Western Digital Red review

Pros

  • Specially engineered for NAS
  • Three models from 1TB to 3TB
  • Improves NAS read and write speeds
  • Balance Plus tech may boost reliability

Cons

  • The drives demand a small premium
  • Maybe not for SMBs with light NAS use

Western Digital's new line of Red drives has been specifically engineered to work with NAS devices. These 3.5-in SATA drives can be installed in most of the common NAS devices on the market including those from the likes of Synology, D-Link and Drobo. The Red drives support NAS solutions with up to five drive bays.

Western Digital states that its 3D Active Balance Plus technology provides enhanced balance control designed to maximise drive performance and reliability. That is hard to prove without extensive testing, but the Red drives did put in an impressive performance during write and read speed testing, making WD's Red drives worth considering for those needing fast and reliable NAS performance.

Specs

The 3.5in WD Red hard drives ship in three capacities, the basic 1TB (model number WD10EFRX, which retails at £81), 2TB (model WD20EFRX, £100), and finally the 3TB drive (model WD30EFRX, £144). The drives all have 64MB cache and support speeds up to 6GB/s. Although Western Digital does not specify their spin rates, the Red drives use WD's Intellipower technology, which provides RPMs between 5,400 and 7,200rpm.

The Red drives measure approximately 100 x 147 x 25mm (WxDxH), fitting easy into the typical NAS drive bay. The 1TB and 3TB drives both weigh 450 grams, and the 2TB model weighs 635 grams. The drives are Advanced Format certified, meaning they are 4KB long-data sector-based drives. In addition, the drives are RoHS compliant and have SATA latching connectors.

Performance

I tested the Red drives in Synology's DiskStation DS1812+. The DS1812+ originally shipped with five drives: Three Samsung HD103SJ drives (which are 1TB and spin at 7,200rpm) and two Seagate Barracuda 1TB drives (model number ST 1000DM003). The drives were configured in the DS1812+ using Hybrid RAID (SHR), Synology's proprietary RAID solution. SHR provides one disk worth of data redundancy; if a disk fails, the data volume will remain available for use. SHR also provides easy storage capacity as larger disks are added to the RAID configuration.

I swapped out the five original drives with five WD Red drives. The drives were reconfigured with SHR and then tested for performance with the same methodology we use to test SMB SATA-based NAS devices. I then compared the DS1812+'s performance using the WD Red drives to the speeds achieved by the original drives the NAS was shipped with.

The original hard disks hit a write speed of 83MB/s, and a read speed of 71MB/s. The WD Red drives mustered a write speed of 107MB/s, and a read speed of 100MB/s. Even though the original drive configuration gave us some of the highest performance numbers for an SMB NAS that we’ve tested, performance got even better with Western Digital's Red drives.

It's hard to quantify Western Digital's claims about features such as superior error recovery control prevention and support for more reliable RAID rebuilds, but you can't dismiss the fact that the company offers 24/7 support plus a three year warranty.

One of the biggest banes of NAS ownership is drive failure. Many of the SMB-level NAS devices that the Red line is designed for are shipped diskless. This leaves customers selecting and installing their own drives. Compatibility issues between drives and the NAS device can cause drive failure and other problems. For environments that require NASes with high availability and reliable fault tolerance, drives specifically engineered to work with NASes have got to be worth considering.

Verdict

For small businesses and power users who have heavy dependence on a NAS device, particularly for those using a NAS that's regularly getting a lot of data written to it, the Western Digital Red line is a good investment, and worth the slight premium.