Western Digital's My Book series of consumer network-attached storage boxes has a new variant, the 2TB Western Digital My Book Live NAS - REVISED 18 JAN 2011

Network attached storage – the NAS drive – may be a handy way to keep piles of data readily accessible at home. But it’s not always particularly quick – at least on most consumer drives anyway.

They may use the same hard disks as fast and fierce desktop PCs, but somewhere between the raw disk and your computer, data tends to get treacled.

Here’s some numbers: a 3.5in disk can easily dish the digits at 150MBps or more. When we measure the datarate at our PC, the average consumer NAS drive deals at 30Mbps or less. Often, much less. So our ears pricked up when Western Digital announced its new My Book Live with 100MBps read performance.

The WD My Book Live is a slimmed down volume compared to the company’s prior consumer NAS offerings, the My Book World Edition, and its bookish sequel, the My Book World Edition II.

The latter was after all just two internal hard disks under one cover. The speed-bragging WD My Book Live, meanwhile, remains a few millimetres thinner and shorter than even the first edition. It’s a simplified piece of hardware, for sure. There’s no USB port to add more storage or printers, nor even a power switch on the back any more.

Inside the WD My Book Live is a single 3.5in WD Caviar Green hard disk, either 1TB or 2TB capacity – a quiet, low-power drive optimised for home use and domestically innocuous compared to the speed demons that tend to get fitted to power PCs and servers.

It’s not silent, but it’s one of the quietest 3.5in disks you can buy right now. And the WD My Book Live is fanless, relying on convection cooling with its array of dot-and-dash perforations around the case.

Western Digital has spruced up the interface a little compared to its literary friends, with a dark but colourful webpage interface to help set up and manage the drive.

But it’s a doddle to do so, with the Support link in the left-hand list of options reassuringly underscored by the strapline ‘Let us help you’.

Improvements we appreciate in the simple interface include a new option to set the energy-saver time out duration.

Like other Western Digital consumer NAS drives, the WD My Book Live will appear automatically as a network server to Windows and Mac computers, with an FTP server thrown in for good measure.

Linux is not so immediately well served; but most Linux users will be accomplished enough to know how to get connected through manual means.

There’s also the Java-based MioNet service, to let you copy off your files when you're outside the home network.

A most worthy application of a NAS drive is computer backups. To this end, WD provides instructions for Windows 7 users to use the Backup and Restore feature in the OS to send files to the WD My Book Live. And Mac users can take advantage of OS X’s built-in Time Machine app to do the same, straight to the NAS.

Performance

We tried some time trials to see just how quick the WD My Book Live could be. We didn’t quite get the speed promised – but we did find the WD My Book Live to be the fastest consumer-level NAS we’ve seen.

Curiously, our tests with an Apple MacBook Pro (4,1) couldn’t elicit any read speeds faster than 57MBps, and writes to the drive never beat 47MBps. We tried dabbling with jumbo frames on our gigabit connection, to no tangible benefit.

In Windows 7 we saw faster speed on an Acer TimelineX 4820TG, also direct-connected over gigabit ethernet. Here we could copy large video files much quicker, the WD My Book Live indicating average read speeds up to 78MBps and writes to the drive at 48MBps.

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Group test: what's the best NAS drive?

Group test: what's the best portable hard drive?

With new sharing features - including a file-sharing portal - and great performance, it brings the My Book line up-to-date. Offering 2TB of storage, the My Book Live costs £177 inc VAT and delivery, about half what you'd pay for similarly performing NAS competitors. (A 1TB version sells for just £122, also a deal.)

WD claims performance up to 100 megabytes per second for the Western Digital My Book Live; and in both our testing and our hands-on evaluations, the drive proved to be an excellent performer. We didn't see 100 MBps, but we did see 30-MBps writes and 47-MBps reads. That's the kind of performance we've encountered only from the Synology DS1010+ and the LaCie 2big Networ 2TB (our top performer, the QNAP TS-859 Pro, is far faster). Those are the three speediest NAS boxes we've tested to date, so the My Book Live is in heady company.

Western Digital provides an app called WD Photos for the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, and Apple iPod touch that lets you view pictures stored on the Western Digital My Book Live. You need to subscribe to Western Digital's MioNet web-based data portal to use it, but that's free for any WD My Book Live owner. Unfortunately, Google Android and Palm OS users will have to stick with plain old web-based access. The app works quite well, but it supports only JPEG files.

Setting up the Western Digital My Book Live would have been easy for me without an older half-duplex hub on my network that the My Book Live does not support. Half-duplex is rare, though; and once I removed the switch, installation proceeded without incident. The drive's SmartWare software detected and mapped the drive and installed the Quick View and SmartWare monitoring utility.

The Western Digital My Book Live serves up media to iTunes, as well as DLNA and UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) media adapters via the embedded Twonky media server. It worked perfectly with Windows Media Player 11, even with high bit-rate 1080p video.

The Western Digital My Book Live's major limitation is by design: It's a single-drive NAS box. As a result, it's useful as shared storage, but less so for backup purposes. We recommend not trusting any single-drive product with your important data unless you're mirroring that drive off-site or locally. Given the unit's speed, backing up the My Book Live across the network is perfectly viable, but make sure you do so - unless, of course, you're simply serving up DVD rips and copies of your photos and music.

Another limitation compared with other network-attached drives: the Western Digital My Book Live has no USB port for attaching printers or additional USB drives.

The Western Digital My Book Live offers a ton of of NAS capacity for a relatively small amount of cash. It's fast enough that you won't even think of it as network storage once you set it up, and it serves up media nicely. The remote access via MioNet is a major benefit as well.

Jon L Jacobi, PCWorld.com

See also: Group test: what's the best NAS drive?

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Group test: what's the best portable hard drive?

Western Digital My Book Live: Specs

  • 2TB NAS drive
  • Western Digital Caviar Green 3.5in SATA disk
  • gigabit ethernet
  • ENERGY STAR qualified
  • iTunes server, UPnP media server
  • external DC power supply
  • 50 x 139 x 167mm
  • 1.09kg
  • 3-year warranty
  • 2TB NAS drive
  • Western Digital Caviar Green 3.5in SATA disk
  • gigabit ethernet
  • ENERGY STAR qualified
  • iTunes server, UPnP media server
  • external DC power supply
  • 50 x 139 x 167mm
  • 1.09kg
  • 3-year warranty

OUR VERDICT

The My Book Live is the speediest consumer-oriented NAS drive we’ve seen. More than just spec-chasing, this brings real benefits in its use, shortening the wait for big file transfers and backups. It even makes the drive feel more like a local drive on your desktop, in its essential responsiveness with small-file access. Just make sure you have a gigabit network to take advantage of all this extra pace.

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