I did a little more research and saw this blog post depicting how one should avoid directly integrating these drives with ZFS. I got a couple, so I decided to put them in my server with an LSI-3442E SAS backplane and tested them. First, I tested my 500GB drives in a mirror set, and doing a "ptime dd if=/dev/zero of=test1G bs=4k count=250000" on the ZFS volume made up of those drives, I transferred 1GB in 3.63 seconds, or 282MB/sec. I then immediately tried the same on my mirror set of the WD drives, benefitting from caching of the first write. After 50+ minutes of waiting, I killed the write and saw that I transferred only 426MB, at a rate of 136KB/sec.
Yes, I can confirm that these drives are less than useless in a ZFS system (see update below), even as a simple two disk mirror set. Some basic iostat showed way too much "asvc_t" service time on the disks, running from 3.5 secs to 10 secs per write, where as the service times for the working 500GB drives were 0.7msec or the like. I had various errors mpt_handle_event_sync errors in my kernel logs, so perhaps there is some specific pathology between the SAS HBA, the SAS/SATA backplane, and these disks. However, we've proven this box works well with various drives. I'm going to try yet another 1.5TB drive, likely the previously maligned Seagate drives, since I've yet to have trouble with the latest firmware on those. My 4 WD drives will be placed in enclosures for external Time Machine backups in the near future. WD Caviar Green != Enterprise RAID drives.
I'm leaving the above as is, but I think I have discovered perhaps a bad drive in the set, as when I employee 4 drives of this type I saw odd I/O patterns but ok performance in a straight RAID 0. However, I regularly have at least one drive with higher average service times, and trailing I/O writes as it catches up to the other drives. If I have these 4 drives in a pool (RAID 0), I got 193MB/sec writes, and 242MB/sec reads. Sticking them into a RAID10 (2 data, 2 mirror), I got a mirror 78MB/sec writes and 278MB/sec reads.
Splitting them off into two separate RAID1 data pools, I ran my tests and still saw high service times on the drives (only 65 or so, much better than the above, but still slow). Per mirror set performance was dismal, as I regularly got the 150MB/sec+ from a mirror of Caviar Black, but these drives got me just hit 31-34MB/sec (ie, half of the above RAID10). I guess with enough drives I'll get to better numbers in RAID10. In a RAIDZ1 (RAID5) grouping, it was 60MB/sec on the writes, and 172MB/sec on the reads.
So what accounts for the dismal performance I originally saw? I think it has to do with when multiple pools are active, and they are not all of this drive type. My original test had a Hitachi drive set as well as a WD Caviar Green drive set. Although my tests ran one at a time, I'm guessing there was some bad timing/driver issues and/or hardware issues when dealing with the mixed HD media.
A second, update conclusion is that you can use these drives, if only these drive types, in an array. RAID10 will get you sufficient performance, but otherwise you'll want to leave this to secondary storage. Future drive replacement scenarios are a real cause for concern.