Seagate NAS 4TB HDD Enterprise Review

Seagate's 4TB NAS HDD provides a direct competitor to the WD Red line from WD. We place them head-to-head to see which comes out on top.

Manufacturer: Seagate
12 minutes & 33 seconds read time


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The Seagate NAS HDD Series is geared for use in 1-5 drive bay NAS for SMB or home users. The Seagate NAS HDD comes in capacities of 1TB, 2TB, 3TB and 4TB in a 3.5" form factor. The Seagate NAS HDD features a SATA 6Gb/s connection and 64MB of multi-segmented cache. Seagate's NAS HDD spins at a faster rate of 5,900 RPM when compared to the competing NAS HDD from WD, which spins at 5,400 RPM. The drive also sports a maximum SDR (Sustained Data Rate) of 180 MB/s.

For years, a visitor to a tech forum would find a veritable flood of posts in the NAS section asking which desktop HDD's are best for NAS usage. Surprisingly, many of these posts from those in the hunt for reliable and reasonably priced HDD's weren't always 'typical' consumers, they also encompassed many in the SMB and SOHO environment. While higher-end nearline and enterprise HDD's have always been advised for NAS usage, many balked at the high price and actively sought out cheaper alternatives.

Finding a desktop HDD that will work in any one of the hundreds of different NAS models can become somewhat of a gamble. Many times users will find a HDD that will simply plug in and work, but then become plagued by issues with repetitive unnecessary RAID rebuilds. This stems from the TLER (Time Limited Error Recovery) settings on common desktop HDDs. While TLER comes under different names depending upon the manufacturer of the HDD, the basic premise is the same.

Even during normal operation, HDD's are prone to errors when reading and writing data to the platters. There are a number of techniques utilized by the HDD to combat and repair these errors. During the frantic attempt to correct an error, the HDD stops communicating with the NAS. If the repair takes more than seven seconds, the vast majority of RAID systems will drop the HDD from the array. Once dropped the user has to withstand a long rebuild period, during which the performance of the NAS is greatly impacted. There really aren't many storage solutions slower than a degraded RAID 5, and for home users this can become an exercise in futility.

For those relying upon a NAS in an SMB or SOHO environment (such as a dentist, veterinarian, or lawyer's office), this slow performance can actually result in a massive impact upon their ability to conduct work in a timely fashion. Another TLER error during the rebuild period can result in a total loss of all the data stored on the NAS, turning an inconvenience, into a disaster.

Enter the new NAS HDD's from Seagate. These HDD's, like the ones offered by WD, are designed to combat the TLER problem head on. If the error recovery takes longer than the appointed time, a NAS HDD can actually communicate with the RAID code, informing it that there is a problem with data recovery. This hands the problem off to the NAS, allowing the NAS to repair the error itself. The NAS will perform a targeted RAID rebuild, only repairing the effected data. This results in reliable and efficient performance in RAID environments.

The Seagate NAS HDD's are qualified with all major NAS vendors, and feature other enhancements to optimize them for NAS usage. NASware is a suite of firmware features that improves drive reliability, provides vibration reduction, and delivers optimized power settings. Vibration from other HDDs in a multi-bay NAS can introduce performance and reliability concerns. This is combated with a dual plane balance system to provide less vibration than typical desktop HDD's.

The lower thermal threshold of a NAS HDD also protects the inner workings of the NAS from excessive heat, and reduces the amount of fan noise in models with self-adjusting fans.

Seagate NAS HDD Specifications

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The Seagate NAS HDD is designed for 1-5 bay NAS environments, for larger deployments of more than five bays, the Enterprise Capacity Constellation ES.3 is recommended. NAS HDD's are designed to operate 24x7, and much of the time the drives merely idle. Advanced power spin-down modes reduce the amount of power consumed, and heat generated, by the NAS unit.

The Seagate NAS HDD has four power modes for varying levels of power efficiency. The active profile is the normal profile during use and draws 3.95 Watts. Idle is a lower speed with the same features still activated on the drive. Standby parks the heads and stops the spindle, but leaves the cache powered for faster resumption time. Sleep, the lowest level, stops the spindle, parks the heads, and powers down the cache buffer. Both Standby and Sleep provide an ultra-low power mode of 0.5 Watts. These values are much lower than desktop HDDs, with their typical active power draw of 8 Watts and idle hovering around 4.5 Watts.

The HDDs are also rated for a very low noise output of only 23 decibels for idle and 25 for active. This is lower than the competing HDDs from WD, which emanate 28 decibels during active use, and 25 during idle. Both NAS HDD's are quieter than desktop models, due partly to their dual plane balancing technology.

Load/Unload cycles are rated for 600,000 cycles, double that of a typical desktop HDD. This resilience allows for the expanded number of idle/resumption periods experienced by an HDD that is designed for a 24X7 usage model.

The Seagate NAS HDD features an UBER of 1 in 10E14, which is typical for this class of drives. The HDD is backed up by a three-year warranty.

Seagate NAS HDD Internals

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The Seagate NAS HDD comes in a standard 3.5" form factor with the Seagate's branding on the top of the case.

The bottom of the drive has the PCB with the components turned inward, facilitating thermal dissipation into the case of the drive. The PCB is very compact and smaller than a typical HDD PCB.

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Upon removal of the PCB, we note the thermal pad over the controller. This mates with the large metal pad on the bottom of the case. Once we remove the thermal pad the LSI 841281V0 controller dominates the side of the PCB, and a Winbond 64 MB DRAM buffer sets above the controller on the PCB. The SMOOTH chip controls the drive motor.

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The drive features a standard 6Gb/s SATA port and features four 1TB platters spinning at 7,200 RPM.

Test System and Methodology

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We utilize a new approach to HDD and SSD storage testing for our Enterprise Test Bench, designed specifically to target long-term performance with a high level of granularity.

Many testing methods record peak and average measurements during the test period. These average values give a basic understanding of performance, but fall short in providing the clearest view possible of I/O QoS (Quality of Service).

'Average' results do little to indicate the performance variability experienced during actual deployment. The degree of variability is especially pertinent, as many applications can hang or lag as they wait for I/O requests to complete. This testing methodology illustrates performance variability, and includes average measurements, during the measurement window.

While under load, all storage solutions deliver variable levels of performance. While this fluctuation is normal, the degree of variability is what separates enterprise storage solutions from typical client-side hardware. Providing ongoing measurements from our workloads with one-second reporting intervals illustrates product differentiation in relation to I/O QOS. Scatter charts give readers a basic understanding of I/O latency distribution without directly observing numerous graphs.

Consistent latency is the goal of every storage solution, and measurements such as Maximum Latency only illuminate the single longest I/O received during testing. This can be misleading, as a single 'outlying I/O' can skew the view of an otherwise superb solution. Standard Deviation measurements consider latency distribution, but do not always effectively illustrate I/O distribution with enough granularity to provide a clear picture of system performance. We use histograms to illuminate the latency of every single I/O issued during our test runs.

We measure power consumption during test runs. This provides measurements in time-based fashion, with results every second, to illuminate the behavior of power consumption in steady state conditions. Power consumption can cost more over the life of the device than the initial acquisition price of the hardware itself. This significantly affects the TCO of the storage solution. We also present IOPS-to-Watts measurements to highlight the efficiency of the storage solution.

These tests are conducted directly attached to a LSI 9207-8i to remove network constraints from the base performance of the HDD's. Look to the site soon for an evaluation from Chris Ramseyer with full NAS and multi-client workloads. We conduct our tests over the full LBA range to allow each HDD to highlight its average performance. Short stroking can increase performance at the loss of capacity. The first page of results will provide the 'key' to understanding and interpreting our new test methodology.

4K Random Read/Write

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Each QD for every parameter tested includes 300 data points (five minutes of one second reports) to illustrate the degree of performance variability. The line for each QD represents the average speed reported during the five-minute interval.

4K random speed measurements are an important metric when comparing drive performance, as the hardest type of file access for any storage solution to master is small-file random. One of the most sought-after performance specifications, 4K random performance is a heavily marketed figure.

The Seagate NAS HDD doesn't score as well as the WD Red in the random write test, scoring an average of 116 IOPS at QD256. The WD Red averages 147 IOPS in the 4K random write test.

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The Seagate NAS HDD averages 103 IOPS, while the Red averages 136 IOPS at QD256.

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Our write percentage testing illustrates the varying performance of each solution with mixed workloads. The 100% column to the right is a pure write workload of the 4K file size, and 0% represents a pure 4K read workload.

The Seagate NAS HDD falls into the expected lower performance profile, but maintains a very tight performance profile. The WD Red is faster with random access, yet has variable performance across the board.

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The Seagate HDD delivers 100% of its I/O in the 200-400ms range, while the Red delivers 79.1% of I/O's in the 200-400ms range, and 20.8% at 100-200ms.

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We record the power consumption measurements during our test run at QD256.

The Seagate averages 4.76 Watts, less than the Red, which averages 5.48 Watts during the measurement window.

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IOPS to Watts measurements are generated from data recorded during our test. The Seagate delivers an average of 31.4 IOPS per Watt for 4K random writes, and 26.4 IOPS per Watt for 4K random read access.

128K Sequential Read/Write

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The 128K sequential speeds reflect the maximum sequential throughput of the HDD using a file size encountered in a normal NAS usage.

The Seagate NAS exhibits an odd performance profile during our testing. Initially the HDD writes slower, but as the test progresses, it speeds up until each successive test completes. This may be the result of an optimized firmware that detects sustained sequential transfer access, and speeds up to compensate.

With the large amount of sequential transfer patterns used in most NAS environments, this is a welcome sign. The Seagate averages 155 MB/s over the course of each five-minute test, but we can see that the peak speed is in the 160-170 MB/s range. We conduct additional testing below to quantify the performance advantage of the Seagate HDD in sequential environments. The Red averages a slower 139 MB/s at QD256.

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The Seagate falls into the same performance profile with sequential read testing. Though the Seagate averages 156 MB/s, the peak transfer rate is around 170 MB/s. The WD Red averages 139 MB/s in sequential write speed during the measurement window.

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In this test, we write sequentially to the entire LBA range of the HDD to explore the performance of the Seagate NAS HDD with sequential activity. We note the first 150 seconds starts at the lower speed, then rises and continues its higher sustained write speed through the entire platter of the HDD. We also observe the return to higher speeds at the end of the test, after nearly eight and a half hours of writing, when the HDD returns to writing at the edge of the platter.

This illustrates the Seagate NAS HDD continuing its excellent sustained read speeds even with long-term use.

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The Red posts excellent performance in our mixed read/write testing, with a higher performance range in mixed sequential read/write workloads. The Seagate NAS performs well, with the exception of some significant variability in the 10-20% range.

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The Seagate NAS HDD offers up 99.4% of requests in the 20-40ms range.

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The Seagate NAS HDD has higher power consumption and draws 6.36 Watts, possible due to the much higher speed while processing sequential data. The WD Red averages 5.34 Watts during sequential write testing.

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The Seagate HDD has less efficiency in the sequential read and write workloads, averaging 24 MB/s per Watt for 128K sequential read/write.

Database/OLTP and Fileserver


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This test emulates Database and On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP) workloads. OLTP is in essence the processing of transactions such as credit cards and high frequency trading in the financial sector. Databases are the bread and butter of many deployments. These are demanding 8K random workloads with a 66% read and 33% write distribution that can bring even the highest performing solutions down to earth.

The Seagate averages 110 IOPS at QD256, while the WD Red averages 144 IOPS.

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The Seagate NAS HDD provides a higher latency range in this workload. The Red exhibits an almost bi-modal distribution of write latency in this mixed workload, with a distribution on either end of the latency spectrum.

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The Seagate averages a much lower 5.12 Watts, while the Red averages 6.59 Watts during the test period.

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The Seagate averages 21 IOPS per Watt in our Database/OLTP testing, scoring very close to the WD Red.


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The File Server profile represents typical file server workloads that are very relevant to NAS usage. This profile tests a wide variety of different file sizes simultaneously to simulate multiple users with an 80% read and 20% write distribution.

The Seagate averages 131 IOPS, while the Red averages 182 IOPS at QD256.

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The Seagate NAS HDD falls behind the WD Red in latency performance with the fileserver profile.

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The Seagate NAS averages 5.2 Watts during the test, while the Red averages a much higher 6.97 Watts.

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The Seagate averages 19.1 IOPS per Watt, while the Red averages an impressive 25.63 IOPS per Watt during the measurement window.

Emailserver and Webserver


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The Emailserver profile is a very demanding 8K test with a 50% read and 50% write distribution. This application is indicative of the performance of the solution in heavy write workloads.

The Seagate averages 131 IOPS, while the Red averages 151 IOPS at QD256.

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The Seagate averages 5 Watts, while the Red averages 6.35 Watts during the test.

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The Seagate NAS HDD averages 21.9 IOPS per Watt, while the Red averages 23.29 IOPS per Watt.


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The Webserver profile is a read-only test with a wide range of file sizes. Web servers are responsible for generating content for users to view over the internet, much like the very page you are reading. The speed of the underlying storage system has a massive impact on the speed and responsiveness of the NAS, and thus the end-user experience.

The Seagate NAS HDD averages 102 IOPS, and the Red averages 134 IOPS at QD256.

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The Seagate NAS HDD averages 5.19 Watts, while the Red averages a higher 7 Watts during the test.

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The Seagate NAS HDD closes out our testing with 5.19 Watts during the measurement window, while the Red averages 18.8 IOPS per Watt.

Final Thoughts

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The Seagate NAS HDD is designed to satiate the needs of the booming NAS market. The rapid expansion of the NAS market, and its massive projected future growth, has spurred both WD and Seagate to address what used to be a niche market.

With NAS-specific features that streamline error management, users no longer have to worry about unnecessary RAID rebuilds and sporadic losses of data that can be encountered when using typical desktop HDD's. The higher price of nearline and enterprise-class HDDs are also a distant memory with the emerging NAS class of HDD's. The days of spotty compatibility are a thing of the past, with both manufacturers providing an extensive compatibility matrix with all major NAS suppliers.

Lower power consumption is a major advantage of NAS HDD's, especially in idle states. The Seagate NAS and the Red are closely matched at idle power specifications, but the Seagate NAS HDD provides lower power consumption and higher efficiency during heavy use with most random workloads.

Unfortunately, this lower power consumption also equates to lower performance, with the WD Red leading in every random workload we tested. An area of interest is the much tighter performance profile of the Seagate NAS HDD. Even though it is slower in random workloads, tighter performance usually results in better performance in RAID arrays. We will be posting a RAID report with both the Seagate NAS HDD and the WD Reds in the coming days to explore the performance in RAID 0 and RAID 5 scenarios.

With sequential data, the Seagate NAS HDD excels with pure read and write workloads. These types of workloads are very prevalent in NAS usage models, particularly during large file transfers and video streaming activities. The Seagate NAS HDD is well suited for these workloads, and users will experience a tangible speed boost. The adaptive nature of the Seagate NAS HDD also allows it to switch gears when it senses sustained sequential throughput, providing a higher level of performance.

The Seagate NAS HDD also provides a quieter noise level during operation, with a 3-decibel difference between it and the WD Red. The lower power consumption of the Seagate NAS will also provide a lower heat output, which can help to keep NAS fans from speeding up to louder levels during use.

Both drives are priced within the same price range, with the 4TB versions hovering around $200-$220 at the time of writing. With similar warranties and features, users will have to make their decision based upon their workload. Those with a heavy random workload requirement, such as webservers, fileservers and database applications, will be better served with the WD Red. For those with heavier streaming workloads and large file transfer scenarios, the Seagate NAS provides a faster alternative. Both HDDs provide a much better alternative than using typical desktop HDDs.

With the three-year warranty and 24x7 durability of the Seagate NAS HDD, along with its lower power consumption and faster sequential transfer speeds, the NAS drive will find its way into many mainstream user NAS systems.

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The quest for benchmark world records led Paul further and further down the overclocking rabbit hole. SSDs and RAID controllers were a big part of that equation, allowing him to push performance to the bleeding edge. Finding the fastest and most extreme storage solutions led to experience with a myriad of high-end enterprise devices. Soon testing SSDs and Enterprise RAID controllers at the limits of their performance became Paul's real passion, one that is carried out through writing articles and reviews.

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