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Western Digital RE 4TB Enterprise Hard Drive Review

AkG

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The world of enterprise data solutions may seem like a nebulous one at first but the lines between the professional and general end user markets are beginning to blur ever so slightly. At first glance, Western Digital’s new RE series may cater directly to the datacenter market since they come in either SATA or SAS flavors and have a bevy of enterprise-focused features like an MTBF of 1.2 million hours, low power consumption and advanced shock resistance. They’re also quite expensive in comparison to the run-of-the-mill and even high performance HDDs available at your favorite retailer. But this isn’t to say you and I won’t be buying them since the RE series is supposed to provide the last word in reliability due to WD’s stringent validation process and who wouldn’t want their data lasting longer than most people’s lifespan’s?

In order to expand the RE series (or what used to be called the RAID Edition), Western Digital is now adding a massively endowed 4TB SKU. Not only will this offer a solution perfectly for the “Big Data” needs of tomorrow but a sequential data rate of 171 MB/s over a SATA 6Gbps interface actually makes it one of the faster 7200PRM drives on the market. For those outside of its intended market, just be prepared to give up about $425 to own one of the SATA models. The SAS version meanwhile goes for just under $500

Finally getting to the 4TB high water mark did take a while though. Last year we saw the advent of ultra dense 1TB per platter hard drives and it seemed like 4TB – or even larger – 3.5” hard drives were just over the horizon. It really was a great time to be a storage enthusiast. Then the great flood of 2011 hit and literally overnight, the onward march towards bigger, faster and better hard drives came to a stumbling halt.

It took Western Digital a nice while to recover, but not all that long ago they finally showed the world that they were back and released the very potent VelociRaptor 1TB. While this new drive was indeed impressive, most of the community was waiting for a 7200rpm drive with cavernous capacity and intoxicating performance. The RE may not fit this bill perfectly but it will tide us over until the new Black 4TB becomes widely available.


The Western Digital RE 4TB is an interesting blend of old and new technology all wrapped up inside a design that brings new meaning to the word overkill. As the name suggests, this drive is meant for multi disk RAID environments and as such, Time Limited Error Recovery (TLER) has been set to a scant few seconds. After this timeframe expires, the RE will stop trying to recover from errors and expect the attached RAID controller to do the heavy lifting. Sadly, Western Digital has still not opted to update their WDTLER program to allow user-instituted changes to this default setting.


Interestingly enough, Western Digital has also foregone the use 1TB platters for this behemoth. Rather than requiring 4 platters to hit the impressive 4TB mark, the 4TB RE uses five 800GB platters to reach its capacity. This does have the unfortunate consequence of making it a touch more power hungry that it otherwise could be but according to Western Digital, the 5-platter design optimizes longevity. This is a trade-off many in the enterprise world are more than willing to accept.


While the internal design does make the RE 4TB a touch heavier than the common hard drive, the exterior does not look all that different or even all that unique. Western Digital may not have bestowed 1TB platters upon this drive they have given it dual actuator technology, 64MB of cache, and a Marvell dual core controller. The 64MB of cache present in the form of a single Winbond W9751G6JB-25, 64MB DDR2-800 IC which has 5-5-5 timings. There are also accelerometers and pressure sensors attached to the PCB, which –with some advanced algorithms- makes up Western Digital’s Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF) technology. Much like on the Raptor line of drives, this technology is able to sense and compensate in real time for rotational and linear vibrations which could otherwise result in a shortened lifespan or even catastrophic failure. These added features also help explain the larger than usual PCB and the 1.2 million hour MTBF rating.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Vista load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a Kingston HyperX 240GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.


All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formated to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel 520 240GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.



Write Performance


For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.



While the RE 4TB posts some decent numbers, they don't come close to what higher end mass-market HDDs can put forth. The fact of the matter is that the lower density platters do hurt its performance when compared to the 1TB per platter Seagate Barracuda. Of course, this new Raid Edition drive does have 25% more capacity so this minor reduction in performance could be more than offset by its long term performance and resilience. After all, as a drive is filled closer to capacity its performance noticeably decreases and where any 3TB – let alone 2TB or 1TB – typically starts to fade this drive will still be cruising along at a breakneck pace. It is not until past the 3TB point that it dips below the 100MB/s mark and that is indeed impressive.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark



The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.







Once again the power curves of Western Digital's new RE are very, very good. It is in a different league than other Black, Breen and Blue series but it still can't manage to beat Seagate's bruiser, let alone the Velociraptor.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.







Only the latest –and largest – version of the VelociRaptor is able to beat the 4TB RE and that is not really a fair comparison in this test or any other benchmark for that matter. For a 7200RPM drive, this new Raid Edition has excellent small file performance, which is a critical benchmark for the enterprise market it competes in. Obviously, the dual aperture arms and tweaked firmware nets noticeable dividends. Whether or not this increase in performance is enough to compensate for the reduced sequential file performance and rather high asking price is open for debate.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.


It appears that even though the 4TB RE has improved small file performance compared to that of the competition, PC Mark 7 does not consider it enough. By the same token a score of over 2300 is excellent.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD

AS-SSD


AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.



Once again the excellent small file performance this drive has to offer allows it to plow past any non-hybrid 7200RPM drive we have seen to date. This likely points towards some significant firmware tweaking. Considering the typical Raid environment leans more towards random smaller files, rather than large sequential file performance WD's move makes perfect sense. Interestingly enough we are also seeing a trend start to develop: the write performance of the 4TB RE is slightly better than the read performance.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER


IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,3xk,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.


This drive simply thrives in the highly demanding scenarios encountered in the Enterprise market. Only a 1TB VelociRaptor is able to beat it and even here the difference is not as large as we have come to expect. Obviously this drive has been honed to a razor edge for professional applications.
 
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AkG

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Vista Start Up / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Vista Start Up


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. While all the other tests were run with a Windows 7 operating system, this particular test uses another older test bed's “day to day” OS (copied over to our new testbed) which has accumulated a lot of crud over the months from installs and removals. We chose the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line as it is the last program to be loaded on start up.


Since its sequential file performance is a touch slower, the 4TB RE is only able to achieve a tenuous third place finish here. Hybrid devices such as the Seagate Momentus XT 750GB are faster and so too are VelociRaptors. However, this is very august company and Western Digital's new hard drive is still the fastest 7200RPM HDD we have tested to date.


Adobe CS5 Load Time


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!


Once again the 4TB RE posts some very impressive numbers but we do wonder how much faster this drive could have been if it used 1TB platters instead of 800GB. Platter density is always a major deciding factor in the overall performance of a drive.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable Offline Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.



Thanks to its excellent small file performance the Western Digital 4TB RE posts some very good numbers here. The only standard hard drive which can outperform it is the VelociRaptor 1TB and this is a true testament to how fast this new drive is when dealing with deep queue depth scenarios.


Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy (set to 1 file depth) and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.




At this point these real world tests don't tell us anything new. The Western Digital 4TB RE has excellent small file performance – with a strong preference towards writes over reads – and the large file sequential file performance is a touch low. Overall this is an excellent drive with good performance potential but it is a touch disappointing at the same time for anyone who needs a more balanced product.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing how drive will behave when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.

Please note: due to the unquie nature of the Seagate Momentus XT it has not been included with these charts as the drive decides what to place on the NAND and keep performance elevated.


Synthetic Test Results
For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.



Real World Results

For a real world application we have opted for our standard Adobe CS5 test.



In some ways these test results don't quite tell the full story. On the surface of things the 4TB RE certainly posts good numbers, and its performance scales fairly well. It is extremely fast when empty, moderately fast at 50% and still posts fairly good numbers when nearly full.

However, since it does have – at the very least – 1TB of additional storage capacity over the other drives, to be truly fair you almost have to skew the results by a full factor and compare the 50% result to the other drives' 75% numbers. When this is done, an apples to apples comparison begins emerging and the RE begins pulling out ahead of the other drives.

To be honest, this drive may lack 1TB platters –which does somewhat hinder its performance– but the RE does have an amazing amount of capacity. In other words ‘quantity has a quality all its own’.
 
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