Western Digital My Book Premium II RAID Drive

Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: I'm rounding up.

The Long Version: As an aspiring photographer I need a lot of data storage, but my camera-buying hobby doesn't leave a lot of money for the unsexy practical stuff. So for many years I've economized by assembling my own external hard drives from empty enclosures and standard desktop hard drives. It's an oddly PC-Clone thing to do for a longtime Macintosh owner, but for once the idea of lower cost and interchangeability in exchange for reliability seemed like a good deal. But when it came time to get a RAID drive to store some of my photos, I wanted something I could trust. I spent a little more and went with a prebuilt drive from a reputable brand name.

What I bought was a MyBook Premium II 1TB drive from Western Digital. It's a pair of 500GB drives in an enclosure with a USB/FW400/FW800 interface, and has the ability to be used in RAID 0 (striped to a single 1TB volume) or RAID 1 (mirrored to a single 500GB volume) configurations. The difference between the two settings is that striping gives a faster disk but with twice the chance of failure; mirroring has only half the capacity but its redundancy lets it survive the death of a single drive. Reliability is more important than capacity for me, so I went with the mirrored setup, which has been a very good thing. Twice.

The case is metal with ventilation grills on the top, back, and bottom. It also has a fan which is quite happy to run as much as it needs to, even if it means running all day, even when the computer is idle, and even when it's propped up on a section of souvenir rail from the White Pass & Yukon Route of Skagway, Alaska to allow airflow through the bottom of the case.

The WD MyBook is designed to have its drives swapped by the owner, and this doesn't void the warranty. The entire procedure can be done with a #1 Philips screwdriver, which isn't as good as a Robertson, but it'll do. There are only four screws to open the case, one to open the drive cage, and then four more screws to hold the drive on the tray. It's an easy procedure, and aside from the time it took to get to the local hard drive store (and the eighty bucks) it was quick and painless.

But it's testament to the customer service from Western Digital that the warranty replacement procedure is even easier. When my My Book failed the first time, I simply filled out their on-line form and they sent me a replacement unit right away, even though I live in Canada and bought the drive from America. It's a nice touch that they send the replacement before needing the defective one back, and that they replace the whole unit even when it's only a single drive failure. True, their support website is slow to load and always seems bogged down, but there's lots of specific information about the different ways these drives can fail. They even use the lights on the front of the drive to show error codes. For example, alternate flashing means that the RAID is critically overheating, and the lights chasing themselves in circles means that it's attempting to rebuild one of the drives. 

The warranty for an assembled Western Digital external drive like the My Book series is only one year; the identical SR16 Caviar Blue SATA hard drive - like the one that I bought to replace another failed drive in my Premium II product - has a three-year warranty when it's not sold assembled in a WD case. So my assumption that a drive from a reputable manufacturer would be more reliable than one that I assembled myself may be misguided. Fancy that. 

I'm sure there are plenty of good reasons to buy one of these drives, even though it means spending more money on a premium product that the manufacturer doesn't stand behind, and even though assembling an equivalent unit from an empty case with a RAID controller and loose drives is no more than a half-hour's effort. I'm stumped, but if you can think of any please hit the comments section below.


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