NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices have become quite popular in recent years, more so in the home and small-business space. Compact yet offering expandable storage, NAS drives are easy to setup and can pretty much be forgotten about. While there are a number of networkable hard-drive devices that can technically function as a cost-effective NAS, they aren’t as robust and don’t always offer the security or reliability of certified NAS devices. This is particularly down to the hard drives that they use, which may not be up to the task of excessive read/write commands.
Storage specialists Western Digital seem to have thought about this, and recently announced a new lineup of hard drives penned under the ‘Red’ label to cope with the more demanding requirements of a home and small business NAS. WD decided to send us two of their Red drives to check out, and since we already had a compatible My Book Live Duo in the office with Green drives in it, I decided to see what these drives could do.
Green vs Red
So why bother to put out a new lineup of drives under a different banner? Well simply put, WD believes in the ‘power of choice’, and that their Red drives perform better in a NAS environment simply because they’ve got new features that aren’t included on their other drives. Specifically, the things that set the Red drives apart are:
Error recovery controls: Desktop drives are not traditionally designed for RAID environments and have controls that prevent the RAID controller from assisting in the event of an error which can cause the hard drive to drop off the RAID after a period of time. Rebuilding a RAID often requires several hours and can have a significant impact on downtime and productivity.
Noise and vibration: Typically designed for single drive applications, average desktop drives are not optimized for multi-drive systems which have higher noise and vibration levels. When these drives are added to a NAS, the additional vibration can reduce the reliability and life span of the drive.
Power management support: Enables optimized power usage within the NAS system, as traditional Green drives tend to park drive heads more often to save power.
SMART Command Transport (SCT) support: NASware allows monitoring and measuring of drive performance via the SMART command set. SMART can return data like thermal profiles, drive access statistics and more. NASware also delivers temperature accuracy within 1C.
Intelligent error recovery: With built in intelligent error recovery controls, NASware also prevents hard drives from being dropped off the RAID due to extended error recovery. This provides more availability and less down time rebuilding the RAID.
There are also a host of other features such as Red drives being more efficient at staying cooler, the use of DDR2 cache memory instead of standard DDR, as well as the extended warranty that would make Red drives a smart choice for a NAS environment.
Speed tests & performance
Installation of the Red drives was very simple, with each Green drive being swapped out for a Red one, and the drive taking an hour or so to be reinitialized. When both Red drives were installed, the NAS was then prepared and ready for testing.
My tests with the drives would be fairly straightforward, and were conducted on both Green and Red drives, in Raid 0 and Raid 1 arrays. The tests were all done using an Acer laptop connected via LAN cable to avoid any file transfers being done via Wi-fi. System specs were Intel i5-2467M 1.60GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, with Windows 7 64-bit. The table below outlines the results of each test across both drives and array.
As you can see the Red drives did offer a bit of a speed boost in some scenarios, but in all honesty you’re not swapping these drives out to gain any kind of speed advantage. You’re swapping to Red purely because you want drives that can handle the constant read/write requests and stay online. I noticed that when the Green drives were being used and I let the NAS idle, if I tried double-clicking a folder to access data, it would take a couple of seconds to show up as the drives had been put to sleep. But with the Red drives in place, this issue never cropped up, which in the long run will serve you much better in your NAS environment.
If you’ve been using Green drives in your NAS setup just because they were a cheaper alternative, then you may want to consider making the jump to Red drives. Since enterprise-level NAS drives are much more expensive, Western Digital’s Red lineup proves that you don’t have to spend a fortune if you’re looking for reliable hard drives for your desktop RAID setup or NAS enclosures.