Firms like Western Digital are always telling us not to wait until a drive fails to invest in some backup solutions. And people like us are always ignoring them, assuming that it will never happen to us. Well, it did happen to us, and it was only once our 3TB drive started to fail that we thought to get the data off it as quickly as humanly possible.
This is stressful when it's your photos, data and video on the line, but it's also a great way to test a NAS, and a great way to see how it handles huge amounts of data.
You can get the WD Duo - we'll stick with that name, the full version will wear out our keyboard - in two possible configurations. Either with two, 2TB drives, or two 3TB drives. There are two ways your can set up the NAS as well. You can either bundle these disks together, using something called JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) or you can use a proper RAID configuration for safety.
And here enters the time honoured question: safety, or capacity? We are testing the 2x2TB system, so bundling the drives together with JBOD would give us 4TB and using RAID leaves us with a mirrored 2TB system that should protect us from a single-drive failure.
Given the circumstances, we opted for the safer, RAID system. This isn't just about mirroring, because with a JBOD configuration, if one drive fails, you also lose the data that was stored on the other drive. So it's not like a 50:50 thing, it's very much an all-or-nothing approach. Someone once describe JBOD as "great for people who hate their data". Drives do fail, after all, and it's a pretty miserable experience.
In RAID - specifically RAID1, used here - your data is kept safe using "mirroring". This means that two copies of your data are kept across the two drives. If one fails, the NAS should warn you, via its admin console - or, if you install it, the WD Quick View app, which monitors your NAS from a PC.
If you do get a failure, then you can remove the drive and replace it with a fresh one. Expensive, yes, but data is almost always worth more to us that a new hard drive. When you do this, the WD Duo will re-build the RAID array - which takes a long time, allow several hours - and before long your data is safe again.
The Duo is pretty much perfectly designed. You'd struggle to make it more practical, although you probably could make it more pretty. But doing so would also increase the cost, and honestly, we think the Duo is quite expensive enough as it is. Of course, with a NAS like this, the majority of the cost is tied up with the two hard drives that sit within. Because of production problems - the tragic tsunami in Thailand, which has resulted in a drive shortage - prices for these devices are quite high at the moment anyway.
The two drives sit in a sort of caddy system. You could remove them if you wanted, and, of course, should one fail, you'll have to. They are locked in place with a thumbscrew-type device that holds a mesh cover over the drives. It's easy enough to get off, but it's a bit stiff and you need some bravery to do it.
At the back is an ethernet socket, USB connector and, as you would expect, a power socket. The USB allows you to connect a thumb drive, or other USB drive, and share that content to others on your network.
If you're expecting your new NAS to fly along at speeds similar to your regular external hard drives, you're in for a fairly substantial disappointment. The transfer speeds depend on a lot of different factors too. The most we ever saw was around 10MB/s, which is perfectly reasonable, especially for relatively small amounts of data.
However, we moved 300GB in one folder alone, and that took a long time. Happily, most of the files were quite large, which means you get a good, solid transfer rate on them. Moving another, smaller folder, of emails was a lot more arduous, because the process of copying small files is a lot less efficient.
Our network, while based on pretty modern components, isn't gigabit speed. The WD NAS is, so if you have the right cable, router and computer you may see a speed boost. Honestly though, getting gigabit ethernet to work is one of the ongoing challenges in most home networks. We're certain many will be enjoying one, but we are not. Currently.
The thing we'd love to see, but which isn't possible, is a way to get the bulk of you data on to the WD without using the network. There is a USB socket here, but that's for sharing out USB drives for other network users, not to connect your computer directly. Allowing such an initial copy would really make the whole NAS installation process a lot more speedy and far less frustrating.
For a NAS to be effective, you need to store stuff on it manually, by copying data yourself, or automatically. Windows and MacOS both have tools to do this, and the WD Duo is Time Machine capable, so Mac users will likely have no worries. Windows users have a less elegant solution, in Windows own backup software, but it does work and will help keep your data safe.
It's also worth pointing out that Microsoft has a utility called SyncToy. This handy little app allows you to select folders from your Windows-based PC and keep them synced to another drive. It has to be local, but if you map your NAS to a drive letter, that's fine. This utility means adding new photos to your library can be auto-synced to the NAS. There is no need to rely on the backup system here, and the files remain easily accessible. A handy tip for those looking to keep data safe.
There are, of course, countless other options for backups, including some free ones. It's a little out of the scope of this review to recommend one, but you shouldn't want for options.
The personal cloud
One of the big selling points of the new Duo is its personal cloud functionality. This revolves around a couple of apps, which give you access to the files on your NAS via your phone or tablet. Both apps work on iOS and Android, and are free to download.
WD Photos was the first to be released, and it's pretty reasonable at what it does, which is letting you access photos stored on your NAS. They need to be in the correct share area, but that's a minimal concern. Images can be cached too, so looking at them over and over won't continue to consume data. It's a nice app, and a good feature, but it's not one we think will sell the device.
What might, is the WD 2go app. This is what WD means when it refers to your personal cloud. Essentially, your NAS is shared via your internet connection and gives you access to all of the files stored on it it from anywhere in the world. So, get to a meeting in New York and realise you've forgotten a zip of your portfolio, then a few taps in WD 2go and you'll have everything downloaded on your phone or tablet.
It works very well, and it's quick too. But be aware, transferring large files from your NAS to the internet is likely to be slow, as most home internet connections do not have fast upload bandwidth. Add to that the fact that most mobile internet connections are not that fast, and you might wait a while for files if you're not on Wi-Fi. But none of this matters, because the app works as well as it possibly can, and it's bound to be useful to lots of people. We certainly really liked it.
The WD MyBook Live Duo Personal Cloud is a pretty flexible device. If you have valuable data at home, you really need a NAS to protect it, and ideally, that NAS should have the protection of RAID.
Of course, RAID is expensive, because it halves the usable space. But in return, you get a hugely reduced chance that you'll lose valuable data. But at least with the WD you get the choice. And while no one could call these the pricing of either the 4TB or 6TB systems cheap, considering the price of hard drives currently, the high cost isn't a surprise.
Still, our WD Duo has worked brilliantly, the set-up is easy - if a little laboured for the RAID initialisation - and we feel our data is safer than before. Low power standbye also means this drive makes a better home media server than your power-hungry home PC, so if you're looking for a place to keep video, photos and music, there are worse ideas.