Western Digital Red Series Review: A Low Cost Validated NAS Specific HDD

Western Digital releases a drive specifically for your home and small business NAS. Now you don't have to worry what hard drive will work in your NAS.

Manufacturer: Western Digital
14 minutes & 7 seconds read time


Each month we test one to two NAS products here at TweakTown, but the number of emails I receive asking which drives to use far surpasses that number. The main issue that crops up when choosing a set of disk drives is always the same, price. When shopping for a HDD for a NAS it is easy to shop based on price and every dollar saved is multiplied since you have to buy a set of them to fill your NAS. In order to reach RAID 5 you need a minimum of three drives, but most home and small business NAS servers hold four to five drives. Using the new Thecus N5500 as an example, it uses five drives, so for each dollar you save on a single drive means five dollars saved when scaled across your array. The money adds up quickly!

The problem though is that many low-cost HDDs are not validated on NAS systems and in a handful of cases will not work properly at all. The Western Digital Green Series of products usually turn up in Google price searches as one of the lowest priced drives selling, but they are also one of the largest offenders for not working in some popular products from Thecus, QNAP and Synology. Making the issue worse, some drives, not just the Green Series, but in general will work, but a different batch number, with a different firmware installed will not work. It makes for a frustrating time when shopping because I've yet to see an e-tailer publish specific batch numbers along with the product specs.

For several years Western Digital has built specific products for RAID environments, the RE class of products. The RE products are great for enterprise RAID and have all of the technology included to handle bad blocks, but they are full on enterprise, all the way up to the price. For most home and small business users full on enterprise pricing is a deal killer, especially when you get to larger arrays. To make things a little easier Western digital has come up with a solution and it's RED.

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For years we've seen the Western Digital's Blue, Green and Black Series of products. Going from just three to four is a pretty big deal for the company, but I think building a new brand specifically for NAS was the right thing to do. The new Western Digital Red series might have fit in with the Blue or Green series of products, but the NAS specific features really make it special. Let's take a look at the all new Red Series and go over the feature list.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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In the past we've categorized HDDs based on platter speeds, but that changed when Western Digital launched products that dynamically adjust the platter speed based on usage. IntelliPower adjusts platter speed to save energy and increase performance based on user demands. Western Digital launched three new Red products and they differ by capacity. At the top is a 3TB model, in the middle is 2TB and the smallest drive is the new 1TB model. All three use a large 64MB cache buffer and a SATA 6Gbps interface. Since we are using the new Red Series to test all of our NAS products for reviews, we requested the 1TB capacity size which reduced the time to format the NAS by roughly a third.

Newegg has already taken delivery of all three Western Digital Red models and the pricing at the time of writing is $109.99 (1TB), $129.99 (2TB) and $179.99 (3TB). The prices are quite attractive when compared to existing RE products and just a little higher than products found in the Green Series when measuring at the same capacity points.

With the cost out of the way we can start to look at the features that make Red a special product. This is where Western Digital's new NASware comes in. NASware Technology is a feature set, not just one specific enhancement.

To simplify things, NASware Technology is a direct port of many enterprise features that should be used in your NAS array drives. Consumer HDDs don't handle bad blocks on the platters the same way RAID specific drives do. When we are talking about sensitive data, RAID 5 and RAID 6 are where you start, but for total protection those array types really need to be span across proper disks.

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Western Digital didn't just stop with a technically advanced drive, though. The new Red Series gets premium 24/7 support and a five year warranty insures you have Western Digital's full attention for a long time after the purchase. Behind the scenes, Western Digital is also working closely with NAS manufacturers to insure that every batch of Red products works flawlessly with dual to five bay NAS products, both existing and future. That means when you purchase Western Digital Red products you know they've already been tested with your NAS and are already listed on the compatibility sheet.

When you factor in the cost that is much lower than products like the RE4 enterprise RAID products, the compatibility testing make this new series of products your first choice for SMB and home NAS systems... and that is exactly what Western Digital is aiming for.

Western Digital Red 1TB

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The red color on the top sticker makes indicating the new Red Series easy. We chose to test 1TB drives since most of the time our NAS HDDs are going through a format cycle and the smaller the drive the faster the format goes.

The new QR code on the front label makes identifying your NAS easy with a smart phone or tablet with the software, but us old school PC users still prefer to look up the model number. The 1TB Red is designated with WD10EFRX.

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There is not much to look at on the back of the drive since Western Digital moved all of the surface mount components to face the inside of the HDD.

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Red is a standard height desktop drive in the 3.5" form factor.

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The SATA power and data connections are offset where they are supposed to be and everything falls into spec.

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With the PCB removed we found a 64MB Winbond cache IC and the controller is from Marvell, an 88i9346-TFJ2.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, LSI, Corsair and Noctua.

You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.

The Western Digital Red is built for NAS environments, but we couldn't help ourselves and ran a 1TB capacity size through our standard desktop tests.

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

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Even on its own without an array the Western Digital Red 1TB is quite a performer. In our testing we surpassed 170MB/s read speeds and 160MB/s write speeds in ATTO. These will saturate a single gigabit Ethernet connection when reading and writing from the optimal area on the drives platters.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00

Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com

Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance

Info: shows detailed information

Health: checks the health status by using SMART

Error Scan: scans the surface for errors

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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As with all mechanical drives you have a high side and a low side when reading and writing data. The average speed gives you a good indication of "in the middle" performance. The Red 1TB starts out very strong with a 153.4 MB/s read speed in this sequential test, but at the slowest point on the single platter achieves just 67.3 MB/s. The average is still 116MB/s which is very good for a NAS users because even with just one drive you can saturate a gigabit Ethernet connection.

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When writing data to the Red we observed nearly the same performance. The average speed was 113 MB/s with the minimum at 64.2 MB/s.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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The dynamic platter speeds keep the disk spinning at the lower end of the speed scale to lower energy usage and you can see that when comparing access times with the new 1TB VelociRaptor with 10K platters. This isn't an issue when using the Red in a NAS because you have so many other high latency components in the path.

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The write access has the same relevance as the read access for NAS use. When you are going over Ethernet, through a switch, over copper wires you have other points of latency that are higher than your drives.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark


Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info

Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html

Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes

* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes

* Text copy

* Change dialog design

* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

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CDM allows us to look at 4K and native command queuing performance. Mechanical drives don't offer the same rip roaring 4K performance as SSDs because their mechanical nature means IOPS performance is low. Reading and writing several small files back to back is the most difficult task you can ask of a spinner.

The Western Digital Red is the slowest 4K reader in the group, but that is to be expected since it also has the highest read latency. It does scale well when the commands are stacked, though.

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The write performance is a bit better. The large 64MB of cache really helps in this area.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/

Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

There is not really much to talk about here. The Red isn't designed to be a boot drive, but you can see what happens if you do run a single drive with your OS on it.

Benchmarks - AS SSD

AS SSD Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358

Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9

AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.

In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).

Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.

- Copy Benchmark

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In the documentation Western Digital talks about tuning the Red series for high sequential performance and that can be seen here. Only the new 1TB VelociRaptor is faster across the board when transferring data from one partition to another.

Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: BETA 11

So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.

Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.

The software can be used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.

Fill Compressible Data

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Incompressible Data

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A couple of months ago we started including the Anvil benchmark results in our SSD reviews and thought we'd keep them in our mechanical drive tests as well.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.

The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.

The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.

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Using as single drive we see that the file and web server capabilities for the new Red series is very high when put toe-to-toe against our reference drives.

Benchmarks - Intel NASPT NAS Testing


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The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (NASPT) is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable direct measurement of home network attached storage (NAS) performance. Designed to emulate the behavior of an actual application, NASPT uses a set of real world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications. Traces of high definition video playback and recording, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more provide a broad range of different application behaviors.

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Synology DS412+ with 4x Seagate Barracuda ST1000DM003 1TB

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Synology DS412+ with 4x WD Red WD10EFRX 1TB

Before we break everything down in our final thoughts there is one last test that we feel is relevant, a real NAS test.

When the WD Red drives arrived we'd just finished testing the Synology DS412+ "4100 Model". This system ships with 4x 1TB Seagate Barracuda drives. These particular drives are regular off the shelf consumer drives and not fancy nearline or RAID specific models. This is the market Western Digital is looking to concur with Red.

The two drives battle back and forth across the board and there is no clear performance winner, both are equally limited to the gigabit Ethernet connection in Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR = RAID 5 with 4 drives in this case).

While the performance may appear the same, only one of these arrays has NASware Technology and is able to handle bad blocks without taking the entire drive offline.

Final Thoughts

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The Western Digital Red Series isn't WD's first RAID environment HDD, but it is their first affordable for home use model. The RE class of products certainly helped the company to develop this new class of drive and we are thankful to say the least. For years we've been peppered with questions about what drive to buy for NAS servers and Western Digital just gave us an easy answer for sure.

While most may talk about the features onboard the Red Series I have to turn my attention to the price. I feel your pain in this area because anyone who has ever bought a nice NAS appliance knows that the 5, 6, 700 dollars you lay down for the NAS is just the beginning. After that you have to get drives and the money really starts to add up quickly. It doesn't take long for your $500 purchase to turn into a $2000 investment.

In the past we've seen Western Digital drives launch with really high prices only to see the price drop rapidly to finish in line with other manufacturers offerings. That didn't happen this time, WD came out of the gate with a realistic price that is competitive with existing products on the market, from their own stable and other manufacturers as well. The 1TB drives we reviewed today cost just $109.99 at Newegg. In a five drive, RAID 5 array you get around 3.79TB of redundant usable space that costs just under $550. Add in a nice five drive NAS like the Thecus N5500 and you are ready to start steaming your content all over the house for roughly a grand. This is a task that could of been done easily before, but not with the same level of confidence and not with drives built for 24/7 reliability.

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NASware Technology makes all of the difference when it comes to reliability. With Red rated for five years at 24/7 operation it is easy to spot the difference between NASware and standard consumer mechanical drives rated at eight hours per day for three to five years. Backing up Red is 24/7 support so when you have an issue you don't have to wait till Monday to roll around.

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To really get a good understanding of all the advanced technology put into this drive you should visit Western Digital's website for the full breakdown. WD has around eight pages dedicated to Red and if we put all of that data in this article we'd have a 20 page review. On their site they show a FLIR (infrared) image of Red and a competitor's HDD. In the image above we see four Reds running in the Synology DS412+, the temperatures don't get above 27C and that's under load. Just as 'cool' is the acoustics of these drives. With five drives running in another NAS under heavy load we couldn't hear them from a distance of two feet away.

As we mentioned in the introduction, we feel Western Digital did the right thing with this product in starting a new brand. At this price and with these features Western Digital invented a new product category for a growing market. We like it!

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