Network attached storage (NAS) is a category that has gradually inched its way into consumer mainstream. These products are common for enterprise applications where data storage is literal business, but now viable for people accumulating countless amounts of photos, audio, or whatever else in personal media they can’t bear to get rid of.
And this is also where Western Digital (WD) and their My Cloud Home Duo come into the limelight, as least in theory. I’ve always wanted a NAS-like arrangement myself, but complexity and (for me especially) price has made this ambition prohibitive. Now, after spending a very extended amount of time with this — I can confidently say that my hunt isn’t over.
I actually feel guilty saying that because on paper the My Cloud Home should’ve been competent. Geeks know that WD is an industry leader among manufacturers with reliable HDDs made to handle any objective, and their professional NAS offerings are recommended. The consumer-oriented Duo on the other hand doesn’t echo the emotion.
The My Cloud Home Duo at least looks good from the exterior, suitably stylized to fit within cubical décor or modern computer rooms. The plastic tones are split between a white glossy top and silver bottom finish adorned with a sleek diamond pattern, and each half is cleanly separated by a thin horizontal LED status strip. This is a polar opposite of the colder appearances that NAS enclosures typically feature, and it’s a good mix of subtle and business-like chic that works well.
Our tester is an 8TB Duo (also available in 4TB, 6TB 12TB, 16TB and 20TB) which gives you dual hard drives (in this case 2x4TB HDDs) and a wider profile, compared to the trimmer single drive unit.
Around back, connectivity is very much like other NAS devices, with two expandable Type-A USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, and a separate power port (I/O) for the included AC adapter. The USB drives are meant connect other external drives and operate for additional storage when needed, but cannot be hooked directly to a PC/Mac since it is a NAS-like device.
Let ‘WD’ Handle It (It’s Mandatory)
But that’s the problem, and maybe it’s my fault initially thinking this. But this is not a traditional NAS unit per se, rather it’s a very confined cloud drive that offers a deliberately minimal level of user input. The physical components of the Duo are self-serviceable, in which you can remove and/or replace the actual HDDs after prying open the top cover. By default, the system well set itself up in RAID1 mirroring mode to ensure that your data is kept safe if one of the drives fail, so in reality you’ll only have use of a single drive. This is a safer approach but you can toy around with running both drives at the same time, however, if you do this and both HDDs malfunction all your data is lost, just stick with the RAID1 setup for ease.
Once powered on and linked to the internet via Ethernet there really isn’t much in the way of instructions to pour over, first-time users should have no major issues getting this up and running. However, there are requirements involving you creating a WD My Cloud account (mycloud.com/hello) and allowing it to detect your device for registration, you must also download the WD Discovery desktop app for Windows/Mac for direct access.
I feel that I can be honest and tell you that this is the exact moment where my enthusiasm for the My Cloud Home dwindled. Even though it’s supposed to simplify access you are not allowed to natively find the My Cloud Home Duo by browsing network devices. In Windows you get an authentication error, and Apple shows a nondescript folder within your Time Machine backups like some sort of digital purgatory. Secondly, having both the app and a strong internet connection are needed to curate anything related to your My Cloud Home settings and content. You also have to make changes directly through via WD’s website since there no ‘local’ web portal for offline use. As you can imagine, things just keep getting better from here.
Sharing Is Not Caring
This will disappoint people who prefer absolute control and distribution of their own data, and spoils the experience for micromanagers. However, the My Cloud Home could make sense for families and more permissive individuals as you can add as many users as you want to the device, and you don’t have to worry about others polluting your space with digital crap as each individual’s stuff is private.
Unfortunately, the catch is twofold as sharable options is tediously limited to generating URLs and emailing it to friends and family. The process is ridiculously dated compared to just dragging and dropping files to other user. If you haven’t caught on yet, with WD commandeering the ecosystem, effectively defeating the purpose to instantly share whatever files/folder you want. You might as well skip the additional users and keep one account login with everyone you know to begin with.
Want to import materials by plugging in a USB drive, think again. File transferring is on lockdown as things can go into the My Cloud Home but nothing can come out. Yes, transfers are that restrictive where nothing can be directly copied onto portable storage, needless to say I was astounded by this revelation. Additionally, you can only copy data from the USB device using the app on your smartphone. That’s right — your USB drive is unseen in the file explorer, or online via WD’s website, or anywhere else. The only notification? A pop-up that tells you a USB drive is plugged in and only then are you allowed to copy selected files over.
My Cloud Home App
A (probable?) silver lining is that the My Cloud mobile app is a immediate gateway to limited management of your personal files. Sync backup and folder organization is a quick and painless process for recently uploaded or existing files whether it’s done over WiFi or 3G/4G-LTE, but that’s where the conveniences end. You can’t upload PDF documents and music (mp3, mp4a, FLAC, etc.) must be downloaded with the My Cloud Home mobile app, but images or video content can be actively viewed from your smartphone.
Things continue to be unusual as the My Cloud Home only recognizes one USB drive at a time, thus negating the point of having two USB ports on Duo variants. The aforementioned USB isolation is one thing but copying over files, no matter how intimate, can also be seen and download by other My Cloud users in the house during that moment.
WD was smart enough to not completely limit the My Cloud Home on the desktop since you can still sync data with such services as IFTTT, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and Facebook just in case you want to be prepared for the worst (because all those selfies are so important). Media hub duty will come from Plex, and is thankfully easy to enable as you’d expect. Once the program is up and running you can stream media to devices in your network through the Plex app or DLNA-compatible TVs or game consoles.
Performance on Plex was good for HD content running in 1080p but didn’t make the grade when stepped up to 4K/UHD viewing, this didn’t surprise me as the My Cloud Home internals weren’t necessarily made for next-generation bitrate content with noticeable load times and constant buffering. However, little of this actually mattered because associated My Cloud Home apps have a tendency to crash, not only on the Discovery program but can force Windows Explorer to restart in its entirety.
We did put this NAS through real-world and CrystalDiskMark benchmarks but it was a mix between lukewarm and sluggish thanks to its 5400RPM HDDs and obstructive software, so slow that a 13GB folder took almost 58 minutes to transfer, roughly 4.3MB/s. Judging from that, only the most apathetic types will wait for things to move.
Look, I don’t have to spell it out but the My Cloud Home Duo is a attempt from Western Digital to make NAS approachable, as long as you hand over the keys to your own stuff. In order to simplify the chore of data organization the Duo hijacks much of the experience, with integrated functionality going AWOL for people just wanting a habitual dump of their Instagram photos and SoundCloud songs. For reference, WD already make a great NAS with their regular My Cloud EX2, you should look into that one.