Western Digital is a brand known for setting standards in terms of external storage drives. From MyBook, over Elements, right to the Passport series, this manufacturer’s external disks have been much appreciated globally. A few years ago, WD boldly stepped on previously unfamiliar turf – the field of media players. Several models that they subsequently put out managed to reach an almost cult status, with advanced users particularly appreciating the almost limitless capabilities in terms of software replacements.
After a long period of strategic planning, WD has decided to reach out into the NAS (Network-Attached Storage) market as well. The said market niche is a very picky one, with buyers usually looking for a plethora of options and a lot of storage space. Calling this device category “personal cloud storage”, WD seems to have opted for a very interesting way of marketing their first NAS device, called WD MyBook Live.
WD’s idea was to create a somewhat non-standard NAS device with the MyBook Live series. Having in mind that this product family is aimed at ordinary users who don’t require the billion options commonly found on other NAS devices, WD has decided to optimise its capabilities and add a few extras to make the device more interesting to the end user.
The first NAS of the fold is based on the Caviar Green series, with capacities of 1 TB, 2 TB and 3 TB. We got the smallest-capacity model for testing, and we have to admit that 1 TB feels a bit modest for this day and age. The device has a gigabit LAN port, which was all but expected, but the lack of a USB port was definitely an unpleasant surprise. Not only does this disable any chance of connecting the device to a PC, but also makes it impossible for the user to additionally expand storage space by adding an auxiliary external hard drive.
As far as hardware goes, the PowerPC CPU working at 800 MHz is definitely noteworthy, coupled with 256 MB RAM, which is sufficient, but only just. The operating system is based on Debian Linux, with most features “surgically removed”, bar LAN and SATA support. Since it’s Debian Linux we’re talking about, it doesn’t come across as surprising that there’s already a tonne of DIY websites explaining all the things you can do to enhance or modify this WD NAS in detail.
The device settings default to DHCP, so the device should be registered on your home network as soon as power kicks in (of course, if DHCP is active on your main router). Windows 7 recognises the device flawlessly and installs the latest drivers from Microsoft’s online driver database automatically. The setup can be accessed either via the supplied application or through the web interface. The latter is particularly well-made, with a bunch of explanations accompanying nearly every feature, so that even the complete newbie doesn’t end up confused. Setup is largely standard-fare: you can create user accounts and modify access privileges, set which folders are to be shared network-wide etc. Everything’s kept simple and streamlined, and the only flaw that we’ve been able to come up with is the lack of user group creation/management support. Owing to the useful Windows application that’s also supplied by WD, less experienced users will be able to automatically set the device as the default network hard disk, with its own assigned partition letter.
The device has a backup option for safekeeping data from your main PC, which works well both with the built-in Windows tools as well as Apple Timeline. Beginners will particularly appreciate the detailed user manual, which thoroughly explains optimal settings to be used when backing up the entire PC. WD supplies its own SmartWare backup application too.
Although WD claims that the device is able to reach speeds of 100 MB/s, we’ve only been able to squeeze out some 45 MB/s for write and 50 MB/s for read. We’ve tried switching the supplied 5e-category LAN cable for a 6-category one, but the results remained unchanged in both fields.
MyBook Live doesn’t contain any fans and doesn’t really need any either – even longer sessions of activity can’t make this device warm up significantly. Even more importantly, since we’re talking about NAS devices, WD is extremely quiet, mostly because it’s based on the Caviar Green HDD series, which spins at 5400 rpm. Furthermore, a very good power management system has been implemented into it, which puts the hard disk to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity.
And now for the surprise
The “Live” in the device name isn’t there by chance, and the same goes for the marketing slogan “personal cloud storage”. Although the following doesn’t really relate to what we usually mean by “cloud storage”, the user can set up MyBook Live in such a way that it can be accessed from anywhere as long as you keep your internet connection active. The device can be accessed from a remote PC, but also from an Android or Apple phone/tablet (via the WD2Go application). OK, this may not sound particularly innovative or groundbreaking, but it does take away the need for an advanced user in order to set up all these functions (particularly firewall and port forwarding) properly. WD has invested a great deal of effort to simplify the process as much as possible and managed to find a way to do this by streaming the data through their own servers, acting as mediators between MyBook Live and the remote device (PC/phone/tablet). Of course, security is a number one priority, so you’ll have to enter a web-generated access code in order to create a pairing between an Android phone and MyBook Live. Depending on your assigned privileges, you can use your phone to access images, music or videos. Images have to be downloaded to the phone in order to be opened, but audio and video content can be streamed from the device directly.
This streaming is done via the preinstalled DLNA server on MyBook Live. It’s yet another rarely encountered solution in NAS devices. If you have a newer-generation TV set with “smart” capabilities (or a network media player), you can also access audio and video files, as well as images, directly from your TV. We tested this with LG’s TV from the SmartTV family. The TV was able to recognise the new DLNA device instantly and offered to display its content. What truly impressed us is the speed at which MyBook Live was able to access shared folders and an even greater one with which the device streamed HD content. For instance, while the Windows 7 native DLNA server took 3-5 seconds to start the playback of a 15 GB HD video, the same file only took a second or two at most to begin streaming from WD MyBook Live. The situation is much the same with skipping to a certain time or scene in a film, which WD’s device also handles with ease. However, WD couldn’t keep everything ideal, so they opted for the Twonky DLNA server. It remains a mystery to us why they picked this one in particular, especially since it isn’t even free. The version that ships with the device is 5.1.9, while the latest version is already upwards of 6.0, but you have to pay to obtain it. The issue with Twonky is that the DLNA server doesn’t recognise external subtitles in any format, which makes them virtually inaccessible. Since most TVs aren’t able to read subtitles embedded into their container files, particularly when played via DLNA, the user ends up with a stalemate position. Several guides explaining how to install other, free DLNA server solutions on MyBook Live exist on the internet, so as to provide subtitle support (such as miniDLNA and Serviio), but these will be hard to follow up on for users unaccustomed to more advanced Linux properties. Therefore, the device may end up with seriously impaired functionality on more specific, local markets, as you can forget about watching films in languages other than the ones you speak fluently. Of course, you can always “stick” the subtitles on the video through recompression, but that makes the entire concept a bit absurd.
Could be, and doesn’t have to
MyBook Live Duo Western Digital has also recently presented the MyBook Live Duo product family, which follows the same concept as the ordinary version, but with two HDDs paired in RAID. The capacities of these devices are 4 TB or 6 TB, and there’s even the possibility to create a RAID 1 strip and ensure maximum data safety. As a special treat, WD has enabled users to replace one of the disks themselves in case of disk failure
MyBook Live Duo
Western Digital has also recently presented the MyBook Live Duo product family, which follows the same concept as the ordinary version, but with two HDDs paired in RAID. The capacities of these devices are 4 TB or 6 TB, and there’s even the possibility to create a RAID 1 strip and ensure maximum data safety. As a special treat, WD has enabled users to replace one of the disks themselves in case of disk failure
So, do you have to own this device? If you’re not an experienced user and desire the ability to access your personal files from any location on the planet with an internet connection, you don’t have to look any further. If Linux is in your heart and you don’t mind reinstalling software a million times and trying out new combinations all the time, WD is definitely your weapon of choice. If you need a basic NAS with ordinary capacity, MyBook Live is an option to have in mind, but this largely depends on the retail price and how it compares to other currently available devices of the sort. Yet if you need a DLNA server, MyBook Live simply has too large a flaw to earn our recommendation. Since we’ve been long spoilt by WD’s excellent media players, we remain a bit disappointed by the fact that MyBook Live’s greatest flaw is showcased in its video streaming capabilities. We can but hope that a future update will rectify this issue.
|Western Digital my book live|
|hard disk||WD Caviar Green 5400 rpm|
|connectivity||Ethernet 1 Gbps|
|dimensions / weight||167x139x50 mm / 1.1 kg|