WD My Cloud EX4 review: An excellent RAID-enabled home NAS server

To make changes to the settings of the server, including turning its features on and off, adding more users, and so on, you will need to use the server's Web interface. To get there just point a connected computer to the server's IP address or click on the Dashboard icon created by the WD setup software.

The EX4's interface resembles My Cloud's: well-organized and easy to use, with access to all of the server's customizations and settings.

As with its predecessor, the biggest selling point of the My Cloud EX4 is the Cloud Access feature. This feature allows you to sign up for a WDMyCloud.com online account for each user account of the NAS server, and to create an access code for a remote device.

Apps are now supported, including third-party apps.
Apps are now supported, including third-party apps. Dong Ngo/CNET

The online account with WDMyCloud.com basically allows a VPN-like connection over the Internet for computer users. For example, when you're traveling away from home, even in a different country, then from a computer connected to the Internet you can point the browser to WDMyCloud.com and log in with the WDMyCloud account, and with a click you can quickly create a network drive linked to a share folder on the My Cloud NAS server at home. This means you can just drag and drop files between the computer and the server as though the two were on the same local network. This is similar to VPN access though there's no VPN connection. (Note that the speed of data moving between the remote computer and the NAS server depends on the speed of the Internet at both the computer and the server end.) You can also quickly disconnect the mapped network drive when you want to disconnect the remote computer from the server.

The access code for mobile devices would be useful if, for example, you want your friend who lives in a different city to be able to share data with you via the My Cloud. Just create a user account for that person on the NAS server, create an access code, and give the information to him or her. Your friend then can download the My Cloud mobile app, run it, and enter the code. Now your friend can use the My Cloud without ever having to be anywhere near the server, physically.

Both the WDMyCloud account and the My Cloud mobile app support multiple WD servers (true of both the My Cloud and My Cloud EX4). If you have more than one server, you have the option to pick which one you want to connect to at a time and it's very easy to switch between them.

The My Cloud EX4 supports all backup methods you can think of.
The My Cloud EX4 supports all backup methods you can think of. Dong Ngo/CNET

Good app for mobile backup, but limited for streaming
The My Cloud EX4 works with the same My Cloud mobile app as the My Cloud. Since my review of the My Cloud this app has gone through one update, but its functionality remains very much the same and rather limited.

The app allows you to remotely access the public share folders as well as the private share folder of the current user. You can quickly download files from the NAS server to the mobile device or back up files, such as photos and videos, from the mobile device onto the NAS server. You can do more than one of these tasks at the same time, making it an excellent backup server for those who love taking photos and video with their phones. In my trials, the backing-up process worked well with smaller files, such as documents or photos. When I wanted to back up a large file, such as a 30-second video recorded by an iPad, the performance was slow. But this depends a lot on the connection between the mobile device and the server. For obvious reasons, it generally works better over Wi-Fi than over a cellular connection.

While the backup function worked out OK, the My Cloud app's playback function was mediocre. For one, it only supports browsing content by folder, meaning you have to remember what you want to play back and where it is. There's no search function, either. Generally, it's OK if you want to play back a video, but for music and photos, it's such a pain, especially because while you can easily dig deeper into subfolders, there's no "back button" way to go back to the previous level of folder browsing, making the whole thing quite quite awkward.

The support for media streaming is also extremely limited: you can basically play back only the types of content natively supported by the mobile device. And only music can really be streamed; other content needs to be first buffered (temporarily downloaded) onto the mobile device before it can be played back. For example, if you want to view a photo that resides on the My Cloud NAS server using an iPad, the mobile app would first buffer the entire photo onto the mobile device before displaying it. This makes viewing even a small photo take quite a bit of time and makes it virtually impossible to stream video over a cellular connection.

In all the My Cloud app has a lot of potential but it will need a few major updates to be a viable remote-streaming option.

Lots of backup options, business features added
In addition to offering what the My Cloud does, the My Cloud EX4 now also supports a few business features, including iSCSI, Active Directory, and volume visualization. On top of that it now has an Apps center from which you can download and install more applications that add more functions and features to the server. Currently there are just a handful of apps but hopefully that will change in the future.

Support for third-party apps is a major development for WD's NAS servers. This brings the My Cloud EX4 a bit closer to other high-end servers on the market. The Synology DS412+, for example, has hundreds of apps to offer virtually all you can expect from a network storage device.

The My Cloud EX4 comes with all type of backups you can think of for a NAS server. You can back up content from one place to another within the server, between the server and connected USB external storage devices, between multiple EX4 units in a local network or over the Internet, and up to a cloud service, such as Amazon S3 or ElephantDrive.

Fast performance for home
I tested the My Cloud EX4 with RAID 5 and it offered very good performance at 51MBps and 90MBps for writing and reading, respectively, via a Gigabit Ethernet connection. Compared with the My Cloud, the EX4 was slightly slower in write speed but much faster in read speed. Compared with other similarly configured NAS servers, the EX4 was below the average in writing and above the average in reading. The Synology DS412+, for example offered data rates higher than 100MBps.

CNET Labs NAS performance (via wired Gigabit Ethernet, measured in MBps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
Considering the cost, however, the My Cloud EX4's performance was still excellent. And for home use, it's more than fast enough. The server can easily handle multiple data-intensive tasks at a time, such as backing up multiple computers while streaming HD video to multiple network players. The server also worked very well in my testing and remained quiet and cool even during heavy loads.

Conclusion
The My Cloud EX4 is a big step up from the original My Cloud, offering data redundancy, apps, excellent drive bay design, and a handful of business features. The server's data rate wasn't the best I've seen but it more than makes up for that with ease of use and affordability. At the suggested price of $380, the diskless version, for example, costs just about two-thirds as much as its Synology DS412+ counterpart.

For a connected home, or even a small business, that just needs to share a lot of data, both locally and via the Internet, the My Cloud EX4 makes an excellent investment.

Editors' Top Picks

 

ARTICLE DISCUSSION

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Quick Specifications See All

  • Data Link Protocol Fast Ethernet
  • Type hot-swap
  • Compatibility Mac
  • Total Storage Capacity 16 TB
About The Author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.