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WD Makes Great Drives, But Beware of Vine Reviews on This One
on February 9, 2013
It's a bias, but I love Western Digital drives. I am an IT professional by trade, but I'm not sure that makes me any kind of authority on the subject. I don't do reliability testing or bench-marking for a living. While all the data I've see tends to reinforce my existing bias, it is the nature of biases to be self-affirming. All I can offer, then, is my personal opinion and my professional recommendation, based on my own experiences.
The truth is, that's often all we IT people can provide: opinions, and sometimes shaky ones. We tend to form our opinions based on experiences when the truth about how good or bad a particular drive model or maker is, is really a matter of statistics. We instead reach conclusions based on anecdotal evidence and recommendations from friends or colleague, and it's far too easy for a popular conception, a single run of good luck, or a single bad experience to cloud the statistical realty. We also tend to become brand loyal once we enter a place of comfort with a product line. But I've seen plenty of Western Digital drives die. I've seen plenty of ANY brand of hard drive die: Maxtor, Seagate, Samsung, you name it. I recommend that you take all consumer reviews for hard drives with a grain of salt and look online for professional reviews, benchmarks, and reliability data if you really want to know how a given drive rates. Anandtech, Tom's Hardware, and PC Perspective are some good starting points.
With all that in mind, my biases are not without reasons. I've been very pleased with every Western Digital drive I've owned over the last 13 years of my personal computing life. I originally became a fan because of the large capacities, large cache, and low seek times back when I was picking parts for my first computer that I bought myself--a Dell. Back then, Dell's site had better data on their components available. It was easy to get a table that showed you all the specs of the various options and you could easily see where the best bang for your buck would be. The Western Digital drives were all much better performers than the other options Dell had at that time. Unlike some of my other old loyalties (like the one I had for Linksys products, for example), I've continued to be impressed by Western Digital products. I have a 1 TB Black drive as my main data drive in my current box.
The reasons I like Western Digital are not just due to the hardware itself, though. Their support has been good compared to others I've had to contact in the past. I have also yet to have had a problem getting WD to honor a warranty replacement, unlike some truly awful experiences I've had with other brands (again, bias!). Western Digital also has some pretty good free tools (Data Lifeguard) for diagnostics, data destruction, and data migration. This is important if you ever suspect the drive could be failing and want to vet it. I've been less impressed by the software WD includes with their external backup drives, so when I was looking for a backup drive I thought it would be better and cheaper to just get a bare internal drive and use it in my docking station for backing up.
This particular drive is just what I was looking for. The Black drives are the higher end, higher performing drives, but I'm only using this as a backup disk, so the Blue specs more than meet my needs. That said, this model is the WD10EZEX, which has a 64 MB cache as opposed to the almost WD10EALX 1TB Blue drive, which is almost the same except that it only has 32MB of cache. So, I would definitely go with this one. With the 64 MB cache, the WD10EZEX 1 TB Blue drive specs are almost identical to the WD1002FAEX 1 TB Black drive I already own, which is supposed to be higher end and costs bit more. I have to say, I'm not convinced there's much difference between Blue/Black drives, at least if you get the WD10EZEX with the 64 MB cache. The fact the costs are quite close makes me feel like the two lines have converged and overlapped.
Out of curiosity, I did a quick test using HD Tach and was shocked by the results: the WD10EZEX Blue drive outperformed my WD1002FAEX black drive in some respects! Keep in mind that these are both 1 TB drives and both have 64 MB cache. After running a long bechmark test on both drives I was surprised to find that the average read speed was 148.5 MB/s for the Blue drive, but only 1.06.3 MB/s for my Black drive. At first I was worried something might be wrong with my Black drive, but I compared it to the benchmark I ran when I first got the drive and the results were the same. The Black drive does outperform the Blue drive in Random access times, however (12 ms compared to 19 ms), but the point is that this does make one question if the Black drives are worth the extra money over the WD10EZEX Blue drive.
I also considered the Green drives, but I've read mixed reviews and the price is the same anyway. The Blue drives are like the Goldilocks drive everyone should get unless they have specific reasons to do otherwise. I'm sure I'll get many years of happy use out of this drive. I rated it 5 stars, because I feel it deserves 5 stars, but if you want/meed real hardcore performance you may wish to consider the higher end options from WD, or just go with an SSD if don't also need have a need for a high capacity and if price isn't a big concern.
So, why should you beware of Vine Reviews for this product? I'll tell you.
Vine is a great program. As a Vine participant, Amazon sends me free products that I can choose from a list of available products. In exchange, I write a review for the product on Amazon. I get free stuff, and the product gets faster traction on Amazon by building up a baseline of reviews (unreviewed/unrated products don't sell as well). Of course there is always a potential for bias when reviewing a product you didn't have to pay for, but I feel like most Vine participants recognize the value of being impartial and thorough in their reviews. It certainly brings out the critic in me and I love being able to share my opinions with the rest of the community here on Amazon.
You might, therefore, imagine my surprise when I opened the package and found a letter enclosed from Western Digital addressing Vine members. This was the first and only time I've seen this, so I found it odd. It started out telling me to enjoy the free drive and thanking me for taking the time to review their product. OK, harmless enough. What really upset me, however, is that the letter then went on to tell me about the all the great features and benefits of my new drive and even listed several specific points that I might wish to highlight in my review (!!!!). I might, for example, want to mention it's quiet performance.
This is clearly an attempt by Western Digital to steer Vine reviews to match the talking points of their ad campaign. I don't know that Amazon is aware of this, but I think they should be if they aren't already. I'm also not sure if this violates any kind of policy Amazon might have concerning products for Vine reviews, or if they even have such a policy, but I hope they take the matter seriously. To be fair, it is possible that the intention here is more benign how I am interpreting it. Reviewing a technical product is tricky. You don't want to give away drives just to get a bunch of reviews that say "this is a great drive" but give no details about the features smart shoppers might be wanting to know about. Maybe the intention here was just to help reviewers think of what the criteria of their review should focus on. But, this could have been done much more simply, if that were the case. The letter, which should have come from Amazon in that case, should have at least used neutral language like "please consider the following criteria in your review: operating noise, capacity, etc". But the letter's language was much closer to asking reviewers to mention how awesome WishperDrive technology is. I really do feel this threatens to undermine the integrity of Vine reviews.
I wanted to mention and discuss this for two reasons: 1) to get this out there so Amazon is aware and so they can take action if need be, and 2) to tell potential buyers so they can use judgment when reading through reviews. If you see a vine review that sounds suspiciously similar to the front of the box, you'll know why!