WD Black AN1500 SSD review: Dual drives deliver double the performance

The WD Black AN1500 SSD pairs two NVMe SSDs on a RAID 0 PCIe card to deliver twice the benchmark performance of a single M.2 NVMe SSD. RGB lighting is the icing on the cake.

Credit: WD

If you’re interested in a single 2.5-inch or M.2 SSD for upgrading your system or laptop, you can skip this article. The WD Black AN1500 reviewed here is a full-sized, x8 PCIe 3.0 card for use in gaming or creative PCs—with the goal of bringing near-PCIe 4.0 performance to PCIe 3.0 computers. 

In synthetic benchmarks, it gets darn close with 6.5GBps reading and well over 4GBps writing. That could be good news for those that opted for Intel over AMD Ryzen in their gaming or video rigs, but read the performance section closely.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best SSDs. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

Design and specs

I led with the information that the AN1500 is an x8 (eight lane) PCIe card. It ships with a large heat spreader covering the entire board, sporting a ring of programmanble RGB lighting around the edge. The RGB is compatible with all major standards and controllable via WD’s included app.

Beyond that, there are two SN550 M.2 SSDs on board configured in RAID 0. RAID 0 is a way of setting up multiple drives in a system and distributing, or "striping," data evenly across all the drives in the array. In this case, with two drives, that means half the data is written to one drive, and half to the other. This is basically done simultaneously, hence the colossal uptick in both reading and writing. Twice the pipes, twice the chips, twice the sustained performance. Generally speaking.

While RAID 0 is very fast, it offers no redundancy. SSDs are extremely reliable these days, but two drives in RAID 0 effectively doubles your failure points. In practical terms, don’t rely on the AN1500 for storing irreplaceable data unless you back it up regularly.

The AN1500 will be available in 1TB/$300, 2TB/$550 (tested), and 4TB/$1000 flavors. Single 2TB NVMe SSDs generally run from $250 to $350, so you're paying roughly twice as much for the WD Black AN1500.

A five-year warranty backs the drives, but there's no TBW (TeraBytes Written—over the life of the drive) rating as you’ll find with single drives. However, the SN550 used inside is rated for 600TBW per terabyte of capacity. Bottom line, while you wouldn't want to use an AN1500 as the tip of the storage spear in a high-transaction server, you needn't worry about wearing it out during normal use. 

Performance

The AN1500 performs as advertised, at least on synthetic benchmarks. Real-life 48GB transfers generally didn’t stack up to PCIe 4.0, though our PCIe 3.0 testbed (see below) is now quite a few generations older than our PCIe 4.0 testbed. Because of that, I also tested on the latter to see what the card could do with a modern CPU. Turns out, it made quite a bit of difference, as you’ll see below: PCIe 3.0 is the orange bars, and PCIe 4.0 is the gold bars.

an1500 cdm6 IDG

Under CrystalDiskMark 6, the AN1500 shows a definite improvement in performance over a single drive (the Samsung 980 Pro) under PCIe 3.0.

The AN1500 didn’t do particularly well in our 48GB transfer tests, falling slightly behind Samsung’s 980 Pro over PCIe 3.0. With a more modern AMD Ryzen 3700X over the PCIe 4 bus (still operating at PCIe 3.0 speeds), the story changed drastically. Note that these numbers are from two completely different testbeds and while indicative, are not directly or concretely comparable. 

an1500 48gb IDG

Over PCIe 3 the AN1500 didn’t perform particularly well in our 48GB small file and folder tests. This may be overhead from RAID 0, it may be something else. It’s basically on par with the average single PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD.

The 450GB write test below proves three things: The AN1500 is much faster writing large files on a Ryzen 7 3700X/PCIe 4.0 system than on a Core i7-5820/PCIe 3.0 system; it's easily the fastest drive we've tested with the long write; and the 2TB version of the AN1500 I tested is unlikely to run out of cache during any operation.

Note this may change as the drive fills up, as with any SSD. You should allow for 25 percent free space when buying, just to make sure there’s always enough NAND for uses as secondary cache for long copies.

an1500 450gb IDG

Normally, we include this test to show how soon a drive runs out of cache, and how much that slows the drive. However, in this case, it shows that the card is actually capable of much better real-world performance with a modern CPU (Ryzen 3700X) as opposed to one several years old (Core i7-5820).

Note that our PCIe 4.0 testing is on AMD’s first-gen implementation, and there are no doubt improvements on the horizon.

The PCIe 3 tests utilized Windows 10 64-bit running on a Core i7-5820K/Asus X99 Deluxe system with four 16GB Kingston 2666MHz DDR4 modules, a Zotac (NVidia) GT 710 1GB x2 PCIe graphics card, and an Asmedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 card. It also contains a Gigabyte GC-Alpine Thunderbolt 3 card, and Softperfect Ramdisk 3.4.6 for the 48GB read and write tests.

The PCIe 4 testing was done on an MSI MEG X570 motherboard socketing an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X 8-core CPU and using the same Kingston DDR and software. 

An expensive upgrade for the few

Faster is always better—less time wasted, more life tasted. The AN1500 delivers an improvement, though it’s not always subjectively apparent and is likely not be worth the extra cash for the average user. 

Still, there is a boost, so for those with bleeding-edge needs and deep pockets it will deliver at least a modest performance boost over PCIe 3.0. It also looks nice in the case. A recent-vintage CPU will optimize the gains.

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By Jon L. Jacobi

PC World (US online)
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