Hardware review: WD MyCloud EX2100 4TB NAS

WD Mycloud EX2100 (1)

The MyCloud EX2100 is WD’s purpose-built home server that sort of acts as a cloud network when you’re accessing it remotely. It’s a small device about the size of a two-slice toaster, but it weighs a seriously heavy 3.5kg when loaded with two hard drives. If you’re unsure about buying and using a NAS for the first time, then this review is written especially for you.

Technical specifications

Drive type: WD Red NAS-Ware 2 x 2TB

Rotation speed: 7,200rpm

Connectivity: 2 x SATA 6GB/s / 2 x USB 3.0 / 2 x gigabit Ethernet

Warranty: Two-year limited

Benchmark scores and general performance

Test PC: AMD Athlon X3 445, MSI 970 Gaming, 8GB G.Skill DDR3-2133 (1,600MHz), Sapphire Radeon R7 265, Crucial M500 256GB, Corsair VS550, Windows 10 Professional 64-bit build 10586.71

Drive setup: 2TB in a mirrored array, formatted to NTFS (default)

Read speeds: 100MB/s (sequential)

Write speeds: 70MB/s (sequential)

Price and supplier information
Supplier: WD South Africa
Website: www.wdc.com
RRP: R7,599.00

Internally, the EX2100 packs a 1.3GHz Marvell Armada 385 dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM. It has its own storage for the Linux-based operating system, but it takes a rather long time to boot up fully, which leads me to guess that it’s using eMMC memory. It performs most of its functions quite well despite the low-end hardware, and performing software upgrades and moving around the system’s UI is smooth and fluid. The unit I received had two 2TB WD Red NAS drives pre-installed for a total of 4TB of storage space. For R7,600 I would have expected more storage space.

There are two gigabit Ethernet ports at the rear, one USB 3.0 port for connecting an external hard drive to back up the NAS, and a Kensington security slot. At the front, a second USB 3.0 port allows you to hook up a camera, flash drive or other storage device to copy files straight to the system. The EX2100 functions as a Time Machine backup device and as an iTunes server, so Apple products are well supported here.

WD Mycloud EX2100 (3)

Once I’d set up the EX2100, I put it in my network cupboard and closed the door. It’s so quiet that I don’t even know it’s there. The NAS generally stays cool even under sustained load, and I observed a 20 watt power draw while copying over my Steam backups. It helps that there’s a large fan at the rear to manage heat and that the power supply is rated for a 48W system load. I don’t think that frequent, sustained loads will ever create problems.

The performance is quite good for such a small, quiet unit, but there are some limitations due to the drives in use. In the default mirrored setup, I saw write speeds average around 75MB/s while copying files larger than 10MB in size. In striped mode, which offers 4TB of storage space, speeds reached an average of 85MB/s with files larger than 10MB in size, peaking at around 105MB/s in some cases. If this unit had shipped with two 4TB or 8TB WD Red drives, we’d start hitting the limits of the Armada CPU’s throughput because those drives are just plain faster.

WD myCloud EX2100 web interface

Turning to the “smart” features of the EX2100, there’s something for everyone here. You can configure the EX2100 to be a torrent box and it’ll serve your media via Plex Server, although the CPU can’t transcode media on the fly. It can only change the containers of some file types, and everything has to be in MP4 format with AAC audio to play smoothly on just about any device. Playing a looped 720p rip of the final Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer on four devices wasn’t enough to make the CPU sweat, but videos of a higher resolution aren’t particularly smooth.

WD Mycloud EX2100 (2)The MyCloud OS can also act as your own personal cloud. Your files are accessible from outside your local network using proprietary applications, or you can access them through a browser. One nifty feature is a remote backup option to another MyCloud device registered to your WD account, so you can have one of these at home and another at work, and all the data will be synced automatically. WD offers applets which you can download like Dropbox, WordPress and even an anti-virus scanner – they help safeguard your device and extend its functionality. It’ll even work as a camera DVR if you have the right equipment along with the Milestone applet, which is an open-source project to make owning a camera network much cheaper.

Before I boxed up the unit, the final tests I performed were timed manually. The first was to see how long it took to copy data to a “new” drive in a mirrored setup. With only 100GB of data in the array, I ripped out one of the drives, formatted it in another computer, popped it back in its cage and went through the steps inside the EX2100 UI to restore the array. This took a while, and after about 24 minutes the process completed. That shows an average read/write speed of about 70MB/s. Copying over a full terabyte of data would take almost four hours!

The second test was to reformat the system and return it to stock settings. This involves formatting the drives, removing the users set up on the system and restoring the OS to an out-the-box state. This process took around 14 minutes. I’m not sure why it took that long, because there certainly wasn’t a secure erase option for the format, but it completed just fine.

9With good transfer speeds and lots of ways to configure it for your needs, the WD MyCloud EX2100 is a great starter option if you need network storage right this second, but don’t want to fuss over it too much. With such a high price tag though, and with limited media capabilities, I expect most people will use an older PC as a NAS instead.

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