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Western Digital SE 4TB Hard Drive Review (Single and RAID)

AkG

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With ever increasing pressure being brought to bear on the Enterprise storage marketplace, even firmly entrenched manufacturers are being forced to innovate like never before. The new $295 SE 4TB shows that Western Digital up to the challenge and ready to take an even larger portion of the enterprise market share.


In previous generations most HDD manufacturers tended to take a ‘one size fits most’ approach to their entry level Enterprise clientele with a single model being expected to cover everyone’s needs. For Western Digital it was their Raid Edition (or RE) model. Last year, when the RED series was introduced they further split this category into two distinct groups: RAID and NAS.

The current generation continues this expansionist trend by changing from a single or even doubly category to a truly multilayered approach. Western Digitals’ new Datacenter / Enterprise lineup consists of a currently unannounced SSD alongside their XE HDD, followed by the ‘tier 2’ RE offering and the aforementioned SE. Supposedly, additional models filling out the lower price brackets will be announced in the coming months as well. All in their entire lineup will be one that offers a top-to-bottom solution for professional consumers.


As this new naming scheme suggests, the all new SE is not expected to be compete directly with the RE line. Rather than being direct competition for the RE, the SE is meant to fit into the wide gap between the enterprise grade RE series and the mass market RED products. Specifically, the SE is better suited to consumers who need an optimal blend of performance, capacity and value than other models can offer.

To accomplish this task the SE’s design philosophy is all about “HDD Scalability” and is meant for scenarios where final capacity levels have fluid and easily to adjustable as time goes on. In other words the Scalable Edition has been tailor-made for larger 6-24 bay Network Attached Storage devices, SQL Database servers and other tasks where sheer performance takes a back seat to flexibility and scalability.


To some, a 4TB Scalable Edition may make the more expensive RE look like an overpriced option but that isn’t necessarily the case. Western Digital’s goal here is to continue a strict market to market segmentation so products from one area don’t overlap those from another. With a 1.2 million hour MTBF rating, extended factory testing and many other features specifically target enterprise clients, the RE will remain the go-to option for datacenters and other mission critical environments. Meanwhile, the SE may have slightly more pedestrian runtime figures but it should still be the perfect option for entry level enterprise scenarios where six to a maximum of twenty four drives are all that’s needed.

As with the 4TB RE, Western Digital has once again foregone the use of 1TB platters for this massive drive. Rather than requiring a quartet of platters to hit the impressive 4TB mark, the 4TB S.E 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.

From the exterior there is very little to differentiate the SE and RE versions other than the label. Both use the same 3.5” sform factor, both use silver with black highlights and both even use a similarly sized PCB. Internally, the SE and RE are also simp;ar as they both make use of Western Digital’s enterprise-centric hardware including StableTrac, RAFF, multi-axis shock sensors, and Dynamic Fly Height Technology which adjusts the read / write heads’ fly heights in real time for increased reliability and reduced risk of ‘cow belling’.


Western Digital may not have bestowed 1TB platters upon this drive but they have given it dual actuator technology, 64MB of cache, and a Marvell dual core controller. The 64MB of cache is present in the form of a single Samsung K4T51163QJ-BCE7, 64MB DDR2-800 IC which has 6-6-6 timings. There are also accelerometers and pressure sensors attached to the PCB, which –with some advanced algorithms- creates Western Digital’s Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward (RAFF) technology. Much like on the more expensive RE series, 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.

 
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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 Intel DC S3700 800GB 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 such as OS startup, Firefox reload and data transfer times. For data transfer 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 formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

For all RAID testing an LSI MegaRaid 9240 was used; however all drives attached were configured as JBOD and MS Windows 7 built in drive management tools were used to create the RAID array.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory:
8GB Corsair Vengeance "Blue" DDR3 1600
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, Intel 910 800GB
SAS Controller: LSI MegaRaid 9240
Power Supply: XFX 850
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HD Tune Pro was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these storage devices. 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.


Please note: Due to the way HD Tune tests write performance we were unable to test any drives in RAID configuration as such they have all been left out of this chart.

As with the previously tested Western Digital RE 4TB series, the new SE 4TB has very, very good read and write performance. In single and RAID configurations, the small differences between the RE’s and SE’s single queue depths sequential file performance is rather minor. While Western Digital’s continuing reliance upon lower aerial density platters does somewhat handicap the SE’s performance as much as it does the RE, this is not overly concerning. The enterprise marketplace is extremely conservative in nature and the older generation of platters is a tested and proven design.
 
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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.



As with the sequential file performance, the SE posts some downright great read & write performance curves. While the numbers are slightly lower than those of the RE 4TB, they are much smoother in their transition from small to larger data sizes. When dealing with small file sizes the difference in performance is negligible and it is not until the 2KB file size on read and 8KB on write that any difference would be even noticeable.

It is also worth noting that this drive is not meant for single drive use; rather it has been designed with RAID arrays and multi-drive scenarios in mind. In these type of scenarios – and just like the RE - the SE scales just as smoothly as its single drive results. Of course the performance numbers are not nearly as impressive as the Seagate 3.5 HDD Data Center 4TB (AKA Constellation ES.3) but that drive is meant to compete with the RE rather than its frugally priced sibling.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7 / AS-SSD

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.



Once again the SE’s numbers are very good in single and dual drive RAID configurations. Thanks to its dual aperture arm and dual core controller it once again comes very close to the RE’s level of performance. The moderate reduction in read and write performance is neither here nor there as this is still a relatively fast drive at a great price.


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.



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.



As with all other test results, the AS-SSD SE 4TB posts respectable numbers here. It may indeed be close to the RE 4TB, but the lower aerial density of its platters does hinder performance when compared against Seagate’s latest offerings. On the positive side the SE does outperform the latest Black edition so while it is lower-placed than a ES.3 or even RE, this rather interesting blend of performance and price makes for a very persuasive argument.
 
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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.



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!


While we doubt many Western Digital SE 4TB buyers will ever use these drives in a typical OS setting, the SE does do a rather admirable job at acquitting itself.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER Test Suite

IOMETER: Our Standard Test Suite


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 device (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,32k,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 and workstation environments.


At nearly all queue depths the SE 4TB in single and simple RAID configurations responds very much like its RE 4TB sibling. At deeper queue depths however, performance does fall off faster and in a more pronounced fashions. This is unfortunate but not all that unexpected as the firmware has been refined for different -and less demanding – scenarios than the RE.


IOMETER: File Server Test


To test each drive we ran 6 test runs per device (1,4,16,64,128,256 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 6 subparts were set to run 100% random, 75% read 25% write; testing 512b, 4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 6 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 6. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for file server usage.


For the most part these scores are fairly decent if somewhat uninspiring. Unfortunately we are seeing a significant drop in performance at ultra-deep queue depths. Instead of the expected plateauing of performance the SE actually exhibits a noticeable drop off. This leads us to the rather obvious conclusion that the SE is not intended for heavy duty file server environments. While the SE is more reasonably priced it is not a better value than the RE for these types of scenarios. Even at lower queue depths this difference in multi-drive performance would make the SE a less than optimal choice here.


IOMETER: Web Server Test


The goal of our IOMeter Web Server configuration is to help reproduce a typical heavily accessed web server. The majority of the typical web server’s workload consists of dealing with random small file size read requests.

To replicate such an environment we ran 6 test runs per device (1,4,16,64,128,256 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, 95% read 5% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,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 web server environments.



Considering Web Server storage duty is one of the main priorities of this new series it comes as no surprise that its performance gets significantly better in dual drive mode compared to single drive scenarios. In a simple RAID configuration, instead of flat-lining like the single drive’s results, we get very consistent performance increase across all queue depths. Considering the difference in price between the RE and the SE is rather significant, the minor difference in performance would make it hard to justify the RE’s additional expense in this area.


IOMETER: Email Server Test


The goal of our IOMeter Email Server configuration is to help reproduce a typical corporate email server. Unlike most servers, the typical email server’s workload is split evenly between random small file size read and write requests.

To replicate such an environment we ran 5 test runs per drive (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 3 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 3 subparts were set to run 100% random, 50% read 50% write; testing 2k,4k,8k, size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these numbers add them together and divide by 3. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for email server environments.



Once again the SE provides very reliable and consistent performance which is almost comparable to the more expensive RE series at lower queue depth. However, the performance does worsen faster than the RE or Seagate ES.3 as the test goes on.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable / 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.




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 and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.




Both test results are admirable given the value orientated nature of this new drive. Western Digital has been able to create an excellent ‘jack of all trades’ drive it seems, with a price to performance ratio which is easily one of the best we have seen from any large-sized Enterprise grade drive.
 
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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.


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.


It is unfortunate that Western Digital has once again opted for lower aerial density platters for their new SE series. The end result is a rather noticeable and precipitous drop off in performance as free capacity decreases.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


The past year has been one of rapid transition for Western Digital as they’ve been forced to adapt to an increasingly competitive storage market. With the price of NAND dropping, even spindle-based storage’s enterprise market safe haven has been under assault. To better adapt to these new realities, Western Digital has introduced a number of new hard drives, among them the so-called Scalable Enterprise series.

If anything, the SE demonstrates why one drive series is no longer capable of acting like a one-size-fits-all solution. Western Digital relied on their RAID Edition models to fill their enterprise-based product stack but as the storage market has matured, different sub-categories have become evident. With that in mind, the SE outperforms their RED drives but is slightly outclassed by the more expensive RE series. This middle of the road approach couldn’t have been accomplished any better.

The need for large capacity, reliable, scalable reasonably price storage solutions is growing at a breakneck pace. However, many scenarios just don’t call for the level of performance offered by the RE drives and enterprise customers avoid mass-market drives like the RED series since they don’t offer high level fail safes for mission critical data. The SE has stepped into this void by offering excellent, affordable performance in multi drive setups and it has the ability to scale in a nearly linear fashion should more capacity be needed sometime down the road. This makes it a nearly perfect solution for its intended audience.

By combining the best of both the RED and RE series of drives Western Digital has created an Enterprise grade storage device whose sum is greater than its parts. Just like the RE, the SE has been built using Enterprise grade standards and components, but it comes in at a price range which is budget friendly. The SE may never out compete the RE series on raw throughput, or the RED on value, but its unique blend of characteristics will give consumers that much needed middle ground option. For those times when neither the RED nor the RE are a perfect fit, the SE’s increased flexibility and versatility will make it highly competitive option.

 
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