With an abundance of useful connectors and – apart from the base version – a fast solid-state drive, the WD Black D50 Game Dock ($ 319.99 without SSD, $ 679.99 with 2TB as tested) is a great way to enhance your portable or mini-desktop connection and storage. Whether you have a large game library or plenty of videos and photos to store, the 2TB SSD model we tested is generous in both speed and capacity. The D50 can power a laptop over its interface; you can connect it to a LAN; and it’s easy to add a mouse, keyboard, monitor and other external devices. Just two caveats: It does not come cheap, and it does not work with computers that lack a Thunderbolt port.
It’s a docking station – and an SSD
The WD Black D50 has the same overall form factor as a mini-pc or a palm projector, a square box measuring 2.2 x 4.7 x 4.7 inches (HWD). This all-black drive replicates the industrial-chic aesthetic of WD Black family gear like the WD Black P50 Game Drive SSD, similar to the kind of shipping container you can use for coverage in an FPS game. The top and bottom of the D50 have the same kind of corrugated texture as a packaging box along with the model name with white letters on the top lid.
The front and rear are occupied by the many ports of the dock, especially the rear end. In addition to a 180-watt power adapter connector and a cooling fan grille, you’ll find an RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet connector, two Thunderbolt 3 ports (one with an 87-watt USB power supply), a DisplayPort 1.4 connector, and a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port and two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports.
In front are additional USB-C and USB-A ports plus a headphone jack. Of the two remaining sides, one is devoid of any gates or slots, and the other has just a large ventilation grille.
Oddly enough, the left side of the drive is upside down marking relative to the letters on the right, meaning the D50 will work just as well when turned. For that matter, you can hold it on the end and rest it on the functionless side with the grid edge facing up.
With this plethora of ports – even though I noticed there was no HDMI port and security lock slot – you can attach a keyboard, mouse, headset, monitor (supports up to 5K resolution at 60Hz) or other external devices and connect to a wired LAN, a convenient option in environments where Wi-Fi is intermittent or absent.
When you first connect the D50 to a computer’s Thunderbolt port, an RGB light strip will cycle through a rainbow pattern (best seen when the drive is on end or the WD name is facing up). You can choose from a dozen other lighting patterns in the WD Black SSD Dashboard, which can be downloaded for free from the company’s website. You can also connect to third-party (Razer, MSI, Asus or Gigabyte) RGB control systems from the dashboard, as well as check the drive status (allocated space, quantities and temperature), run SMART diagnostics or update the firmware.
If your computer does not have a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port (a USB-C connector identified by a lightning bolt lightning bolt), this is not the drive for you unless you are looking for a $ 680 door stop. Try connecting it to a standard USB-C connection, and Windows does not even recognize the drive. Thunderbolt, which transmits PCI Express 3.0 and DisplayPort signals as well as DC over a single cable, is a high-speed interface developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple; it is found on current Apple laptops and many medium and advanced Intel notebooks. (Current AMD-based laptops are not supported.) The port uses the same physical interface as USB-C, however.
I tested the D50 using my Dell XPS 13 ultraportable, which has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, using the Thunderbolt cable that came with the drive. The D50’s 87-watt USB power supply could easily power the XPS 13 when the laptop was disconnected from the adapter.
The “naked” (SSD-smaller) WD Black D50 lists for $ 319.99, with both WD and Amazon currently selling it for $ 269. Based on a review of Amazon and Newegg listings, it’s towards the high end of the price scale for a Thunderbolt 3 dock. A few such docking stations cost more than $ 300, though most cost under $ 250 with many available for under $ 200. Good 2TB external solid-state drives start at around $ 250; The SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2 costs $ 330. The 2TB D50 we tested, which combines drive and dock, sells for $ 679.99. While there is a lot to be said for the convenience of the D50’s integrated design, you can buy a separate dock and run for significantly less. Keep in mind, though, that you need a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports for the D50 to work. This excludes AMD-based models, many cheaper Intel systems, and older laptops.
Testing the WD Black D50: PCIe NVMe Speed in an External Dock
The WD Black D50 is an unusual product because it is an external Thunderbolt 3 docking station that features an M.2 SSD with speeds reminiscent of a fast PCIe 3 or low-end PCIe 4 drive. Our comparison products include a diverse set of external drives, many marketed as gaming drives or hubs and include a mix of USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Gen 2×2 SSDs plus a high capacity (16TB) gaming hub with a 7,200 rpm . SATA hard drive.
We subjected WD Black to our usual package of external drive benchmarks, including Crystal DiskMark 6.0, PCMark 10 Storage, BlackMagic’s disk speed test, and our own folder transfer test. The first two run on a PC with the drive formatted in NTFS, and the latter two on a 2016 MacBook Pro using exFAT. (See more about how we test SSDs.)
Crystal DiskMark 6.0 effectively measures a drive’s throughput: its sequential speeds when reading and writing large, contiguous blocks of data. We tested the D50’s sequential read and write speeds of 3,027MBps and 2,546Mbps, respectively, well above the three USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 drives we included in the comparison group, whose read and write speeds peaked at around 2,000Mbps (although no one quite reached that mark in our test). Similarly, the USB 3.2 Gen 2 drives we tested dropped slightly below their nominal 1,050MBps read and 1,000MBps write speeds, neither of which clears 1,000Mbps in either direction.
The PCMark 10 Storage test generates a score based on a mix of simulated workloads, including a Windows Defender scan, video editing tasks, and application launches. With a score of 1,753, the WD Black D50 beat five of six comparison systems (all rescuing the Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD), though FireCuda won decisively, making a score of 2,445.
The Mac-based BlackMagic Disk Speed Test, a videographer’s favorite, tends to give lower scores than Crystal DiskMark. We clocked the WD Black D50’s write speed to 2,346MBps and its read speed of 2,279MBps. None of our USB comparison drives scored as high as 950 MB in both tests.
Finally, the D50 supported our folder transfer test, a stopwatch of the time it takes to copy a standard 1.2 GB folder from our MacBook Pro to the test drive. I timed it by 1 second; six of our comparison drives took 2 seconds, one took 3 seconds, and the Seagate FireCuda Gaming Hub did the job in 7 seconds, which is actually quite good for a rotating hard drive.
A smart Thunderbolt docking and storage solution
Bouncing with ports and with a zippy SSD that can accommodate dozens of AAA games or a small movie library with the 2TB capacity we tested, the WD Black D50 Game Dock NVMe SSD is a convenient, well-integrated mashup of external drive and docking station. It can operate and provide Ethernet connectivity to a laptop and has ports for connecting a monitor, keyboard, mouse, headphones and other external devices.
Like we said, you could save some money by assembling your own dock and external SSD bundle – and would have to, if your PC does not support Thunderbolt 3. If you have an AMD-based or low-end or aging laptop, take a passport. But if you have a MacBook or a mid- to high-end, Intel-based Windows machine with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports, the D50 presents a practical and powerful, if expensive, integrated solution in a clean little dock-and-drive. Some things simply never change: Thunderbolt gears cost you.