WD was put on the spot a couple of months back due to an issue regarding their usage of SMR in some of their drives. To summarize, SMR is found to cause adverse performance on NAS usage particular on RAID rebuilds. A year removed from the issue and WD has maintained their library, maintaining their initial position on the matter, primarily citing that since drive requirements vary but have decided to label their SMR and CMR drives similarly.
Today, you’ll find SMR WD drives labelled as follows:
- WD Red (WDx0EFAX / 2,3,4,6TB)
- WD Blue (WDx0EZAZ / 2, 6TB
- WD Blue 2.5″ (WDx0SPZX / 1,2TB)
- WD Black 2.5″ (WD5000LPSX/WD10SPSX / 500GB, 1TB)
Note: x in model name with matching capacity in TB
WD has also went further to resolve more intimate customer relations so the company was very hands-on with the situation despite the rather scathing media treatment and reporting in 2020. That said, we did a review of the Synology DiskStation DS920+ and I have not used it for a while after moving to a 10GbE NAS. So I recently got a couple of drives from WD to setup a small RAID. I got a pair of WD Red 4TB, specifically WD
These are the exact same model of NAS drives that came with my WD MyCloud DL4100 business NAS from nearly a decade ago and they are the ones I am sticking with for this build. If you’re unsure about the whole SMR/CMR issue and don’t really want to second guess, right off that bat I have to say these are definitely reliable and have endured 5 years of me learning how to manage and take of NAS drives.
Speaking of NAS, as I mentioned I’ll be using the Synology DiskStation DS-920+ and just recently, Synology rolled-out their DSM7.0 update for their NAS. I’ll be sharing an overview of some of the changes plus some things that I find helpful for NAS users. So let’s get started!
The Need for Storage
Many of our users would be used to the traditional storage solution of having drives in your computers where you store files. When storage runs out, you either get more or get larger drives. Now this solution may work but think of situations where your files need to be:
- be accessed from multiple computers
- store large files and retain multiple copies
- archive files for a very long time
A lot of these would at least resemble the way date is stored in business organizations but in reality, shared storage is now more common and works great for anyone whether you’re storing digital copies of your DVDs or Bluray, your music collection, photos, video files, and work documents and having the ability to share them immediately on your home network. A network-attached storage or NAS makes this all possible and companies like Synology have gone out of their to really make the NAS experience really user friendly.
In my case, I already have a 9-bay NAS in use as the main storage NAS for all my activity. Still a backup is always useful plus some extra storage for other things like video and older games storage, so I don’t have to redownload them again.
The Synology DiskStation DS920+ that I’ll be using is a Plus model from Synology and features specs for demanding users without going past $600 for a 4-bay NAS. Its got dual-LAN plus expansion support so there’s some redundancy and expandability in place. For this build, I’m starting off with a simple 2-bay RAID1 mirror as I’ll be storing some videos I’m planning to move on cold storage once I fully build up this NAS.
So before I setup this NAS as RAID1, I did a quick comparison of RAID0 and RAID1 on the WD NAS drives just to see how much speed I’m getting and obviously the limit here is our network connection as we are restricted to 1Gbps only so both RAID1 and RAID0 ended up giving us around 118MB/s of transfer speed.
Now internally, you’d be able to max-out the drive so internal back-ups and those things but if we’re using the drive as one big storage chunk using JBOD or RAID and accessing via the network, these are the maximum theoretical speeds that we will get, again, the main reason being the 1Gbps LAN connection.
But this isn’t the problem that was brought up by the media when they were criticizing WD about SMR. It was more about RAID rebuilds and while there are other instances where this would pop up, RAID rebuilds are primarily the sole reason that WD and other HDD vendors were targeted for using SMR. Now the results are honestly valid and for anyone using high-availability storage servers, the delay that SMR drives causes can definitely bring a company down. But for general consumers, a RAID rebuild requires a drive to fail and in 2 drive situations, a RAID1 array is just a full mirror and won’t have the same issue. RAID5, RAID6 or RAID10 will have their argument but again, for home users I find it really rare to encounter a situation wherein you really have no foresight of a possible drive failure occurring. In most instances, the NAS is smart enough to warn you and if you’re still not backing up by then, that is not the drive’s fault.
The RAID rebuild took around 12 hours for our drive which is far from the hundreds of supposed hours that has been the point of contention here. I have to point out again that these are the CMR model WD Red NAS drives so if you’re unsure, please refer to this guide to see the actual models that are built as SMR drives. WD still insists this drives are acceptable for very light use and I do assume if we were running RAID0 or RAID10, there’s not going to be a dramatic penalty.
So in terms of performance, knowing which drives to choose IF and WHEN you are going to be using the WD Red drives on a dense storage server, knowledge is now out there for you to know which to choose. WD doesn’t get out unscathed as well, as their previous non-disclosure is now the benchmark for hard drive performance cover-ups, so to speak so they should know by now to disclose these things or risk losing trust from users especially enterpises.
Synology DSM7.0 Overview
All NAS have their own operating system and commercial NAS companies like Synology actually put a bulk of their cost into the development of this ecosystem. Many NAS brands have grown their OS and refined from back and forth dialogs with their customers and in Synology’s case, their DSM or DiskStation Manager OS has been around for a very, very long time. In development since for over 3 years, DSM version 7 saw many changes in user requirements as well as security and has evolved over time to what we get today.
To quickly summarize the changes, DSM7.0 introduces a lot of changes in what can be compared to someone jumping to Windows 10 as a previous Windows 7 user: a more polished interface, more modern look, some slight changes to how menus are presented for improved user experience plus feature updates to some core applications. Synology DSM7.0 aims to please newer users with a more inviting user interface and user experience and it really is a refreshing new feel albeit even if it will feel very modest for advanced users, the change can be felt. Some features have also merged with Synology Photo Station and Moments now fusing into one application. Other applications changing are Cloud Station, which is now known as Synology Drive Server.
If there’s anything that will make Synology users feel something has changed, its the login screen. With a fresh new UI inspired heavily by modern OS with their wallpapers and inspiring quotes, DSM7.0 has a new login screen. On first install you’ll actually be asked if you want to enabled 2FA for your login which is a really nice security feature. Once logged in, we now get to see the new home screen.
This is a fresh new look for Synology and something that felt could’ve been in place for a long-time now as DSM6 really feels like it came from the Windows XP era. Despite that, the icons receive slight cosmetic changes but the Resource widget is heavily the same although now more free and isn’t immediately locked to pseudo-taskbar.
Speaking of taskbar, Synology has done away with that and replaced it with icons on the top row. The menu button is still there now with a crystal panel on the back.
My install is looking pretty bare for now as this is a fresh install so these are just the minimum of what you would have after exploring the available applications from Synology and its partners.
The apps are still in the Package Center and I have to note that Synology did drop support for some older applications and older 3rd-party apps may encounter bugs with DSM7.0. Please consult with the app developer for workaround and mitigation if you do encounter them. For the most part, the large variety of DSM7.0 applications are carried over from the older core set but apps like Photos and Moments have no fused together since they primarily served a feature of one another to begin with.
I’ll skip over the Control Panel as aside from looks, it remains pretty much the same. I want to share the new look of the Storage Manager which I really don’t like. With many of the interface options either compress or now hidden under the actual UI panel on the right, the interface does look clean but is also quite confusing. I moved some drives from my other NAS to populate the DS920 and see how the interface shows the info and I’m not really pleased with how this one went. Too many information hidden and not presented at a glance.
Resource monitor is looking very nice and more detailed with plenty of monitoring options now more clearly presented.
For most users, a lot of the action will be done here in File Station. The interface has been modernized but the feel and workings still are the same. You can create shared folders as well as connect remote CIFS or NFS for further expansion.
Now it does go deeper than that but depending on your NAS, not all features will be present but let me gloss over quickly about DSM7 and its data management features that were introduced. DSM7 introduces more advance deduplication, increased SSD cache performance as well as a simple drive replacement solution for high-availability.
For larger deployments that require oversight, Active Insight gives a top-level view of multiple clients at a time, delivering key information so admins can act on how to scale or improve their Synology NAS deployments. As mentioned, further to SOHO, SMB and enterprise use is the more secure platform for Synology which integrates more robust login methods to protect your infrastructure.
For data protection, solutions like Active Backup and Hyper Backup are still here with Synology DSM7.0 and provides excellent coverage for data protection for users, both at home and in business.
Synology Photos fuses Photo Station and Moments together and combines both of their functionality into one app. Manage photos and view them easier and more intuitively with Synology Photos. You can browse quickly and find the photos you like with an easy image search option.
Synology DSM7.0 has a lot more to share and that’s just the topping but it is an inviting look into what Synology is headed to into the future of NAS experience.
If you own a Synology NAS and have not updated yet, you can install DSM7.0 right now on compatible Synology network-attached storage devices. Please check in this link for installation and compatibility info.
More information about DSM7.0 is Synology’s DSM7.0 portal.
User Experience and Conclusion
So let’s get one thing clear: WD messed up by not disclosing the potential issues earlier but in their defense, the occurrence of a possible problem with such drives would rarely occure on lighter usage. In my case, a full rebuild only took 12 hours and since I was running RAID1, the NAS was fully usable throughout that 12 hour rebuild period where the NAS was repairing the volume. Its also worth noting that rebuild settings was on default so the rebuild process doesn’t take up much resources.
Again, I have to point out the drives I was using was the WD40EFRX. These are pretty much OG WD Red and my primary drive on my previous NAS. So if you’re balancing between choosing between a Seagate Ironwolf or a WD Red and are unsure because of the noise in the internet, then these drives are an easy solution for new NAS owners running 4-, 5- or even 8-bays. As long as your usage scenario won’t see high-availability, you really won’t run into issues.
WD has excellent support and I can vouch for the companies after-sales reliability so if this review was about that, many would agree but that also entails that you set-up a highly reliable backup strategy especially in mission-critical application.