A quick look at Western Digital’s latest My Book NAS

Being the “computer guy” among friends and family, I’m often called upon to recover files lost, inadvertently deleted, or swept away by hardware failures. Each time I ask if there’s a backup, and I’m usually greeted by a blank stare or sheepish foot shuffling. No, of course there isn’t a backup. That’s why I’m there.

Unless they’ve already suffered a catastrophic data loss or were lectured about the possibility, most folks simply don’t think to back up their files. I suppose I had the benefit of early exposure to the relative volatility of data. Back in high school, my computer studies teacher used to randomly shut off entire banks of computers to drill home the point that we should always be saving our work to disk. I’ve religiously, and perhaps obsessively, backed up my files ever since. First, it was with removable media: floppies, CDs, and Zip disks. Then I graduated to a dedicated file server powered by my old Pentium II desktop with a whopping 20GB of storage capacity. The server was nothing special, but every night, it automatically ran a batch file that made copies of all my school, work, and personal files over the network. Being attached to the makeshift network in my dorm, the server was also a great way to share files with roommates.

That old file server lasted for years longer than expected. It was eventually replaced with my old Pentium III desktop, which added a mirrored RAID 1 array for extra protection. My server’s storage capacity expanded as well, not just to accommodate more backup fodder, but to house my growing collection of multimedia content.

Today my file server is a relatively modern system running a Pentium E2160 alongside two terabytes of parity-protected RAID 5 storage. In addition to housing multiple backups of my personal and work files, it also hosts my MP3 library, archived BeyondTV recordings, countless digital photos, and all the files I need to keep the Benchmarking Sweatshop humming along. I couldn’t live without it.

Building a file server makes sense for PC enthusiasts who have older hardware lying around, but it’s hardly a practical solution for the average Joe. Pre-built file servers aren’t exactly economical solutions, either. HP’s MediaSmart home servers, for example, start at around $400 with just 500GB of capacity.

Fortunately, network-attached storage solutions can be had for much less than the average file server. These devices aren’t as flexible as full-blown PCs, but they handle the basics: network sharing, backups, and even remote access.

The latest example of the home NAS is Western Digital’s My Book World Edition II. Measuring 6.7″ tall, 3.9″ wide, and 6.3″ deep, the My Book is considerably smaller than the mid-tower server I have stuffed in the laundry room closet. Heck, it’s smaller than most Mini-ITX enclosures, which should make it easy to tuck out of the way, even in a small studio apartment or dorm room.

Encased in glossy white plastic, the My Book is clearly influenced by the styling of old-school Apple designs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although I would have preferred a riff off Cupertino’s more industrial brushed aluminum designs. At least the white finish doesn’t show fingerprints and smudges like glossy black coatings.

The ghostly theme spreads to the drive’s strip of face-mounted white LEDs. Thankfully, the lights emit a soft glow rather than a piercing beam. When the drive isn’t in use, the lights slowly fade in and out, like a slow-motion digital heartbeat.

Around the back of the My Book we find a power button, Gigabit Ethernet plug, USB connector, and power jack. Although this NAS is designed to be attached to a network, the USB port can be used to connect the device to a PC, as well. Users can also expand the My Book’s capacity by hooking up a USB storage device.

Western Digital doesn’t ship the My Book with a USB cable, but an Ethernet cord is included in the box alongside a two-pronged wall wart power adapter. When idling, the My Book’s power draw drops as low as 4.3W. That jumps to 11-13W when it’s connected to a host PC—still considerably less than the draw of even the simplest of Atom-based nettops. The fanless design is quiet, too, with the unit virtually inaudible unless you’re a few inches away.

A top panel swings open to provide easy access to the device’s dual 3.5″ Caviar Green hard drives. Our 2TB My Book was equipped with two terabyte WD10EAVS models with 8MB of cache each. By default, the drives are arranged in a mirrored RAID 1 array, yielding 1TB of protected capacity. RAID 1 makes a lot of sense as the stock config, but users who prefer capacity over redundancy can switch the drive to a striped RAID 0 array or a JBOD config. Western Digital also makes a 4TB My Book with a pair of 2TB Caviar Greens.

The My Book’s underlying hardware may be of interest to enthusiasts, but the software interface and overall ease of use are far more importantto the average consumer at which this little NAS is targeted. I’m a little too savvy to be the best judge of such things, so I had my girlfriend—an average computer user who is easily frustrated by cryptic interfaces—set up the drive as I watched.

The My Book takes about three minutes to initialize for the first time, with the LEDs clearly indicating when the process is complete. WD’s Discovery software neatly handles drive mapping for the My Book’s default public and download shares. Those who wish to tweak the drive’s setup can also dip into a web-based configuration panel that yields control over shares, users, RAID levels, and things like iTunes integration. These multiple management options proved a little daunting for our test subject, who otherwise found the setup wizard easy to use. Fortunately, few will need to alter the drive’s default config.

While watching the configuration process, I noticed that the WD software, and particularly the web interface, isn’t particularly responsive. I expect things to be snappy, and although my girlfriend didn’t describe the interfaces as sluggish, she did click on a few buttons twice when her initial input didn’t trigger instantaneous results.

Next, I had our tester set up WD’s backup software. The installation process went smoothly, although the app’s desire to automatically back up the entire contents of the host PC caused a brief moment of confusion. Creating a new backup job proved easy, with our subject commenting on how well the wizard stepped her through the process. She was particularly impressed with the app’s SmartPicks suggestions, which make it easy to tag things like Office documents, multimedia files, Internet Explorer favorites, and the contents of the My Documents folder for backup without extensive browsing through multiple folders.

The WD Anywhere Backup utility sits in the system tray and consumes less than 10MB of memory. Backups run continuously rather than on a schedule, which should keep things up to date. It’s also possible to define how many iterations of each file a given backup job keeps around.

It only took our test subject a few minutes to set up a basic backup job, which bodes well for the My Book’s usability. Restoring from a backup is just as easy, whether you’re selecting individual files, entire folders, or revisiting the SmartPicks suggestions. The backup app’s interface suffers from the same slight sluggishness as the configuration menus, though.

Those who wish to access the contents of their My Book remotely can do so with just a web browser through MioNet. WD includes basic MioNet drive access with the My Book for free, but you’ll have to shell out for the “premium” service if you want other perks.

Western Digital’s suggested retail price for the 2TB My Book is $400, which is about $200 more than the combined street price of the drives within. The 4TB model will run around $700, or about $220 more than a couple of 2TB Caviar Greens. I look at those price tags and can’t help but picture more robust Atom-based solutions that I could build for roughly the same cost or potentially even less. But those alternatives wouldn’t be as small as the My Book, they’d consume more power, and they wouldn’t be as easy for my parents, girlfriend, or other folks to use, let alone put together on their own.

PC enthusiasts looking for gobs of network-attached storage are probably better off rolling their own server or seeking out solutions with more efficient (at least in terms of storage capacity) RAID 5 support. However, anyone else looking for a simple home storage solution with built-in backup capabilities should have the latest My Book at the top of their list.

Comments closed
    • Snake
    • 10 years ago

    More importantly, besides transfer rates, is a reference to how the USB interface operates. Is it as a hardware USB drive device, or (as happened before) via a network drive mapping via USB Ethernet stack?

    Based upon prior systems with both USB and Ethernet connectivity it will probably be the latter, but technical confirmation (and hopefully speed tests) of both methods of connection would certainly help.

    • Ron Hirsch
    • 10 years ago

    There is substantial info on this NAS device in the July issue of Maximum PC magazine. they also have some speed tests et al.

    It cannot handle NTFS formatted drives, as it, like virtually all home user NAS units use a Linux kernel to function. So FAT 32 is what it uses. It can read from NTFS devices, but it cannot write to NTFS.

    The 2 TB unit is selling on the street for as low as $200+

    • MarkD
    • 10 years ago

    Does or can it run NFS and does it have Gigabit ethernet?

    I have a situation at work if the answers are yes and yes.

    • Bensam123
    • 10 years ago

    The one thing I hate the most about NAS’s besides the price is the fact that you have to install their software to use or even see the device and you can do so much more with a actual computer humming in your closet.

    • Hance
    • 10 years ago

    I had one of the first edition of the My World Book drives. I like western digital stuff but the World Book is absolute garbage. Constant hardlocks never did get it to back anything up. You couldn’t run fast enough to give me this drive..

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 10 years ago

    Soundwave rules!

      • Kraft75
      • 10 years ago

      Agreed! Soundwave should be in all TR photo reviews for size referencing purposes… It would be illogical not to include him in any picture really.

      🙂

    • Dissonance
    • 10 years ago

    WD apparently changed the MSRP for the 2TB My Book just prior to launch. It’ll now cost $400, or $50 more than originally indicated in the review. We’ve updated the text to reflect the new MSRP. The higher price tag doesn’t change our overall conclusions on the drive, though.

    • Vrock
    • 10 years ago

    As you command, Megatron!

    • Machupo
    • 10 years ago

    If this is anything like the previous MyBookWorld incarnations, it’d be akin to a steaming pile of garbage.

    I’ve got an older MBW 1.5TB drive that can’t get above 2MB/sec transfer, no matter what. You can plug an external USB drive in, but there is no file management interface to treat it like a separate drive (for when you just can’t stand the ethernet transfer rates any more and are going to walk a HD across the room). I doubt this one has UPnP support either… last one didn’t, not like it’d be a good idea to add useful features to a product… sigh….

    I’ll stick to my QNAP any day.

    • Thresher
    • 10 years ago

    Anyone know of a good case that will hold an ITX board and 4 harddrives? The ones Newegg has only hold 1 HD.

    • Tarx
    • 10 years ago

    Transfer rate! Transfer rate!
    This is a major item that is missing from the mini-review as already mentioned several times in the comments.

    Can be as easy as to just grab a large file (1GB+) and copy it to the device. Then copy the file from the device to another PC. Obviously over a GB network.

    Transfer rate is often a major difference between these types of solutions and a basic server. If this device can get anything close to a simple (non-RAID) server, I’ll be first in line to get one.

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      The Sweatshop’s still on 10/100 switches, but over a crossover cable to a Realtek-based GigE host, transfer rates on large files are ~15MB/s writing and ~39MB/s reading.

        • mcnabney
        • 10 years ago

        Still pretty lame. My WHS can almost saturate my gigabit switch. Consistantly delivers over 100MB/s (800Mb/s).
        That, and my 12TB server only cost $1400 to-date due to clearly superior Seagate pricing (good firmware). That is $110 per TB total cost versus $200 per TB for the smaller version in this review.

          • shank15217
          • 10 years ago

          Yes it does it at less than 10w as well right?

    • Thresher
    • 10 years ago

    You mentioned several times about building Atom based alternatives, but to my knowledge, none of Atom mobos I’ve seen have built in RAID or even a PCI slot for that matter. How would you go about building an Atom alternative?

    I know several vendors have created Atom based small servers, but I haven’t seen any motherboards that would let me build my own.

    • danazar
    • 10 years ago

    Does this thing power the drives down during idle? I can never really get good information on this.

      • Dissonance
      • 10 years ago

      It does by default. You can disable the standby mode in the config interface.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 10 years ago

    Give me the robot, please.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    Nice little product. A simple test of the transfer rate would be nice, not because stellar transfer rates are a big deal for the target market, but just to know that it is not completely unacceptible.

    I like it’s size and simplicity. I’d potentially pick one up, but I am more inclined to roll my own. The major advantage of this thing is power consumption. Especially to anyone who lives in Cincinnati, where, for some ungodly reason, we pay about twice the national average for electricity, I think.

    Edit, I just looked up Cincinnati rates and the results of my search do not match what is printed on my electricity bill, so: a) disregard what I said about Cincinnati electricity rates; and, b) I’ve got some calls to make and find out what the hell….

    • FireGryphon
    • 10 years ago

    Nice writeup, gets the point across, but the article feels naked without some performance numbers and a comparison to competing products.

    • FubbHead
    • 10 years ago

    I abhor the white shiney look. It’s not that it’s white, I have nothing against eg. the looks of the Xbox 360, but when it’s shiney aswell. It sort of looks cheap and pretentious at the same time. Yuck.

    Which is wierd, ’cause when I was a kid, I thought the Stromtroppers were ultra-cool. 🙂

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 10 years ago

    l[

      • DrDillyBar
      • 10 years ago

      l[

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      g{

        • DrDillyBar
        • 10 years ago

        close, but not quite:

        [the Decepticons try to see who is most fit to take over Decepticon leadership]
        Scrapper: Wait, the Constructicons formed Devastator, the most powerful robot. We should rule!
        Soundwave: Soundwave superior. Constructions inferior.
        Scavenger: Who are you calling inferior?
        Hook: Nobody would follow an uncharismatic bore like you!
        [Soundwave ejects his cassette minions]
        Rumble: Hey, nobody calls Soundwave uncrassimatic!
        Frenzy: Yeah, let’s kick tailgate!
        Soundwave: Rumble, Frenzy, Ravage, Ratbat, Eject… operation interference…

        😀

          • DrDillyBar
          • 10 years ago

          oddly enough, I own the VHS of this movie. After checking, Soundwave doesn’t even say that last line at all, they just start fighting… :S

    • wibeasley
    • 10 years ago

    How much does the “premium service” cost? (mentioned in the third-to-last paragraph) The same as MioNet usually costs (i.e., $80/year -http://www.mionet.com/get/buy.aspx)? Or do My Book customers get a packaged discount, or something like that?

    If someone was going to build their own NAS instead of using this, what backup software is suggested?

    Edit: I missed Adi’s suggestion for FreeNAS. Any others?

    • adisor19
    • 10 years ago

    Ya no. FreeNAS .7 RC1 is out and it’s begging for a spare old computer and a little ZFS RAID-Z action 😀

    Adi

      • Kurotetsu
      • 10 years ago

      Right, because a spare old computer with FreeNAS is just as small and just as portable and just as easy to use as the MyBook NAS right?

        • Freon
        • 10 years ago

        A small and portable NAS is like a small and portable clothes dryer. Why would you buy based on that? I don’t get it. Hide the thing in a closet…

        I suppose I understand power consumption, but I’m doubtful of ROI. Even $150 premium will take a long time to pay off compared to an old computer. Heck, you could even underclock it to gain some of that back.

        Not to mention an old PC has much more general utility and expandability. You can run Media Center or Home Server, run FTP server software, double use it as a HTPC, web server, etc.

          • Kurotetsu
          • 10 years ago

          Regardless of whether you think its useful, its small size is an advertised feature. Heck, Techreport feels its worth pointing out, otherwise they wouldn’t bother comparing the unit to a Transformers action figure. Also:

          l[

    • JdL
    • 10 years ago

    This article is useless without transfer rates, ethernet speeds, even a specs table!! Come on…

      • FubbHead
      • 10 years ago

      Yeah, a little more testing would be nice.

      • potatochobit
      • 10 years ago

      i think its the same as previous books, I only see USB and ethernet
      and it is using those green drives

    • potatochobit
    • 10 years ago

    is being able to open MYBook like this new? I didnt know they could do this, I like it.

    • Klopsik206
    • 10 years ago

    Can it be accessed directly without Mionet?

    • Pax-UX
    • 10 years ago

    Soundwave is looking awesome as ever, you should get you’re self one of these… §[< http://www.flickr.com/photos/28507814@N06/3622999879/<]§

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago

      He needs one of those anyway – the Music Label Soundwaves have SD slots and play back MP3s.

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