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Western Digital’s SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE Modularizes SSD Storage

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Some of you might never have heard of the Zip drive. About two decades ago, it was the coolest alternative to the floppy disk in standardized modular portable storage.

And today, at the What’s Next event in San Francisco, Western Digital unveiled its ambition to repeat the same idea at exponential scales in capacities and connection speeds: the all-new SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE Modular SSD ecosystem.

Western Digital SanDisk Professional PRO BLADE SSD Mag
A Western Digital SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE SSD Mag

PRO-BLADE: A new type of modular portable storage system

The SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE Modular SSD ecosystem is the latest in the new SanDisk Professional storage family that Western Digital first introduced a year ago.

The mouthful name aside, the idea revolves around a new storage device called PRO-BLADE SSD Mag.

PRO-BLADE SSD Mag: Only part of the system

It’s called a Mag because it shapes and functions like, well, a magazine of a handgun. Unlike other portable SSDs, you can’t use a Mag by itself. You need another device to load it.

And that’s where the accompanying PRO-BLADE Transport or PRO-BLADE Station comes into play. They are essentially the readers of the PRO-BLADE Mag — more below.

According to Western Digital, the Mag itself is rugged enough to handle a drop of up to 3 meters (10 feet) and can withstand up to 4,000 lbs (1.8 tons) of crush. It’s a tough device, possibly even tougher than a real gun magazine.

On the inside, it houses an NVMe SSD of 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB with the suggested retail price in the US of $179.99, $289.99, and $599.99.

Western Digital says you can buy the PRO-BLADE SSD Mag next month. You can quickly swap it out as long as you get one of the readers below, regardless of the capacity. There’s no other option, anyway.

PRO-BLADE TRANSPORT portable SSD enclosure: The bare necessity

The PRO-BLADE Transport is a compact mobile single reader — it can handle just one Mag at a time. In return, it’s compact.

Western Digital SanDisk Professional PRO BLADE TRANSPORT portable SSD enclosure
Western Digital’s SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE TRANSPORT portable SSD enclosure. Note the opening to host a PRO-BLADE Mag (middle).

You can easily carry the Transport with you or attach it to a device. A Transport connects to a host via a USB-C port and supports USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 with speeds capped at 20Gbps, or up to 2000MB/s of real-word copy speed, as Western Digital claims.

Load a Mag into the Transport, and you get yourself a typical portable SSD. But unlike any portable SSD, you can quickly change the storage space by using another Mag.

Most importantly, you can (permanently) attach a Transport to a USB-C-enabled device, such as a camcorder or a computer, and use the Mags the way you do SD cards.

Western Digital says the PRO-BLADE Transport portable SSD enclosure will also be available in June 2022.

You can get it “Mag-less”, no storage included, for $69.99. Or you can get it with a Mag for a $10 discount — that’s $239.99 (1TB) $359.99 (2TB) or $659.99 (4TB).

So the Transport is handy, but if you want to work with more than one Mag at a time, it won’t do. There’s another option, the PRO-BLADE Station.

PRO-BLADE Station desktop SSD enclosure: The full option

Unlike the Transport, the PRO-BLADE Station is quite huge. In return, it can simultaneously host up to four PRO-BLADE SSD Mags as a desktop solution.

Western Digital SanDisk Professional PRO BLADE Station desktop SSD enclosure
Here’s a Western Digital SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE Station desktop SSD enclosure hosting four Mags.

The Station connects via Thunderbolt 3 at up to 40Gbps, equivalent to USB4 40Gbps. With this type of speed, users can handle multiple high-speed high-capacities sources at a time with no speed reductions.

Western Digital says the Station is ideal for those who need to quickly manage “simultaneous offloading, real-time 4K/8K/12K editing, and super-fast copies.”

And according to the company, the PRO-BLADE STATION desktop SSD will be available before the year is out. The pricing will be announced then.

The takeaway

The SanDisk Professional PRO-BLADE Modular SSD ecosystem is definitely exciting, thanks to the speeds of both the peripheral connections and the internal storage.

Its strength — over any other modular storage such as SD cards — is that it’s fast enough for data to be processed as is. You won’t need to download data on a computer beforehand.

Specifically, via the 20Gbps USB, or especially the 40Gbps Thunderbolt connection, a professional video editor can work with one or multiple SSD Mags directly without worrying about throughput speeds. And that’d save a ton of time.

However, the success of this new product line will depend greatly on the adoption on the host side. SD cards and USB portable drives are popular because users can find devices with built-in support readily available, namely the SD card slot or USB ports.

As of now, there’s no way you can use a PRO-BLADE Mag, by itself, with all existing computers. And due to the large size, it’s going to be hard for hardware vendors to incorporate a built-in reader, namely the PRO-BLADE Transport, on compact applications like a laptop.

In any case, unless Western Digital can convince hardware makers to adopt the PRO-BLADE SSD Mag’s proprietary connection, the PRO-BLADE idea will likely be similar to the Zip drive years ago: cool but short-lived. Or it will remain relevant only to certain niche environments.

We’ll have to wait to see how this pans out.

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