Western Digital Red Series review

I’ve got a SATA drive throwing bad sectors – not good. Its a WD Cavier Green, and it’s about a year old. But I’ve hammered it, and it was cheap. An IDE drive throwing bad sectors is never good –  once the problem is visible it’s on the way out. I doubt WD would replace it under warranty as its not on a Windows box and I therefore can’t download and run their diagnostic, but we’ll see about that.

And anyway, Western Digital  launched the ideal replacement two weeks ago – the Red series. Unlike the Green, it’s actually designed to run 24/7 – cool and reliable. They’re pitching it squarely at the NAS market, for RAID systems with five or less drives, they say. Perfect, then. And a good market offering given that last month’s IDC low-end storage forecast predicted an 80% gowth in the small/home office NAS market over the next five years.

The Red series launches with 1Tb, 2Tb and 3Tb versions, with 1Tb on each platter.

I checked the specifications with scan.co.uk – 2ms access times too! Lovely! Hang on, that’s too damn good. I suspect someone at Scan has gone through the specification sheet to add the access time to their database and found the only thing on the list measured in milliseconds. Actually it can withstand a 2ms shock! WD doesn’t mention the access times, or the spin-speed come to that (about 5400 given the hum).

Well, having now checked one of these beasts out, the access times are obviously something they’d want to keep quiet about. In comparison with the Cavier Green, which is supposed to be a low-impact desktop drive, it’s about the same on writes and about 30% slower on reads. However, once it’s in position it is about 30% faster streaming. This would be handy for an application where single files were being read, but not so brilliant if you’re jumping about the disk at the behest of multiple users – which is the intended market for this thing. Real-world performance remains to be seen, but I don’t think it’s going to be as quick as a Cavier Green, and they’re slow enough.

So why would anyone want one of these?

Compared to the Cavier Green, the red is rated for 24/7 use. Compared to the Black series, or anyone else’s nearline drives, its performance is terrible, but it is cheaper and much cooler with a lower power consumption.

If you want performance at this price point the Seagate Barracuda drives are cheaper and a lot faster, but Seagate don’t rate them for continuous use. The Hitachi Deskstar, on the other hand, is rated for 24/7 operation even though it’s a desktop drive and it outperforms the WD Red by quite a margin too. But hang on – WD recently acquired Hitachi’s HD operation so that’s a WD drive to. So for performance go for the Baracuda and for best performance running 24/7 go for the Deskstar.

The WD Red is basically a low-performance near-line drive except that it’s  not, actually rated as being as reliable as the real near-line drives. But it is claimed to be more reliable than the Green series, and they do run just cool and just as quiet (subjectively). Is it worth the 35% price premium over the Green? Well, actually, sitting here with a failing Green, the Red with the three-year warranty is looking attractive for my data warehousing application. This isn’t NAS, it’s specialised, and I need low-power (cool) reliable drives to stream large files on and off. They could be just the job for that.

As an afterthought, comparing them with the Black, they also lack the vibration sensors to protect them in a data centre environment or a box chocked full of other drives. The idea of putting them in a rack server as a low-power alternative looks less attractive than it did.

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