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Our Verdict

Western Digital proves its still in the HDD race with this excellent high-capacity hard drive.

For

  • High capacity
  • Decent speeds
  • Low sound
  • NAS-specific features

Against

  • Not as fast as some of its competitors
  • Not worth price as a non NAS drive

When it comes to backing up your important data, there's always an argument for more space. Having large capacity drives lets you make full backups of various PCs, as well as safely store huge amounts of files – particularly important if you're a professional photographer, for example.

Even home users will see the appeal of large capacity hard drives, thanks to our habit of taking photos with our smartphones of everything that moves. If you're using hard drives in a RAID array that mirrors data across hard drives (essential for data redundancy in case of any errors or failures), then large capacities are also welcome, as you're essentially halving the capacities you've bought (two 4GB hard drives will only give your 4GB of space in RAID 1, rather than 8GB, for example).

That's why we're so pleased to see hard drives, such as the WD Red, come in large capacities. The WD Red, and the version we're reviewing, comes in capacities up to 8TB, while still remaining the same size and shape as other 3.5-inch hard drives.

If 8TB sounds like a lot of data to trust in one hard drive (and you don't fancy or cannot afford a second one for mirroring), then the good news is that Western Digital has packed the WD Red with NAS-specific features that make it dependable as a backup solution for your home or work network.

Features and Specifications

The headline feature of the WD Red 8TB drive is its large capacity, which used to max out at 6TB. The increase in space is thanks to WD's HelioSeal technology, which uses helium instead of air inside the hard drive case. As helium is lighter than air, there's less resistance when the hard drive is moving, which can make it run raster, and hard drive manufacturers can fit in more platters to increase the capacity of the drive.

The WD Red 8TB also comes with WD's NASWare 3.0 firmware, which allows the WD Red 8TB to be installed in NAS devices with up to 8-bays. Eight bays is a lot of hard drives, and that many hard drives can cause a lot of heat and vibration when running, which is why WD has been at pains to reduce the energy consumption, heat and vibration of the WD Red hard drive.

It can also deal with being constantly used, and comes with RAID error recovery control that can help put your mind at ease when storing your data on the drive. The mean time between failures (MTBF) of the WD Red 8TB is 1 million hours, so failures should be pretty rare. This may be of some comfort to people wary of WD, as Western Digital hard drives (especially 2TB capacities) have notoriously high failure rates. A three year warranty goes some way to assuage fears, but WD has its work cut out for it if it wants to win back customers who eye its hard drives with suspicion.

WD also boasts that the "WD Red is the most compatible drive available for NAS enclosures", and although we've never had a problem with NAS compatibility before with hard drives, Western Digital's close relationship with NAS device manufacturers certainly will have helped here. Sure enough, we installed two WD Red 8TB drives in a QNAP TS-251A NAS bay, and after formatting and installing the NAS software, they performed without problem.

The WD Red 8TB comes with a SATA 6GB/s interface and 128MB cache. This is twice the cache of the 6TB and under WD Red units. As well as 8TB and 6TB, you can get 5TB, 4TB, 3TB, 2TB, 1TB and 750GB capacities.

All sizes run at 5400 RPM, which is a bit of a disappointment when Seagate's IronWolf NAS drives can spin up to 7200 RPM. The trade-off of speed is that vibration, noise and energy consumption are reduced. The WD Red 8TB sells for £300 ($325, around AU$500), which is a fair bit cheaper than the IronWolf 10TB hard drive, which costs £400 ($448.99, around AU$678).

Is the extra 2TB of storage space and RPM increase worth the price hike? That will be your call, but if you're filling up a multi-bay NAS with these drives that price difference will soon add up.

Performance

The specifications of the WD Red 8TB point to a hard drive that values dependability over speed, but does the performance of the drive back up this impression? We ran a number of benchmarks to see.

First of all we put the WD Red 8TB through its paces with the CrystalDiskMark benchmark, which recorded sequential read speeds of 185MB/s and write speeds of 185.4MB/s. These results show what a difference 5400RPM vs 7200 RPM makes, as the IronWolf 10TB hard drive (which spins faster) recorded much more impressive times of 250.2MB/s read and 229.2MB/s write.

If you're looking for a drive that can quickly copy and move files, Seagate's offering appears to be far more compelling. The ATTO benchmarks, which tests the drive's read and write speeds using a series of increasing file sizes, noted scores of 184MB/s read and 176MB/s write, again below the IronWolf 10TB's scores.

While speeds of 185MB/s are slower than the IronWolf, there's still pretty impressive speeds for a hard drive, so don't discount the WD Red 8TB because you're worried file transfers will slow to a crawl. In our real world tests we transferred a 6.5GB file to the WD Red 8TB, which completed the task in an impressive one minute and 38 seconds, with an average speed of 85MB/s. This proves that the WD Red 8TB is still an excellent choice of hard drive for transferring large amounts of data quickly, even if it falls short of the IronWolf's achievements.

One thing the WD Red 8TB had going for it compared to the IronWolf 10TB is that it operates a lot more quietly under load, with the WD Red being almost silent when in use, whereas the IronWolf is more audible when it works hard.

While the WD Red's '3D Active Balance Plus' feature, designed to reduce noise, could be pulling its weight, the slower RPM drive will also naturally lower vibration and noise. Coupled with the energy saving features, the WD Red is a hard drive you can happily leave running day and night without any concern.