WD MyCloud £129.99
12th Oct 2013 | 20:59
Is WD's new home NAS the right device to store and backup all your content?
The name of WD's new Network Attached Storage (NAS) unit is an attempt to tap into the new-found consumer enthusiasm about cloud computing or, in other words, storing stuff online.
But instead of storing your files on the internet, WD's MyCloud is a local networked repository for all your content so you can access it from your Mac (ideal for those of us that have a low capacity flash drive in our laptops) as well as your iPad, iPhone or Android device using free WD MyCloud apps.
So by buying a device such this, you can legitimately store all your music, photos, videos and files on the device so you can access them from any Mac or PC. The mobile landscape is a little more complex, since the MyCloud iOS, Andoid and Windows Phone apps only support native formats on the device.
So while you won't have a problem playing an .mp3 file, you will have a problem playing that video file you downloaded. MyCloud is a UPnP and DLNA compable media device, so it can also be accessed from numerous other devices such as an internet-connected TV.
The MyCloud does also have its own iTunes Server, however, so you can easily browse and play back on iTunes for Mac and PC (though, and we've never understood this, not on iOS devices without a third party app).
MyCloud is the next step on from WD's MyBook Live line-up and, as such, backup is also part of the deal – MyCloud is fully Time Machine compatible for Mac, while there is also a backup product called SmartWare available for Windows. Or you could use Windows Backup if you preferred, of course.
MyCloud is available in 2TB, 3TB and 4TB capacities, though we're looking at the entry level 2TB version here. WD is certainly offering plenty of space.
On pure price it doesn't compare favourably with a standard external hard drive because of the multitude of extra features on offer. But it's an awful lot cheaper than Apple's £249 AirPort Time Capsule, for example.
MyCloud is based on Western Digital's WD Red hard drives specifically designed for regular NAS use and features a new dual-core processor. It's NTFS formatted and is compatible with Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP (SP3); Mac OS X Mountain Lion, Lion and Snow Leopard.
As MyCloud is a single drive NAS solution, there are legitimate concerns over data security. If you're just using the box as a backup for your PC or Mac, then that's one thing. But if you're using it as the main repository for your content then it itself needs to be backed up. WD's answer to this is a Safepoint feature within the browser-based configuration display.
This means you can back up the contents of the NAS to an external hard drive connected via the USB 3.0 port. You're essentially creating a restore point for your MyCloud.
Installation and Performance
WD says it has tried harder than ever to make things easy for novices to get used to network storage, and the install does make it easy to access the web-based interface and files on the drive. You can visit a single URL from a Mac or PC or a network address on a mobile device and the setup is performed for you.
On a Mac or PC this involves downloading a .exe or .dmg file and performing a short and simple installation.
On Windows, you'll find some handy shortcuts pasted to your Desktop so you can access the configuration interface - which is excellent and provides simple, at-a-glance information – as well as the Windows Explorer view of the drive (though, bizarrely, it doesn't map it as a drive letter).
However, what this setup doesn't do is to get you to download the other software available for the drive. This includes the MyCloud app for Mac and PC and the SmartWare backup software for PC. They're shown in the initial browser window and there are some links at the end of the install to the software, but they should be options in the setup.
The setup enables you to create a drive share, which you can then protect and access externally. Signing up for a WDMyCloud.com online account for each user account on the NAS gives you a code for access on the mobile app (or you can sign in using your username and password) and also remote access to your drive. For example, using the MyCloud desktop app on our work desktop PC we could easily retrieve files from our MyCloud at home.
Equally you can do this online via the WDMyCloud.com portal. The reason for the access code as an alternative to your password is that you can create a user account for a friend and give them access.
Overall, we were impressed with copy speeds on our network – we hooked up the MyCloud to our D-Link DIR-868L 802.11ac router using Gigabit Ethernet and then tested the speeds over 802.11n wireless. This wouldn't achieve the speeds we could if we were wirelessly connected with 802.11ac or if our Windows 8.1 PC was connected by Ethernet, but it is a much more realistic usage scenario.
We tested the connection by copying 100MB and 1GB zip files to and from the NAS and found we comfortably got copy speeds of 14-16MB per second on our 5GHz network and 8MB or so on our busier 2.4Ghz network. Our 1GB file copied in 75 seconds over 5GHz but took 2 minutes 54 seconds.
Internal access from the WD MyCloud apps was perfectly fine, but we found it was a little slower than we'd expected externally.
Providing you've signed up to WDMyCloud.com - and your drive and router are on - you can access your drive when you're not at home. This works well, although we found it was a slower way of looking up files than accessing them on, say, Dropbox.
Not by much, but when you're looking for a key file it does make a difference. More likely we think is that you'll use it to access media content when time is not so crucial.
The mobile apps work well both as ways to browse your content, but they only work on files and folder structures rather than file types.
Using the app for backup isn't an easy option, though you can upload files.
It is extremely useful for finding that file you've managed to forget, though. Streaming support is limited to the device you're using the app on, and most content needs to be downloaded to your device before it will display (though you can control the cache and data plan use, see above), so you'll need a decent amount of free storage for buffering video, for example.
Our MyCloud was connected up to a 65Mbps BT Infinity line, so we're fairly sure our home connection wasn't a problem!
The MyCloud desktop app is essentially a window onto your NAS drive but it's of limited use locally. What it is great for is sharing specific files and folders via email and for remote access but for accessing files over your home network it is quite sluggish and we found it disappointing overall – it's certainly slower than accessing your files via a Finder or Windows Explorer window.
One of the things we liked the most about MyCloud is how quiet it is. Even under heavy file operation it is barely noticeable in a room, even if it's a living room. That's more than we can say about its predecessor - the MyBook Live – which was quite noisy under heavy write operation. Another nice touch is that you can turn the MyCloud's blue LED off so it's virtually unnoticeable. WD says that energy consumption is only a few watts on idle.
The MyCloud is an extremely useful box, especially when it comes to backup. But we can't help but think there's a missing link with that – we'd love to see the contents of our NAS drive being backed up to the actual cloud automatically for a fee. After all, if it was to get stolen along with your Mac, all your files would be completely gone. The Safepoint feature goes some way to limiting the problems of having a single volume NAS box with no internal backup, but unless you physically take the hard drive somewhere else – such as to work – there is still a risk of complete data loss, however small.
What we liked
Once it's set up, this is an easy-to-manage device that's accessible from virtually anywhere. It will handle the dual needs of backup and file storage and is a great place to keep media content and stream to iTunes or any other connected devices on your network. While it's decent for connecting to iOS, Android or Windows Phone devices on your own network (providing you've got stuff in the right format!), it's brilliant for use with multiple PCs or Macs and really sets you free from the mentality of having all your content on a single PC – providing, of course, you save all your content to the network drive instead of locally. An added bonus is that all the MyCloud apps (mobile or desktop) really enable you to share files effectively.
What we didn't like
There are still some gaps in the user experience – how would novices ever know they really should download the extra software for easy desktop access? For us, the dots aren't quite joined up. And if NAS is ever to break out of its prosumer bubble, people need more help than is provided here.
They need to know how the browser-based configuration interface, Windows Explorer/Finder view and additional software relate to one another. And that's before you get to the add-on backup software for PC. The mobile apps aren't that useful for watching downloaded video content or other files in unusual formats and as such are a bottleneck for content consumption.
The hardware is extremely capable, the software isn't quite there as yet.
Overall, this is a terrific home NAS device and the best currently available. Despite WD's protestations, there are still some problems with handholding through the setup process. Dots still need joining.
But we love the performance, the lack of noise and the price as well as the ability to get remote access. Because of media format support issues it remains of limited use for remotely streaming to a mobile device but for any PC or Mac it's a fantastic extra.
And it's brilliant for accessing and sharing non-media files on any device. We'd still like to see a way to get MyCloud backed up without having to get hold of a separate hard drive and doing it yourself. Backup is always best effective when it's automated.