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Red Alert: WD Sued for Selling ‘Inferior’ SMR Hard Drives to NAS Customers


Back in April, news broke that the major hard drive vendors were all shipping hard drives based on shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technology into the consumer channel rather than conventional hard drives. SMR drives offer significantly less performance than CMR drives in many benchmarks, and none of the companies were being completely honest and transparent about which product lines used SMR drives and which did not.

While all three companies were selling SMR drives to consumers without fully disclosing it, Western Digital was the only company selling them to NAS customers. Seagate and Toshiba both restricted their use of SMR to certain consumer drives.

WD Red is Western Digital’s NAS hard drive brand. These are literally the hard drives that Western Digital tells NAS users to buy, which means you’d expect them to be good at doing the things a NAS is expected to do.

ServeTheHome ran a full suite of benchmarks on the 4TB WD Red NAS WD40EFAX (SMR) versus the 4TB WD Red NAS WD40EFRX (CMR). If you run standard storage benchmarks on the drive, it looks pretty good — slower than the EFRX, but not too bad.

If you actually push the drive with something like a 125GB file copy or a RAIDZ resilver test, prepare to take a vacation while you wait for the rebuild to complete:

SMR-RAIDZ-Rebuild-v2

Graph and data by ServeTheHome. There’s a non-zero chance of an additional drive failure during the ~10 days it’ll take to resilver the RAIDZ array.

1,009 minutes is 16.8 hours. 13,784 minutes is 9.57 days.

The lawsuit, filed by Hattis Law, alleges that Western Digital shifted to SMR drives to save money with no regard for the performance impact this would have on its customers or the fact that it would render the drives “completely worthless for their intended purpose” (emphasis original).

Hattis Law alleges that SMR drives categorically fail in RAID arrays by reporting excessive timeouts to the NAS device when asked to perform sustain random writes. SMR drives reportedly cannot perform RAID scrubbing. When the WD Red problem first broke, multiple NAS RAID users said they were unable to integrate an SMR drive into a RAID array built with CMR disks due to performance problems and excessive timeouts. The Hattis Law lawsuit aligns with what we saw RAID users reporting at the time.

ServeTheHome’s tests show that the EFAX drive might work in a desktop context, but it has no place in a RAID array. The fact that Western Digital is explicitly advertising the SMR-equipped EFAX family as suitable for this purpose is tantamount to false advertising. It might not matter if you use an EFAX drive as storage for a video camera feed, but these drives clearly have major problems in RAID arrays.

Western Digital has not commented on the situation, but it continues to sell SMR WD Red drives into this space. We recommend staying away from any products in the WD Red line-up with the EFAX model number — use EFRX drives if you’re building a RAID array on these products.

It’s possible that these drives perform adequately in some types of RAID array, but the STH tests demonstrate that there are real-world cases where they very much do not. That’s not being communicated to Western Digital customers. If you’ve bought an SMR WD Red drive and feel you’ve been defrauded, you can register as part of the class action suit here.

Feature image of WD Red HDDs, not the specific models discussed here. 

Now Read:

Toshiba Clarifies Which of Its Consumer HDDs Use Shingled Magnetic Recording
Western Digital Comes Clean, Shares Which Hard Drives Use SMR
Western Digital, Seagate Are Shipping Slow SMR Drives Without Informing Customers: Reports [Updated]

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