On paper WD's first PCIe 4.0 SSD takes the speed crown from Samsung's 980 Pro

(Image credit: Western Digital)

Western Digital skipped the first round of PCI Express 4.0 SSDs entirely, the bulk of which offered read and write speeds in the neighborhood of 5,000MB/s. More recently, faster PCIe 4.0 models have emerged, boasting upgraded controllers that enable even speedier transfer speeds, like Samsung's 980 Pro—it is rated to deliver up to 6,900MB/s of sequential read performance and up to 5,000MB/s of sequential writes. Not to be outdone, WD's makes its maiden voyage into PCIe 4.0 territory with the Black SN850, rated to deliver up to 7,000MB/s reads and 5,300MB/s writes. Game on.

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The fastest speeds are reserved for WD's 1TB model. It is also offering the Black SN850 in 500GB and 2TB capacities, both also rated to read data at up to 7,000MB/s, but with rated write speeds of up to 4,100MB/s and 5,100MB/s, respectively.

Several of the newer PCIe 4.0 SSDs leverage Phison's PS5018-E18 controller to hit faster speeds than what earlier models were capable of. However, according to our friends at Anandtech, WD is using a second generation version of its own in-house controller on the Black SN850 series.

WD says the Black SN850 has been "purpose-built to allow gamers to meet the increasingly high standards of future games and gaming platforms," which is an interesting comment. Up to now, the fastest NVMe SSDs have not provided a big benefit for gaming compared to even a SATA SSD that tops out at around 580MB/s. But that could change.

Both next-gen game consoles (PS5 and Xbox Series X) have made the leap PCIe 4.0 SSD storage. In addition, Microsoft's new DirectStorage API should help game developers take better advantage of speedier storage. We'll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.

As for the Black SN850, the version without a heatsink is available to preorder now, priced at $150 for the 500GB model, $230 for the 1TB model, and $450 for the 2TB model. WD says the version that ships with a heatsink will launch to retail in the first quarter of next year, all backed by a 5-year warranty.

Paul Lilly

Paul has been playing PC games and raking his knuckles on computer hardware since the Commodore 64. He does not have any tattoos, but thinks it would be cool to get one that reads LOAD"*",8,1. In his off time, he rides motorcycles and wrestles alligators (only one of those is true).