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Fantastic drive 12/03/2013
We recently purchased three of these drives for use in a RAID5 array. The performance is exceptionally good for 7200 RPM drives, even outpacing an array of older 10K SAS enterprise disks. In an array, we see over 260MB/s sustained throughput with very low latency. We have quite a few (more than 30!) of the previous WD Black 4TB models (WD4001FAEX). In a similar configuration the old model topped out at 180MB/s throughput with dog-slow latency. Western Digital advertises a 48% performance increase. Our measured 44% gain isn't quite that high, but it is both impressive in and of itself and in array-mode rather than single drive.
The snappy performance of these disks shows in real-world use as well. Booting virtual machines off the WD4003FZEX array isn't SSD-fast, but it certainly isn't the slow process that previous WD drives gave. Performance when hitting the drives with multiple i/o streams is also tangibly quicker. Running an iSCSI target on an array of the previous 4TB drives (or any other SATA disks with less than 10K speed for that matter) dramatically slowed throughput for other applications. The new WD drives still suffer, but with a 1GbE iSCSI connection, the connection speed is the limiter rather than the drives. Overall performance remained acceptable. The only way you are going to do better is to use SSDs or enterprise 15K SAS drives. Either way, you're looking at paying twice as much for a tenth the capacity.
I also installed a single drive in a workstation for diagnostic testing (more below). This gave the opportunity to check for noise levels - not something possible in a screaming storage server. Comparing the disk to the two installed previous 4TB models showed similar noise levels - low for both - but less vibration. In cases lacking isolated drive mounts this should translate into less overall noise.
Shipping hard drives remains problematic for Newegg. We stopped purchasing OEM drives from Newegg some years ago because of the damage incurred from a unprotected disk banging around inside a large box. A sale price on these drives made taking a flyer worth it.
The good news is that Newegg shipped the drives in form-fitting individual air packs. The bad was that the packs still came loosely packed in an oversized box and one antistatic bag had a mangled corner. The corner of this disk was dinged slightly as if it bumped into something during the transfer from the WD 20-pack bulk box to Newegg's cushioned drive bag. This was the drive I put into a workstation to run WD's diagnostics on. No problems found, so not worth the RMA.
These drives are backed by WD's 5-year warranty. We now exclusively use WD for all SATA drives because of their RMA policy. In the case of a failure, WD ships a replacement drive when the warranty claim is submitted rather than after the broken drive is received. You then have 30 days to return the failed drive.
That said, I would hesitate to buy only one of these drives unless your data is safely stored in a second location. Four TB is a lot to lose if and when the drive fails. After only a couple weeks use I obviously can't say anything about reliability other than no DOAs. We currently have close to 250 drives between all our servers and workstations here in the US and in branch locations. We see a failure rate of about 10% in the first 18 months and, on older systems, an additional 10% after 4 to 5 years. Granted, our systems don't live in large, dedicated data data centers with optimal cooling, but the failure rates we see are close to what backup providers report. In other words, plan for failure.
There is also much online hand-wringing over how the WD Black series compares to the RE (Raid Edition) drives. As the name suggests, RE drives are optimized for raid arrays where if a drive goes through extensive error recovery routinizes it will be dropped from the array. That makes perfect sense in hardware raid boxes.
Modern processors have ample horsepower to drive R5 or R6 arrays, and fault tolerant file systems can compensate for a drive going offline momentarily. Most of our data storage (as a commercial photo outfit we have a lot!) resides on Linux boxes with ZFS arrays. Windows now offers REFS for Server 2012. That's where our trio of WD4003FZEX drives resides, serving multiple iSCSI targets for both local and remote workstations.
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