With ever deflating prices and a slowing down in capacity growth, it’s no surprise that hard disk manufacturers are looking to adjacent markets for profit growth. For Seagate, that strategy was manifested in their purchase of LaCie back in 2012. Western Digital, however, are building organically – firstly with the launch of their Sentinel range of business-class storage servers (see our recent review of the excellent Sentinel DS6100) and for the consumer/prosumer market, the My Cloud NAS series.
For their first My Cloud release, the company didn’t stray too far from what it knew – the My Cloud was a single-bay NAS positioned as a decent upgrade option for consumers seeking to move from a direct attached (USB) storage solution to network attached. It looked like Western Digital’s standard external hard drives but packed those network attached storage features we know and love.
Today’s subject, the Western Digital My Cloud EX4 is a step on again. It’s a four bay device that, from an industrial design perspective, is much closer to the Sentinel aesthetic than the consumer-oriented My Cloud – it’s clear that the company are targeting this squarely at prosumers who want ease of use and consumer-oriented features but housed in a professional-looking package.
Personally, I’d have loved to see Western Digital be brave and pick up the cues of the better-looking, white and silver My Cloud – that would stand out visually in a sector dominated by black boxes. You’re going to tell me that it’s what’s inside that counts, aren’t you? Available diskless or stacked up to 16 TB, the new EX4 won’t set the world alight in terms of performance – a single core 2 GHz Marvell processor with 512MB RAM in support positions the specs firmly in the “value” arena alongside Synology’s DiskStation DS413j and similar offerings from ASUSTOR and QNAP but the company will be hoping its brand recognition in storage alongside the opportunity to cross-sell their own WD Red hard drives will drive revenue and grow the NAS market overall.
So, if we were being unfair, we could accuse the EX4 of looking a little more serious than it really is (compare the design of the competing Synology DiskStation DS413j which is – wait for it – white like Western Digital’s entry-level My Cloud), but we’ll save that assessment until we check out the software platform and feature set.
What you do get on the EX4 is twin USB 3.0 ports for hard drive and peripheral connections and – perhaps a little strangely for this class of device – twin Ethernet ports for link aggregation and network failover support – a business feature if ever there was one. So, with a first look, we see a curious blend of business and consumer-oriented specifications – is this a value business NAS or a premium consumer NAS? Or both? One could argue that as a “middle-ground” product between the entry-level My Cloud and the business-focused Sentinel DS lines, Western Digital should have really equipped the EX4 with at least a dual-core processor and 1 GB RAM, leaving the single-core Marvell with 512MB RAM to the (forthcoming) two-bay EX2 product.
That said, let’s get the EX4 unboxed and see how it performs.
The My Cloud EX4 looks very similar to most four-bay NAS devices you’ll find on the market today. It has an all metal construction, though, providing a high quality feel and differentiates it somewhat from budget competitors.
Inside the box you’ll find the NAS device itself, alongside a power supply, Ethernet cable and installation guide – standard fare for the modern network storage package.
The four drive bays, arranged in a vertical orientation, dominate the front of the EX4. The drive latches lift up to release a front panel which feels very sturdy. Rather than utilise drive trays, you can slide in your hard drives directly into the EX4 before closing up the tray – an action which secures the drive firmly into the EX4’s SATA connection, held on a backplane.
The My Cloud EX4 also has an LED display on the front panel – generally found on more expensive devices. It provides some simple reporting information which scrolls vertically via a button to the right – handy enough if you’re close to the device from time to time.
Around the back, you’ll see a large punched panel for the drive fan (four drives on board will produce some heat) and twin USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet sockets and power supply connections. Again, the provision of twin power connection and Ethernet ports is a big nod towards business use, offering failover support and ensuring the EX4 has the best chance of remaining powered and accessible in case of a hardware issue.