WD My Cloud EX4 review

When Western Digital retired its WD My Book Live consumer NAS range, the replacement WD My Cloud series was originally limited to a single-bay network drive. The ‘cloud’ aspect was promoted to capitalise on the marketing term, as well as spelling out remote-access capabilities that were already in place for the My Book World and My Book Live products.

Adding a multi-disk unit to the range was inevitable, and we have the 4-bay WD My Cloud EX4 as the first RAIDed option; there’s also now a 2-bay EX2 available.

Like Seagate, Western Digital is not noted for its NAS hardware but for its hard-disk manufacturing expertise. But by selling a complete ready-to-go solution incorporating disks and enclosure it should be in a position to undercut anyone selling the components separately.

Here we tested the 8 TB model, featuring four 2 TB WD Red disks, and which sells for under £600. With a quartet of these disks currently costing around £300, that puts the enclosure into £250-300 territory. And indeed, you can buy the diskless EX4 chassis for around £280.

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WD My Cloud EX4 review: Build and design

Unlike the slim white single-bay My Cloud, the EX4 model looks more like a traditional NAS in the QNAP mold, in black metal and plastic. Four disk drawers are easily accessible from the front, although with nothing to lock them in place except some stiff levers. In fact, unlike most NAS enclosures (and excepting Drobo here) the EX4 accepts bare disks into its front slots, where most design have disks loaded first into slide-in caddies.

The My Cloud EX4 is a budget consumer NAS with a low-power processor at the helm. In this case it’s an old Marvell Kirkwood ARM chip, clocked at 2.0 GHz and with but one processor core.

Extra hardware features are limited to two USB 3.0 ports beside the two ethernet ports. Like the Seagate it economises with an external laptop-style mains adaptor, with the same danger of losing data when the little plug is pulled from a powered-up unit. WD also includes a second DC power input, so that if you purchase a second it can be attached to perhaps safeguard against that eventuality.

WD My Cloud EX4 review: Interface

The new admin console that debuted with the original My Cloud is used again here. It’s a tidy and attractive interface, themed in black with easy to navigate tabs for the main areas of interest.

The cloud features allow you to access photos, video and music from an iPad or iPhone. Any remote access on your Mac requires the installation of Java, a serious security threat to any computer, especially for the product’s intended audience of casual users.

Unlike some cloud NAS applications, which allow you to keep a folder synced between different computers like Dropbox, there is little development here of media sharing that’s been offered on consumer NAS units for several years.

WD My Cloud EX4 review: Performance

The My Cloud EX4 wasn’t quite the slowest NAS drive on test here. For big sequential reads, such as copying a Blu-ray or DVD from the drive, we saw it reach 93 MB/s of sustained reads in Blackmagic – about 80 percent of the speed of the best NAS units. And in our second test with QuickBench, the WD could average 107 MB/s read speeds.

Write speed is inevitably where any low-power NAS drive suffers. In both benchmark applications, this WD recorded write speeds of 37 MB/s in the best-case sequential tests. At one-third the speed available to the best units, large-file writes will naturally take three times longer to complete

And when confronted with small files – our 4 to 1024 kB test collection – it wrote to the NAS at only 5.5 MB/s. At that rate, a 500 GB backup of your Mac’s hard drive would take well over a day to complete.

OUR VERDICT

The bundling of hard disks with NAS enclosure by WD is not the bargain it could be. By selecting the cheapest processor and simplest enclosure, compromises have been made that undermine the performance and versatility of the My Cloud EX4. Marketed on its cloud access capability, the EX4 still needs true folder-sync cloud capability, and performance to at least match the My Book Live it replaces.

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