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WD Se 4TB Enterprise Hard Drive Review

Date: May 28, 2013
Author(s): Rob Williams

With its “Se” series of enterprise hard drives, WD is targeting those in need of “bulk storage”, whether it be in a datacenter or NAS. Its biggest perk is that it almost perfectly mimics the company’s Re drives, boasting a 5-year warranty, models ranging from 2 – 4TB, and best of all, a price tag of up to $80 less.



Introduction & WD Se Synopsis

Last summer, WD released its first-ever hard drive series dedicated to NAS use, called Red. These drives target users who require both large storage and high reliability under a RAID setup, but don’t necessarily need top performance (though, as we discovered, the Reds do perform quite well). Since the series’ release, it seems the drives hit their mark; many NAS users I know have already implemented them into their setups.

With Red, the SOHO and SMB markets are covered – but what about a similar option for the enterprise? As this article has no doubt given away, that void has just been filled.

Introducing WD’s Se enterprise series.

The target market for Se is “bulk” storage: high-end NAS and “scale-out” architectures (where storage is added over time). As we’ll discuss later, Se drives can serve the SOHO / SMB user as well, but that’s not WD’s main focus given the existence of the Red series. However, as Red doesn’t feature a 4TB model, nor offers enterprise-level features, some could find Se to be a more attractive option.

WD Se 4TB

Se becomes the third entry to slot into WD’s current enterprise lineup, sitting underneath Re, a “durable” option, and Xe, a “performance” one. WD considers the Se to be “scalable”, as its main job is to hold lots of data and remain reliable for those who don’t have incredible throughput requirements.

Using a tier system to help explain the exact target for the Se drive, WD puts both Se and Re in the same tier 2 level, with Xe occupying tier 1. Interestingly, the company teases both a tier 0 (“future SSD”) and tier 3 (“future HDD”). The lower the tier number, the higher the performance, the greater the cost, and the smaller the storage. If I had to guess, tier 3 will end up being WD’s first ~5300 RPM 4TB+ series for mass-storage environments with a cloud focus.

Like the Re series, Se features support for TLER, StableTrac, RAFF and other enterprise-level features, some of which we’ll talk about shortly. None of WD’s desktop drives include these features – not even Red.

WD Se 4TB
WD’s 2TB Red, 4TB Black, 4TB Se & 4TB Re

Performance-wise, Se drives align quite well with Re, although Re is better designed to handle a greater annual workload (550TB/year vs. 180TB/year). Also, while Se looks to be the “Red of the enterprise”, it carries a full 5-year warranty – don’t mistake this as a “budget” series.

 DensitySpeedWarrantyUsagePrice
VelociRaptor250GB – 1TB10K RPM5-yearEnthusiast~$230 (1TB)
Re250GB – 4TB7.2K RPM5-yearEnterprise~$390 (4TB)
Se2TB – 4TB7.2K RPM5-yearEnterprise~$310 (4TB)
Black500GB – 4TB7.2K RPM5-yearPerformance~$280 (4TB)
Blue80GB – 1TB7.2K RPM2-yearConsumer~$65 (1TB)
Green500GB – 3TB~5.3K RPM2-yearStorage~$100 (2TB)
Red1TB – 3TB~5.3K RPM3-yearNAS~$110 (2TB)
All drives are available in SATA 6Gbit/s flavors with 64MB of cache.
Pricing is based on stable trends across two major etailers.

At its initial price-point of $310 (USD), the Se 4TB costs $80 less than an equal density Re model, and given the primary difference between the two revolves around total throughput, that cost-savings is undoubtedly going to be attractive to those who simply need lots of reliable storage.

With the help of the slide below, we can get a much clearer idea of what WD expects its users to do with its Re and Se drives. While both carry almost identical specs overall, the primary difference is that the Re drives are designed to handle 3x the total annual throughput (mentioned in another slide). Also, its mean-time before failure (MTBF) rating has been decreased from 1.4 million hours to 800,000.

WD Se Slide 03

To the Se’s favor, its peak power draw has seen a decrease from 10.4W to 9.5W, versus the Re. This might mean little for a home or small office, but to WD’s target “bulk” market, it could mean the difference of thousands of dollars wasted on energy costs annually (we’re talking about mass storage @ 24/7, after all).

So to reiterate: the main difference between Se and Re is that the latter is more durable, spec’d to handle 3x as much data throughput over its lifetime. On the next page, we’ll take a look at the reasoning behind the Se series, as well as explain its enterprise features.

Understanding WD’s Se Series & Enterprise Features

Most hard drive launches require just a couple of slides and a bit of documentation, but WD went a step further with its presentation for the Se series. It’s clear that the company is treating Se as a rather big deal, because it’s positioning itself as an authority on bulk storage. As mentioned before, Se is targeted at the NAS and scale-out markets, and the company has data to explain where we’re headed storage-wise.

Given we were not told otherwise, we assume the data seen below is the result of WD’s own research. For the scale-out market, it’s predicted that total exabyte (1.048 million terabyte) shipments will jump 6 – 7x between 2012 and 2020, with the cloud being the biggest cause. For that purpose, SSDs and high-performance hard drives are not the answer – they’re too expensive, and that’s not going to change soon in their battle versus mechanical drives. So a drive like the Se, which offers the customer cash savings in exchange for less durability, can prove to be a boon for the market.

WD Se Slide 04

WD also touts the Se series as being the perfect solution for storage replication where RAID is a less-ideal option. Going that route can improve system uptime, performance, and of course, reliability. That said, those that require huge levels of throughput are still recommended to consider the Re series due to its theoretical increased lifespan.

That’s scale-out – what about NAS (network-attached storage)? While many of our readers may equate a NAS to being a device that holds 2 – 5 hard drives, higher-end devices can hold dozens. For a lot of customers, Se can reduce the total cost of ownership; we established earlier that the Re series costs $80 more per 4TB drive than the Se, which in a 24-bay NAS amounts to a difference of $2,000.

Like the scale-out market, WD sees huge inclines going forward for the NAS market – even with SOHO / SMB use. Based on the chart in the slide below, predictions are that the personal and SOHO market’s demand for storage will increase by about 3 – 8x, while for SMB, the difference looks to be closer to 15x.

WD Se Slide 07

I mentioned before that despite its mass storage focus, the Se series can suit home users just fine if you happen to like all of what it offers over desktop drives (namely, enterprise features) and the NAS-focused Red. As far as WD is concerned, anyone owning a NAS capable of holding 4 or more drives could consider Se, but again, Re would be ideal for those requiring massive annual throughout (unlikely in a home environment, but possible in a small business).

That said, WD gives an outline below of what users should consider based on the size of their NAS. Xe always wins for those who require the ultimate in performance, which would only be relevant to those using professional NAS solutions equipped with 10Gbit/s Ethernet. Re is perfectly designed for the enterprise, and Se basically fits anywhere if your needs align with its features. For smaller home / SOHO NAS devices, WD still recommends its Red series, but that currently tops-out at 3TB per drive.

WD Se Slide 05

WD’s Enterprise-level Features

As you’d expect, WD packs many features into its enterprise line. Most of these could be considered irrelevant for home users simply because businesses tend to favor reliability more due to their much heavier usage. Here’s a quick run-down of some enterprise-specific features bundled with the Se (and Re, save for the differing MTBF).

Time-Limited Error Recovery – This is a feature you may recall us talking about in our look at WD’s Red NAS hard drive. In effect, it prevents error correction from getting in the way of a successful write.

Multi-Axis Shock Sensor – This is an additional sensor found within the drive dedicated to detecting shocks, and when one is detected, the drive’s mechanics help compensate for the sudden movement.

Dynamic Fly-Height Technology – For increased stability, the height (or fly height) of the head is adjusted in real-time during each read / write cycle.

WD Se Press Shot

StableTrac – The drive’s motor shaft is secured at both ends to help reduce vibration and better stabilize its platters.

Dual Actuator Technology – Utilizing dual actuators – one using conventional electromagnetic principles; the other using piezoelectric motion – the head positioning is fine-tuned to increase accuracy. Likely made possible by this is “NoTouch” technology, which assures that the recording head never touches the disk media.

RAFF – Also known as “Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward”, this technology allows the drive to monitor both the linear and rotational vibration of the platters in real-time and compensate where necessary. It’s never ideal to run any mechanical hard drive in an environment where it can vibrate on a regular basis, but the company’s enterprise drives, along with its VelociRaptor drives, can deal with it better than desktop drives.

Extended Thermal Burn-in Testing – WD punishes its enterprise drives like no other, both for their thermal capabilities and endurance. If we saw what went on behind the scenes there, we’d probably want to cuddle our drives afterwards.

800,000 MTBF – At some point, most hard drive manufacturers dropped the “MTBF” (mean-time before failure) rating on their drives. To a point, I can understand why, as it’s a number most people aren’t going to keep in mind. However, WD does include such metrics on its enterprise offerings, such as the Re and Se, and notes that results were achieved through field-testing.

As you can see, WD’s enterprise drives bleed reliability features, with each one working in unison to increase accuracy, stability, and of course, performance.

Speaking of performance, now would be a good time to tackle that, wouldn’t it?

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate and real-world applicable as possible. We list most of the steps and processes involved in setting up and conducting our benchmarking process below, but in the interests of brevity we can’t mention every last detail. If there is any pertinent information that we’ve inadvertently omitted or you have any thoughts, suggestions, or critiques, then please feel free to email us or post directly in our forums. This site exists for readers like you and we value your input.

The table below lists the hardware used in our current hard drive-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all of our testing. Each drive used for the sake of comparison is also listed here.

 Techgage Hard Drive Drive Test System
ProcessorIntel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition – Six-Core @ 4.20GHz – 1.375v
MotherboardGIGABYTE G1. Assassin 2 – F4E BIOS (12/12/2011)
MemoryCorsair Dominator GT 16GB DDR3-2133 9-11-12-27, 1.60v
GraphicsGeForce GTX 680 2GB (Reference) – GeForce 301.42
AudioOnboard Creative X-Fi
StorageOS Drive:
Kingston HyperX 240GB SATA 6Gbit/s SSD
Tested Drives:
Seagate Constellation ES.3 4TB (ST4000NM0033, 128MB, 7.2K)
Seagate Desktop HDD.15 4TB (ST4000DM000, 64MB, 7.2K)
WD Re 4TB (WD4000FYYZ, 64MB Cache, 7.2K RPM)
WD Se 4TB (WD4000F9YZ, 64MB Cache, 7.2K RPM)
WD VelociRaptor 1TB (WD1000DHTZ, 64MB Cache, 10K RPM)
WD Black 4TB (WD4001FAEX, 64MB, 7.2K)
WD Black 2TB (WD2002FAEX, 64MB Cache, 7.2K RPM)
WD Green 2TB (WD20EARS, 64MB Cache, ~5.3K RPM)
WD Red 2TB (WD20EFRX, 64MB Cache, ~5.3K RPM)
Power SupplyCorsair AX1200 1200W
CoolingCorsair H70 Self-Contained Liquid Cooler
Et ceteraWindows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit


Our Windows 7 Desktop for HDD Testing (Photo Credit)

When preparing our HDD testbed for benchmarking, we follow these guidelines:

General Guidelines

Windows 7 Optimizations

Other Considerations

Outside of the Windows 7 boot time test, reviewed hard drives are installed as the target; the OS and all of the applications are stored on the SSD. This is done to remove the overhead off of the tested drive, and also to reflect the fact that most people nowadays are not installing their OSes on mechanical storage.

While HD Tune and AIDA64 are able to be used on a drive without a partition, the remainder of our tests require one. As mentioned above, we feel that the focus of hard drives is moving towards pure storage rather than housing an OS, so we’ve adopted the use of 64KB cluster sizes. It’s the maximum NTFS can support, and it’s much more efficient than 4KB for those needs.

Test Suite

For the sake of thoroughly testing the drives we review, our test suite consists of a blend of both real-world and synthetic benchmarks. Although we value real-world tests higher than synthetic, we appreciate the latter because A) they can give us the “best possible” performance numbers from a drive and B) can be run by our readers, more often than not.

Our synthetic tests include Futuremark’s PCMark 7, HD Tune Pro 5.0 and AIDA64 2.70. Our real-world testing includes file and folder transfers, and game level-loading.

In the past, we used Iometer for the sake of truly stressing a drive in high-load scenarios, but have dropped it in favor of using HD Tune’s built-in Random Access benchmark. Our goal with Iometer was to deliver an IOPS result, but because the program doesn’t support unpartitioned GPT drives, it’s useless for our needs. Fortunately, HD Tune can give us those IOPS results we’re after.

Synthetic: PCMark 7

Futuremark’s PCMark benchmarking suite should need no introduction – it’s been a staple of PC benchmarking for the better half of a decade. PCMark offers a range of tests to gauge every aspect of a computer’s performance and presents it in a simple final result. Thankfully, it also breaks down the overall score with individual subsystem scores (such as Memory, Storage, et cetera) in addition to providing individual test results.

As we’re not too concerned with the performance of the PC as a whole, for our testing here we deselect all default tests and run only the “Secondary Storage” suite, with the hard drive in question as the chosen drive. Tests in this suite range from the loading of applications, running a Windows Defender scan, editing video, gaming and more.

PCMark 7 Professional

On account of the fact that the Se series is spec’d similarly to the Re series, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see such good performance here. 50% of the time, the 4TB Se drive surpasses the 4TB Black enthusiast drive. Against the Re, though, it’s clear that WD serves up some exclusive optimizations there.

Let’s see if these trends continue.

Synthetic: HD Tune Pro 5.0

One of the best-known storage benchmarking tools is HD Tune, as it’s easy to run, covers a wide-range of testing scenarios, and can do other things such as test for errors, provides SMART information and so forth. For our testing with the program, we run the default benchmark which gives us a minimum, average and maximum speeds along with an access time result, and also the Random Access test, which gives us IOPS information.

HD Tune Pro 5.0

The Se drive continues its impressive performance trend here, scoring the best minimum results among the sub-10K drives, and great average speeds overall. Access times-wise, the Se performs well, but falls quite a bit behind the Re with regards to the writes.

Can someone please explain this one? Up to this point, the Se drive hasn’t performed too different than the Re, but here, it even surpasses the VelociRaptor in some regards. It’s performance so good, that either WD packed in 1TB platters (unlikely, given that’d be a first for a 7,200 RPM drive), or the company specifically tuned the firmware for IOPS performance. The latter explanation would make sense, given these drives are suited for potential cloud storage and large NASes.

Synthetic: AIDA64 2.70

Similar to HD Tune, AIDA64’s built-in disk benchmarker is one of the easiest to run. The developer also keeps up on top of architectural trends so that you feel confident that the algorithms don’t get much better than this. This spreads beyond the storage benchmark, as AIDA64’s system stress-testers is one of the best, if not the best, out there – thanks to it being able to take full advantage of any given CPU architecture.

For our testing, we run the Linear Read and Random Write tests. Because AIDA64 by default automatically chooses a cluster size (which changes at random), we force it to use 64KB for our testing.

AIDA64 2.30

HD Tune put the Se right behind the Re in terms of performance, but AIDA64 puts Se ahead overall – outside of the maximum write.

AIDA64’s transfer tests didn’t perfectly align with HD Tune’s, but the access time results do.

Real-World: Transfers & Game Level Loading

One of the most common tasks that someone will tackle with a storage device is transferring data, so to see what our collection of drives are capable of, we take a collection of solid files and folders and transfer them from our super-fast SATA 6Gbit/s SSD to each hard drive. Then for good measure, we copy a file and folder on the same drive. Both our files and folders come in 4GB and 16GB sizes, with the folders holding between ~5,000 (4GB) and ~20,000 (16GB) files.

Our stopwatch starts as soon as we click the “Copy here” button in the context menu, and stops as soon as the transfer dialog disappears.

When transferring solid files (or copying folders on the same drive), the Se performs on par with the Re, but with folders, Re’s extra tuning puts it definitively into the lead – it basically halved the time of our 16GB folder transfer.

Game Level Loading

One of the biggest benefits of faster storage is quicker load times for games, both with regards to their startup and level-loading. For testing here, we use two of the heaviest games we have on hand; Sid Meier’s Civilization V and Total War: SHOGUN 2. Our test here is simple: we see how long it takes each game to load. Our stopwatch starts as soon as we click the option to load either game..

Interestingly, this is one test where the Se falls to the back of the pack, situating itself just ahead of the Green 2TB in the SHOGUN 2 test. With Civilization V, its result places it near the middle, ahead of the 2TB Red.

Final Thoughts

When I first learned of WD’s Se series, I saw the word “datacenter” and assumed it was worth talking about, but not worth getting a drive in for review. As I began to read more, however, my interest piqued – there was reason to check it out, after all. Thankfully, WD doesn’t read my thoughts, so it automatically sent us a drive faster than I could request one (quite literally). Manufacturing date? May 14th. Hot off the presses.

In gist, WD’s Se series is like its Re series, and that’s good. When I took a look at the 4TB Re a couple of months ago, I was compelled to award it an Editor’s Choice based on all that it offered. And now, we’re given an option that offers much of the same in terms of features and performance, but costs up to $80 less (-$70 for the 2TB; -$80 for 4TB). That’s substantial, just for the trade-off of slightly worse performance in certain areas, and a lower total throughput threshold.

Although the trade-off is easy to explain, it’s also easy to brush it off without much thought. Before pursuing Se, you need to consider how much data you expect a drive to manage on a given day, and then multiply that by 365. If your total throughput exceeds 180 TB / year, Re drives should be heavily considered instead. Otherwise, tell your wallet to rest easy.

If you’re finding yourself unsure about your throughput needs, consider the fact that at 550 TB / year, which the Re is rated for, it’s effectively a transfer of 1.5 TB per day, or about 40% of the entire 4TB model. The Se, on the other hand, is capable of dealing with at least 500GB per day, or 1/8th of the total 4TB drive.

WD Se 4TB

Se’s place in the “bulk storage” market is clear, but what about the home or small business? Is it worth considering Se over the Red series? If you’re looking for 4TB drives, you’re in luck: your decision has already been made for you. Why WD doesn’t offer 4TB Reds yet is unclear, but I wouldn’t rule out the fact that the company could release them sometime in the near-future. After all, with Seagate having a $200 4TB option, I don’t think WD will want to sit idly by for too long.

While versus the Red, Se definitely carries a price premium, it’s also a far better performer, carries enterprise features and bumps the warranty to a full 5 years (vs. 3). For many, including myself, that’s a justified premium. Sometimes, it’s hard to put a price on piece of mind, especially when you expect these drives to store your important data.

I hope that by this point, you’re familiar enough with the Se series to make a final decision on whether or not it’s for you. If you skipped to this page without reading anything, feel free to enjoy our tl;dr in the form of a pros / cons list. With all those pros and the lack of a con, WD’s Se series handily earns itself our Editor’s Choice award.

Pros

Cons


WD Se 4TB Enterprise Hard Drive

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