Which Hard Drive is Best for Your Home Server or NAS?

On the QNAP TS-259 Pro+, results were flat across the board, with 30 W pulled by all drives under stress. But on other devices, the difference between the lowest consumption (generally the 2 TB WD Red) to the highest – the Seagate NAS 4 TB ranged from 6% up to a huge 31% increase. Now, in real terms, were talking single digit wattage increases here so the electrical dials aren’t going to exactly fly off the meter – but the trend on power consumption was clear.

On read/write, results were more closely aligned. Read performance showed slight (low single digit percentage) differences for the Seagate drive on some devices, and either WD drive on others. With regard to write performance, you could see a slight improvement in speeds with the WD Red drives over the Seagate NAS drives, but again the difference ranges between 2 and 5% – barely noticeable on a dat to day basis.

So, a surprising result with regard to power consumption differences between Seagate and Western Digital NAS drives, but otherwise, you can take your pick and expect to see a similar file transfer performance on your NAS or home server.

Enterprise Drives

The most expensive drives in our round up are the Enterprise hard drives. As a general rule, these drives are designed to be more durable than consumer drives. They’re intended for datacenter, cloud storage and other business needs and ship with features to enhance reliability – some of which have dripped down into the NAS drive category.

wd-reWestern Digital’s WD Re is one such drive. We have included the 2 TB in our test, which is rated with an MTBF of up to 1.4 million hours. It includes the Dual Actuator technology we encountered on the WD Red NAS drives as well as an enhanced vibration cancellation feature known as Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF). This monitors and corrects both linear and rotational vibration in real time, ensuring improved performance in multi-bay devices where vibration can be an issue.  A third feature, StableTrac, is deployed in WD Re drives (greater than 2 TB) to further dampen vibration from the hardware around the drive. In these drives, the motor shaft is secured at both ends, stablising the disk platters and ensuring accurate tracking during read/write operations.

Add a multi-axis shock sensor to detect any impact on the drive, protecting the data on board, the same error recovery controls for RAID arrays we met with WD RedNoTouch Ramp Load technology (see WD Green above) plus the ability to dynamically adjust the read/write head’s fly height in real time and you have a hard drive that’s loaded with features. On the flipside, the WD Re drive is going to cost you more than a consumer desktop or NAS drive, ships in lower capacities and, as a general rule, is likely to run hotter due to faster rotation speeds.

WD-SE

Joining the WD Re is the WD Se enterprise drive. Western Digital position this drive at a range of business uses, from SMB to high-end NAS and large-scale datacenter replication environments. Like it’s WD Re cousin, it includes Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF) and the dual actuator feature seen on other WD drives as well as StableTrac. Indeed, a feature comparison with the Re drive shows there’s very little difference between the two models. Dig into the specification sheets, however, and you’ll see that the lifespan of the Se is expected to be shorter than the Re – just 1.2 million hours mean time before failure (MTBF) against the Re’s quoted 1.4 million hour figure.

Like the NAS drives, on face value it would appears that the WD Re and Se drives are similar in terms of features, and one would expect that to translate into similar performance, with long-term reliability the key differentiator. Well, if you check back in our specification table, you’ll see that the WD Re drives I’m testing spin more slowly than the Se drives – 5400 RPM vs 7200 RPM and that translates into lower power consumption. (Newer WD Re drives now also spin at 7200 RPM so this difference is likely to be less pronounced with the latest drives). The size of difference varies by device, but the trend is definitely there, with a 4% saving on the Windows 8.1 machine (19W with the WD Re drives vs 23 W using WD Se) all the way to a 20% reduction on the QNAP HS-251 Silent NAS (20W vs 25W).

Interestingly, differences in read/write performance were less pronounced. Aside from a strange case with the WD MyCloud Mirror which had a terrible time trying to read off the WD Re disk, read performance differences between the two drive models were within 5% – with the WD Re actually beating the WD Se read speeds on the ASUSTOR AS-304T and AS-609RS and QNAP TS-451. Similarly, write performance results were close and mixed with first place switching between the WD Re and Se models depending on the test device.

In conclusion, this class of devices, there’s a performance improvement to be gained in using older WD Re drives over WD Se with regard to power consumption but no real trend when it comes to file transfers.

Comparing Drive Classes

So, let’s recap on what we’ve learned so far. Firstly, hard drives contribute to the overall, absolute performance of your home server or NAS but they’re a lot less influential than processor, RAM and other entries on the spec sheet. Within each class of drive we’ve tested, there are some trends to pick out – certainly in the area of power consumption but less so when it comes to file transfer performance.

But which class of drive should you select for your home server or NAS? Let’s compare classes, and first take a quick look at pricing. As you’d expect, as features and average lifespan increases from class to class, so to does the retail price! I quickly pulled together a comparison of prices to show the difference you’ll pay today for a 3 TB capacity drive across Standard, Green, NAS and Enterprise drives at Newegg.com today.

That’s 3 TB of storage that could cost you anything from $105 for the Seagate Desktop drive to almost double for the Western Digital WD Re equivalent at $210. Suddenly, the price/performance ratio becomes much more important!

If we average the results from each class of drive we tested, we see there’s not a lot to differentiate each class in terms of performance. Enterprise drives are likely to consume more power than NAS and Desktop equivalents, but transfer performance across the classes will be broadly similar.

Sure, there’ll be variations at the drive and device level – get lucky and you’ll hit the sweet spot with a great drive and server combo. But as general rule, you should think more about the specific features I’ve outlined earlier for each class of drive when selecting your hard drives, than wondering which will be fastest or consume the least power on your specific server.

The value you attach to those features will ultimately determine your value for money perception – those Enterprise class drives are quoted with higher MTBF times – 1.4 or 1.2 million hours plays 1 million for a WD Red NAS drive. Is that reliability worth $80 – $90 a drive? Amortised over the suggested 45 years of additional life you’d get out of that Enterprise drive, the additional cost is negligible – that is, if you own the drive that long!

Certainly, the error recovery controls built into NAS-class and Enterprise drives are worth the premium, from an uptime and convenience standpoint – that’s just a $20 premium on top of a standard desktop drive if you opt for a NAS hard drive instead. The data protection features found in NAS drives, designed to minimise data corruption in the event of an unexpected power loss are also well worth that premium – anything you can do to protect the data on your drives at a reasonable price is worth picking up.

So, based on our tests and a thorough review of the features available across the array of hard drives available today, NAS drives most definitely offer the most relevant blend of features, performance at a sensible price. With performance broadly similar across Seagate and Western Digital today, but with an advantage on power consumption and capacity, then Western Digital’s WD Red drives are my 2014 recommendation for home server and consumer NAS owners. They’ll be the drives we’ll be installing in all of the NAS devices we review for the foreseeable future.

Of course, once thing you can be sure of is that the storage industry isn’t finished innovating. New technologies, higher capacities and enhanced features are always just around the corner, so stay tuned to WGS as we bring you news of the latest advances as they arrive.

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25 comments

    1. That’s a great link! Just remember that those guys are in a datacenter and you may not be hammering your drives as hard at home or in your small business! But all things being equal, the reliability comparison between the drives they’re using is interesting.

  1. Hi,

    WD Re drives spin at 7200rpm, not 5,400

    if you actually click the link in your own paragraph you will be taken to an amazon page where the title proclaims the Re to be 7,200rpm

    “Well, if you check back in our specification table, you’ll see that the WD Re drives spin mire slowly than the Se drives – 5400 RPM vs 7200 RPM and that translates into lower power consumption. ”

    I suspect the confusion is because you have looked up the specs sheet for the old RE4-GP drives, which are NOT part of the same series as their current model Re/Se/Xe enterprise drives (one is RE , one is Re .. isnt that clear), but were in fact raid-optimised GP (green power) drives

    here’s the Re specs page on the WD site, clearly showing every single Re drive spins at 7,200 rpm

    http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=580#Tab3

  2. Those Seagate Barracuda Desktop drives are no longer on the QNAP compatibility lists, as far as I can tell.

  3. Thanks Mr. Walsh for a great article.
    In my opinion the more expensive drives would be worth it if their guarantee was longer.
    Say 3 years for a desktop drive, 6 years for a NAS-drive and 10 years for a Enterprise drive.

  4. Hi Terry: I did my own review of drive reviews and wound up picking four Western Digital Red 4 TB drives for my home server. Unfortunately I intended to use WHS 2011 and 4TB drives are not supported for server backup so instead I’ve installed Windows Server 2012 r2. I was able to use the RAID5 array built with WHS 2011, interestingly. There are drive reliability results from an increasing list of other writers/publishers that agree on the following: Western Digital is making the most reliable drives now. WD also now owns HGST which was formerly IBM and those drives, according to reviewers, appear to be enterprise-class drives packaged and sold as consumer drives. They are the most reliable but also count now as WD drives. Eric

  5. “equating to a 35% MTBF improvement. MBTF? Mean Time Before Failure”

    Direct quote from your review.

    Dude. Once, even twice I can ignore it. SEVEN TIMES. Seven times you made the typo, even in the expansion of the actual acronym. Every time I stumbled across it, I kept thinking, “WTF is MBTF? mean between time failures? nawww that doesn’t make sense. Maybe the manufacturers came up with a new buzz word…nnnnaaawwww….”

    Sorry, for this, but it’s so I feel better. MTBF MTBF MTBF MTBF MTBF MTBF MTBF.

  6. I’ll be buying a QNAP TVS-871 when they come out next month. This article was well written and confirmed what I was already leaning towards. I’ll be replacing a 10 year old HAMMER drive (with two 1 TB drives mirrored). The funny thing is the HAMMER drive is still running like a champ but with videos and family photos growing I’d rather setup RAID 6 to protect these things.

  7. Very interesting options… I am looking into this just stay have independence with all of my own data. I wonder if this might become the next major wave for home computing? Everybody keeping their own data on their own servers. Sharing it with “Torrent style” software so as to have more control, instead of being at the mercy of social media and other aggregators. Heck of a market growth potential for the server hardware guys if the software is there.

  8. thinking about the pratically identical speed of all the NAS and drives you tested…
    didn’t read all the article, but I think you didn’t mentioned the speed of the net where you tested the devices…
    Gigabit ethernet “should” provide a maximum theoretical speed of 125MB/s…real speed is less than that…
    so, what I think is that all the devices combination you tested, probably had different results…for example, some of the NAS used have double Gbit port, maybe trying to do speed test with different PC over the same network with 2Gbit port connected the results are different and permit to understand which couple (drive/nas) is faster than another. The only useful information I can see is that speed slower than 90MB/s determine which drive or nas are worst than the others…

      1. I wasn’t obviously talking about internet…local network has its maximum speed too! (or you think wires at home are faster than the star trek ship?) and, it’s funny, it’s almost the same maximum speed you measured on all the devices tested!!! I want to do an example like yours of the focus vs. the ferrari…saying that all the devices go to 100MB/s is like saying that 130km/h is the maximum speed of both a focus and a ferrari just because they’re respecting the speed limit on the highway.
        A confirm of this is the little note that QNAP add to some of their speed test, that says that they tested a NAS using 2PC simultaneously to reach speed of about 200/250 MB/s

        1. The only way to get an absolute speed test out of a set of drives is to
          pull the data on a 10GB network so that the network is not s speed
          limiting factor and to ensure that the system transferring data for the
          test is faster than the spinning disks being tested by using an array of
          SSDs. The trouble is, at some point, you will probably still be
          limited by a hardware speed limit.
          I have a set of 10 Western Digital Re drives that will push enough data to flood even a 10GB card with all it can take.

  9. Outstanding article. I had gotten lucky and selected a lot of 4Tb WD Red NAS HDD units for 3 Synology NAS units, and am very pleased with the performance and reliability. On a 4th Synology unit I ended up with some Seagate NAS class HDD units, and in fairness I have had no problems with them. The WD Red HDDs do run a little cooler than the Seagate HDDs, per the Synology reporting interface.

  10. I am building a home NAS system. I will run Unraid as my OS. I would like to use a WD Black desktop 1tb drive as my cache drive. Would that be a good choice or should I use an actual WD NAS RED instead? I plan to use 4 1tb WD Red drives for the actual storage, 1 2tb WD RED for Parity and as I said 1 WD Black desktop drive as my cache. What are you thoughts on this idea?

    1. Without knowing why you need cache, my inclination would be to use more real memory or SSD for cache and save the 3 1/2″ bay for additional storage or later expansion space, if you can find a place for 2 1/2″ SSD that doesn’t fill a disk bay.

      1. Thank you. I will be using an SSD as a cache drive within the NAS system. That leads to an additional question: Since I am using 4ea 1TB drives for storage, 1ea 2TB for parity is there a size limit to using an SSD as a cache drive? I was thinking of using a 240gb SSD but if a larger or an additional 240 drive would be better than that is what I will do.

  11. Hi,

    Interesting read. It would be great if future update of this article also include noise measurements and more recent drives.
    In my case, I noticed that some older samsung HD103UJ are much noiser than my WD 30EZRX. I wish I had done better research back then.

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