Western Digital releases NAS-ready 6 TB drive: Why this matters

Linus Torvalds has called platter hard drives “spinning rust.” And yet, these drives still appear to be relevant, as underscored by Western Digital’s release of a new 6 TB drive.


Image: Western Digital

Western Digital[1] has announced the release of new, higher-density hard drives in the WD Red series[2] that are intended for use in consumer-grade network-attached storage (NAS) systems.

The specifications

The new 6 TB Red drive from Western Digital is a five-platter design at 1.2 TB per platter, intended for use in NAS systems. The 6 TB version retails at $299, with a 5 TB variant at $249. It spins at either 5,400 RPM or 5,900 RPM, and as per standard, has a 64 MB cache and 6Gbit/s SATA interface. These drives use Western Digital’s NASware 3.0, which the press release[3] indicates allows the new series of drives to be used in “eight bay NAS systems with no negative impact to performance.”

Versions of this drive sans NASware technology intended for use in consumer desktop PCs or as single-disk external drives will again be badged as WD Green, and will be available later this year.

Why this matters

The new WD Red drives represent the usual step forward in the development of platter hard drives — a simple increase in the areal density of the platters in the drive. That is to say, the new generation of WD Red drives does not rely on particularly novel engineering — this is essentially a revision of the same tried-and-true technology that platter hard drives from any manufacturer have used for years.

For comparison, the WD Red competes against the HGST UltraStar He6[4], which was unveiled earlier this year. The He6 uses a complex seven-platter design, in which the platters are encased in helium gas to prevent head collisions, which would be otherwise more frequent when as many platters are placed into one drive. From an engineering standpoint, the feat of keeping helium inside the drive container is a particularly impressive one, as that has been the issue preventing hermetically-sealed drives from achieving pass production in the past. Impressive though it is, the He6 is not kind to those on a tight budget, as it retails for $800.

The competing 6 TB drive from Seagate[5] appears to use Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) technology, which Seagate indicated would be used in products this year[6]. Despite an exhaustive search, no data sheet could be located for the model of drive linked to completely confirm this information. SMR is a relatively new advance in data storage that some enthusiasts are approaching with apprehension; shingled platter drives have slightly slower write speeds, though read access faces no such slowdown. This competing drive features 128 MB of cache, instead of the 64 MB found in the He6 and WD Red drives.

Of particular interest, Seagate’s 6 TB drive has different mounting holes than the conventional standard: the bottom mounting screw holes are slightly further back than is standard, which can be difficult for Mac users. Additionally, the side-mount middle screw holes are omitted entirely, which can cause issues on various PC cases and set-top boxes like the Pivos AIOS[7].

Relevance in the face of solid-state

The commercial availability of 6 TB drives underscores the continued relevance of traditional platter hard drives, despite outspoken industry figures such as Linus Torvalds heralding the death of platter hard drives[8] or, as he calls them, “spinning rust.” At present, solid-state drives are not able to compete with platter hard drives for mass storage at a cost-per-GB standpoint. While solid state and traditional hard drive have different optimal use cases — a live SQL database on a WD Red drive will not see the performance it could if hosted on a solid-state drive — the two will need to coexist for some time to come.

Let us know your thoughts about provisioning data storage and long-term archival backups.

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