NetGuide NZ - Hands on review: Western Digital EX4100

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Hands on review: Western Digital EX4100

One of the biggest ironies of the digital age is that the more data we consume, the harder it gets to find or share anything. For homes or businesses where everyone has a computer/smartphone/tablet or businesses, the problems can become exponentially complex.

Take sharing a photo for instance. This usually involves jugging external hard drives and USB sticks – that’s assuming you can even remember which PC/tablet/smartphone the photo is stored on.  Having frequently accessed files and documents all stored in a single location, accessible by everyone on the network hugely simplifies things.

This is possible thanks to network attached storage (NAS). NAS boxes typically consist of a small network connected server running Linux, along with large hard drives. The box is in turn connected your network.  This allows everyone with network access to store, load and share data from a single location.

A NAS is an insanely useful thing to have. It is little wonder that they’ve become hugely popular. When invited to test out the latest NAS offering from Western Digital (who have long been players in the NAS game) I jumped at the chance to go hands on with the EX4100.

Look and feel

The EX4100 has a distinctly business look and feel. Essentially a black cube with alloy trim and neat hot swappable hard drives that slide out at the push of a tab on each drive bay, it resembles the toaster from Darth Vader’s kitchen. Its front sports 4 drive bays (each of which were populated with 6TB WD Red Drives in the review unit), a small LCD panel handily display’s the EX4100’s status, a power switch plus LEDs below each drive bay.

Under the hood

The EX4100 also comes with a fairly solid spec. Packing a dual-core 1.6GHz Marvell Armada 388 CPU, it also has 2GB of DDR3 memory. In use this translated into fairly quick write speeds of up to 115MB/s over an Ethernet connection. The review unit, also came with a whopping a 24TB of storage (in the form of 4x 6TB hard drives) which, although it commands a steep sticker price, is more than ample for any small business or well-heeled household.

The Ex4100 isn’t lacking on the connectivity front either. Tucked away on its rear panel are two USB 3.0 ports (which are idea for backups to external drives, dual Gigabit Ethernet (with support for Link Aggregation for extra throughput), and dual power ports for an optional second supply and extra reliability. Inside the EX4100 a 120mm fan quietly whirs away, keeping things cool.

In use

Having hot swappable hard drives is a real boon. If at a later stage you need more storage, the EX4100’s existing hard drives can be replaced with larger drives. Being able to install hard drives without any tools is likely to be a real boon for both home and SME users, and the manual provides comprehensive (and near idiot proof) installation instructions. This said, the ability to lock hard drives with a key would have added some much needed security to the EX4100 for use in a small office environment.

In use the EX4100 was both responsive and fast. Transferring just under 9GB consisting of assorted files from my PC to the EX4100, it was able reach a brisk 95MBps, making it significantly than my older WD ShareSpace NAS.

WD earned major brownie points with the EX4100’s software. It made getting set up dead easy. Hooking up a spare Ethernet cable between the EX4100 and my router, I ran the setup wizard. It had me up and running in just a few minutes. Part of the setup process involved choosing how I wanted its hard drives configured. I set it to RAID 5. As with most other NAS drives, all administration tasks are able to be carried out via an intuitive and responsive browser-based interface.

For those with media collections, the EX4100 sports a built-in DLNA media server. Handier still, there’s also My Cloud mobile apps for iOS and Android and The EX4100 can also be configured to do backups to an attached USB drive, or even a cloud-based service. Mac users will also be pleased to note that Apple Time Machine is also supported. About the only thing lacking on the software front was an anti-virus utility and a kitchen sink, here’s hoping WD add anti-virus capabilities it a future firmware update, we’ll wait and see about the kitchen sink.

Verdict

The EX4100 is a user-friendly and easy to set up NAS. This makes it ideal for both home and small business users wanting to store and share data but not have hassles with complexity. Plenty of capacity and zippy performance plus a sensibly laid out user interface and all the bells and whistles a home or SME user would ever want make the EX4100 a worthy contender.

Tech specs

RRP: From $653 (no hard drives) - $2,396 (w/24TB hard drives)
Connectivity Gigabit Ethernet ports x 2
Power supply (DC in) x 2
USB 3.0 expansion port x 2 (rear) 1x (front)
Drive bays:  4 x 3.5 inch hard drive bays, hot swap capable, tray-less design
CPU: Marvell® ARMADA® 388 1.6 GHz dual-core
Memory:  2 GB DDR3
Supported Disk management: RAID 0/1/5/10/JBOD

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