Western Digital originally launched their Red lineup of hard disk drives for network-attached storage devices back in 2012. The product stack later expanded to service professional NAS units with the Red Pro. These drives have traditionally offered very predictable performance characteristics, thanks to the use of conventional magnetic recording (CMR). More recently, with the advent of shingled magnetic recording (SMR), WD began offering drive-managed versions in the direct-attached storage (DAS) space for consumers, and host-managed versions for datacenters.

Towards the middle of 2019, WD silently introduced WD Red hard drives (2-6TB capacities) based on drive-managed SMR. There was no fanfare or press-release, and the appearance of the drives in the market was not noticed by the tech press. Almost a year after the drives appeared on the shelves, the voice of customers dissatisfied with the performance of the SMR drives in their NAS units reached levels that WD could no longer ignore. In fact, as soon as we heard about the widespread usage of SMR in certain WD Red capacities, we took those drives off our recommended HDDs list.

Finally, after starting to make amends towards the end of April 2020, Western Digital has gone one step further at last, and cleaned up their NAS drive branding to make it clear which drives are SMR-based. Re-organizing their Red portfolio, the vanilla WD Red family has become a pure SMR lineup. Meanwhile a new brand, the Red Plus, will encompass the 5400 RPM CMR hard drives that the WD Red brand was previously known for. Finally, the Red Pro lineup remains unchanged, with 7200 RPM CMR drives for high performance configurations.

WD NAS Hard Drives for Consumer / SOHO / SMB Systems (Source: Western Digital Blog)

While Western Digital (and consumers) should have never ended up in this situation in the first place, it's nonetheless an important change to WD's lineup that restores some badly-needed clarity to their product lines. The technical and performance differences between CMR and SMR drives are significant, and having the two used interchangeably in the Red line – in a lineup that previously didn't contain any SMR drives to begin with – was always going to be a problem.

In particular, a look at various threads in NAS forums indicates that most customers of these SMR Red drives faced problems with certain RAID and ZFS operations. The typical consumer use-case for NAS drives – even just 1-8 bays – may include RAID rebuilds, RAID expansions, and regular scrubbing operations. The nature of drive-managed SMR makes it unsuitable for those types of configurations.

It was also not clear what WD hoped to achieve by using SMR for lower-capacity drives. Certain capacity points, such as the 2TB and 4TB, have one less platter in the SMR version compared to the CMR, which should result in lowered production costs. But the trade-offs associated with harming drive performance in certain NAS configurations – and subsequently ruining the reputation of Red drives in the minds of consumers – should have been considered.

In any case, it seems probable that the lower-capacity SMR WD Red drives were launched more as a beta test for the eventual launch of SMR-based high-capacity drives. Perhaps, the launch of these drives under a different branding – say, Red Archive, instead of polluting the WD Red branding, would have been better from a marketing perspective.

As SMR became entrenched in the consumer space, it was perhaps inevitable that NAS drives utilizing the technology would appear in the market. However in the process, WD has missed a golden chance to educate consumers on situations where SMR drives make sense in NAS units.

For our part, while the updated branding situation is a significant improvement, we do not completely agree with WD's claim about SMR Reds being suitable for SOHO NAS units. This may lead to non-tech savvy consumers using them in RAID configurations, even in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) NAS units such as those from QNAP and Synology. Our recommendation is to use these SMR Reds for archival purposes (an alternative to tape backups for the home - not that consumers are doing tape backups today!), or, in WORM (Write-Once Read-Many) scenarios in a parity-less configuration such as RAID1 or RAID10. It is not advisable to subject these drives to RAID rebuilds or scrubbing operations, and ZFS is not even in the picture. The upside, at least, is that in most cases users contemplating ZFS are tech-savvy enough to know the pitfalls of SMR for their application.

All said, WD has one of the better implementations of SMR (in the DAS space), as we wrote earlier. But that is for direct-attached storage, which gives SMR drives plenty of time to address the 'garbage-collection' needs. It is just that consumer NAS behavior (that is not explicitly user-triggered) may not be similar to that.

Consumers considering the WD Red lineup prior to the SMR fiasco can now focus on the Red Plus drives. We do not advise consumers to buy the vanilla Red (SMR) unless they are aware of what they are signing up for. To this effect, consumers need to become well-educated regarding the use-cases for such drives. Seagate's 8TB Archive HDD was launched in 2015, but didn't meet with much success in the consumer market for that very reason (and had to be repurposed for DAS applications). The HDD vendors' marketing teams have their task cut out if high-capacity SMR drives for consumer NAS systems are in their product roadmap.

Source: Western Digital

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  • haukionkannel - Thursday, June 25, 2020 - link

    Stull own two velocity raptor hds... good stuff, but yeah the price vs speed is not part with lowend ssd any more!
    But both the 150gb and 600gb versions still works like a charm, so They were made well!
  • sandtitz - Thursday, June 25, 2020 - link

    "Raptors were quite common in enterprise up until just a few years ago."

    Perhaps that's a regional thing since I honestly haven't seen Raptors even in the last decade. HP didn't offer Z440 with Raptors, the last model to have Raptors as an option was the first generation Z (Z400), released in 2009, after which they started to offer SSD's instead when Intel et al. had started to commoditize SSD.

    "I really don't know why you were so hostile at unjustly implying ignorance in my post."

    Pardon. Perhaps I was in snarky mood but this forum seems to garner a lot of consumers posting about their experiences with consumer gear, prosumer at best. PEJUman wrote about '10k and 15k drives' which implies SAS drives and your Raptor comment was therefore out of scope.
  • Samus - Friday, June 26, 2020 - link

    Sigh. Not sure where you get this data from. I literally work for multinational corporations that have machines from the last few years with OEM VelociRaptors, specifically Z230 (Haswell/2014) on the low-end of the scale and even HP Z1 G2 AIO's (actually newer than the Z440's I previously mentioned) all have 1TB models (WD1000DHTZ) IN AN ALL IN ONE CHASSIS.

    They are a lot more common than you believe - partially due to traditional IT departments being cautious about constantly evolving SSD technology. That has obviously shifted dramatically in the last 5 or so years as the Z440 and Z1 G2 are the last chassis generations I know of that had them from HP. Lenovo ThinkStations, especially in international markets, had VelociRaptors up until very recently paired with Optane (which was a remarkably good combination for capacity\performance\reliability.) The only reason I believe HP shifted focus away from Raptors in their workstations was to promote their own Z Turbo Drive that by no coincidence launched with the discontinuation of VelociRaptors.
  • sandtitz - Friday, June 26, 2020 - link

    "Sigh. Not sure where you get this data from."

    Sigh, I get them from HP Quickspecs, which list the factory configurations. I too, work with multinational (intercontinental) corps and with/for system integrator. I've been HP for the last 20 years.

    HP had Raptors available as an option, no disagreement there.

    "Seriously, when is the last time you saw a Raptor HDD? I think they capped out at 600GB [...]"
    "[...]all have 1TB models (WD1000DHTZ) IN AN ALL IN ONE CHASSIS."

    Your original statement conflicts greatly with your later reply.

    "HP shifted focus away from Raptors in their workstations was to promote their own Z Turbo Drive"

    WD introduced the final Raptor generation in 2012 and the SATA SSDs trounced them in all benchmarks, except $/GB - and the SSD's were rapidly getting cheaper. Raptors were obsolete.

    I don't think the Z Turbo had anything to do with Raptors' demise since it's in a class of its own and HP still offers 15k SAS drives for workstations if you really need spinning rust.
  • Samus - Friday, June 26, 2020 - link

    Technical type on the 600GB cap. Those were the models most common on CTO's but 1TB drives are in numerous factory configs, and of course available in CTO's.

    Your last statement conflicts with the fact other OEM's were using Raptors with Optane up until recently. I don't think there was a 'demise' or obsolescence in 2012. HDD's still outship SSD's by a huge margin to this day in office PC's.
  • sandtitz - Saturday, June 27, 2020 - link

    "HDD's still outship SSD's by a huge margin to this day in office PC's."

    Any references to back this?

    The few marketshare statistics I could find claim that SSD's are on par with HDD's in number of units sold, though Office PC's are not specifically mentioned. Laptops have been mostly SSD's for several years now, and the desktop procurements I've been involved with have mostly been SSD's since a base 128GB/256GB unit (for example) is inexpensive and quite enough for most office use. YMMV.
  • quorm - Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - link

    Honestly for a small NAS, say 4-6 drives, 5400 rpm drives should easily saturate a gigabit ethernet port (or two).
  • MDD1963 - Friday, July 3, 2020 - link

    ServeTheHome's testing of CMR vs. SMR only showed barely a 10x increase in time required for a rebuild, 11 hours for CMR vs. 120 (SMR) or so.... :)
  • icebox - Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - link

    Why do I have the bad feeling red plus will be more expensive?
  • haukionkannel - Thursday, June 25, 2020 - link

    Ofcourse They Are more expensive, They did use that not so good in nas usage version to reduce prices, that is Also why people did buy those. They did have better price/capasity than previous versions.

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