes per second. We got our hands on Western Digital’s Black NVMe SSD M.2 2280 1TB model and were completely floored by what it has to offer in terms pure horsepower. It does come with a hefty price tag, but that’s not purely for the brand name printed on the box, as it comes with performance everyone would kill for.
The big difference with the NVMe M.2 over the standard SATA III connector (and SATA M.2) is increased output when it comes to read and write capabilities. While SATA drives can go upwards of 550 MBps, this drive in particular is advertised to hit as high as 3,400 MBps sequential read, which is incredibly fast (probably faster than what most people need) and a write upwards of 2,800 MBps. In terms of random read/write, this drive can hit 500,000 IOPS and 400,000 IOPS, respectively. It also features at least 600 TBW (Terabytes Written), has a mean time of failure at around 1.75 million hours, and can still operate as high as 70c before the drive begins to throttle. Speaking of which, we ran into idle temperatures between 45-52c, with it never hitting the 70c mark, only ever going as high as 64c.
If you have a modern motherboard, and by that I mean if you have purchased one in the last five years, you should have at least two NVMe slots that this drive can be slotted into, one that can take up a couple of SATA ports, and another that will take up a PCIe x4 slot. Considering most ATX motherboards come with multiple PCIe slots which most consumers probably won’t ever utilize, and if you’re like myself and take up most of the SATA slots already, the NVMe M.2 drive is the perfect instrument to get the most out of your hardware. Our tests through CrystalDisk show incredibly strong results in both read and write components. It never hit the promised read rate, but did average around a little higher than 3,100 MBps. That’s 5.5x faster than the Wester Digital Blue 3D NAND SSD, with the write coming in at just under 2,800 MBPs.
Obviously, being a publication centered around video games, we could run more tests how fast this drive performs with various benchmarks, but what’s most important is the practicality of the drive, and how it performs when playing your favorite games. Despite being upwards of five times faster than Western Digital’s staple SATA SSD, those numbers unfortunately don’t equally transition when it comes to load times. Mind you, every game we tested favored the NVMe M.2 drive, it’s just that it’s a small upgrade. We also ran it against a Western Digital Black Hard Drive to show how powerful SSDs can be for games, but it should be noted that this is an aging drive, at around 5 years old, with some of the newer models capable of outputting upwards of double the transfer rates.
All times are based on loading into the game and valued in seconds:
|Load into Game|
|WD Black HDD||20.37|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||7.98|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||6.18|
The recently released Monster Hunter World is first, and as you can see, the NVMe M.2 actually does pretty well over its SSD counterpart. Of course, compared to the standard hard drive it blows it out of the water with load times being over 66% faster, but compared to the SSD, it shaves off nearly two seconds worth of wait. Obviously two seconds is not a lot of time, especially comparing it to the mechanical HDD, but that is a 22% decrease in load times, and one of the better performing games in this review.
|Load into Game|
|WD Black HDD||28.87|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||9.82|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||9.60|
Unfortunately, while Monster Hunter World performed well, there’s little difference for Ubisoft’s last year iteration of Assassin’s Creed. Being an open world game, you’d hope there would be a significant margin between the three drives, but unfortunately, even on an HDD, Origins performs pretty well. Mind you, it still pales in comparison to an SSD, but loading it on an NVMe drive won’t have any added benefit. Overall, you won’t really see much of a difference if playing on an SSD or through the NVMe.
|Load into Game|
|WD Black HDD||52.52|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||10.43|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||9.18|
There are only a couple games that benefit from an SSD as greatly as Resident Evil 7 does. Loading into the game takes nearly a minute in length on the standard hard drive, whereas on an SSD it will take a measly ten seconds. This is a colossal difference that definitely shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone with an SSD, but the NVMe is a bit of a mixed bag. Resident Evil 7 does benefit from the NVMe a little bit more than most of the games tested, but it’s only a little more than a second, or rather 10% faster than the SSD. It’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it’s hard to beat a decrease of load times by 80% in the first place.
|Load into Motherbase|
|WD Black HDD||12.70|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||9.98|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||9.30|
Of everything tested here today, Metal Gear Solid V seems to already be well optimized for loading its open areas. Dropping into the open world (or open area), a standard hard drive load was incredibly quick, with the two SSDs coming in at only three seconds faster. I wonder what Konami’s secret is. Unfortunately, because of this, the margin between solid-state and NVMe drives is so low that it’s almost indiscernible.
|Load into Game|
|WD Black HDD||16.00|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||5.78|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||5.60|
FromSoftware’s Dark Souls III unfortunately doesn’t take full advantage of the extra horsepower the NVMe drive puts out. While the drive itself is capable of upwards of 3,400 MBps read, a standard 550 MBps SATA drive more or less matches the load times. There is .18 of a second difference between an SSD and NVMe, while compared to the hard drive is a decent 65% decrease in load times. While some games benefit from the two more and less, Dark Souls 3 is definitely of the latter, but then again, five seconds is basically nothing to begin with.
|Load into Game|
|WD Black HDD||64.32|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||35.93|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||27.78|
Of all the games tested here, Western Digital’s NVMe drive performed best with Final Fantasy XV. This massive, 150GB+ game took over a minute to load on a standard hard drive, but was nearly cut in half by an SSD. The NVMe M.2 on the other hand was reduced by just over 8 seconds, being nearly 25% faster than the solid-state drive. Even though there aren’t many load times in Final Fantasy XV, a quarter of the load time reduced is a great feat for the little drive, making Square Enix’s lengthy adventure one worth venturing on the pricey device.
|Load into Game|
|WD Black HDD||73.10|
|WD Blue 3D NAND SSD||24.12|
|WD Black NVMe SSD||23.32|
Finally, we have Lara Croft’s latest adventure. While we wish we could test out her newest adventure, it unfortunately is coming out a little late for this review (about a month late), so 2016’s PC release of Rise of the Tomb Raider will have to suffice. Like Resident Evil 7, this is one of the few games that massively benefits from having an SSD. Going from 73 seconds to 24 is no laughing matter, as it will cut down on getting into the game and fast travel, as well. Unfortunately, like almost every game list here, the NVMe drive doesn’t do a whole lot in comparison to the SSD. We were hoping for more than a second shaved off, but it will have to suffice.
There’s no doubt that the Western Digital Black NVMe SSD is one of the most powerful drives on the market, but when it comes to video games, there are few that take advantage of the added speed. The most we found you can get out of it was around a 23% decrease in load times compared to a standard solid-state, with most of the results being insignificant. Overall though, compared to easily the best SATA SSD Western Digital has to offer, it’s more than 5x powerful when comes to sequential read and write capabilities, and around 1.7 times faster when it comes to reading/writing 4K blocks. At $419.99, this is an item aimed towards those who work on say 4K video editing, which we saw a little bit of a boost with, or enthusiasts looking for the best thing available. For gamers, it’s going to be difficult to justify spending virtually double the amount when comparing SSDs, especially when you get anywhere between 3% and 23% performance increase. Still, if you don’t have a dedicated SSD for games yet, you certainly need one.