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Understanding the WD Rainbow

Written on July 15, 2015 by Matt Bach
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Table of Contents:
  1. Introduction
  2. Desktop/Consumer Drives
  3. NAS Storage Drives
  4. Datacenter Drives
  5. Surveillance Drives
  6. CE/AV Drives
  7. Conclusion

Introduction

If you look at the storage options for any of the systems we sell here at Puget Systems, you will notice that WD is the hard drive manufacturer we prefer for traditional platter drives. We have been using them for years and found that they have terrific reliability (with less than a 1% failure rate), great performance, good support, and very consistent availability.

The difficult thing with using WD is that they have a very wide range of products. For 3.5" drives alone there is more than a dozen different and unique product lines. While this wide product line means that there is a drive specifically tailored for almost any use-case, we as a company would prefer to primarily offer only the one or two best product lines. However, to determine which drives we should offer we had to spend a lot of time going over each line to determine exactly the strengths and weaknesses for each drive line.

After much research (and discussion with our contacts at WD), we eventually determined that the WD Red and WD Re drives were the best choice for our systems. The WD Red drives are extremely quiet, produce very little heat, but still have very respectable performance. The WD Re drives, on the other hand, are all about performance. They are the fastest drives from WD and thanks to active vibration protection through RAFF Technology even a large number of WD Re drives in a system will not have an adverse effect on reliability or performance.

Although we primarily use the WD Red and WD Re drives, there are often times when you really want a drive that is designed specifically for a certain use. And since we firmly believe in passing on to the community any knowledge we think is useful, we decided to write up a quick summary on each of the 3.5" drive lines from WD (which we like to call the "WD Rainbow").

Western Digital WD Hard Drive Rainbow

In addition to explaining the different drive lines and what they are intended to be used for, we will also give a relative rating of the cost, performance, quietness, heat output and vibration protection. For this, we will use the following three symbols:

Excellent
Decent
Below Average

This is simply a relative rating, so even if we rate as being "below average" in performance that does not mean that it is particularly bad - just that it is worse than the other drives offered by WD.

Desktop/Consumer Drives

WD sells a wide range of drives, but these are their main consumer drives meant for use in standard PCs. They don't have any advanced features like vibration protection or TLER support for RAID arrays, but since they don't have those features they are very affordable.

WD Blue - Budget 

Note. At the end of 2015, WD has started to merge the Blue and Green lines of drives into a single WD Blue brand. Within the new WD Blue brand, any model numbers that end in a "Z" are what was previously the WD Green drives.

The Blue line contains WD's budget oriented drives. Because of this, they have relatively low performance, only a 2 year warranty and come in a maximum size of 1TB. However, they are very affordable and fairly quiet.

In most instances, we recommend upgrading to a higher-end model if at all possible. The speed and capability of your hard drive makes a big impact on how "snappy" your system feels and even spending only $10-$20 more will make a big difference.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
250GB - 
1TB

WD Blue SSHD - Hybrid Drive

There is currently only a single 3.5" drive in the Blue SSHD drive line. This drive includes a built-in 8GB MLC flash drive that - in certain situations - allows it to have the performance advantages of an SSD. It is a completely contained unit that requires no additional setup and it is self-learning to determine what file should be moved to the faster flash drive. This results in overall better performance than traditional hard drives - although still not as good as an SSD - when accessing smaller files, but the transfer speeds of the WD Blue drives means it will still have lower sustained performance than most of the other drives from WD.

Due to the built-in flash, this drive is more expensive than WD Blue, WD Green or WD Red drives, but is still fairly affordable. They do come with a slightly longer warranty (three years) and it is only available in 4TB.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
4TB

WD Green - Quiet & Cool 

Note. At the end of 2015, WD has started to merge the Blue and Green lines of drives into a single WD Blue brand. Within the new WD Blue brand, any model numbers that end in a "Z" are what was previously the WD Green drives.

WD Green drives are available in capacities ranging from 500GB all the way up to 6TB and are the quietest consumer drive available from WD. Even though they are quieter and use less power than the WD Blue drives, WD Green drives are actually faster in most situations with only a marginal increase in price.

A WD Green drive makes an excellent secondary storage drive as they are extremely quiet and have decent performance, although like all the consumer drives they lack any advanced vibration protection so you should avoid having more than one or two installed in your system.

If you can afford a small increase in cost, however, we highly recommend considering a Red drive instead. At Puget Systems, we recently moved all of our quiet storage drives to exclusively use WD Red drives because they are even quieter than WD Green drives, just as fast, and include basic vibration protection technologies which allows you to use more drives in a system. For more information on WD Green vs. WD Red drives, check out the recent article we wrote on the subject.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
500GB - 
6TB

WD Black - Performance

The WD  Black line contains WD's performance oriented consumer drives and when compared to identically sized Green or Blue drives are on average about 15% faster. However, they currently only come in sizes up to 4TB and since larger drives tend to be faster a Green 6TB drive will actually have faster sequential read/write performance than a Black 4TB.

If you are interested in a drive that is 4TB or smaller, WD Black drives will give you great performance at a decent price. If you want absolutely the fastest possible performance from a platter drive, however, we recommend looking at the Re drives. The Re drives are just as fast, but also include vibration protection and TLER technology which make them feasible for use in a multi-disk or RAID environment. For more information on Black vs Re drives, check out our Western Digital Black vs. Re Hard Drives article.

The main downside to WD Black drives is that they are not nearly as quiet as WD Blue, WD Green, or WD Red drives, but they do include a long 5 year warranty which is usually only found on WD's datacenter drives.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
500GB - 
4TB

NAS Storage Drives

The NAS Storage drives from WD are a very interesting group of drives that many consumers may discount simply because they are looking for an internal drive for their system, not something for a NAS. However, these are actually the main drives we use in the computers we manufacture here at Puget Systems. In many ways, these drives are simply slightly improved versions of other drives to include features like vibration protection and TLER technology which makes them ideal if you want to have more than one or two drives in your system or want to use them in a RAID array.

WD Red: 1-8 Drive Storage

The WD Red drives are very similar to the WD Green drives in that they are tailored for quiet, lower power operation at the cost of a small drop in performance. However, unlike Green drives they include vibration protection through WD's "3D Active Balance Plus" technology. Because of this, WD says that you can use up to eight Red drives in a system (or NAS) whereas with Green drives you should only ever use one or two.

The WD Red drives make terrific storage drives when quiet operation is desired. There are faster drive offerings from WD (such as the WD Red Pro and WD Re drives listed below), but the Red drives are simply the quietest platter drives WD currently makes and as a bonus are extremely reliable.

Compared to WD Green drives, the WD Red drives have a longer warranty (three years vs two), support TLER (useful for RAID arrays), are rated for twice the load/unload cycles, and are actually slightly quieter than Green drives. For more information on WD Green vs. WD Red drives, check out our Western Digital Green vs. Red Hard Drives article.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
750GB - 
6TB

WD Red Pro: 1-16 Drive Storage

Unlike WD Red drives, the WD Red Pro drives are rated for up to 16 drive configurations due to the addition of RAFF Technology (Rotary Acceleration Feed Forward) which is an active vibration protection previously found only in WD's Datacenter drives. However, the use of RAFF makes them louder and hotter than the Red drives so they may not be the best option for most desktop systems.

Specs-wise the WD Red Pro drives are actually more similar to the Re drives than they are to the Red drives except that they only come in a size range of 2TB to 4TB and have a slightly lower MTBF. They do use less power, but the rated performance, noise level, and most other specs are very similar between the Red Pro and Re drives

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
2TB - 
4TB

WD Re: Unlimited Drive Storage

The WD Re drives are what we consider to be the flagship offering from WD. There is no limit to how many drives you can use at once (since they have RAFF vibration protection), they are great for RAID arrays (since they support TLER), they are the fastest platter drives WD makes, they have a very long lifespan (~2.75 PB written and 1,200,000 hours MTBF), and they are available in sizes up to 6TB.

The biggest downside to the Re drives is that they are relatively expensive, use the most power of any WD drive, and are louder than most other WD hard drives. If you are using more than a single drive, we have found that you need some amount of airflow over the drives to keep them cool. However, If you can accommodate the cooling needs and don't need the absolute quietest hard drive then the speed and capability of the WD Re drives is unmatched by any other drive currently offered by WD.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
250GB - 
6TB

Datacenter Drives

The Datacenter drives from WD are focused on high capacity and mid to high intensity storage. They are intended mostly for use in rackmount servers, although we have had great success using them in more traditional workstations. These drives are a combination of high performance and high endurance along with many features that make them ideal for multi-drive configurations under even the most rigorous conditions.

WD Re: High Performance, High Intensity

The WD Re drives are what we consider to be the flagship offering from WD and are technically a part of both the Datacenter, NAS/Storage, and Surveillance product lines. Like all the Datacenter drives, there is no limit to how many drives you can use at once (since they have RAFF vibration protection) and are great for RAID arrays (due to TLER support).

What makes the WD Re drives unique from the other Datacenter drives is that they are both the fastest drives (although the Se drives are close) and have the longest lifespan both in terms of TB/W and MTBF. The biggest downside to the RE drives is that they are relatively expensive, use the most power of any WD drive, and are louder than most other WD drives. 

If you don't need the absolute quietest hard drive and can handle the higher power draw (as well as the resultant heat), the speed and capability of these drives are unmatched by any other drive currently offered by WD.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
250GB - 
6TB

WD Re+: Power Optimized, High Intensity

The WD Re+ drives are essentially a lower power, slightly lower performance version of the WD Re drives. They have the same endurance as the WD Re drives (550TB per year), but use ~40% less power (which also means they create less heat). They are also much quieter although not quite to the level of WD Green or WD Red drives. As a trade-off for the lower noise and power draw, these drives are about 20% slower than the WD Re drives.

Currently, WD Re+ drives are only available in 5TB and 6TB models which limits their use in some situations. If you need large storage arrays where heat and power draw is a concern, however, these drives would make a great choice.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
5TB & 
6TB

WD Se: High Performance, Medium Intensity

In most situations the WD Se drives are slightly slower than the WD Re drives (except for the WD Se 1TB model which is faster than the WD Re 1TB) and have a much lower endurance rating of only 180 TB per year compared to the 550TB per year of the WD Re drives. Price-wise, they are cheaper than WD Re or WD Red Pro drives, but still carry a fairly large premium compared to most of the other WD drives.

They have the same 5 year warranty as the WD Re and WD Re+ drives and are a great choice when you need a high capacity, high performance drive that will be used in light to medium load environments.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
1TB - 
6TB

WD Ae: Cold Storage

The WD Ae drives are very, very different from the other Datacenter drives. They still have RAFF and TLER which makes them ideal for large storage arrays, but they do not focus on performance or endurance - what they specialize in is energy efficient cold storage.

These drives are only rated for a 60TB per year workload and come in multiple 6.X TB versions. However, they have several features (low heat, automatic spin-down, etc.) that are intended to preserve data integrity over long periods of time. Interestingly, these drives only have a 3 year warranty compared to the five year warranty found on the other datacenter drives.

Intended to replace older tape-based backup solutions, these drives are a good choice if you need long-term, reliable storage and are willing to sacrifice performance for data integrity.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
6.X TB

Surveillance Drives

The Surveillance drives from WD are designed and optimized specifically for recording surveillance or other video footage. In many ways the Surveillance line is very similar to the NAS Storage line except that the Purples drives use the "AllFrame Technology" firmware which is designed to reduce error pixilation and video interruptions that occur when desktop hard drives are incorrectly used as storage in security systems.

WD Purple: Home or Small Business Surveillance

The standard WD Purple drives are recommended for surveillance systems that use up to 32 cameras. Like the WD Red drives, they include vibration protection through WD's "3D Active Balance Plus" technology which allows for up to eight drives to be safely used in a system. In addition, they support TLER which allows for the use of these drives in RAID arrays.

The WD Purple drives come with a three year warranty and capacities ranging from 1TB to 6TB. They are also very affordable and are only slightly more expensive than WD Red or WD Green drives.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
1TB - 
6TB

WD Purple NV: NVR (Network Video Recorder) Surveillance

The WD Purple NV drives are slightly more capable versions of the WD Purple drives and are recommended for surveillance systems that use up to 64 cameras. Like WD Purple drives, these drives support TLER which allows for the use of these drives in RAID arrays. However, unlike Purple drives they include RAFF technology which means you can use an unlimited number of them in a system or rackmount. 

An additional feature of the WD Purple NV drives is the use of tarnish resistant components. According to WD, the WD Purple NV drives offer premium protection in harsh environments where surveillance systems are commonly installed including outdoor cabinets where moisture and other natural elements may be present.

Cost and power draw is slightly higher compared to WD Purple drives, but performance, noise, and reliability is nearly identical. The WD Purple NV drives come with a three year warranty and are only available in 4TB and 6TB capacities. 

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
4TB & 
6TB

WD Re: Large Business Surveillance

The WD Re drives are what we consider to be the flagship offering from WD and are technically a part of the Datacenter, NAS/Storage, and Surveillance product lines. Like the WD Purple NV drives, there is no limit to how many drives you can use at once (since they have RAFF vibration protection) and are great for RAID arrays (since they support TLER).

Unlike the WD Purple drives, the WD Re drives are rated for use with an unlimited number of cameras, but do not support the AllFrame Technology Firmware. They are also more expensive, louder, and use more power than the Purple drives. 

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
250GB - 
6TB

CE/AV Drives

The CE/AV drives are designed for always-on streaming digital audio/video environments such as PVR, DVR and IPTV systems. Specifically, WD recommends them for use in set-top boxes, media servers, and media centers.

WD AV: Audio/Video streaming

In many ways, the WD AV drive is similar to a WD Purple drive in that is designed for streaming audio and video in a 24/7 environment. Unlike WD Purple drives, the WD AV drives are optimized for streaming content from the drive, rather than streaming surveillance footage to the drive. 

The WD AV drives do not feature any advanced vibration protection which means you should not use more than one or two drives in a system. They are fairly low performance, but are very quiet and have a fairly low power draw.

The WD AV drives come with a three year warranty and come in capacities ranging from 500GB to 4TB.

Capacity Budget Performance Quiet Operation Low Power / Heat Vibration Protection
500GB - 
4TB

Conclusion

If you are trying to decide which drive is right for your system, this can be an overwhelming amount of data to sort through. Some use cases make it fairly straight-forward to know which drive is best for you (like Purple drives if you are recording a lot of video) but other use-cases are not as clear. To help, we put together a list of common system types and which drive line we would recommend.

 

Basic desktop system (web browsing, documents, etc.) - For a very basic system where high performance is not a huge concern, we usually will recommend using a WD Red drive. If you are on a tight budget a WD Blue or WD Green drive would work as well, but we really like the WD Red drive line.

Quiet Workstation - No one wants to have a loud computer at their desk when they are trying to work. For any quiet system (whether it is a workstation or home computer) we always recommend the WD Red drives. If you are on a strict budget and can't afford the $10-$15 additional cost, the WD Green drives are almost as quiet although they lack any vibration protection.

Content Creation (Photography, Video Edition, etc.) - For content creation, your data is extremely important so we recommend using only NAS or Datacenter drives. From those two lines, the two drives we tend to recommend the most are the WD Red and WD Re drives. The WD Red drives are great if you don't need as high of performance, but still need large, reliable storage. If you need high performance (or more than four drives total), however, the WD Re drives are a great choice.

Servers (Media Server, Small Business, etc.) - For servers, you usually need more than one or two drives, so using a drive with vibration protection is essential. Most drives from the NAS or Datacenter lines will work, but we usually recommend either the WD Red (for light load servers) or WD RE (for medium to heavy load server) drives.

 

One thing that should be apparent from the chart above is that we really like the WD Red and WD RE drives. There are times that they don't make sense - but for most desktops, workstations, and servers they are excellent choices. So if you are not quite sure which drive you should use, you will rarely go wrong with one of those two drives. If you have a unique situation where one of the other drives makes sense, however, hopefully we were able to provide you with the information you need to decide which drive you should use.

Tags: Western Digital, WD, hard drive, rainbow, blue, green, black, red, RE, SE, AE, RE+, Purple
Alex

Hi Puget,

How loud are the WD Reds supposed to be at idle/ seek? SPCR lists them as nearly inaudible during seek, but with all my fans turned down in my quiet pc, the hum of the idling Red is the only thing I can hear. It's quieter than my WD Blue, but not "silent" as many sources make it out to be. Is this normal?

Thanks!

Posted on 2015-08-31 06:51:56

That depends on the capacity, as larger models (with more platters) do make a little more noise. Here is the official spec sheet from Western Digital, which shows the idle and seek noise levels they claim:

http://www.wdc.com/wdproducts/...

May I ask what chassis you have the drive installed in? That can make a difference, as some cases do a better or worse job of dampening vibration from installed drives.

Posted on 2015-08-31 15:26:24
P.Yew

Blues are available in 1 to 6GB capacities.

Posted on 2015-12-31 15:24:36
Νικολαΐδης Δημήτριος

Hey all,
I'd like to make a question about «WD Purple» disks.
I'm interested to buy the WD Purple HDD for my Desktop PC. I don't mind the performance of the disk, coz I'm going to use it as Secondary disk. As main disk, i own a Samsung Evo SSD, so I need to buy a secondary for my files/torrents etc. I'd like to get the Purple coz of 3 years warranty of the disk.
So what is your opinion guys?
WD Purple > Personal Computer > Secondary disk just for box.

Thank you in advance, Nikolaidis.

Posted on 2016-01-30 12:16:32

I would actually use a WD Red instead of a Purple unless you are doing a lot of video streaming/recording. They should be nearly the same price and both have the same 3 year warranty. However, the Red should be both slightly quieter and faster. Plus, the Red drives should in general be easier to find since they are a bit less specialty than the Purple drives.

Posted on 2016-01-31 00:07:09
Νικολαΐδης Δημήτριος

Hey Matt,
thank you for your replay.
I'm also interested to buy the RED coz the 3 years warranty. To be honest, the last 2 days, I'm searching about the disks that could be great for my situtation.

As I said, I need a disk JUST FOR FILES and TORRENTS.
No video stream/record etc.

So what do you believe, could a WD RED be safe and work - as well- fine as secondary disk just for my files or the RED drives have been created only for NAS systems?

Thank you Matt.

Posted on 2016-01-31 14:28:31

I can't speak for Matt, though I think I know what he will say - but I would definitely recommend a Red series drive for what you have described. They are built for use in NAS systems, which are usually filling *exactly* the sort of role you listed: hosting files (torrents are just a type of file). The Red drive should do very well for that, but as with any drive... make sure you back up your data too :)

Posted on 2016-02-01 06:42:13
sofadude

Which would you recommend for a NAS based media center? I'm using Plex Media Server on a 20TB synology. My DVR is recorded to a separate media server, but then transferred to the NAS. This may change as my setup changes from Windows Media Center to something more network focused.

I'm also using the Synology Surveillance Station for a baby monitor. So I've only got 1 camera, but will probably add 1 or two more.

Seems like I could fall either in the Red or the Purple. Thoughts?

Posted on 2016-02-19 15:25:24

Definitely either Red or Purple I would say. Purple is more if you are streaming video to the system from something like security cameras, but only really necessary if you need 100% quality. I've heard some reports that with Red or other drives they may bet a garbled frame every once in a while, so if you need the best quality for cameras I would go Purple. If you are OK with the possibility of a bad frame occasionally, however, I feel like the Red drives are overall better for use in a NAS.

Posted on 2016-02-22 20:13:18
Mnemo

From a reliability point of view, which is better between red and purple? Looking for a secondary drive (4th actually) to store a lot of videos and may some rarely used files. Which would protect my data reliably for a longer time?

Posted on 2016-04-19 07:10:19
Andi Adhanto

Hi there,

Talking about WDC red, I think I have a unique condition with my NEW WDC Red 2 TB.

My PC specs are :

Proc : i3 2120
MB : Asrock P75 Pro 3
Memory : 4GB
OS : Win 8.1
Other HDD : WDC Blue 1TB and 2TB
SSD : Samsung Evo 500GB as drive C

When I installed this RED along with the Blue, all HDD are very slow, even sometimes comes up with IO error. It takes more than 10 seconds to empty recycle bin which contain 1 file, less than 1MB.

But... If I only install drive C with Red OR drive C with both blue HDD, everything back to normal. Which mean, access to files are easy and very fast. Moving large files (size more than 5 GB) from one folder to another with no issue at all.

I did check all drives and show no problem, no corrupt files, or bad sectors.

Can anybody tell me what is going on, or did I miss something.

Many thanks for your respond.

Posted on 2016-07-08 10:25:36

what does smart say?

Posted on 2016-07-12 19:49:17
Andi Adhanto

I did run DLGDIAG and everything is OK. Green checkmarked.

Also when I copying large files the speed are dropped.

Did I missed something ?

Posted on 2016-07-24 00:24:21
Mohd Amirul Fahmi Ibrahim

can i put 8 tb of wd purple in my ps 4

Posted on 2016-11-06 13:43:23