There are countless trends competing for attention in the gaming notebook and laptop space but not all of them are either useful or benefit the core gaming experience.
WD My Cloud (3TB) NAS drive
WD's network drives get a facelift, and have a better desktop app available for accessing your data remotely
- Simple and attractive design
- Its desktop app works well
- Good overall performance on our Gigabit network
- We had some problems when initially trying to set up the drive's cloud feature
WD's My Cloud drive is an easy drive to use when you want to store and share data on a home network. It's also meant to be easy to use when you want to access your data over the Internet. Depending on your home network, that last part might be a little fiddly to set up. Once we got it working as promised, it turned out to be a good drive, and we particularly liked its desktop app, which can be used for retrieving files off the drive remotely.
Price$ 270.00 (AUD)
The term 'personal cloud' is one that comes up when you look at the features of the WD My Cloud. It's a network attached storage (NAS) device that allows your personal data to be securely accessed over the Internet through a computer or a mobile device. WD has attempted to make the installation and set up of the drive as painless as possible, which means that even if you're an inexperienced user, you should be able to plug this drive in to your router and access your data anywhere over the Internet. That's the theory anyway. Let's see if it's also the reality.
Design and features
The physical design of the WD My Cloud is a little different to past WD external drives, mainly because the front of the drive's enclosure now has a cleaner look and feel. There is one blue status light on a grey island that hugs the front and part of the right edge of the case. The light can be switched off if you find it to be too bright at night. You won't find any buttons or switches; the drive is always on standby and power is managed according to the network activity that is detected.
WD has installed a dual-core, Cortex A9 CPU to control the drive's network functions, and the drive performed well when attached to our network via its Gigabit Ethernet connection. Reading large files off the My Cloud to a PC that was also connected to our network via Gigabit, we recorded a rate of 73.90 megabytes per second (MBps). When writing data to the My Cloud drive, we recorded a rate of 43.23MBps. The rates you can achieve will vary a little depending on the speed of the storage in your computers, and they will be much slower if you use Wi-Fi devices instead of Gigabit. For all intents and purposes, though, we don't have any issues with the performance of the drive in our tests.
We tested the 3TB version of the My Cloud, but there are also 2TB and 4TB versions available. All are single-drive NAS devices, which means they are not very big at all. They also don't make any noise, apart from some audible hard drive spinning and seeking in quiet environments. The drive doesn't have a fan installed; instead, it's cooled by air vents that allow heat to escape through the rear, bottom, or top of the case.
Other physical features include a USB 3.0 port, which can be used to share a USB drive or stick, or to plug in another high-capacity external drive to backup the data on the My Cloud. This is recommended in case the My Cloud drive ever fails you. You can use the SafePoint feature in the drive's Web interface to backup data to a network location, in addition to USB, too, and Apple Time Machine is supported.
Media serving is one of the things that this drive does very well. We didn't experience any problems when using it to watch videos and listen to music through a WD TV Live media streamer on our network. Files were always accessible, and we never witnessed any stuttering or slow load times. The drive has a media streaming setting, it supports DLNA, and it can act as a server for iTunes.
Setting up the My Cloud for remote access
But we should backtrack a little. When we initially plugged in the drive, it was immediately accessible to us over the network, and we could easily transfer files to its default public folders. We didn't have to set anything up — it just worked. Later on, we accessed the drive's Web interface, which is clean and mostly easy to follow. There aren't too many things you can tinker with and change, which supports part of the premise of user-friendliness that WD has presented. It's easy to set up new shared folders (click the 'shares' icon) and to restrict access to them by adding users and passwords (click the 'users' icon).
In order to make the data on your drive accessible over the Internet, you have to click on the 'settings' icon, make sure cloud access is enabled, and then head on over to the 'cloud access' section of the interface. From here you can associate your WD My Cloud drive with an account on WD's WDMyCloud.com site (it still redirects to the WD2Go Web address, which is what WD's cloud service used to be called). You will need to create an account if you don't have one, and then enter those account details into the My Cloud drive's interface. It's this service that will make your WD My Cloud drive accessible over the Internet without you having to know anything about port forwarding, IP addresses, or dynamic DNS services.
The WD My Cloud service basically keeps a track of the WD My Cloud drive, updating its IP address automatically to WD's My Cloud service, so that you can access it at any time by either logging in to WD's My Cloud Web site, or by accessing it through the WD My Cloud app on your phone. You can also use the WD My Cloud app for your PC to access the drive, which can be downloaded when you log in to the My Cloud site. WD says that none of the data that you transfer passes through its own servers. Essentially, you create a peer-to-peer connection between your remote devices and the network drive, and this is why WD refers to it as the 'personal cloud'.
All of what we just described didn't work for us immediately. Rather than being a feature that doesn't rely on user interaction, we were left troubleshooting why our drive couldn't be accessed over the Internet, even though the drive could be seen by the WD My Cloud service. In theory, the drive supports UPnP, which, if you have a router that also supports UPnP, means that the drive can tell the router which Internet ports it needs to use without you having to mess with the router's port forwarding rules. However, ours didn't work until we forwarded the ports manually and until we gave our drive a static IP address. We used a Linksys EA4500 router for our tests, so this might not be the case for you if you use a different router.
Accessing files over the Internet
Suffice to say, we were pleased once it was all set up and working properly, because the drive performed its intended task well. We used the WD My Cloud app on computers at work to access the drive at home, and we were able to download data from it simply by dragging and dropping files from the app to our desktop. Downloads will be slow, though, because they will depend on the upload speed of your home Internet connection. We found the data transfers over the Internet to be reliable despite only getting a maximum download speed of around 80 kilobytes per second (KBps) from our iiNet ADSL2+ connection. You won't want to transfer video files over the Internet, but photos and music can be copied to and from the drive easily if you exhibit a bit of patience.
We think WD's move to an app for the desktop is a step in the right direction for its cloud drives. Previously, the drives would use the WebDAV service to appear as mounted drives in your network (this drive can, too), and you had to contend with many warnings about security and certificates in order to eventually get everything running. The desktop app proved to be a much smoother experience as far as installation and continued access to data are concerned.
The mobile app (we used the Android version on a Samsung Galaxy S4) is also clean and easy to use, and we found it useful for viewing photos and accessing music stored on the drive. You can add your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts to the WD My Cloud mobile app (not the desktop app), but they won't sync with the drive, and we also couldn't find an easy way to transfer files from those services to the drive. WD's tips (they are accessible from the app's device menu) suggest you can simply copy and paste files from Dropbox, but only a cut operation was present in our app, meaning we could only move files rather than duplicate them.
Once we got the WD My Cloud drive to work as intended over the Internet, it proved to be a reliable performer, and a useful drive for accessing files remotely. We wish its initial setup didn't require as much fiddling as it did, though it might not require as much fiddling depending on the networking infrastructure that's used in other environments. When we asked WD if there are any particular routers that they recommend to use with this drive, they said there aren't.
We like the desktop app, which allows for files to be easily transferred when accessing the drive remotely, and the mobile app worked well for us, too. WD claims Dropbox and Google Drive integration for the mobile app, but it's mainly to display and access the files that you have in those services, rather than to sync them to your My Cloud drive.
All up, though, the WD My Cloud is a good drive that works well once it's properly set up for Internet access, but it's perhaps not as well suited to inexperienced users as WD wants it to be.
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