WD MyCloud 4 TB review: An incredibly useful device, but only in the right hands

The first thing you need to know about the WD MyCloud is that it’s not a traditional external hard disk that you plug into a PC or carry around with you.

Managing my home storage has always been a bit of a pain. The problem is — and I’m certainly not alone in this — that I’ve got a house filled with electronics and no centralised way to share data between them.

At the moment, I have two desktop PCs, one Windows laptop, two MacBooks, an Xbox One S and six phones. Sharing data between all of these devices is, well, hell. I can use a pen drive, but when I’m transferring large files, it’s too slow. Backing up these devices is also a tortuous process. Do I go from device to device with a hard disk and backup the files individually? What about the phones? All the data is scattered across everyone’s personal devices, and few have enough space to hold more than one backup. For example: How do I backup my 256 GB iPhone on a 128 GB MacBook Pro?

The WD MyCloud drive is difficult to set up, but extremely useful once done

The WD MyCloud drive is difficult to set up, but extremely useful once done

The worst problem is sharing photos. With so many devices, there’s no way to have everything in one spot for the entire family to enjoy.

So far, my solution has been to use one of the PCs for handling all my storage needs. I’ve had to set up network shares that everyone can access and also had to ensure that the PC is running 24/7. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because that setup only really works for other Windows PCs. Accessing from a Mac and smartphones is possible, but it’s not as straightforward, requiring specific apps and jumping through a few hoops.

While this has been a functional solution, it’s still problematic. Even something as simple as streaming my iTunes movie library requires setup.

One of the most obvious solutions to this problem is to get a NAS (network attached storage) box. This is essentially a tiny little PC that’s attached to your network and handles data. It certainly seems like a great option, and I’ll be trying one out soon enough, but it’s relatively expensive, costing as much as a cheap PC.

An alternative that I found quite interesting, and more suited to my needs, was the WD MyCloud. I wanted to test it out for myself and called up WD for a review unit. They willingly obliged — being a tech journalist has its perks!

After spending a month with the unit, here are my thoughts.

Initial setup

The first thing you need to know about the WD MyCloud is that it’s not a traditional external hard disk. This is not a device that you plug into a PC or a laptop and transfer files to. You do not carry this around with you when you go from place to place.

The MyCloud device variants offer up to 8 TB of storage.

The MyCloud device variants offer up to 8 TB of storage.

As the name implies, think of the MyCloud as your own little personal cloud storage box. Install it somewhere in your house, plug it into your router/network switch and then forget that it physically exists. If setup correctly, all your data will simply be accessible from anywhere in the world and on any device and you’ll never have to think about it again.

Hooking the MyCloud unit up to my router was as easy as plugging in the bundled ethernet cable to the device and my router, but this is where the challenge really starts.

The setup process as advertised by WD on the box is a 3-step one. However, it’s considerably more complicated than that. The initial setup process only initialises the unit and sets up a network-connected storage hub that’s invisible to your devices unless you know what you’re doing.

As a power user, I knew that I needed to set up network shares, create multiple user accounts, one for every person in the house, and a separate guest account. I know that I need to fix its IP, assign privilege levels for accounts, etc.

There is no way that an average user is going to know how to do this and I do wish that WD’s messaging around this was clearer. An average user is not going to know about the dangers of giving everyone admin privileges, securing the account, etc.

Moving on, the drive supports several features, including the option to host a DLNA server, your iTunes library, etc. There is no easy way to enable any of this.

Or rather, enabling this is very easy, but only if you know what you’re doing.

Where’s a geek when you need one?

I won’t bore you with the details of the setup process. If you’re competent enough to know what a CAT6 cable is and how to set up network shares, you’ll be competent enough to do the setup yourself. If all the above is gibberish, then any instructions I give will also be gibberish.

On the rear you will find the gigabit Ethernet port and a USB 3.0 port

On the rear you will find the gigabit Ethernet port and a USB 3.0 port

After setup, my home storage environment looked something like this:

-All devices that need access to the data on the MyCloud drive can now access it over the home network.

-All MacBooks will now automatically backup their data to the MyCloud drive.

-Movies and music stored on iTunes are now accessible to everyone.

-All iPhones now backup to the MyCloud drive.

-All photos are accessible from anywhere to all members of my family.

-Guests can access a limited collection of photos, music and movies.

-Downloads automatically go to the MyCloud drive.

-The Xbox One S can access the media library and can now stream movies to the TV at any time.

-I would get email alerts when anything happened to the MyCloud drive, even a power outage.

With this one device and a few days of tinkering, I’ve vastly streamlined data use in my house and made it convenient for anyone to use and access data storage with minimal fuss. As a bonus, the MyCloud consumes a fraction of the power that my PC consumes, so my electricity bill isn't going to shoot through the roof.

It still took me a few days to sort out all the kinks in the system, but once sorted, it was easy to forget that the device even existed.

Since I use some relatively fancy network hardware, speeds were amazing. Data transfer speeds easily hit over 90 Mbps on LAN and 50 Mbps over Wi-Fi. Once set up, the device worked like a charm. There were no random reboots, connection issues or anything else. It worked reliably and delivered on demand. One of my colleagues who owns a similar MyCloud unit did complain that the USB file transfer option  on the unit was iffy and that he had issues transferring files to the device. The problem is that there's no clear indicator that files are being transferred, and neither are there error messages when something goes wrong. He only realised that all was not well when he looked for a particular file and found the folder to be blank. I didn't have any file transfer issues myself, however, and it's possible that this was a one-off. That being said. the device UI could certainly have been clearer with its messaging.

One thing that worries me with the MyCloud is that you’ll still need yet another storage unit to ensure that you have a backup of the data on the MyCloud. Putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, is never a good thing. If all the data is stored on the MyCloud and you lose the MyCloud, you’ve lost all your data.

Thankfully, WD does provide a ‘safepoint’ feature that makes it easy to setup a scheduled backup of data to either another USB drive or a network location. I only wish that the MyCloud was a multi-drive unit with inbuilt redundancy to protect against data loss, but at its offered price, I can’t really complain, and it’s already doing so much.

Conclusion

As a power user, I’m in love with what the WD MyCloud has to offer. It’s the perfect upgrade from a regular portable hard disk and streamlines data use. It also proved to be eminently reliable, which is important when dealing with our precious data stores. As an upgrade from a dumb hard drive, the WD MyCloud shines. It’s not as powerful or feature-rich as a proper NAS unit but it doesn’t need to be and it's also much cheaper.

The pricing is very reasonable. A 4 TB hard disk will cost you about Rs 10,000. A complete NAS setup will cost you around Rs 30,000. The WD MyCloud, the 4 TB version that I tested, can be had for around Rs 13,000-14,000. Rs 3,000 for smartening up your home storage is reasonable, methinks.

My real issue with the drive, and one that should be easy to fix, is the challenge that the initial setup will present to regular home users. If I give a MyCloud to my dad, he won’t know what to do with it.

Not everyone is going to know how to properly set up the device and even fewer people are going to know about “best practices” when it comes to network security. And who’s going to sit and configure all the other devices in the house to connect to the MyCloud? The first time setup was a weekend project for me, and I can't imagine what the process will feel like to someone who isn't a bit geeky.

Think of it this way, when you buy an air conditioner, you’re not going to be setting it up yourself. An engineer will pop over, examine your room and install the unit as appropriate. He’ll then give you a run-down of the features and explain how to use the unit. You don’t need to know how to install the AC or even how it works. As an average user, you’re only concerned that it cools your room and that it’s easy to control. If it doesn’t do that, you’re not going to like it.

This is the kind of experience that should accompany a WD MyCloud purchase, and it’s the only way it’ll ever go mainstream. In an ideal world, I’d love for an engineer to pop over, help with the initial setup and configure all my devices as needed. If I buy this for my grandmother, I shouldn’t have to go to her house to help set it up.

The WD MyCloud a great device that can transform your approach to home storage. It’s also an entirely new class of device whose potential is frustratingly obfuscated by an unintuitive setup process. For a device that's marketed as a mainstream, consumer-centric device, the entry barrier is simply too high. This is a great product that might simply die out for lack of adequate support.

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