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Western Digital's My Book Studio Edition II: 6 TB of low-cost storage

It's a great time to be in the market for mass storage for your Mac. Hardware manufacturers keep coming out with new solutions that either provide more speed (like SSDs) or greater capacity, and the prices keep coming down.

Western Digital is now shipping the My Book Studio Edition II, a two-drive enclosure filled with 6 TB (that's right, six terabytes) of RAID 0 storage and a quad-interface (FW800 / FW400 /eSata / USB2.0) for only US$549.99. That price is quite amazing, since the competing LaCie 4 Quadra array sells for almost $400 more. The My Book Studio Edition II takes advantage of WD's 3 TB Caviar Green drives, two of which are nestled into an enclosure. The product comes with a power adapter usable in the US, Canada and most European countries, FireWire 800 and USB cables, a FireWire 800/400 cable and a CD containing a user manual and a selection of software.

The My Book Studio Edition II drive comes pre-formatted for Mac OS X and can be reformatted for use with Windows 7. While the array comes set up as a 6 TB RAID 0 stripe set, it's possible to use it as a mirrored pair (RAID 1) of 3 TB drives. For those who are looking for redundant storage, the RAID 1 solution makes a lot of sense. If it's raw storage capacity that you want, RAID 0 is the way you'll want to go -- just be sure to buy a second array for backup purposes.

To see how the My Book Studio Edition II array stood up during our tests, turn to the next page.

Build Quality

To build a $550 RAID 0 array, something had to give, and in my opinion it's in the build quality of the My Book Studio Edition II. While other array providers use metal cases, WD chose to use silver-colored plastic.

When I tried to open the top of the array to see how the drives were arranged, I ran into my first issue. The user manual, which I chose to download from Western Digital's website instead of pulling off of the CD, showed that to pop open the top of the array I just needed to push down on the top front cover with my thumb until it sprung a latch and the cover popped up. I had to supply a tremendous amount of force before I was able to get the latch to release.

The individual 3 TB drives are held securely in the case in a pair of metal adapters topped with a small cover plate held in by a thumb screw. Removing the cover plate gives you access to the drives, which have a plastic tab attached to them for removal. Other arrays tested by TUAW in the past used a spring-type mechanism that popped the drive out after pushing in on the drive or moving a handle. My concern with the plastic tabs is that they seem flimsy and could easily rip off if pulled with enough force.

After pulling out the drives and replacing them, I found it almost impossible to get the plastic cover to latch properly and I needed to apply a lot of pressure to stay closed. Western Digital should consider replacing this hinge-and-latch cover with a slide off top cover or some other means of accessing the drives.

The array features Western Digital's trademark glowing white stripe on the front. When the array is busy, the stripe is animated. What I find disconcerting is that the stripe occasionally "blinks," even when nothing seems to be happening. For some reason, it seemed to draw my attention to the drive since I was wondering what was going on. Installing Western Digital's Drive Manager application enabled a capacity meter function with the stripe, turning it into a visual indication of how much capacity is being used.

The My Book Studio Edition II is surprisingly quiet, which is nice in an office environment. It also stayed quite cool during testing.

Software

The CD that comes with the My Book Studio Edition II comes with documentation and three apps: WD Drive Manager, WD Anywhere Backup and WD +TURBO Installer. I could find nothing in the documentation about the +TURBO Installer, so I took a chance and double-clicked the installer icon. What I found is that this appears to be a WD-specific IEEE 1394 (FireWire) driver. Installation requires a reboot of your Mac. Tests were performed both with and without the +TURBO feature enabled, and it appeared to improve performance slightly.

Performance

While other drives usually show rotation speed in the specifications, there is no published speed for the Caviar Green drives. They use something called Intellipower to minimize power usage by the drive, which Western Digital refers to as "a fine-tuned balance of spin speed, transfer rate, and caching algorithms designed to deliver both significant power savings and solid performance."

As usual, and I'm sure I'll catch flak for this in the comments, my testing was done with a FireWire 800 connection. Unless a kindly reader would like to purchase me a Mac with an eSATA card, my future reviews of devices of this type will all be done with FireWire 800. If Apple comes out with a Thunderbolt-equipped iMac this year, I might consider getting one of those for testing.

That being said, our tests consist of copying a large file of known size to and from the drive or drive array, as well as duplicating a file on the drive. This is repeated to eliminate timing errors. We've been able to gather timing statistics on a number of drives, so the tests give a good indication of relative speed between similar products. Here are the results for several other drives and arrays compared with the My Book Studio Edition II:

Write file to drive
OWC Pro Dual mini SSD (RAID 0, FW 800): 26.3 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 1, FW 800): 26.1 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 26.0 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 25.5 seconds (cache flushing enabled)
CRU-DataPort ToughTech Duo QR (RAID 1, FW 800): 25.5 seconds
CRU-DataPort ToughTech Duo QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 26.1 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 0, FW 800): 31.1 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 0, FW 800, +TURBO): 28.6 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 1, FW 800): 34.2 seconds

Read file from drive
OWC Pro Dual mini SSD (RAID 0, FW 800): 20.7 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 1, FW 800): 21.3 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 22.3 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 21.1 seconds (cache flushing enabled)
CRU-DataPort ToughTech Duo QR (RAID 1, FW 800): 22.5 seconds
CRU-DataPort ToughTech Duo QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 22.2 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 0, FW 800): 22.0 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 0, FW 800, +TURBO): 20.5 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 1, FW 800): 23.1 seconds

Duplicate file on drive
OWC Pro Dual mini SSD (RAID 0, FW 800): 46.6 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 1, FW 800): 50.4 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 45.2 seconds
WiebeTech RTX220-QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 45.2 seconds (cache flushing enabled)
CRU-DataPort ToughTech Duo QR (RAID 1, FW 800): 44.9 seconds
CRU-DataPort ToughTech Duo QR (RAID 0, FW 800): 58.1 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 0, FW 800): 61.7 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 0, FW 800, +TURBO): 56.8 seconds
WD My Book Studio Edition II (RAID 1, FW 800): 59.8 seconds

As you can see from the read test results, the WD My Book Studio Edition II array with the +TURBO mode enabled in a RAID 0 configuration was the fastest FireWire 800 drive we've tested so far. It wasn't by much, just 0.2 seconds, but that's still not bad for a "cheap" drive array. In the write test, the array came out in the middle of the pack with +TURBO enabled, and the array lagged behind all other drives or arrays tested in the duplicate test.

Conclusion

Probably the most amazing feature of the Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II 6 TB array is the price. Even if it's being used as a RAID 0 mirrored array with 3 TB of capacity, the $550 price point is incredible for what it delivers.

While those who are looking for a fast drive array for video editing will probably want to look elsewhere (probably towards the new Thunderbolt arrays that are starting to appear), the My Book Studio Edition II array is definitely worth a look from anyone who is searching for an inexpensive mass storage solution.

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