With an abundance of useful connectors and—except on 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 laptop or mini desktop's connectivity and storage. Whether you have a large game library or plenty of videos and photos to stash, the 2TB SSD model we tested is generous with 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 peripherals. Just two caveats: It doesn't come cheap, and it won't work with computers that lack a Thunderbolt port.
The WD Black D50 has the same general form factor as a mini PC or a palmtop projector, a square box measuring 2.2 by 4.7 by 4.7 inches (HWD). This all-black drive copies the industrial-chic aesthetic of WD Black-family gear like the WD Black P50 Game Drive SSD, which resembles the kind of shipping container you might use for cover in an FPS game. The D50's top and bottom have the same sort of corrugated texture as a packing crate, along with the model name in white lettering on the upper lid.Our Experts Have Tested 32 Products in the SSDs Category in the Past YearSince 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. (See how we test.)(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)
The front and rear are taken up by the dock's multitude of ports, especially the rear. In addition to a jack for the 180-watt power adapter and a grille for a cooling fan, you'll find an RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet jack, two Thunderbolt 3 ports (one providing 87 watts of USB power delivery), a DisplayPort 1.4 connector, a USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port, and two USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A ports.(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)
Up front are additional USB-C and USB-A ports plus a headphone jack. Of the two remaining sides, one is devoid of any ports or slots and the other has just a large ventilation grille.
Oddly, the drive's left-side labeling is upside-down compared with the lettering on the right, implying that the D50 will work just as well when turned over. For that matter, you can stand it on end, resting it on the featureless side, with the grille edge facing upward.
(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)
With this profusion of ports—though I noted the absence of an HDMI port and a security lock slot—you can attach a keyboard, a mouse, a headset, a monitor (supporting up to 5K resolution at 60Hz), or other peripherals and connect to a wired LAN, a handy option for 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 stood on end or the WD name faces upward). You can choose among a dozen other lighting patterns in the WD Black SSD Dashboard, available as a free download 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 checking the drive status (space allocated, volumes, and temperature), run S.M.A.R.T. diagnostics, or update the firmware.
If your computer doesn't have a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port (a USB-C connector identified with a Thunderbolt-branding lightning-bolt icon), this is not the drive for you, unless you're looking for a $680 doorstop. Try plugging it into an ordinary USB-C connection, and Windows won't even recognize the drive. Thunderbolt, which transmits PCI Express 3.0 and DisplayPort signals as well as DC power over a single cable, is a high-speed interface developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple; it's found on current Apple laptops and many midrange and high-end Intel notebooks. (Current AMD-based laptops aren't 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 provided with the drive. The D50's 87-watt USB power delivery could easily power the XPS 13 when the laptop was disconnected from its adapter.
The "naked" (SSD-less) WD Black D50 lists at $319.99, with both WD and Amazon currently selling it for $269. Based on a perusal of Amazon and Newegg listings, that's toward the high end of the price scale for a Thunderbolt 3 dock. A few such docking stations cost more than $300, though most go for under $250 with many available for under $200. Good 2TB external solid-state drives start at about $250; the SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2 goes for $330. The 2TB D50 we tested, which combines drive and dock, retails for $679.99. Although there's a lot to be said for the convenience of the D50's integrated design, you could buy a separate dock and drive for considerably less. Remember, though, that you need a laptop with Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports for the D50 to work. This rules out AMD-based models, many lower-priced Intel systems, and older laptops.(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)
The WD Black D50 is an unusual product in that it's an external Thunderbolt 3 docking station that contains 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 including a mixture of USB 3.2 Gen 2 and Gen 2x2 SSDs, plus one high-capacity (16TB) gaming hub with a 7,200rpm SATA hard drive.
We subjected the WD Black to our usual suite of external drive benchmarks, comprising Crystal DiskMark 6.0, PCMark 10 Storage, BlackMagic's Disk Speed Test, and our own folder transfer test. The first two are 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 in reading and writing large, contiguous blocks of data. We tested the D50's sequential read and write speeds at 3,027MBps and 2,546MBps respectively, well in excess of the three USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 drives we included in the comparison group, whose read and write speeds peak at around 2,000MBps (though none quite reached that mark in our testing). Similarly, the USB 3.2 Gen 2 drives we tested fell a bit short of their rated 1,050MBps read and 1,000MBps write speeds, none of them clearing 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 save the Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD), though the FireCuda won decisively, tallying a score of 2,445.
The Mac-based BlackMagic Disk Speed Test, a videographer's favorite, tends to yield lower scores than Crystal DiskMark. We clocked the WD Black D50's write speed at 2,346MBps and its read speed at 2,279MBps. None of our USB comparison drives scored as high as 950MBps in either test.
Finally, the D50 aced our folder transfer test, a stopwatch measurement of the time it takes to copy a standard 1.2GB folder from our MacBook Pro to the test drive. I timed it at 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 spinning hard drive.
Bristling with ports, and with a zippy SSD that can hold several dozen AAA games or a small movie library at 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 power and provide Ethernet connectivity to a laptop, and has ports to connect a monitor, keyboard, mouse, headphones, and other peripherals.(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)
As we said, you could save some money by assembling your own dock and external SSD bundle—and would have to if your PC doesn't support Thunderbolt 3. If you have an AMD-based or low-end or aging laptop, you'll have to take a pass. 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 convenient and powerful, if pricey, integrated solution in a clean small dock-and-drive. Some things simply never change: Thunderbolt gear will cost you.
If you've got the cash, the WD Black D50 Game Dock NVMe SSD nets you an industrial-cool, speedy drive/docking station with up to 2TB of storage and a slew of ports. But if your PC lacks Thunderbolt 3, fuhgeddaboutit.
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