Review: Western Digital's home NAS array

If it were a lot faster it would be great. As is, it's just pretty good.

While RAID 5 isn't exactly the Holy Grail of desktop NAS, it is a very attractive option that combines the speed of striped RAID 0 and sufficient data protection without a humongous loss of storage capacity (as with RAID 1) in the trade. That's what makes Western Digital's ShareSpace NAS array an attractive option. Still you'll need to dig a little deeper to ferret out all that makes up ShareSpace and whether or not it's right for you.

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The WD ShareSpace NAS array

The box is available with either two or four of Western Digital's 1TB Caviar Green drives (WD10000CSRTL). With two drives, you get RAID 0 while four drives nets you RAID 5 (the unit is capable of supporting RAID 0, RAID 1 or RAID 5) as the standard configuration. The box measures about 7.7 inches high by 8 inches long and 6 inches wide.

It will cost you $700 for the two-drive system or $1,000 for the four-drive model at MSRP pricing and that's not as bad as it sounds. The drives themselves have an MSRP of $220, making the 4-drive unit the better buy of the two (at least until retail pricing gets hold of the ShareSpace). Shipped as RAID 0, the 2TB model gives you an easy upgrade path (just slip in the extra drives) without losing your current data.

The "green" drives inside provide solutions to one of the most common problems encountered when piling hard disks in a box: heat saturation. These drives run cool by using nearly 40% less power than a standard hard disk. That's a bonus by itself, but lower power means less heat to dissipate and that allows Western Digital to use slow-speed, nearly silent, fans to provide effective cooling rather than the little hurricanes that would typically be required to move hotter air out of the box.

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Changing out drives is a snap.

Installation is about as simple as it gets: Just run the included CD. You can also elect to install MioNet remote access software or WD's Anywhere Backup application if you so desire. It's all pretty standard and "follow-along." Even accessing the ShareSpace and its options from your browser is made transcendentally simple by the use of action icons that guide you through the tasks. It's obvious that Western Digital's intent is to get you and your ShareSpace working together as quickly as possible.

Don't get your hopes up that you're going to see 4TB. Actually, you'll have access to 2.68TB. The "missing" bytes are those that are dedicated to fault tolerance -- used to keep data about the data you've stored so that if any of the drives should die, everything can be rebuilt using the information that remains. The downside to RAID 5 security is the overhead that it requires to do so.

The ShareSpace attaches via its 10/100/1,000 Ethernet port to your router so you're running hardwired at 1Gbit/sec. (if your router's capable) or at whatever wireless speed you have available. I attached a PC with its own Gigabit LAN port to the router, theoretically connecting the computer and ShareSpace at the fastest speed possible. Then I ran some file transfers, the ShareSpace didn't impress.

Copying my usual basket of 4,661 files (8.05GB) to the ShareSpace took 13.4 minutes. Sending that bunch back to the original SATA drive was slightly faster at 11 minutes. For comparison's sake, transferring that same group of files between two SATA drives inside the PC needed 7.6 minutes and 5 minutes, respectively, and using a USB drive it took 7.7 minutes and 6.8 minutes.

Copying files to the ShareSpace from two PCs is a disaster. I sent about 12GB of data to the ShareSpace from a PC with a 10/100 LAN port router connection. While that was happening, I went back to my original Gigabit-connected PC and copied my test batch to a different shared volume on the ShareSpace. With these multiple accesses occurring, the file transfer that had originally taken 13.4 minutes now crawled along, taking 33 minutes to complete.

To be fair to Western Digital, simultaneous reads from the ShareSpace were uneventful. I had four videos playing (two on wired PCs, two on wireless connections) and there wasn't a hiccup or blip among them. Adding music playback on a fifth PC to the mix didn't seem to matter either -- even though it was Neil Diamond.

My recommendation for the Western Digital ShareSpace is simple: Get the 4TB version, load it down with video, audio, application installations files, drivers -- anything you're going to need for the PCs across your big, hairy network -- and then use it as a data well. That appears to be its best skill. If you just have a two- or even three-node network, that's why there are routers with USB ports to which you can connect a drive and create a poor man's NAS for less money, less security and probably faster access.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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