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NAS HDD Showdown: WD Red vs. Seagate NAS

May 06, 2023

The projected NAS market growth year over year until at least 2016 is incredible. There are several factors involved in the growth. We suspect small capacity size SSDs for operating system drives, the personal cloud products pushing the growth of NAS products for our readers. Either in a notebook or in a desktop, SSDs are the power user's choice for booting the operating system. Notebooks limit expansion options and NAS products fill the mass storage need without compromising system performance.

New cloud features in NAS products give users access to data even when unchained from a home network. Desktop users tend to have more than one device on a home network, and NAS products make it easy to share files with every device including iOS and Android devices.

Everything is falling in line for massive growth of the NAS market and the hard drive manufactures recognize the warning signs. Users no longer care about 10K RPM low latency products for consumer use. They want low power, low cost, high capacity drives with enough enterprise features to ensure data security in RAID environments.

Western Digital was the first to release a NAS specific product, the Red Series. Red was an achievement for Western Digital and a breakthrough product for customers. Many of the features in NASware were ported from the company's enterprise products, yet the price was only a little higher than the company's consumer products.

Not to be outdone, Seagate followed suit nearly a year later with the appropriately named NAS HDD. Seagate's special sauce of NAS specific features, NAS Works also brings enterprise features down to consumer price levels.

We raided Newegg to get a breakdown of features side by side. For this comparison, we're focusing on the largest capacity size, 4TB. Both companies offer smaller capacity sizes as well, but the 4TB capacity size offers the best capacity per dollar.

Newegg didn't list the RPM for either drive. WD hides platter speed behind IntelliPower, but the Red operates at 5,400 RPM. The Seagate NAS spins the platter at 5,900 RPMs.

From a price standpoint, both products are between $210 and $220, depending on your e-tailer preference. Newegg shows the WD Red 4TB at $209.99 and the Seagate NAS at $219.99, at the time of writing.

We found the WD Red 4TB for as low as $198 with Google Shopping and the Seagate NAS 4TB is $199.92 at B&H. That puts both drives on equal footing when it comes to price. Both NAS specific models include a three-year warranty as well.

Both drives are standard 3.5" form factor units.

Looking at the drives, we don't see any physical feature that stands out.

Our NAS test 'system' has migrated to a full 45u rack like what you'd find in a datacenter. There are ten servers that attack the target NAS with 120 Hyper-V installations of Windows 7 64-bit, each with a dedicated gigabit Ethernet port. The systems feed to three Extreme Networks Summit 400-48 switches that link together via Extreme Network's proprietary link cable system. One switch has a two 10GbE Xenpak adapters installed. When testing NAS products with 10GbE capability, the NAS connects to the switch via single or dual 10GbE courtesy of an Intel X520-SR2 installed in the NAS.

This level of testing wouldn't be possible without the help and support from several companies, many of which have little to do with NAS products. We would like to thank AVADirect, Antec, Corsair, GIGABYTE, Icy Dock, Kingston, LSI, Noctua, Rosewill and Western Digital for their much-appreciated support.

The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (NASPT) is a file system exerciser and analysis tool designed to enable direct measurement of home network attached storage (NAS) performance. Designed to emulate the behavior of an actual application, NASPT uses a set of real-world workload traces gathered from typical digital home applications. Traces of high definition video playback and recording, office productivity applications, video rendering/content creation and more provide a broad range of different application behaviors.

The TweakTown Custom 120-client Office Test uses 120 Windows 7 Hyper-V installations and custom software to stress each NAS with traces from Microsoft Office tasks. Both throughput (in Mbits per second) and latency (in milliseconds) are measured.

For this test, we're using a Thecus Top Tower N6850 with an Intel X520-SR2 10GbE Ethernet card. This combination allows us to test at speeds higher than 1000 MB/s in our multi-client test. The single user test system is limited to gigabit Ethernet, the same limitations found in most homes and offices.

RAID 5: Use block-level striping with parity data distributed across all member disks.

HD Video Play - 720p HD stream from Windows Media Player 256kB reads

2HD Video Play - 2x playback

4HD Video Play - 4x playback

HD Video Record - 720p HD stream, 256kB writes

HD Video Play & Record - 1 playback, 1 record simultaneously

2x HD Video Play & 2x Record - 2 playback, 2 record simultaneously

Photo Album - All reads - wide distribution of sizes

Office Productivity - Reads and writes, 1kB & 4kB reads; Mostly 1kB writes

Content Creation - 95% writes; 1k, 4k & little reads; Writes up to 64kB

Directory Copy From NAS - 64kB reads

Directory Copy To NAS - Predominantly 64kB writes, wide scattering under 16kB

File Copy From NAS - 4GB file copy, 64kB reads

File Copy To NAS - 64kB writes

This series of tests show single user performance with I/O coming and going to one PC. We configured the Thecus N6850 with an EXT4 file system, HDD sleep off and used a 10GbE Intel X520-SR2 to an Extreme Networks 400-48T. The client PC then connected to the Extreme Networks 400-48T switch.

The Seagate NAS 4TB outperformed the WD Red 4TB in every single user test with NASPT.

The Intel NAS Performance Tool (NASPT) is an excellent way to determine NAS performance in a single user environment. Any review that only uses NASPT assumes that only a single computer will access the target NAS at one time. We took issue with this method of testing and spent over a year designing, building, programming and finally validating the TweakTown Multi-Client Test.

The test uses Microsoft Office data recorded to traces and played back to the NAS from up to 120 Windows 7 installations (clients). We record total throughput of all clients and average response time per client.

In our custom multi-client test with Office files, the WD Red ramped up throughput faster and peaked at a higher speed. The performance was also steady with a high user count with the Red, but the Seagate NAS started to deliver inconsistent performance halfway through the test.

NCQ Priority Information is a feature not found on the Seagate NAS and we suspect the inconsistent performance with 40+ users is related to this.

Latency holds steady through the range, until we run out of CPU processing power in our Thecus N6850, at roughly 100 users.

Unfortunately, we're not able to point to one product and say it's superior to the other in all scenarios. The Seagate NAS 4TB performed a little better in our single user tests, but the WD Red 4TB stuck back in our multi-client test. Both products cost roughly the same too, so there isn't a significant difference for most use cases.

I'd have to say these two products are equal in almost all aspects. The single user performance is a little better with the Seagate NAS. The higher speed platters give the Seagate NAS an advantage, but the difference is minimal. When playing media on a device from a NAS, the single user tests are moot, since the media plays back at a constant rate, and it doesn't matter if you have overhead until playing more than one media file on multiple devices.

The Western Digital Red 4TB performed a bit better in our multi-client test. I think Red has better cache algorithms and that allowed Red to perform at a consistent rate, closer to what we see with enterprise HDDs.

The next big test for both Western Digital and Seagate will come in capacity. With hard drive pricing back to pre-flood levels, consumers can turn their attention to capacity size per drive and per dollar. 4TB models have become common, but media sizes are increasing. Blu-Ray ISO files are roughly 50GB and 4K content is on the horizon.

Early adapters of 4K media content will burn through a 4-drive RAID 5 array with 4TB drives quickly. This is a scheduled discussion for Storage Visions 2014 in just a few months. It'll be interesting to hear how both Western Digital and Seagate plan to tackle increased data rates and sizes of next-generation media.

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