We’ve seen some incredible NVMe SSD drives released recently, from the blazing speed of the Kingston Renegade to the affordable Crucial P5 Plus. The latest drive to hit the market is from the same camp as our favorite PCIe 4.0 SSD, the WD_Black SN850, but as the name suggests, it’s not vying for the top spot. No, the new WD_Black SN770 is designed to offer more of a value proposition than its faster sibling.
The main way it does this is by being a DRAM-less SSD drive. This saves most of the manufacturer’s bill of materials, and thanks to the latest controller advancements, it’s surprising how little performance impact this has. Such drives are slower, don’t get me wrong, but this new SN770 still quotes read and write speeds of 5,150MB/s and 4,900MB/s, respectively. good.
As these numbers should infer, that means you’re looking at a PCIe 4.0 SSD. You’ll need to support the CPU and motherboard to get the most out of it, although there’s nothing stopping you from slipping it into a PCIe 3.0 slot and maximizing the bandwidth there – you’ll be limited to about 3,500MB/s if you do .
The drive itself is a low-profile thing, and this 1TB model has a NAND flash module on the back (actually a rebranded Kioxia BiCS5 112-layer TLC chip) and the connector’s SanDisk controller. Western Digital rarely reveals much about its controllers, and that’s the case here again. The SN770 is available in four sizes – 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB, although there’s no 4TB option, which is a bit of a shame.
Aside from the big tab in the middle of the drive, that’s pretty much all you have. There’s nothing noteworthy on the back of the drive. Considering how much space is unused here, I can’t help but wonder if Western Digital could make a version of this drive suitable for the Steam deck. For the 2230 form factor, options are certainly slim. but no matter…
WD Black SN770 1TB Specifications
The first thing we do with any new SSD is fill it up to really get a feel for how it will perform after actual use, not factory perfection. This also gives us the opportunity to see when the dynamically allocated SLC cache is exhausted.
On this 1TB drive, you can see around 130GB of 2GB/s transfers before dropping to just 400MB/s. For reference, the Crucial P5 plus can hit 300GB before hitting the cache limit, so the SN770 is definitely behind that.
When looking at the performance of this drive, it’s worth keeping the price in mind, which is almost twice as expensive.As a comparison, I compared the $105 Western Digital SN770 1TB to a similarly budget-oriented $135 Crucial P5 Plus 1TBno DRAM $100 Samsung 980 1TB (PCIe 3.0 SSD) and our current favorite SSD, $150 WD_Black SN850which has recently enjoyed some enticing price cuts.
The combined performance of ATTO and AS SSD records shows that the SN770 trails the Crucial P5 in reads, although it’s closer in writes. The 4K performance is relatively impressive, though, suggesting the SN770 has something to offer in this crowded market. Not surprisingly, this drive outperforms Samsung’s DRAM-less offering, it’s a PCIe 3.0 drive after all, but it’s impressive.
It’s worth noting that this drive gets hot when pushed, actually like the SN850. After a full day of testing, it hit 76°C, even though it didn’t have any direct cooling at all, not even a heatsink. It should be fine in most systems, especially if your motherboard does come with some cooling solution.
In real-world testing, the SN770 did well, with little to no difference from the Crucial P5 Plus. In very real-world situations, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two in day-to-day operations, which is important given that this is the cheaper drive out there. If you need better performance, the SN850 is clearly the better drive, but you’ll pay more for it.
In many ways, that’s the story of the WD_Black SN770. It’s not the fastest drive, nor the cheapest (although it’s close), but it does balance the two better than most. If you’re on a tight budget but want to enjoy fast PCIe 4.0 performance, there’s a lot to like here. Sure, it’s closer to the performance of first-gen PCIe 4.0, but if you want faster than that, you’re going to have to shell out more cash.
Not long ago, the idea of DRAM-less NVMe SSDs was mocked. The Samsung 980 was dismissed by many before the results were out, even though it did just fine for a PCIe 3.0 SSD. Still, the SN770 looks like it could improve DRAM-less performance, and with numbers like these, it’s worth it. Phison also has a PCIe 4.0 DRAM-less controller on the way, so there will be more of these drives soon.
DRAMless drives are important only because they are cheaper. Affordability is key for SSDs to reach more people, and it’s a great way to approach (if not fall below) the $100 barrier of a 1TB drive.
Since DirectStorage promises major improvements to our games, the more gamers have fast drives in their machines, the more attractive it will be for developers to actually use it. Of course, it’s going to be a long journey, and it’s probably still a few years before developers really push SSDs forward, but it’s still good to plan ahead.
The only problem here is that we’re not sure how fast the drive needs to be for DirectStorage. We know some developers are targeting 5,000MB/s, which is where the SN770 came in in our testing. So it should be nice and, for the money, tempting. However, if you’re a serious gamer, we recommend bumping your product stack up a bit and grabbing the WD_Black SN850.