The WD Black2 is designed specifically as an upgrade for laptops with a single drive bay and it's somewhat pointless in any situation where separate SSDs and HDDs can be used in tandem. People who fit the usage case ultimately have a choice between one storage tech or another, and this is where the Black2 presents itself as a viable option -- the only option, in fact, as no other product offers what it does.
You could technically install a 120GB to 256GB SSD and then rely on external USB 3.0 storage, but that's not exactly the most practical or mobile solution, nor is the cloud if connectivity is limited. At the same time, there's no going back to a 5400RPM hard drive after you experience the snappiness of flash, so having an SSD boot device is a must in our opinion. The challenge is juggling price, performance and capacity.
That's when the Black2 starts to look a little shaky. Samsung's SSD 840 Evo 500GB seems like the most economical choice considering it's nearly the same price as WD's combo drive and half a terabyte is still plenty of storage in a laptop. The 840 Evo 1TB is also available and although it's much faster than the Black2, it's also 80% pricier and offers 12% less storage. Nonetheless, we can see that tradeoff being awfully tempting.
It's not like the Black2 is cheap by any means. At $300, you're paying a premium to have the SSD and HDD merged into a single drive. A 1TB notebook drive only costs about $130 and a decent 120GB SSD can be had for less than $100. WD's combo offering isn't particularly fast, either. The Black2's flash drive has sluggish write performance compared to modern SSDs, even mainstream-oriented series like the Evo 840.
That said, there's no comparing the performance of the Black2's flash memory with any 2.5" disk drive, and that's probably closer to WD's original intent. Nonetheless, we can't help but feel like the company could have blown us away by equipping the drive with a more competent controller than the JMicron 667H. If nothing else, we're happy to be one step closer to finding a balance between today's storage technologies.
We're also pleased to report that the combo drive runs smoothly despite being the first of its kind. If your experience is similar to ours, we're confident early adopters won't feel like beta testers. While it may not be the fastest or most affordable option, the Black2 works as expected and fills a gap in the storage market, which seems worthy enough of our outstanding award. Kudos WD for trying to shake things up a little.
Pros: The only 2.5" drive that crams separate flash and disk drives into one package, providing more speed than an HDD and more storage than an SSD for a tolerable premium.
Cons: It's also much slower than alternatives such as Samsung's SSD 840 Evo 500GB, which is available for about the same price and offers enough space for most notebooks.