The Seagate IronWolf and Western Digital Red fight for the same group of customers. Those are mainly people who use small-to-medium size NAS with one to eight bays. That market spans several types of users, from the digital hoarder at home to a small professional office. This is already one of the fastest growing markets, and analysts say it still has plenty of room to grow.
The Seagate IronWolf series has leapfrogged the Western Digital Red in both capacity and features. IronWolf is now available in 12TB while the Red just recently hit 10TB. It won't take long for Western Digital to release a matching capacity, but that only matches one feature. Seagate's move to 7,200-RPM for its entry-level NAS line is even more important than the capacity advantage. Western Digital hasn't given us any indication that the Red series will cross into the 7,200-RPM Red Pro market.
The drives are a speedy solution for your desktop PC, especially if you pair them with an SSD as the boot drive. Optane Memory breathes new life into the desktop HDD market, but the BarraCuda Pro is a better fit for the pairing, at least in most situations.
NAS use is a slightly different story. A NAS is just a purpose-built computer, but they are not built or tuned like a high-performance desktop. The power-saving features can nearly cripple performance. Some of the lower-end systems use settings that mimic what we see in notebooks designed to sip battery power for days. Larger systems like the Thecus N8880U-10G allow you to enter the BIOS and make changes. The manufacturers don’t document those settings, and they certainly don’t encourage modifications.
The restrictive default settings mean that many HDDs will perform the same in some systems. A faster drive must be much faster to deliver a performance increase because the marginal gains just get pulled back in the name of reduced power. In some cases, the system suffers from inconsistent performance, which is the worst-case scenario. That's been our biggest challenge with testing the latest NAS systems. A processor might have a base clock speed of 2GHz with a peak speed of 3.3GHz, but it will only operate at the boost frequency for a few seconds before it falls back to the base frequency.
The NAS performance situation makes choosing a drive easier. The new Helium-filled drives are very high-quality products. It's too early in the life cycle to say if the new Red is better than the new IronWolf, and we may never definitively know which is more reliable.
The numbers we can work with come with a dollar sign in front of them. The highest capacity will carry a premium, and for that reason, we almost always recommend the second-highest capacity of a series because it is a better overall value. Five-bay NAS sell for only a little more than four-bay models. In our experience, it's almost always a better value to go with a five-drive RAID 5 array over a four-drive array.
The manufacturer usually lowers the price of the previous flagship when a new flagship comes to market. We already see that in pricing at Newegg and Amazon. With the lower price, we have to recommend the 10TB IronWolf over the 12TB model if you don't need the increased capacity.
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