When I wrote about Crucial’s decision to swap inferior NAND flash into its products without updating the reviewer community or announcing a separate SKU, I hoped the problem was a one-off. While this has happened before, it’s typically been the exception, not the norm.
Guess that was too much to hope for. According to a report from Chinese tech site Expreview, the WD SN550 Blue — which is currently one of the best-reviewed budget SSDs on the market — has undergone a NAND lobotomy. While the new SSD variant performs on-par with the old drive that WD actually sampled for review, once you exhaust the SLC NAND cache, performance craters from 610MB/s (as measured by THG) to 390MB/s (as measured by Expreview). The new drive offers just 64 percent of the performance of the old drive.
This is unacceptable. It is unethical for any company to sample and launch a product to strong reviews only to turn around and sell an inferior version of that hardware at a later date without changing the product SKU or telling customers that they’re buying garbage. I do not use the term “garbage” lightly, but let me be clear: If you silently change the hardware components you use in a way that makes your product lose performance, and you do not disclose that information prominently to the customer (ideally through a separate SKU), you are selling garbage. There’s nothing wrong with selling a slower SSD at a good price, and there’s nothing right about abusing the goodwill of reviewers and enthusiasts to kick bad hardware out the door.
As a reviewer of some twenty years, I do not care at all about the fact that SLC cache performance is identical. While I didn’t realize it at the time I wrote up the Crucial bait-and-switch on August 16, I’ve actually been affected by this problem personally. The 2TB Crucial SSD I purchased for my own video editing work is one of the bait-and-switched units, and it’s always had a massive performance problem — as soon as it empties the SLC cache, it falls to what I’d charitably call hard drive-level performance. Performance can drop as low as 60MB/s via USB3.2 (and ~150MB/s when directly connected via NVMe) and it stays there until the copy task is done.
The video upscaling projects I work on regularly generate between 300-500GB of image data per episode, per encode. Achieving ideal results can require weaving the output of 3-5 models together. That means I generate up to 1.5TB of data to create a single episode. God help you if you need to copy that much information to or from one of these broken SSDs. It’s not literally as bad as a spinning disk from circa 2003, but it’s nowhere near acceptable performance.
It is possible that this is a pandemic-related issue and represents vendors attempting to deal with shortages by swapping out inferior hardware. That would be fine, provided the changes were properly communicated. I would have no problem if Crucial, WD, and Adata (which has also been caught engaging in this behavior) announced that due to ongoing component shortages, they would be launching new products with modified SKUs that would not offer as much performance as users might like, but would actually be available on store shelves at reasonable prices. After everything we’ve collectively put up with the past 18 months, slightly slower SSD storage is not a huge ask.
But these companies aren’t asking. They aren’t even telling. They’re just shipping what I’d argue is defective merchandise relative to the review coverage originally written about these SSDs, and they’re pretending it doesn’t matter because most people don’t copy enough data to run out of SLC cache. Those of us who do copy that much data need products that can sustain their transfer rates. We need SSDs that aren’t built out of garbage NAND when it comes to actually tapping that drive for a rigorous storage workload. I now have a 2TB SSD that’s too slow and too fragile to be used for its intended purpose — namely, moving massive workloads to and from multiple systems for upscaling. When a single episode requires 800GB-1.5TB in intermediate files, transferring it by home network is a non-starter. So is a hard drive.
Having blown good money buying Crucial’s defective drive, I can promise you I won’t be doing business with the company’s NAND division in the future. If I could retroactively go back in time and remove the three Crucial SSDs I installed for friends and family last year, I would, in favor of giving the money to a company that doesn’t bait-and-switch its customers. If I’d bought a WD Blue SN550 — and I considered one, before going with the Crucial drive — I’d feel exactly the same way. This is not the first time Western Digital has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar lately. What these companies are doing is a deliberate subversion of the review process.
To Western Digital and Crucial: If you can’t be bothered to ship honest hardware that conforms to the specifications of the hardware you send for public review — and that means all the specifications, not just the SLC cache-boosted transfer rates — then do the entire PC market a favor and sell yourselves to someone who will. Same goes for AData and any other company that entertains this kind of practice.
I’m going to have to buy another SSD now that I’ve discovered that my Crucial P2 isn’t just slow — it’s fundamentally unsuited for the task I’ve been using it for. Given the amount of data I write (up to 1TB/day) and erase (an equal amount), I cannot trust that a QLC drive will last for more than a year or two. I was pushing the envelope with TLC as it was, but I thought I’d be fine given how well NAND typically holds up. QLC, however, is far less durable than TLC, and I would have never bought a QLC-based drive had I known what I was buying. Using one pushes the risk of failure and data loss from “a bit of a chance” to “asking for it.”
I do not recommend purchasing any SSD manufactured by WD or Crucial for any workload or price point. The product is not the problem, the lying by omission is. The pandemic does not and could not justify this behavior. Shame on all of you.
Intel and Samsung have not been caught engaging in this behavior. If you need an SSD, we suggest you start there. You may pay more, but you’ve got a much better chance, evidently, of getting what you pay for. While we acknowledge that these problems have not been detected in high-end SSDs from either Western Digital or Crucial, I don’t believe explanations like “we only misrepresented mid-range products” are a valid reason to trust a company’s high-end product line. A company that will cheat its customers will cheat them at any price point.
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