WD Black SN850 Review: Da Best NVMe Performer | Dong Knows Tech


The WD Black SN850 is not new, Wester Digital first unveiled in late 2020, and it became available in early 2021 in naked and heatsink versions — of which Samsung made a rivaling version of 980 Pro in late 2021.

The point is, for different reasons, I failed to review on time. It wasn’t until I recently tested the WD Black SN770, which is a lower-tier drive, that I realized my oversight.

This brief review is to correct that and a testament to the truth in the phrase “better late than never.”

Indeed, if the SN770 is a wolf, the SN850 is a cheetah. This slightly older drive deserves the top-tier position in the PCIe Gen 4 lineup. It’s the fastest NVMe SSD I’ve seen.

So, the SN770 is excellent, but the SN850 is even better. You can get whichever, and you’ll be happy, but if you run into the latter at the same price as the former, get it! You’d have a deal there!

The WD Black SN850 is doing its best in a gaming computer.

WD Black SN850: The fastest NVMe SSD to date

The SN850 is very similar to the SN770 (or the other way around is more like it since the former arrived later.) It’s faster and has a bit of extra gimmick, namely the Gaming Mode — more below.

Neither drive delivered the real-world performance per Western Digital’s claim — as shown in the hardware specification table below — but the SN850 was quite close in my testing.

Indeed, the SN850 proved to be one of the fastest NVMe SSDs on the market, if not the fastest, when working with a PCIe Gen 3 or a Gen 4 computer.

WD Black SN850 PCIe Gen NVMe SSD
The WD Black SN850 and its retail box

Like the case of the Black SN770, the SN850 is part of the WD Black family: it’s a storage device designed to deliver fast speed and not much else for gamers.

Hardware specifications: WD Black SN850 vs SN770

Other than the higher specs, the SN850 is very similar to its younger cousin, the SN770. Unlike the SN770, though, it’s not available in the 250GB capacities.

WD Black SN850 vs SN770
The WD Black SN850 and the WD Black SN770

On top of that, you can also find it in a heatsink version and can turn on the Gaming Mode, which is largely a gimmick.

Name WD Black SN850 WD Black SN770
Capacity / Part Number 2TB / WDS200T1X0E-00AFY0
1TB / WDS100T1X0E-00AFY0
500GB / DS500G1X0E-00AFY0
2TB / WDS200T3X0E
1TB / WDS100T3X0E
500GB / WDS500G3X0E
250GB / WDS250G3X0E
Form Factors M.2 2280 
(80mm x 22mm x 2.38mm)
M.2 2280 
(80mm x 22mm x 2.38mm)
Weight .27 oz (7.5g) .2 oz (5.5g)
Interface PCIe Gen 4 16GT/s, up to 4 Lanes
PCIe Gen 3 and Gen 2 compatible
PCIe Gen 4 16GT/s, up to 4 Lanes
PCIe Gen 3 and Gen 2 compatible
Endurance 
(Terabytes Written)
2TB: 1,200 TBW
1TB: 600 TBW
500GB: 300 TBW
2TB: 1,200 TBW
1TB: 600 TBW
500GB: 300 TBW
250GB: 200 TBW
Sequential Read
(up to)
2TB: 7,000MB/s
1TB: 7,000MB/s
500GB: 7,000MB/s
2TB: 5,150MB/s
1TB: 5,150MB/s
500GB: 5,000MB/s
250GB: 4,000MB/s
Sequential Write
(up to)
2TB: 5,100MB/s
1TB: 5,300MB/s
500GB: 4,100MB/s
2TB: 4,850MB/s
1TB: 4,900MB/s
500GB: 4,000MB/s
250GB: 2,000MB/s
Random Read:
(up to)
2TB: 1,000K IOPS
1TB: 1,000K IOPS
500GB: 810K IOPS
2TB: 650K IOPS
1TB: 740K IOPS
500GB: 460K IOPS
250GB: 240K IOPS
Random Write
(up to)
2TB: 710K IOPS
1TB: 720K IOPS
500GB: 680K IOPS
2TB: 800K IOPS
1TB: 800K IOPS
500GB: 800K IOPS
250GB: 470K IOPS
Warranty 5 Years 5 Years
Release Date February, 2021 February 2nd, 2022
US Pricing
(at launch)
500GB: $169.99
1TB: $249.99
2TB: $449.99
250GB: $49.99
500GB: $59.99
1TB: $109.99
2TB: $269.99
WD Black SN850 vs SN770: Hardware specifications

WD Black SN850 vs Samsung 980 Pro: Frill-free, standard endurance, but with screaming performance

Precisely like the case of the SN770, the SN850 has no meaningful features. This area is where WD’s SSDs are behind those from Samsung.

The 980 Pro, for example, comes with lots of customization, including the ability to set aside a portion of the storage for Over Provisioning. On top of that, it features hardware encryption and other tools accessible via the Samsung Magician dashboard software.

The SN850 has none of that. It does come with dashboard software that helps with the firmware update, and that’s about it.

It’s worth noting that you can only use the dashboard to update the firmware when you use the SN850 as a secondary drive on a computer. When using it as the boot drive, the software only helps you create a bootable USB thumb drive for the job.

WD Black SN850 firmware update
The Dashboard software is a great tool to update the WD Black SN850’s firmware.

The gimmicky “Gaming Mode”

When working as the boot drive of a computer, the SN850 has this “Gaming-Mode” that you can turn on.

Initially, I thought it was a feature similar to the RAPID mode available in select Samsung SATA drive, like the 870 Evo, which would be nice.

As it turned out, the Gaming Mode turns off the SN850’s low-power mode, meaning it’ll work at top speed at all times — the drive never goes into idle.

In my testing, there were no differences when I turned on this feature vs. when it was off (default). That was likely because the drive had no chance of getting into the idle mode during the tests anyway, as it never will when you’re using it intensively.

It’s worth noting that if you use the drive on a laptop, it’s better to have this feature turned off to conserve battery.

WD Black SN850 gaming mode
You need to restart the computer to turn the WD Black SN850’s Gaming Mode on or off.

Standard endurance

The SN850 shares the same endurance rating as other PCIe 4.0 drives I’ve tested, including the SN770 and Samsung 980 Pro.

Specifically, the top-capacity 2TB version can handle up to 1,200 TB of data written on it, and lower capacities have the endurance cut down by a factor of two. So the 1TB gets 600TB and the 500GB get 300TB.

While these aren’t the best endurance ratings in SSDs, they are still really high. If you write 100GB to the 2TB version and do that every day, you’ll need over 30 years to wear it out. Generally, a typical home user doesn’t write more than 10GB a day on average. Some days we don’t write anything at all.

WD Black SN850 PCIe Gen NVMe SSD
And here’s the WD Black SN850’s underside, which is slightly different from that of the SN770.

WD Black SN850: Top PCIe 4.0 performance

The WD Black SN850 excelled where it mattered the most: the performance.

I tested the 1TB version, and it consistently topped the chart, both with PCIe 4.0 and PCIe 3.0. It was much faster than the Samsung 980 Pro.

WD Black SN850 Copy Performance
The WD Black SN850’s sequential (copy) performance

Specifically, in the sequential (copy) tests via PCIe Gen 4, the SN750 scored a sustained speed of over 5000MB/s in writing and almost 6000MB/s in reading — very close to the numbers WD claimed. And when doing both writings and reading at the same time, it manages to deliver almost 1800MB/s.

Overall, the SN850 topped the charts in this test among PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0, respectively.

WD Black SN850 Random Access Performance
The WD Black SN850’s random access performance

And the SN850 did even better in random access tests. Specifically, even when working with PCIe 3.0, the drive managed to outdo other PCIe 4.0 drives, making it decide the fastest NVMe SSD I’ve tested in synthetic performance.

In real-world usage, the SN850 was clearly fast in my days-long trial. I used it as the main drive of my gaming computer, and it was excellent. However, for the most part, it felt the same as almost any other NVMe SSDs, including the SN770, the Samsung 980 Pro, or the Crucial P5 Plus.

At this level of performance, it’s just challenging to notice the real-world differences between these drives. They are all speedy.

By the way, the SSD ran a bit hot in my testing, similar to the case of the Samsung 980 Pro, or any PCIe 4.0 SSDs for that matter. It wasn’t hot enough to cause concern in my case — I used a naked drive — but the heatsink version will help when applicable.

WD Black SN850 PCIe Gen NVMe SSD

Pros

Helpful Dashboard software

Available in heatsink version

Cons

Different performance grades between capacities

No security or any user-accessible features

Conclusion

The new WD Black SN850 is easily one of the best NVMe SSDs on t the market. The drive doesn’t have a lot of features, but it more than makes up for that in performance.

If you’re looking for an SSD that won’t compromise on performance, you won’t go wrong with it. If you’re looking to save a bit, the SN770 is also worth consideration.



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