Introduction and Testbed Setup

Western Digital (WD) introduced hard drives specifically targeted towards NAS systems under the Red branding last month. Jason had some initial coverage at launch time. WD claimed to have put in a number of firmware features and some additional hardware aspects in the Red lineup to make it suitable for NAS usage.

WD touted the following main points

  • Less aggressive head parking (no IntelliPark feature)
  • Configurable Time Limited Error Recovery (TLER), with a default of 7 seconds
  • IntelliPower disk rotation speeds (comparable to Green drives)
  • Vibration reduction mechanism in hardware
  • 3-Yr. warranty and 24x7 phone support

In the next section, we will analyze each of these claims in detail. First, let us take a look at the testbeds. We used the WD Red drives standalone in a PC and also as part of a few SMB / SOHO NAS systems. Our standalone PC testbed was also used for some of the NAS testing. Our Summer 2012 NAS testbed's specifications are provided below:

NAS Benchmarking Testbed Setup [ Summer 2012 ]
Processor Intel i7-3770K CPU - 4C/8T - 3.50GHz, 8MB Cache
Motherboard Asus P8H77-M Pro
OS Hard Drive Seagate Barracuda XT 2 TB
Secondary Drives Western Digital Red WD30EFRX 3 TB
Corsair Performance 3 Series™ P3-128 128 GB SSD (Offline in Host OS)
Memory G.SKILL ECO Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) F3-10666CL7D-4GBECO CAS 7-7-7-21
PCI-E Slot Quad-Port GbE Intel ESA-I340
Case Antec VERIS Fusion Remote Max
Power Supply Antec TruePower New TP-550 550W
Host Operating System Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise

A Windows 7 virtual machine was set up using Hyper-V with the following configuration

Windows 7 Ultimate x64 : Guest OS
Processor Single Physical Core of Intel i7-3770K
OS Hard Drive VHD File on Seagate Barracuda XT 2 TB
Secondary Hard Drive Corsair Performance 3 Series™ P3-128 GB SSD
Memory 1 GB

The following NAS units were used for testing the WD Red drives in RAID-1 configuration.

  • LaCie 2big NAS
  • Netgear NV+ v2
  • Synology DS211+

The drives were benchmarked against 2 x 3TB Seagate Barracuda 7200rpm drives that were bundled with the LaCie 2big NAS.

An important aspect of NAS systems that we haven't covered in detail is the effect of prolonged usage and how differently the NAS performs when it is close to full capacity. Towards this, we also used our build-in-progress NAS testbed to stress the WD Red drives in the Synology D211+. The details of this separate testbed and methodology are described in a later section.


WD Red Lineup: Differentiating Features


View All Comments

  • pdf - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    Disappointed that there's no mention of the fact that the rest of the WD range used to allow configuring TLER and APM, before WD purposefully gimped the firmware and disabled those options in what I can only assume was a move to force people to purchase their more expensive drives if wishing to use them with hardware RAID controllers. Reply
  • brshoemak - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    I know what you mean, I had some WD RE drives that I paid a huge premium for, but later I purchased a Caviar Black that I could configure TLER and the like. Good times.

    While I understand where you're coming when you say their tactics are shady, keep in mind in many cases there are differences besides just firmware that affect a drive. Although most drives in certain series were reliable to a degree (Samsung F4/WD Caviar Black/etc.) I wouldn't put them in an SMB environment due to hardware differences. That being said, when I need to setup another large RAID6 array, it's very likely I'll go with the drives.
  • dealcorn - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    SAS/SATA controllers typically support 8 drives in SATA mode. Is there a design feature why these drives should be limited to 5 bay devices? I appreciate that there may be a marketing benefit. Reply
  • Watwatwat - Friday, August 17, 2012 - link

    I know on green drives its somewhere around 8 seconds, because i've disabled it before using wdidle utility, how green is it if a drive fails early because of head parking vs the extra energy use..... I somehow doubt its really green once you add it up.. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    Or Black, etc? Comparing it to the Seagate and all is nice, but doesn't really tell us if it's a better suited NAS drive versus WD's other offerings? Reply
  • - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    All these life cycle metrics I have found over the last 10 years are largely irrelevant. A single hard drive cannot even handle normal duty in a laptop that is used 12 hours a day everyday. The only aspect that is important and should be prominently displayed on your screen at all times is hard drive temperature. That is the only way to gain control of what is going to happen on your system. The other element and one you have no control over is temp cycling. It is cycling temperatures from 15C to 50C on a regular basis that will kill a hard drive, and there is no way around that simple fact which demands high quality drives be used whenever possible. All manufactures drives behave largely the same way, and are largely unfit for duty in an environment where temp cycling is the norm.

    Servers running 24/7 at constant temp will last much longer, even with GREEN drives, but temp cycling will quickly kill it even when using BLUE drives. A GREEN drive in my laptop cannot last due to temp cycling. Laptop cooling design across the board largely sucks, and hard drives cannot consistently handle temps reaching 50C, if daily usage involves temp cycling. Laptops are turned off often which stresses the hard drive.

    A Dell 1501 laptop with GREEN drive failed after 8 months, and the next one failed after 12 months. BLUE was not much better failing after 13 months and 18 months. Now I have BLACK and it has lasted 18 months so far but I will not hold my breath. Most times one is lucky and disk failure permits data to be recovered after it has cooled down,.but occasionally data recovery is not possible happened only once but painful). Backing up data every week is a pain as a lot of important data may accumulated in a week. Backing up daily takes too long and uses up too much space. Backups come at an extremely high penalty in terms of time and disk space. What we need is better hard drives.

    Hard drive classifications are really fiction. GREEN (occasional use) means guarantied to fail in under 1y in a laptop used everyday all day, but at constant temp will last longer. BLUE means not much better than GREEN and likely will not last a year when subjected to temp cycling in a laptop. BLACK means better than blue drives but watch your temps closely, and clean out your laptop cooling filters twice a year, and try to keep temp under 45C. I doubt that RED is much better tan BLACK, even as a single hard drive in a laptop that will be subjected to temp cycling on a regular basis.

    Scrap GREEN and BLUE drives as they are not fit for laptop duty where temp cycling will kill them quickly. BLACK and RED is all you need offer. All hard drive categorizations need to be able to handle extreme temp cycling before being offered to the public. Get out of the business if you cannot make such hard drives.

    Hard drive metrics and marketing brooh hah hah is largely an attempt to distract us from the real issue of TEMP CYCLING. Hard drives are badly deigned devices no matter how you cut it, if they cannot be expected to last 5 to 7 years when subjected to extreme temp cycling. Laptop manufacturers too get a clue and make laptops that can be properly cooled.

    Let us send a message to Western Digital, and refuse to buy anything other than BLACK and RED drives, especially when temp cycling is going to be the norm. The only systems that could possibly handle the crappier drives are servers which will be running at near constant temps 24/7. All laptops should have nothing in them except RED drives, but don't be fooled, even these RED drives are not particular good unless they can be made to last 5 to 7 years in a laptop.which I seriously doubt as evidenced by WD 3 year warranty

    We need one more chart showing how a hard drive performs when subjected to heavy loads, with one temp cycle per hour from 15C to 50C. When Western Digital provides a PINK drive with 7 year warranty, designed for extreme temp cycling, then I will be impressed and not before.

    Enterprise hard drives in a laptop will surprise you. They do not last as long as you think they might, when subjected to extreme temp cycles. There is no such thing as a laptop that does not provide an extreme temp cycling environment for a hard drive, which will greatly stress that hard drive and greatly shorten its life.

    I agree with this article - buy RED - but I would qualify that statement with never buy GREEN or BLUE ever for any purpose. These latter drives have been expressly designed to skirt the fringes of mechanical failure as close as possible - they are designed to last on average no longer than they need too, which translates to - guaranteed to fail rather often. Yes the premium of the RED drive is worth it, but that premium exists only because the GREEN and BLUE crappy drives exist at all. There would be NO premium if the RED drives were the lowest quality drive offered.

  • kyuu - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    Yeah! Let's only buy the manufacturer's most expensive products! That'll show 'em!


    Anyway, any data showing these supposed super-high failure rates among the green/blue lines, or just ranting and anecdotes? Besides, in laptops, most people are getting whatever the OEM stuck in it. And there's no magical solution to notebook cooling, especially with the drive towards thinner and lighter. You just have to be prepared for the inevitable failure of an HDD. It's a sealed mechanical device -- it will fail.
  • - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    The original hard drive in the laptop can be replaced from the start and then every so often replace it before it fails (possibly if you are lucky).

    There is data out there, but what I am talking about is my own experimentation and testing and experience. GREEN AND BLUE suck like you cannot believe. It is all quite logical really - 24/7 certification means the ability to provide reliability despite heavier work loads and temp cycling. All I did was to understand what lack of this certification means, and test under those conditions. It means marginal reliability by definition, but also this marginal reliability feature element is overtly engineered into the drive by designing for lower cost using purposefully minimalist mechanical constructions. They build for less and then charge less. The problem is they have gone too far, and are deluding themselves that it is an acceptable approach to achieve the bottom line, but in reality their definition of less is too low a level of quality causing a high turn over in failures. We fall for the lie, and believe we can live with less.

    It is not about sticking it to them by buying their more expensive product, but rather about buying what you need instead of letting their marketing making you believe what you think you need. Savvy. Caveat Emptor - you take control of what you need to have, and stop them sticking it to you. Yes, and what you need definitely costs more. Then again one could just become a victim of failing trash, where one spends days recovering from a crash.

    24/7 certification means the ability to provide reliability despite heavier work loads and temp cycling. Is there any reason for settling for less - I don't think so. Even a laptop needs his level of reliability as user data really is that important.
  • Watwatwat - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    whats for certain is that even their greens need cooling, i've had green external drives, and running seatools tests on them they get toasty, i popped the plastic usb case off after running the test and guess what, the drive was almost too hot to touch. thats a green drive!

    sold with 1 year warranty by western digital, in a usb case with no ventilation, again, its not so green if its made to die early.

    they couldn't even be bothered to include a few holes n the plastic case for even a little air flow..
  • Peroxyde - Saturday, August 18, 2012 - link

    Sorry for the silly questions, but can you please explain if there would be any harmful effects if the WD Red is used in the following scerarios? If not suitable, what would you advise to use instead? The goal is good reliability, storage capacity, performance is desirable but not the highest criteria.

    1. As standalone Hard drive (the only HD in the computer)
    2. In external USB enclosure, USB 3.0
    3. As second HD, just for storage

    Thanks in advance for any advice

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