You decide to “turbine” your computer with an SSD, search for a well-rated model, make the purchase, and when you install it, you discover that the performance is not what you expected. Defect? No. Perhaps some component has been replaced by the manufacturer without prior notice. That’s what happened with the SSD WD Blue SN550, gives Western Digital.
Do not think that this type of behavior is exclusive to the brand. SSDs from companies like Crucial and Samsung have also gone through “silent” component replacements recently.
WD Blue SN550: Before and After
This story started when the Chinese website preview purchased and tested a WD Blue SN550 SSD manufactured on July 28, 2021. One of the odd details the vehicle encountered was the use of a different firmware than the original on the drive.
This is not a simple software update. According to preview, the current firmware (233010WD) is not compatible with previous WD Blue SN550 line drives, as well as their firmware (211070WD) does not work on the latest version of the product.
This situation strongly suggests that there were changes in the hardware, a hypothesis reinforced by the finding that the unit acquired by the preview it has a Flash memory with a different identification from the one that existed until then.
To take the test, tests. The website claims that the latest SSD drive achieved an average transfer rate of 390 MB/s (megabytes per second) on write when the drive’s cache memory was full, almost 50% lower than previous versions.
SSDs are still relatively expensive, so manufacturers resort to some gimmicks to cut costs while delivering significant performance. One is to add a faster Flash memory-based cache to the unit.
It is normal for performance to drop when the full capacity of the cache is used. However, the test of preview showed that the degradation of the latest unit is much higher than that of the original version.
It soon became clear that there were changes to the line’s Flash memory. The user who performs simple tasks may not notice any difference, but one who needs to transfer gigantic 4K videos, for example, can be quite affected by the lower performance.
Western Digital Promises More Transparency
Changing the characteristics of a product is not a “crime”. This can happen, for example, when a supplier cannot keep up with the demand. In the case of the WD Blue SN550, it is possible that the change was driven by the current global semiconductor shortage.
The problem is that the change needs to be made clear to the consumer. This line of SSDs was launched in 2019. If you rely on a product review published that year or in 2020, for example, you will run the risk of purchasing a recent (and modified) drive that doesn’t fully match the results of the Previous SSDs.
After the matter came up, Western Digital sent a note to Tom’s Hardware and to other vehicles to confirm changes to the SSD and promise more transparency.
WD Blue SN550 is sold in Brazil
The WD Blue SN550 is one of the products that Western Digital officially sells in Brazil. On Kabum, the 1 TB version, for example, has an official price of R$ 1,294 (amount that does not consider discounts or promotions).
Because of that, the Techblog contacted Western Digital in Brazil. The company responded with the following note (the same sent to other vehicles):
In June 2021, we replaced the WD Blue SN550 NVMe SSD NAND and updated the firmware. On occasion, we update the product technical sheet. To bring more transparency in the future, when we do an upgrade to an existing internal SSD, we commit to introducing a new model number whenever any related specifications are affected.
We value our customers and are committed to providing the best possible solutions for their data storage needs.
Also according to the company, the current technical file of the product (PDF file) in Brazil is consistent with the most recent changes.
Western Digital’s case is not isolated
Days before the controversy surrounding the WD Blue SN550, the Tom’s Hardware pointed out that the Crucial replaced the SSD’s TLC Flash memory P2 by QLC-type modules, which are slower and tend to last less.
Another recent case involves the Samsung. O ExtremeTech reports that the SSD 970 Evo Plus had its controller swapped for an inferior model which, as such, dropped performance by about 50% in certain tests.
In both lines, the changes were made “on the sly” and probably would not have been discovered if it weren’t for the independent tests.
In a statement, Crucial informed that it discloses for the P2 line, since its launch, performance numbers based on QLC NAND. The problem is that the first independent analyzes of the product were made with TLC units, which present more interesting results.
So far, Samsung has not commented on the matter.
It is worth noting that both the Crucial P2 and the Samsung 970 Evo Plus are also sold in Brazil.