Hard drives. They may not be the most exciting technology around, but the world would be a very different place without them. For NAS and home server users, they’re a critical element in the connected home – with all of our digital media held on those shiny platters, we need reliable, high performing, high-capacity hard drives that don’t cost the earth. When we find ones we like, we’ll buy them. We’ll buy lots of them, in fact.
Network attached storage is a category that the major manufacturers have focused on intensely over the last two years. They’ve developed specialist hard drives and accompanying firmware designed to maximise reliability and performance, whilst capacities grow ever larger. Seagate’s NAS hard drive range and today’s subject, Western Digital’s WD Red hard drives, are two such examples.
Today, WD took the wraps off its latest advance – high capacity 5 TB and 6 TB WD Red consumer NAS hard drives, equipped with the company’s latest NASware 3.0 firmware. The company kindly tipped us off about the new drives a couple of weeks ago and shipped us two Western Digital WD Red 6 TB drives to review.
Now I’m not going to make today’s review a huge benchmark test-fest (although there are a few benchmarks later) as we’re preparing a big round-up test of hard drives for NAS in the coming weeks. We’ll also see that performance comparisons today are only useful in certain situations. So, I’ll use the time we have together to share a little more detail about the technology working under the hood in WD’s latest offering before we run a few speed tests to show them in use.
The New WD Red NAS Hard Drive Range
Western Digital are refreshing their entire range of NAS hard drives for both consumers and small businesses. The WD Se enterprise hard drive range, previously positioned for all types of business use, is being re-positioned back to its traditional home in the datacenter, and a new WD Red Pro line is being introduced for small business. We’re awaiting a batch of WD Red Pro hard drives to be shipped to us, and so will review them separately. The headline is that WD Red Pro is coming in capacities up to 4TB and is designed for NAS Servers between 8 and 16 bays. It’s also certified for use in rackmount servers.
Meanwhile, on the consumer side, the WD Red refresh sees new 3.5″ drives launched in capacities of 1 TB to 6 TB drives. The previous generation of drives were capped at 4 TB, so the new 5 TB and 6 TB drives are perhaps of most interest. However, the whole range will now ship with Western Digital’s latest NASware 3.0 firmware. 2.5″ drives will also ship in capacities from 750 GB to 1 TB.
Part numbers (in case you need them) will be WD60EFRX (6 TB), WD50EFRX (5 TB), WD40EFRX (4 TB), WD30EFRX (3 TB), WD20EFRX (2TB) and WD10EFRX (1 TB).
Aside from the obvious capacity boost at the top end of the range, the other significant improvement in the revamp is that WD Red drives are now approved for use in NAS servers up to 8 bays. The previous generation, like Seagate’s NAS hard drive range, was capped at 5 bay servers. Note that this approval is limited to desktop/tower form factors – if you’re looking for a rackmount-supporting hard drive, WD Red Pro is for you. The consumer range is backed by a three-year limited warranty and 24/7 telephone support.
Under the Hood
The marvel of a 6 TB hard drive is trying to figure out how you can cram that density of data into a device that looks the same as any other 3.5″ hard drive you may care to pick up. The new WD Red 6 TB hard drive comprises five separate platters of 1.2 TB each. It’s classed as a 6 Gb/s SATA 3 device, with a 64 MB buffer. When it comes to spin-speed, Western Digital includes a feature called Intellipower – this combines an (undisclosed) fixed spin speed, transfer rate, and caching algorithm to balance power consumption with performance. As such, there’s no direct RPM comparison available with other drives on the market.
Also included on the 5 TB and 6 TB WD Red hard drives is the company’s Stabletrac feature – this secures the secures the motor shaft inside the drive at both ends, reducing vibration and therefore improving tracking during read/write operations. That translates into better performance, according to WD. 3D Active Balance Plus is similarly designed to reduce vibration and associated wear and tear on internal components.
You’ll also hear Western Digital talk up its NASware 3.0 hard drive firmware. According to the company, this provides improved compatibility, reliability and performance in NAS servers, through features such as built-in error recovery, optimised power usage and protection of data in the event of a power loss. The details we received from Western Digital weren’t clear on the specific differences between the NASware 3.0 and 2.0 but the company confirmed that older drives currently running NASware 2.0 could not be upgraded to the new standard.
So, if you believe the claims, the NAS-centric features built into the latest generation WD Red drives should certainly help reliability, and the support options will certainly provide peace of mind. But does all this translate into a meaningful, tangible performance boost?
I promised that there wouldn’t be a benchmark test-fest, but it’s important to understand the key benefits that the new WD Red drive can deliver. That said, let’s be clear; the major boost you’ll benefit from with WD’s new drives is capacity. 6 TB is a huge amount of space on a single drive, and even in smaller, two-bay NAS servers allows RAID 1 mirrored configurations to deliver a decent slab of storage to support your connected home.
Western Digital did provide their own benchmarks comparing data transfer speeds with a couple of unnamed competitor NAS drives. The headline was interesting. File copy speeds to and from a NAS fitted with a new WD Red 6 TB hard drive clocked in at 128.9 MB/s and 84.7 MB/s respectively. The new 4 TB drive WD Red drive offered similar performance at 128.1 MB/s and 83.7 MB/s.
Compare those speeds to a competitor 7,200 rpm 4 TB NAS drive which came in at 128.5 MB/s and 83.9 MB/s. You can see there’s not a lot to differentiate manufacturers on file transfer performance alone. Whether that changes with a direct 6 TB to 6 TB drive comparison (once Seagate get their own 6 TB drive to market), we’ll see.
For our own tests, we looked at how the new 6TB WD Red drive compared in performance over traditional hard drives, as well as the last generation WD Red models. Is it really worth the price premium to move to a NAS hard drive? Check out the next page to find out!