Picking A Hard Drive For Your NAS: New Green Beats Old Speed

Even a few years ago, enabling easily-accessible storage space on your home network was a cumbersome exercise. The simplest way to go was probably taking old, leftover hardware and building a minimalistic server with sufficient storage capacity and using some preferred flavor of Linux as the OS.

With this being the case, Samba, the open source interoperability suite that adds Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, was needed for Windows computers to be able to access the server. Luckily, those days are over. Today you can buy ready-made NAS servers that satisfy the needs of the home office (or even small companies). Some come with storage built-in; others give you the opportunity to pick your favorite hard drives.

NAS Devices for the End User

For a while now, storage companies like LaCie, Promise, QNAP, Synology, Thecus, Western Digital, and even Intel have been offering network attached storage devices that are easy to configure, targeting small home and office audiences discussed above. Those NAS boxes are enjoying increasing popularity, since they offer users the simplest way to provide storage space on the home network (and despite the fact that many enthusiasts would prefer to roll their own storage box). Again, the majority of these devices employ some flavor of Linux, but rather than forcing users to enter cryptic commands on the command line, they offer a comfortable Web-based interface that can be configured through a GUI.

Simple, Easy to Use, and Fully-Loaded

The majority of NAS devices are much more than just a networked location used to dump your data. Thanks to the modular nature of Linux as an operating system, which makes adding functionality quite simple, the current crop of appliances also doubles as print, Web, DLNA, and iTunes servers. Actually, the only thing holding back the inclusion of even more features is the fact that testing and validation takes such a long time, and no company is especially keen on releasing a half-baked product.

Choosing the Hard Drive: Performance or Efficiency?

NAS boxes might share very similar feature sets, but when it comes to hard drive options, their manufacturers go in distinctly different directions. On the one hand, there are units that come pre-equipped with hard drives and are thus ready to use right out of the box. On the other hand, you find models that follow the BYOD philosophy; build your own device.

This second class of storage products lets users choose the hard drives themselves. The upside to this is that you can also think about what you’re looking for in a drive (aside from capacity, of course). In general, a drive’s efficiency should rate higher than its performance. This may sound counter-intuitive. After all, higher performance is always better, right? Well, almost. In most cases, it’s not the drives that bottleneck performance. Rather, it is the NAS device itself.

That’s why we found ourselves wondering about the sort of difference we'd see if we equipped a NAS with energy efficient drives rather than fast spinning models. Samsung kindly provided the drives for our little experiment. Representing the eco-friendlier option, we have the Spinpoint F2 Eco Green with a capacity of 1TB spinning at 5,400 RPM, while the T166 drive with a spindle speed of 7,200 RPM and 320GB of storage space represents the speedier alternative. A Synology NAS server with four drive bays serves as our test bed.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • Anonymous
    Is it a good comparison between 320 GB drives and 1 TB ones? Of course de 1 TB will perform better: much higher data density means less movement of heads and platters for the same amount of data. Gotta be faster. Nothing to do with the enclosure.

    Also I would like to mention from my own experience that heat can be a problem. I have a D-Link DNS323 and it cannot handle two server edition WD drives - it overheats.

    - Bertus.
  • evongugg
    If you buy a NAS, it's better to use the recommended drives, which have been put through hard tests.
    Other drives may experience RAID problems, burnout problems, etc.
    If you want to salvage a NAS hard drive, you may be dealing with a Linux type partition.
  • Anonymous
    Weird concept to compare an "old" performance drive with a new eco drive, where by default the new eco drive is outperforming the old performance drive in all categories.
    What is the expected result? Yes, we guessed right, the new eco drive is outperforming the old performance drive in a NAS environment.
    Unfortunately that comparison does not allow any conclusion whether a NAS needs a performance drive or not, it only tells us that a new eco drive is better than an old performance drive.
  • awaken688
    Totally agree with "theaxe" on this one. Not sure what this proved other than if you choice is an old performance drive vs. a new green one, choose the green one. Show me the WD 1TB Caviar Black vs. an equivalent "green" 1TB drive and then we can see more of a comparison that means something.
  • cknobman
    good thing we have the comments section so I dont wast my time reading a pointless article. first thought is "why in the f would you compare a 320gb to a 1gb?" reading the comments let me know my thought is right and not to waste time reading a pointless article.
  • chunkymonster
    Our comparison showed that the difference in write performance between faster and slower spinning hard drives is minimal to nonexistent when they are used in a NAS. Instead, the NAS’ RAID engine becomes the limiting factor.
    Ok, I can understand the RAID engine being the limiting factor when using off the shelf NAS solutions, especially considering most off the shelf NAS solutions use software RAID. But, would a 5400RPM drive become the limiting factor, compared to a 7200RPM, when using a hardware RAID solution like an Areca, 3Ware, or HighPoint controller card? Any guesses?
  • davidhbrown
    I've been reflexively buying 7200RPM drives for everything (notebooks, NAS, desktops) for so long now, that just the *concept* of the article is a useful reminder that in some settings, other issues might be important. Too bad the specific comparison may be flawed, but it's not like exactly that hardware is going to be relevant in six months anyway.
  • Anonymous
    Even with a 10 watt difference, the electricity savings is negligible. At the nation average of 12 cents per kWh, using 10 less watts 24/7 for a year works out to be a whole $10.50. On the year. Less than $1 a month. A far cry from what the article stated: "the difference jumps into the two-figure range. And that can definitely make a difference when the time comes to pay your electric bill" I'll take that 88 cents I save a month and go buy...wait, what can you get for 88 cents these days?
  • farrellj
    Just one thing...many consumer NAS boxes run a cut-down form of Linux...and Samba! And that makes it much more stable than some proprietary software that hasn't been as extensively tested as Linux/Samba has.
  • farrellj
    Just found out...the Synology DS409+ does use Linux!
  • icepick314
    i read somewhere that you should use green drives specifically made for RAID since it has option to change time-out period...

    otherwise NAS would think the drive is dead and give error if the drive went to sleep...

    is this wrong?
  • hixbot
    icepick314 that's kinda wrong. You want TLER for raid mirror arrays because yes the raid controller might thing the drive is dead and start rebuilding. If you use a mirror array in a NAS, then yes, you want TLER. but NAS aren't always configured with a mirror array, or use RAID at all (though they often do).

    the WD greens are not recommended for linux, which is used in most NAS. the greens still have a head parking issue, they have masked that issue with the latest firmwares, but not corrected it.

    There are still no decent eco drives for NAS in the 2tb space.
  • Anonymous
    I read that Synology's devices don't sleep. Is there a competing NAS that does sleep (and comes back via wake-on-lan)? That would save much more power than drive choice could.
  • Computer_Lots
    I could have sworn I read an article right here at Toms that showed 1TB green drives outperforming this exact Samsung T166. I believe that the point was the higher density plus the more efficient design made the newer 5400 rpm drives perform faster than older 7200 rpm.

    Really, You don't have a 7200 RPM 1TB drive laying around to test?
  • scooter69
    Is some one trying to tell us to use "green ECO drives"? Save a blade of grass or something.Sorry had to get it out. I agree with theaxe and cknobman on this one. You can't really compaire the two. Also with the ECO "green drives", I've heard that they don't always spin-up fast enough and fall out of the RAID setup and causing it to crash at times. Am I right, or wrong?
  • False_Dmitry_II
    I have a problem with the whole preface of the article. Is it kinda annyoing to do it yourself? Sure, but these kinds of devices cost over $100, and that is too much for someone like me.

    The majority of these features that are mentioned (with the notable exception of print serving, which can be added) can be had by installing FreeNAS. I took an ancient comp, slapped a SATA PCI card in it, and had it running in 10 minutes doing everything. Including serving my xbox 360 with music!

    I then proceeded to install linux instead so I could do crazier things like make the scanner accessible on any computer and of course printing too. It seems to be doing a pretty admirable job for what it is.
  • scooter69
    THANKS False_Dmitry_II, I've been thinking about using my one year old gutted maching for a over-sized NAS. My work doesn't like it much when I hyjack software and key codes. Now I have a reason to keep my older machine.
  • midnightgun
    farrelljJust found out...the Synology DS409+ does use Linux!

    Far as I know, all Synology products use the same version of operation system. A scaled down, specialized version of Linux. I've had a 407e for about a year and it has worked flawlessly and is so easy to manage.

    For those that don't want to spend the money on a cage, and have an old machine kicking around there is always the Freenas option (http://www.freenas.org/) which I hear works well.

    As for this review... Mixing old and new drives in a comparision not designed to see the difference in old and new drives seems... Well pointless.
  • chunkymonster
    Someone got down vote happy and gave a large number of posts a -1, interesting...
  • Anonymous
    Opening paragraph from your article from April:
    "If you're in the market for a storage upgrade, you have some important decisions to make. First off, there's the choice to build your own solution or buy one from an established vendor. If you choose the former path, know that there are tons of options, which we'll explore in a future story. Here, we'll be going down the latter path."
    How far into the future are we talking? Obviously longer than six months. That would be an article I'd like to read.