Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II Hard Drive 6TB
by Shawn Barnett
We spent a little time with the Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II, a dual drive in a single box, and came away impressed with both its simplicity and grace under fire. We didn't just copy some files around and measure its speed, but made the drive fail and watched it rebuild itself, fully recovering all its data. Intended primarily for the Macintosh platform, the My Book Studio II comes formatted for Macs, but it can also be used for Windows and Linux computers (Note that computers running Mac OS Tiger and older, plus Windows 2000 and XP computers don't support drives larger than 2TB). I'll briefly go over why you'd want a My Book Studio Edition II hard drive, but feel free to skip a few paragraphs to The Drive below if you already know.
As digital cameras capable 12-24 megapixels and Full HD video continue to grow in number, both photographers and ordinary family archivists are faced with a challenge: How do we reliably store our photographs and videos so they'll be available in the future?
For a short time, the removeable optical storage offered by DVD was the logical answer, but those shooting RAW and RAW+JPEG and video of any kind have found their hard drives brimming with files and folders that are far too large for DVDs. As robust and cheap as DVDs are, they're still vulnerable to fading over time, just like all other media. So it's gradually become more clear that the new standard for long term storage is hard drives. To avoid obsolescence and data-fade we have to periodically buy newer, larger drives and copy our old data onto the new drives.
Hard drive docks are an option, because they allow you to use bare hard drives and swap them out, creating multiple copies of your data across two or more drives. This is a good solution, if a little risky having a desktop strewn with bare hard drives, but unless you have a lot of experience, it's hard to set these up as a RAID for simple redundant storage.
That's the advantage of a My Book Studio II Hard Drive, now available as large as 6 terabytes. As I'll soon explain, try to think of it more as a 3-terabyte drive, though, because that's where its maximum value truly lies.
The Drive. The My Book Studio II drive is an attractive, silver, book-shaped drive unit. Its outer shell is plastic, but it has some serious heft. There are ventilation slots and dots, reminiscent of a Morse code pattern, on the top, bottom, and rear of the book, and an LED array on the front, shaped much like the longer slots, and several light patterns "play" in the space depending on what the drive is doing at any given moment.
Four rubber feet hold the My Book Studio II above the desk, allowing air to flow in from all sides. The two 3TB drives are mounted vertically, ports down, and air rises through the case via convection, cooling the drives as it operates. Though it is shaped like a book, I don't recommend setting the My Book Studio II in a bookcase, or too close to other drives; and certainly not in amid a bunch of books. Cooling is important, even with these special WD GreenPower drives, so you should make sure there's reasonable airflow around each drive. It's an attractive case that looks good standing next to any computer.
Connectivity. It becomes more clear that the My Book Studio II is made for Mac when you see the port array on the back: two FireWire 400/800 ports, eSATA, and USB 2.0. As no Macs currently support USB 3.0, it's pointless to include the standard in this particular drive. The My Book Studio II also came out roughly during the debut of the USB 3 standard, when we first reviewed the drive in 2008. The continued lack of adoption at this point makes sense, as it seems clear that Apple's going to be promoting the Thunderbolt port standard to replace FireWire.
The My Book Studio II comes with USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 ports, plus a FireWire 800-to-400 adapter cable, but no eSATA cable. Power is supplied by a medium 36W wall-wart transformer.
Software. The Studio II comes with a single software disk that includes three programs for Mac: WD Drive Manager, WD Anywhere Backup, and WD+Turbo drivers. For Windows, the disk contains WD Anywhere Backup, Memo AutoSync, WD Mionet, and a utility to copy the application software to the hard drive. Since we only tested the Studio II with a Mac, we'll only briefly cover the Mac versions of the software, as it's very simple.
Configuring. The first decision to make after you unpack and install your software and My Book Studio II drive is how you'll configure it. Even though it's made for Mac, you can format it for PC, for greater compatibility in a mixed home or office setting, as I have, or you can dedicate it to your Mac drives.
Next, you have to decide whether to run the Studio II as RAID 0 or RAID 1. I'll have to back up for those unfamiliar with the concept of RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. Operating several inexpensive disks in various forms of RAID allows for larger volumes and/or protection against data loss due to drive failure.
The My Book Studio II supports only two of the RAID standards. RAID 0 (zero), as it comes pre-configured out of the box, combines the two physical hard drives into one large volume, in the case of our review unit, a 6TB volume. The advantage to this arrangement is obvious: you have one big monster drive to store a huge amount of data! Depending on your connection speed, data can be transferred faster as well, because the controller can read or write separate streams of data to each drive simultaneously, making it a good drive to use as a Photoshop scratch disk, for example. But of course there's a disadvantage: because the data is spread between both drives simultaneously, if one of the drives fails, all your data is irretrievably lost. Which is why I said most users would do better to think of the My Book Studio II as one, considerably more secure, 3TB drive.
That's what you get if you format the Studio II drive as RAID 1. The controller in the box writes the same data to both drives at once. If one of the drives fails, you need only buy a new WD GreenPower drive of the same size, replace your dead drive, and the Studio II will begin to duplicate itself back onto the new drive. According to Chris Karr of Western Digital, it can take up to 24 hours to copy the data between the drives, depending on how full the drives were at the time of failure.
That would be my preferred way to use the drive, reducing the number of disks on my desk, and adding a sense of security to my storage strategy. But that doesn't mean it's the right way. If you're using the drive as a scratch disk for video or large volumes of photos, and they're backed up elsewhere, using the Studio II as RAID 0 is a great idea, especially if you have an eSATA interface card.
Switching among the four formatting options is pretty easy on a Mac, taking at most 40 seconds to reconfigure the drives from one mode to another. In a Windows environment, reviews we've read say it takes a lot longer to make the switch, as much as 20 minutes; I cannot confirm this.
Monitoring. Installing the included software adds two icons to the Status bar, both identical WD logos: one for Drive Manager, the other for Backup. Clicking on the first opens a pull down with two items: About WD Drive Manager and a listing of installed drives. Hovering over each drive offers a flyout menu that shows Used Space, Temperature Condition, and RAID status. It also allows launch of the WD RAID Manager, with which you can check the status of the Studio II or change its formatting.
Above you can see the data shown: Used space, temperature condition, and status. It's probably better that they don't show the actual temperature, as that might alarm some users. It's all very simple, which is good, because most of the hard drives I use require no software at all.
Speed. When I first got the drive, I just plugged it in without the software and began testing its speed. When I finally installed the software, I noticed that the instruction poster neglected to mention installing the WD+Turbo drivers. It seems these aren't required, but can speed up operation of some drives on some computers. Most Macs have an Apple-proprietary driver that will work just fine with the Studio II. In my before and after tests, I saw no speed difference, but my desktop icon for the drive changed to a more distinct My Book icon, making it easier to distinguish from other drives on my desktop.
I copied a lot of files all over the place between my MacBook Pro's hard drive, and several FireWire and USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 drives. Transferring between external drives yielded slower performance, around 32 megabytes per second (MBps), even FireWire 800 to FireWire 800; indeed, the drive I had attached via USB 3.0 through my 2.0 ports was faster, about 34.5 MBps, but that was likely due to the 7,200 RPM drive I had in that dock. Moving files between the MacBook Pro's internal hard drive and the My Book was faster than other options.
It was interesting that the RAID 0 speeds were identical whether reading or writing, and that USB 2 RAID 1 was faster reading than writing, while FireWire 800 RAID 1 was faster writing than reading. Not much to draw from it, mostly because these speeds are fairly slow. Because we got faster numbers the last time we tested the My Book Studio II, I'm inclined to believe it's the slower bus on my MacBook Pro 13 inch 2010. Tough to say, but your results will vary. The drives are capable of reading or writing 140MBps each, so I'm willing to bet the Studio II can get a lot faster, especially with an eSATA connection, which is essentially straight to the motherboard on most computers.
Backup. The Studio II also comes with backup software, which surprised me considering the effectiveness of Apple's Time Machine. I asked the folks at WD why they included the software for Mac in particular, when the basic design of WD Anywhere Backup is so similar to Time Machine. They pointed out that OSX Tiger didn't include Time Machine, so this makes up for that, allowing My Book users to have a feature not offered by Apple for that older OS.
Notwithstanding its similarity, Anywhere Backup can also run concurrently with Time Machine, so if you're looking for a little redundancy in the area of system backup, that's also certainly a way to go.
I installed the software, but once I saw it was only doing what I already had with Time Machine, I removed it. Removing the protected partition with the backup on it was a little more difficult, so it's clear the data is well protected.
Demeanor. The My Book Studio II was well-behaved on my desktop, not attracting undue attention unless I was writing to the drive, and it was quiet and cool most of the time. When I was moving many gigabytes of data, a warm breeze would emanate from the top, but the sides and front always remained only slightly warm to the touch.
After ejecting the drive from the Mac OS desktop, powering the unit down is as easy as draping your fingers over the back and pressing the first and only button you find. If you use the top FireWire cord, that's right there to stop your search, just press momentarily. In the CNet review I read, the reviewer said that the drive powered down every 10 minutes, something that didn't happen to me at all. That might be a bug when used with Windows, or else an individual problem with that review unit. The drives remained humming quietly and cool while I had them mounted, always ready to be used.
Servicing. Of course you hope it never happens, but should a drive fail, you'll want to know whether the My Book Studio II is easy to service. That's a qualified yes. There's one minor hardware bug that will flummox the timid, and that's the first step in opening the drive. Other than that, it's quite easy.
After you unmount, power down, and unplug the Studio II, you set it on its four feet in front of you on a flat surface. Right in the center of what would be the spine of an actual book, just about 3/8 inch back from the front, is the momentary release latch. You have to press here to release the latch. A simple, non-plastic-stressing press will not do it. You have to push harder than you feel comfortable about doing to a $500 piece of computer hardware. Just as Karr assured me, it's perfectly fine, just press harder than you think you should, the plastic will bow slightly upward, then release and it will pop open. In the case of my drive, I had to press hard enough that it seemed like I would dent the plastic underneath, and my thumb turned quite white in the effort. But it did eventually release the lid, which swung up toward the back.
A small wire bail lifts up allowing you to turn the screw that must be undone. This releases the metal plate that holds the two drives down into their sockets and serves as a pass-through heatsink. Once this is removed, grasping a plastic loop and pulling firmly upward releases each drive from each bay. I removed both drives and they came away just fine, and settled back into place with firm pressure. Testing this feature of the Studio II increased my confidence in the design, because it's not insubstantial, despite its plastic outer shell, and it's not really difficult to change the drives either. Note, I found it easier to change the drives after I let them cool for a few minutes, as the drives are harder to remove when hot thanks to metal swelling.
3TB WD GreenPower replacement drives are currently running between $150 and $200 online, which isn't too bad. Mission critical users should consider keeping at least one of these drives on hand, and continue watching for prices to hit rock bottom, as they usually do.
WD's Chris Karr also assured me that though the drives can get hot, which you find out if you open the case soon after shutting it down, they don't exceed the temperature limits easily. I can vouch for the cooler state of these drives compared to my 7,200 RPM models, which can get pretty toasty.
Works well enough! But because I can't leave Well Enough alone, I decided to test what happens if a drive fails. I opened the Studio II and removed Drive A, attempting to format it on another system. I was unable to get another Mac to recognize the drive, so I turned my attention to the Studio II with only one disk inside. I got an error message right away, and when I checked the status via the WD manager, the flyout menu said the RAID condition was Degraded. Opening the WD RAID Manager indicated the jig was up: it told me I had removed Drive A, and I should replace it.
Replacing the drive set the Studio II into Rebuild mode; I'm not sure if just starting the unit with the drive out prompted the rebuild, or if something was damaged when I tried reading the drive from another computer, but I was happy with the result. The LEDs on the front of the drive rose from bottom to top like a bolt of fire up a Jacob's Ladder, and the light gradually grew until it was a band of dark rising in amid the light, telling me the rebuild was getting closer to finished.
Both before I replaced the drive and after while it was rebuilding, the My Book Studio II's "good" drive was still available and worked plenty fast. I didn't do any torture tests, but I was able to open files and look around without noticeable delay.
Rebuilding the drive, with about 665GB onboard, took about 11 hours. Afterward, everything worked just fine, no sign of a problem, and no hint that anything was ever wrong. I'm glad I ran the test, because it increases my confidence in a drive system like this. No RAID system is perfect, and RAID 1 is comparatively simple protection that guards against only fairly straightforward drive failure, but I needed to know that this wasn't just a pretty desktop accessory, and this test gave me reasonable assurance that if one of the two drives fails, the My Book Studio II can rebuild all of its data. I could do the same by maintaining two separate drives via my dock system, but why bother when copying files to the My Book Studio II does it automatically?
Available for about $500 at Amazon.com and other fine sites, the My Book Studio II 6TB serves your ever-expanding storage needs with speed and/or redundancy, and is simple enough to use that you can focus on your art and family.
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