Western Digital RED 4TB Hard Drive Review

Author: AkG
Date: December 3, 2013
Product Name: RED 4TB
Part Number: WD40EFRX
Warranty: 3 Years
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Western Digital’s RED series is quite unique since it was from the ground up for home-use RAID environments and to compliment WD’s other NAS-centric products like the SE and RE. This is very much a middle-of-the road type product which hopes to bring mass storage to a desktop environment for those who have long since outstripped the limited space cloud-based solutions provide.

Unlike its siblings’ focus on datacenter environments with their scalability and enhanced longevity, the RED’s goals are less extreme. In order to appeal to price conscious users, it features a lower initial cost which has been achieved by cutting out some of the higher end models’ enterprise-centric features. It goes without saying that system administrators will likely avoid the RED but it provides an enticing option for everyone else.

2013 has been a big year for Western Digital with a new Black series alongside the refreshed RE and newly created SE but for the most part, the first generation RED drives were left alone. This left them to languish and fall further behind the completion.

With the release of the new 4TB RED this oversight was addressed with a drive that promises to be nothing like the original. That initial RED series was plagued by numerous problems ranging from poor performance to a reputation for poor reliability. Western Digital made it a priority to ensure that this never happened again and so this second generation refresh was introduced a few months ago.

Unfortunately, we have learned that some retailers still sell the first generation drives alongside the previous ones, resulting in no small amount of confusion. So what makes these newer drives different? 3D Active Balance, 1TB platters and a technology called NASware 2.0.

After working closely with their partners and consumers alike Western Digital was able to analyze exactly what buyers were looking for in entry level NAS storage device. The needs were distilled into four primary categories: Value, Capacity, Compatibility and Reliability.

Home and entry level SMB marketplace consumers don’t necessarily need the performance offered by the RE or SE models, but they still require a large capacity storage device which offers reasonable performance without breaking the bank. They also demand a drive which is nearly as reliable as the higher priced offerings and is guaranteed to work with their new NAS, even if it is not a Western Digital branded model.

This seemingly impossible task of offering increased reliability without a substantial price premium required an elegant solution. Hence NASware 2.0 technology was developed. NASware 2.0 is an umbrella term for a few key features which help make sure the new RED does more than pay lip service to addressing the previous RED model’s shortcomings.

These technology improvements take the form of both hardware and software solutions. On the software side of the equation is the drastically improved firmware which has been tailor-made for the entry level marketplace and places more emphasis on low queue depth performance. The firmware is also much more forgiving of NAS devices and along with support ATA Streaming and NAS-specific power management routines allows the new RED to be compatible with a broad a range of consumer NAS units.

Due to the RED 4TB’s low sub-$190 price point, Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF) and other technologies weren’t possible. Thus, Western Digital has created a new way of ensuring that vibration and environmental conditions do not degrade the lifespan of the RED drives by implementing what they call 3D Active Balance Plus. This newly enhanced dual-plane balance control technology ensures that the entire drive – platters, arms, etc – is precisely balanced before they leave the factory. This is accomplished via much more exacting tolerances during final build and a more rigorous testing regime to ensure that each RED drive is up to spec before consumers even see it. These tolerances are actually tighter than the R.E. line, and this combined with increased factory testing allows the RED series to boast an MTBF which is 20% higher than the S.E - an impressive 1million hours. Beyond simple MTBF, the new RED is rated for a very, very impressive six hundred thousand Load/Unload cycles which is extremely high for the entry level marketplace.

Besides NASWare 2.0, the new RED series has another trick up its sleeve: 1 TB platters. It may still only be an ‘Intellipower’ / 5400rpm drive but with such ultra-dense platters backstopped by 64MB worth of SK-Hynix DDR2-800 cache and a Marvell 88i9446-NDB2 dual core controller, the new RED should drastically improve performance over its predecessor.

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