To date all the hybrid storage solutions we have seen have been rather limited. Seagate got the idea right with the Momentus XT but having only 8GB of NAND (4GB in the first generation) limited the gains of caching dramatically. There simply wasn't enough NAND cache to fit all the data that users frequently used. Sure it was better than a traditional hard drive but the experience was far away from the real SSD experience. I'm actually surprised that there hasn't been any major evolution in the hybrid market -- the original Momentus XT was released over three years ago and fundamentally the current third generation Momentus XT is very similar. Back then I would've expected more and better offerings to be released within a year but obviously that hasn't happened. Until now.

WD Black2 combines a 120GB SSD and a 1TB 5400rpm hard drive into one 2.5" 9.5mm solution. WD doesn't actually call the Black2 a hybrid drive, but a dual-drive because the the SSD and hard drive are completely separate. In other words, the drive will appear as two separate volumes: 120GB SSD and 1TB hard drive. There's no caching involved and the end-user can decide what goes to the SSD as if it were a standalone drive. By default only the SSD portion is usable but WD supplies a USB drive with drivers in the retail package to make the hard drive portion visible to the OS as well. All Windows versions from XP and up are supported but there is no OS X support at the time of launch.

WD Black2 Specifications
Interface SATA 6Gbps
Sequential Read 350MB/s
Sequential Write 140MB/s
Power Consumption 0.9W (idle/standby) / 1.9W (read/write)
Noise 20dBA (idle) / 21dBA (seek)
Warranty 5 years
MSRP $299

The performance specs above are for the SSD part. Unfortunately WD wasn't willing to disclose any hardware details about the SSD other than that it uses 20nm NAND but we will find out the details once our review sample arrives this week. I was, however, able to get the information that WD worked with a partner to bring the Black2 to the market and that partner wasn't SanDisk (which was my first guess due to their prior partnership in hybrid drives). The actual hard drive spins at 5400rpm and consists of a single 1TB platter but WD didn't release any separate performance data for it. When the hard drive isn't in use, it can spin down to reduce power consumption, although 0.9W is still fairly high compared to most SSDs. 

Update: Techreport has already received their sample and opened it up, which revealed JMicron's JMF667H controller. We don't have any prior experience with the controller but generally JMicron's controllers have not been the greatest but it's been years since we've tested a JMicron based drive so things might have changed.

Update 2: WD initally told us that the drive is a single-platter design but they've now corrected their earlier statement. The hard drive consists of two 500GB platters as some of you suspected in the comments.

Given that most laptops only have room for one 2.5" drive by default, I do see a potential market for the Black2. In the past consumers have had to make the choice between a fast but small SSD or a large but slow hard drive. The Black2 eliminates the need to do that compromise. However, I'm disappointed for the lack of caching support. WD told us that they conducted market studies and according to those end-users wanted full control of the SSD and data. I don't completely agree because the reason why most consumers have negative thoughts about caching is because the available cache sizes are just way too small. Apple is the only one who has done it right with Fusion Drive by not going any smaller than 128GB, while others are trying to get by with 8-32GB. The Black2 has enough NAND for a pleasant caching experience, so not including caching software is a letdown. Technically you could use third party caching software but I still would have hoped for a solution from WD, preferably something user-configurable so it's not forced like in the Momentus XT.

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  • THizzle7XU - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    I think if you put "USB thumb drive" it might be more clear for the confused.
  • MrSpadge - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    A few points:
    - a single 1 TB platter in 2.5" would be a rediculous density improvement out of nowhere (Samsung just recently managed to get to 667 GB as the new record, Seagate introduced shingled magnetic recording and Hitachi even goes to Helium to push densities). It's surely 2x500 GB platters.

    - Don't forget Intel SRT caching allows up to 60 GB to be used as cache. They were also the first to bring this to market, so they still have an attractive solution. There are also dedicated cache drives with nVelo Dataplex with more than 32 GB. Sure, they're not single 2.5" drives - but neither is the Fusion Drive.

    - WD saying "people don't want caching" is very short-sighted. Many want a good performance, out-of-the-box solution with as little trouble as possible. They will not necessarily know all the ways to get there. Like Henry Ford once said:
    "If I had asked people what to build, they would have said faster horses."

    - 300$ for this is a bitter pill to swallow!
  • DanNeely - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    The 1 platter claim caught me by surprise too. If true 2tb 3.5" platters should be possible as well making 10TB drives possible for people with gobs of data.
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    WD told us that it's a single-platter drive (Techreport reported it as single-platter too) but I've sent them an email asking to confirm that.
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Just received a reply from WD and it's indeed a single-platter design.
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    WD just corrected themselves, it's a dual-platter drive as you guys suspected. Updated the article too.
  • MrSpadge - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the effort, Kristian. It's appreciated!
  • tipoo - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Interesting that this isn't an automatically managed setup, rather a manual one where the user picks where to put everything. I can see the benefits to that, but it would also be nice for it to automatically speed up what I need without me thinking about it. Some solutions like that (Fusion Drive iirc?) don't even reduce the total storage, as data is only held on one drive if I'm not wrong.
  • tipoo - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    Which hybrid drive has 32GB cache, by the way? I have a Momentus XT 750 (the 7200rpm one, not the new slower one), and I still like the concept of hybrid drives, but it could definitely go for more NAND than 8GB. Quadrupling it to 32GB seems like it would be much better. You still may hit HD speeds sometimes, but with 8GB my drive already starts up in a flash and opens most productivity apps before you can even think of it, it's only slower for bigger apps.
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, November 25, 2013 - link

    WD has one but it's limited to OEMs:

    I was also referring to caches in general as quite a few of the cheaper Ultrabooks use a cache equal or smaller than 32GB, while Apple went straight for 128GB.

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