Top positive review
Nifty little prosumer NAS (4-bay)
November 3, 2017
This review is for the WD EX4100 (4-bay), as Amazon has decided to merge reviews for the 2-bay and 4-bay.
Edit: After 6 months of use, I have the following information to add:
1. The "drive failure" notice appears for drives without disks inserted. This can be mitigated somewhat by scheduling periodic downtime.
2. The write speed is (obviously) still limited by the HDD you use and your network connection.
3. WD documentation is still less than stellar and they still over-rely on group support boards.
4. To enable dual-bonding on the gigabit ports, enable 802.3ad.
5. You should not be utilizing older/personal drives. The WD RED 5400 RPM drive is likely going to be your best choice for the drive due to stability/longevity compared to the 7200 RPM version - unless of course you choose to go with the WD Black instead.
6. Again, the "EX" in the "EX4" stands for "Expert". It is supposed to be an indicator for those less technically-inclined that this is a bit more than a "plug-and-play" solution.
First and foremost: This device is not as straightforward as some other types of devices designed towards the home user. You will need to dedicate time and brainpower to setup and management of any Enterprise Solution that you buy (hence the product featuring the use of EX for Expert). If you like everything to work without you doing anything more than pushing the "next" button on an install wizard, this is not for you.
I decided to purchase this Network Attached Storage after running a spare PC as a media server for a while. I purchased a WD Red 8TB drive separate as it was cheaper than the bundled version of the EX4100 with 2 4TB drives. The max storage handling for this solution is 32TB, or 4 8TB drives. I decided to run JBOD for the time being, with a separate backup for critical files.
Included in the box is a setup guide that is effective for about 15 seconds. The expectation is that you (the person setting it up) will navigate to WD's website to access proper setup guides. As far as the actual setup, it's not too complicated: Insert drives; power on (takes a minute to initialize); access control interface via a computer on the local network; configure RAID (even if JBOD); format drives; setup "shares" for file storage; and access the shares via network discovery on your computer.
One issue that I had was a ticking sound from the hard drive every 5 seconds. According to WD's website, this is normal for their enterprise drives in standby mode. Their drives are rather noisy (although most Enterprise systems are, to be fair;) and this may impact where you wish to place the device.
You will need to wire it in to your router (assuming you are using a home router/switch/WAP combo). A CAT-5 cable ("Network" or "Ethernet" Cable sold in stores) can support 10Mbps transfer easily, but 100Mbps is not so likely if the cable is longer than a certain distance (or if you forget to account for TCP overhead). With the cable I am using, I see ~90Mbps transfer. This translates to ~11MBps, which is important to consider as files are measured in Bytes, not bits (8 bits a Byte; a 700MB file is 5,600Mb). There is an included Gigabit cable, although it is (by necessity) ~3 feet long. This calculates to 125MBps, but one needs to still consider all other legs of transport for speed. For a car analogy: A Bugatti Veyron will not be able to travel at 200mi/h while in gridlocked traffic.
If you have a lot of files that you plan on transferring from an external device (such as a portable HDD) onto the NAS, I recommend connecting the device to the USB drive on the front of the NAS. Next, you should navigate to the control panel via your computer. Use the "backup" function to have the NAS copy files from relevant folders within the external device into the location on the NAS that you want them to reside. This way, you don't have to utilize your network nor computer to have the files copy. The "backup" function is also a way to setup an automatic backup of critical files to another location, should you choose to utilize this function. For regular use where you are copying small files a few at a time, use of the fileshare (via Network Discovery on your computer) works well.
My biggest concern with the device is actually with it's control interface. The default interface is port 80, and does not support port 443 (HTTPS) connections. This includes the login function and device administration. You can enable SSH once you have setup the device; but that doesn't change the aforementioned issue. The interface will also allow you to attempt to do things that could be predicted to fail, such as trying to install Plex Media Server if you have no drives configured (hangs at 98%). The page does have a timeout function, which is nice. Still, I would not recommend this device for a true Enterprise solution.
For Plex users: This device does decently with direct stream. If your files are .mp4 (the MP4 container) or .mkv and using H264 (video playback) or H265 (HVEC) and AAC, MP3, or FLAC for audio, you should be able to play the file well. .avi (AVI container) is not supported by the Plex client (as it costs money for the license), nor is DTS passthrough, so the Media Server will try to transcode it. The EX4100 is not powerful enough to transcode, so you cannot play such files if using this device as the server. You can use a more powerful device (such as your computer) as the server, and host the files on the NAS; or use a tool such as Handbrake to convert the files to a direct play format.
Overall, I like the product. I think it does a decent job at balancing Enterprise capabilities with home-use requirements. The cost of the device, initial setup requirements, lackluster in-box documentation, and lack of standard network security protocols are the biggest issues that I see with this device.