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Western Digital Red 3TB SATA SOHO NAS Drive - Full Review

Subject: Storage

Specs, Testing Methodology and System Setup

Specifications  

I have a habit of translating Western Digital's marketing speak when we cover specs. I'll continue this trend here. Some of these are not specifically listed by WD, but we know they are in there, so we will keep them here for your education:  

  • NoTouch™ ramp load technology — Previously called "IntelliPark".  Drive heads take an 'exit ramp' off of the platters instead of landing on the platters when the drive is spun down.  You know how the most damage is done to your engine when you start it on a cold morning?  This means the drive heads do not have to break stiction each and every time the drive spins up.  The heads are able to leave the ramp and float onto the spinning disk.  
  • Native Command Queuing (NCQ) — The drive can reorder groups of reads/writes to minimize overall head movement, and therefore increase effective access time.  Beware - this is only effective with an AHCI-enabled SATA controller.  
  • Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) — Bits are aligned vertically instead of horizontally to get more packed onto each platter.  Think dominoes (the game, not the food).
  • 64MB cache — Basically standard across most current WD models, though this part is faster than those previous.  Increased cache speed helps boost random access performance.  
  • Dual processors — Introduced with the RE4-GP line, the additional core helps the drive keep track of the added cache and increased throughput streaming off of the head pack.
  • Advanced Format — Introduced back in late 2009, this increases storage efficiency and robustness by having the drive handle data as 4KB internal blocks. This means error correction routines are not limited to 512B segments. ECC works better on larger chunks of data, and this gives an ~50% improvement in that area. The trade-off is random access for blocks <4KB will suffer, but this is not much of an issue as the vast majority of file access is >= 4KB.

Now for the standouts:

  • RAID-specific time-limited error recovery (TLER) — The drive limits the 'hang' experienced on a read error in order to avoid a RAID controller considering the drive dead / offline.
  • 3D Active Balance Plus — Our enhanced dual-plane balance control technology significantly improves the overall drive performance and reliability. Hard drives that are not properly balanced may cause excessive vibration and noise in a multi-drive system, reduce the hard drive life span, and degrade the performance over time.

I used WD's blurb for that last one, but as a translation - this is HUGE. There is a system of movable counterbalances installed in the spindle motor hub assembly. These weights are free to shift, and with the drive at speed, those parts will settle in positions which act to actively counter vibrations.

WD had a video showing this, but I prefer a simpler automotive-related analogy, which I will present in the form of this video:

Western Digital's system is much more complex than the simple example above, as it functions both axially and radially. This is the equivalent to obtaining a continuous and automatic dynamic balance of the wheels on your car. While that would give you a smooth ride, WD's implementation gives you a silent and non-vibrating drive. This works so well that all I can hear from a running Red is the faintest sound of air turbulence across the spinning platters.

The load/unload spec (for the ramp load technology) remains at 600,000 cycles. 

Specific to this Review

Back in our Caviar Black WD1002FAEX (6Gb/sec SATA) review, we determined that the current Marvell 6Gb/sec controllers and drivers, while decent, fall a bit short of Intel's native controllers.  Luckily these days we have native 6Gb/sec from Intel and we are not stuck with these stop gap measures. My standing recommendation is to always use the native chipset when employing high speed storage. We've seen 15% drops in write speeds in some instances with the Marvell controller paired to high end HDDs (for some benches) - and that was comparing to a 3Gb/sec native controller!
 
 
Marvell controllers and drivers are not sufficiently refined for comparative HDD testing.
 
Test System Setup

We are currently using a Sandy Bridge test bed. We are using only the Intel SATA 6Gb/sec ports or any unit under test. PC Perspective would like to thank ASUS, Corsair, and Kingston for supplying some of the components of our test rig.  

Hard Drive Test System Setup
CPU Intel Core i5-2500K
Motherboard Asus P8Z68-V Pro
Memory Kingston HyperX 4GB DDR3-2133 CL9
Hard Drive G.Skill 32GB SLC SSD
Sound Card N/A
Video Card Intel® HD Graphics 3000
Video Drivers Intel
Power Supply Corsair CMPSU-650TX
DirectX Version DX9.0c
Operating System Windows 7 X64
  • PCMark05
  • Yapt
  • IOMeter
  • HDTach *omitted due to incompatibility with 3TB devices*
  • HDTune
  • PCPer File Copy Test

 

July 19, 2012 | 08:28 PM - Posted by Gustin (not verified)

How are software RAID setups (like mdadm) affected by these features (or lack thereof)?

July 25, 2012 | 07:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

They aren't. See my above reply for more information.

Software RAID is quickly becoming the defacto standard among home users for this reason.

July 19, 2012 | 09:50 PM - Posted by Gustin (not verified)

Nevermind, I did some RTFMing, the lack of TLER does not seem to be a problem for mdadm, which matches my anecdotal experience.

July 22, 2012 | 09:13 PM - Posted by Peter (not verified)

Hi guys, I have a 4 drive NAS, that's configured as solo drives (Non-raid configuration). Is this new Red drives recommended for such a configuration? Or would it be better to just use Green drives, as my Nas isn't configured as a RAID. Hope someone can enlighten me here. Thanks

July 23, 2012 | 02:54 PM - Posted by Rob (not verified)

front load washing machines have been using this method to counter-balance your dirty ginch for years and years ;)

July 25, 2012 | 11:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Quick question!

I'm not a raid expert, but the example scenario you outline pops a few questions into my head.

Example 1:
Drive 1 goes offline, and during rebuild another hidden bad sector pops up in Drive 3 and kills the rebuild.

Example 2:
Drive 1 goes offline because the TLER reports the bad sector to the RAID card, and quickly address the issue using parity data from somewhere else.

There seems to be three factors, TLER vs non TLER, how a raid card address a bad sector, and the chance another bad sector would appear during a rebuild. The article makes it seem as if the Areca controller saved the day.

I draw this conclusion because Example 1 indicates the array fails because the raid controller failed to address the bad sector on Drive 1. Leaving the chance that a bad sector could appear during a rebuild, aka Drive 3. Whereas Example 2 has the array function because the drive reported the bad sector and the raid card address the issue correctly.

So the question I have is what is the timeout duration of a consumer drive to a TLER equipped drive? Is it a matter of hours? or days?

The question stems from the fact that I have several consumer drives in RAID-5 on a Areca 1231ML. I'd consider a over time upgrade, but if a TLER vs non TLER drive report a bad sector within days of each other, the card I have should address it correctly?

Appreciate the help.

July 27, 2012 | 10:06 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Interesting. I just orderd 8 WD RED and I am looking at RAID-cards now. Areca seems to be one of the best or am i wrong? I want a hardware-RAID-card that can recover from "small" errors. RE4 are too pricy. I already have a QNAP639pro (6 WD black 1TB). That's worked perfect since the beginning. They (6x WD black 1TB) have run for well over 2 years 24/7 now and I espect a failur.. So I am building a new server after repleasing the drives in my QNAP-NAS with WD RED and 2 for and other RAID. Then I build a second with 2012 Essencial server when it appears and use the NAS as a backup for the new server. But I dont know if I am going to use WD RED or the pricy RE4/RE4-GP..

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July 27, 2012 | 10:07 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Interesting. I just orderd 8 WD RED and I am looking at RAID-cards now. Areca seems to be one of the best or am i wrong? I want a hardware-RAID-card that can recover from "small" errors. RE4 are too pricy. I already have a QNAP639pro (6 WD black 1TB). That's worked perfect since the beginning. They (6x WD black 1TB) have run for well over 2 years 24/7 now and I espect a failur.. So I am building a new server after repleasing the drives in my QNAP-NAS with WD RED and 2 for and other RAID. Then I build a second with 2012 Essencial server when it appears and use the NAS as a backup for the new server. But I dont know if I am going to use WD RED or the pricy RE4/RE4-GP..

July 27, 2012 | 10:09 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Areca cards are great! However very pricey. Which is why I was I posted the question above your post.

BUT as a person who owns one of these cards, I'd move away from it. Why? ZFS is a better storage system. Grab a AMD cpu (because it supports ECC), get ECC ram, and load a OS that supports ZFS. From what I hear it is a much more reliable storage system than RAID.

I would have done this myself, but I didn't learn about ZFS until after my purchase. Secondly, I have nearly 6TBs across 8 drives. Moving that amount of data would be a pain.

Lastly, if you really decide to go with an Areca card. Try to find them second hand. I picked up my 1231ML for $375 used. Run a google search on the key phrase : "FS Areca", and sorta by date.

Good luck!

August 1, 2012 | 06:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Do any of you see a problem using these drives in a 12 bay NAS running FreeNAS? ZFS/2

The WD site just says for up to 5 bays.. Is this just marketing hype> Or do you think these drives will be OK for large bay NAS enclosures?

Thought? Thanks

August 4, 2012 | 11:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

As I understand it, It's because the RED drives lack vibration sensors and pressure sensors.

However, I'm also speculating in using 15 of these babies in a file server for private use.

I'm really wondering if this will actually be a problem or not....

-JKJK-

August 4, 2012 | 11:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

As I understand it, It's because the RED drives lack vibration sensors and pressure sensors.

However, I'm also speculating in using 15 of these babies in a file server for private use.

I'm really wondering if this will actually be a problem or not....

-JKJK-

October 16, 2012 | 10:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi,

I would really love to hear more about your 15 drive setup. Care to share some more details?

Thanks,
-jj

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August 4, 2012 | 11:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sorry about that triple post ... got a "page could not be found for each time I tried to post".

September 14, 2012 | 12:11 PM - Posted by Shimi (not verified)

A while back WD Red 3TB was selling for $169.99 now that I want to buy it is about $259.99 any idea if the prices would drop to below $200 and why the sudden increase in price?

October 1, 2012 | 01:18 PM - Posted by Tree (not verified)

Would you recommend the RED series if you don't use a RAID solution. Why, i'll running Windows Home Server 2011 that have 4 drives and i'll make (lessons learned) a robocopy once a week to een external esata drive of my important DATA.

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December 5, 2012 | 05:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"I have an 8-drive array of 3TB WD Caviar Greens in a RAID-5."

This array is just a disaster waiting to happen. Consider the situation when one of your drives fails: you're left with 7-drive RAID 0 array! And if the thought of housing your important data on such a large RAID 0 array doesn't make your pulse race, you're either an idiot (sorry) or the data wasn't that important to begin with.

When you replace the failed drive of an (n-1)-drive degraded array, the rebuild process places the greatest strain on the array when it is most vulnerable. It may seem counterintuitive, but at some point an n-drive RAID 5 array is more likely to fail and suffer complete data loss than a single large disk with no redundancy. I think n=8 is well beyond that point. This has actually been studied scientifically here: http://media.netapp.com/documents/rp-0046.pdf

Conclusion, large RAID 5 arrays are not safe. You need at least a RAID 6 configuration.

As for whether TLER actually improves the safety of the array, I think some of the other comments have covered this already.

January 10, 2013 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Danny (not verified)

Hi,

I had some green disks in my NAS and had to do the update with wdidle3 to come over the 8 sec park issue. Is this same fix also needed on these drives?

January 30, 2013 | 08:30 AM - Posted by PhotoNeil (not verified)

I find it interesting (and very depressing and confusing) that the only Raid storage devices listed on WD's certified Red drive compatibility list are devices that previously included Green drives in the manufacturer's own compatibility lists.

These include Drobos, and the Synology, QNAP, et al software Raid NAS boxes. It is my understanding that the NAS boxes all use Linux MDADM under the covers of their proprietary user interfaces. It is also my understanding that Synology SHR, for example, is simply a well built user interface over Linux LVM.

Suspiciously absent from the list are any of the hardware Raid controllers and devices that use various hardware Raid controllers.

If the above is factually correct then it calls into question the true value of Red drives. We can argue the merits of using Red drives in hardware Riad solutions, but the fact is that if you do have a problem, and you attempt to get support from your Raid controller maker, he will give you a simple response: "We don't support Red drives so we cannot tell you why your Raid array dropped (or regularly drops).

Seems to me there is little or no value in attempting to use Raid for an increased level of protection if the controller maker will not support it. It is, in that way, no better than using Green drives.

It calls into question the value of Red drives. I've read a lot of discussion (mostly speculation) about these new drives but never seen my concerns mentioned or discussed.

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January 30, 2013 | 08:44 AM - Posted by PhotoNeil (not verified)

As an afterthought, I use a SansDigital TR4UTBPN 4 bay eSata/USB3 external Raid/JBOD enclosure. I know, having read their now defunct support forum for many years, that in every case where someone reported Raid array failure or frequent rebuilding problems that they washed their hands of the matter by simply pointing out that they don't support those drives in that enclosure (or any other Raid enclosure they well). You are totally on your own.

They are not listed on WD's Red drive compatibility (lists as are no other hardware Raid devices that previously only recommended or certified Enterprise drives). Nor do they specifically address Reds on their site (and their HCL list is not easy to find).

I recently submitted a support ticket asking if they supported Red drives. They initially just said "no, they have never been tested".

When I persisted and asked *why* they have not tested those drives, they responded by saying that because WD did not include them on their list they had no interest in testing them. I found that a strange response- does the tail wag the dog or the dog wag the tail?

Anyway, since I have no interest in using non-supported drives in a Raid device, I will continue to run the box in JBOD mode, as I always, have for the same reason, with the Green drives I currently use.

IOW, nothing has changed, except we consumers can now speculate about all the various vague claims by the various manufacturers of hard drives and the boxes that use them, and how the Raid system might respond to bad sectors.

A sad state of affairs.

February 21, 2013 | 07:23 AM - Posted by SupaGabba (not verified)

Can you persistantly patch the red drives to disable tler or change its setting for desktop use?

April 8, 2013 | 06:23 PM - Posted by Fred (not verified)

Great review Allyn !

Very informative.
Bought 2 WD20EFRX (2TB)

July 23, 2013 | 08:20 PM - Posted by South.Aussie (not verified)

Seriously. This is a piece of crap drive. I just lost all my data after 2 weeks old. Trying to recover and the whole drive is in raw and extremely slow trying to access it.
Was good for the first week. Then boom!!!! Instant poop.

September 13, 2013 | 05:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Really the Reds seem to be Greens rebranded with new firmware/ram.. Unless you are using hardware RAID (and running 24/7) they are not worth it... Go up to enterprise (actual enterprise) drives and never look back..

Also people with early failures aren't stressing their builds before putting drives etc into production.. I've never lost data due to early failure.. I've lost a green due to head parking though in a NAS.. WDIDLE is a must for greens - and probably reds)..

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