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WD My Cloud EX2 review: Everything a connected home needs

Today, WD announced the latest member in its user-friendly My Cloud series, the EX2 NAS server, which turns out to be among the best of its type.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

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 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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The My Cloud EX2 is the latest in WD's My Cloud series of NAS servers and share the same feature set as the original My Cloud and the My Cloud EX4. But it does at least one big thing of its own: In my testing, the new server registered the by far the best performance among the three. On top of that, you can replace/install the internal hard drives very easily.

MyCloudEX2_(6).jpg
8.3

WD My Cloud EX2

The Good

The <b>WD My Cloud EX2</b> is speedy, easy to use and affordable. The server's mobile-enabled personal cloud feature is a bonus for frequent travelers.

The Bad

The mobile app supports a limited number of file formats for playback, has no search function, and doesn't allow you to sort by content type. As a dual-bay server, its protected storage capacity is limited at 4TB for now.

The Bottom Line

With its friendly pricing, fast performance, and handy personal cloud features, the WD My Cloud EX2 is an ideal network storage device for a small connected home.

The My Cloud EX2 continues the friendly pricing set by the previous two coming with the suggested retail price of just $570 for 8TB (or $470 and $370 for 6TB and 4TB, respectively). You can also get it for just $200 with no hard drive included.

In all, with the combination of performance, ease-of-use, affordability and features, the WD My Cloud EX2 fits perfectly in a small home or an office with around five users. For more options of excellent network storage devices, check out this list.

The WD My Cloud EX2 comes with two USB 3.0 ports on the back to host more storage via external hard drives.
The WD My Cloud EX2 comes with two USB 3.0 ports on the back to host more storage via external hard drives. Dong Ngo/CNET

Design: Dual-bay with tool-less serviceability
Taking the shape of a thick book in stand up position, the My Cloud EX2 shares the same design and physical shape of WD's My Book Studio desktop external hard drive. It has top-facing drive bays that you can access by pressing on the front part of its top and then replace or install internal drives in less than a minute. The server works with all standard 3.5-inch internal hard drives from any vendors. WD says it will honor the three-year warranty even when you use non-WD hard drives.

On the front, the server comes with a few small LED lights that show the status of the power and two internal drives. On the back the server comes with a Gigabit network port and two USB 3.0 ports. The network port is to connect the server to a home network, and the USB ports are to host external hard drives to be either the backup destination of the server or to expand the server's storage space. In my trial, these ports have enough juice to power bus-powered portable drives, such as the WD My Passport.

If you get an EX2 already populated with hard drives, they will be two WD Red drives set up in RAID 1. This is because for a dual-bay server, RAID 1 is the only option that offers data redundancy -- meaning your data remains intact in the event one of the internal drives fails -- and therefore is recommended for the EX2. That said, for now, the top protected capacity of the EX2 is 4TB. You can use the server in RAID 0 to get the maximum 8TB of storage space but this is not recommend due to the high-risk of data loss. (Read more about RAID here.)

While 4TB is a huge amount, it can fill up pretty fast with multiple users. That said, the EX2 is ideal for a household with five users or fewer, even though the server supports up to 10 concurrent users.

The
The NAS server is shipped with WD Red hard drives but you can also use hard drives from other vendors with it. Dong Ngo/CNET

Plug and play setup, helpful software
Similar to the case of the original My Cloud or the EX4, the My Cloud EX2 is very easy to setup. In fact these servers are so similar that this part of the review is almost the same as found in the two previous reviews.

As soon as the server is plugged in, without needing to do anything else, you can start using it as a backup destination and shared storage space. By default, the server comes with three public share folders called Public, SmartWare, and Time Machine Backup. As the names suggest, the Public folder is for storing public data, and the other two are for backups of Windows and Mac machines, respectively.

From a Windows computer, you can immediately browse for these share folders, using Windows Explorer, and copy data (such as digital content) over. Macs will immediately see the My Cloud as an available destination for Time Machine backup and the My Cloud EX2 will also appear on Finder. All DLNA-enabled network media player devices, such as the WD TV, will also immediately find the content stored on the server for streaming purposes.

That said, if you use the My Cloud EX2 with a group of computers with no need for data privacy among themselves, there's really nothing to setting up the My Cloud, other than plugging it in.

If you want to do more, however, there are a few extra steps. First from a connected computer, just go to wd.com/setup/mycloudex2. Here you can download the WD Setup software (which is about 65MB and takes a few minutes to download on a residential broadband connection). The Setup software will install shortcuts to the server's share folders (so you don't have look for them), to server's Web interface Dashboard, and install WD My Cloud application, which offers another way to browse the content of the server on a computer.

The next part is using the WD My Cloud mobile apps (available for iOS and Android). This is also very easy. From within the same home network, via Wi-Fi, download the app on your mobile device from the Google Play or App Store. Now when you run the app, it will immediately connect to the My Cloud EX2 and create a trust relationship. After this first step, now even when you're out and about, connecting to a different Wi-Fi network or using a cellular connection, the mobile app on your device will maintain access to the My Cloud EX2 server via the Internet. In other words, there's no extra setup or log-in needed to make the app work with the server remotely. Now if you want to add a remote device, such as one belonging to a friend who lives in a different city or country, to the server, you can create an access code and sent it to that device using e-mail. More on this below.

Other than than the WD My Cloud application and the mobile app, the EX2 also comes with a few other applications for computers. These are helpful software for both Macs and PCs, with the exception of the WD SmartWare backup program, which is only available for Windows since Macs already have built-in Time Machine backup. You don't need to install any of these programs for the server to work, however.

The EX2 share the same Web interface as other in the My Cloud series which is very organized and self-explanatory.
The EX2 shares the same Web interface as others in the My Cloud series, which is very organized and self-explanatory. Dong Ngo/CNET
Well-organized Web interface, with built-in app store

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

The EX2's interface is well-organized and easy to use, and offers access to all of the server's customizations and settings.

Similar to its predecessors, the biggest selling point of the My Cloud EX2 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.

The online account with WDMyCloud.com basically allows for 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 your WDMyCloud account, and 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 ends.) You can also quickly disconnect the mapped network drive when you want to disconnect the remote computer from the server.

As mentioned above, 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 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 can then download the My Cloud mobile app, run it, and enter the code. Now your friend can use My Cloud without ever having to be physically near the server.

Both the WDMyCloud account and the My Cloud mobile app support multiple WD My Cloud servers. 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.

Using the the Web interface you can also set the server to do things on its own, such as download files from different Web sites or torrents. There's also an App store where you can add more features and functions to the server. At the time of this review, there are some 10 additional apps you can install and run within the EX2. This is a great approach to NAS server and has been done very well by other vendors such as Asus and Synology, whose NAS servers are much more advanced and support hundreds of apps.

The App store has 10 apps you can download and install on the server to add more features and functions. Dong Ngo/CNET

Mobile app: Great for backing up, not so much for streaming
The My Cloud EX2 share the same My Cloud mobile app as the My Cloud and the My Cloud EX4 with exactly he same design, and features.

The app allows you to remotely access the public shared folders, as well as the private share folder of the current user. You can quickly download files from the NAS server to your mobile device, or back up files, such as photos and videos, from a mobile device onto the server. You can do more than one of these tasks at a time, making it an excellent backup server for those who love taking photos and video with their phones. In my trials, the back-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 on 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.

Unlike the backup function, the My Cloud app's playback function was mediocre at best. For one, the support for media streaming is also extremely limited. You can basically playback only the types of content natively supported by the mobile device. And only music can really be streamed; other content first needs to be buffered (temporarily downloaded) onto a mobile device before it can be played. For example, if you want to view a photo that resides on the My Cloud EX2 using an iPad, the mobile app would first buffer the entire photo 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.

The design of the app itself could also use some improvements. First, there's no search, meaning you have to manually browse for content. And since the content is not automatically organized by type, you generally have to dig though folders and sub folders to find what you want. This might be OK if you have just videos or not much content to go through, otherwise, this could be a frustrating experience, especially with music or photos. To make things worse, there's no back button to bring you back the previous folder level. Instead, you have to awkwardly go back to the beginning each time you simply want to reverse one step.

Impressive performance
What the EX2's mobile app lacks, the server more than makes up for in performance. I tested the My Cloud EX2 in RAID 1 -- mostly to emphasize the fact that it is how the server should be used for data safety reasons -- and it excelled. Via a Gigabit connection, it registered the sustain writing speed of more than 70MBps and the sustained reading speed of more than 105MBps. This means the EX2 is not only the fastest among all the servers in WD's My Cloud series, but also among the fastest dual-bay NAS servers on the market.

CNET Labs NAS Performance Scores (Via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, measured in megabyte per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read
Write

Chances are you'll see higher numbers if you choose to use the server in RAID 0, however, note that RAID 0 is not recommended at all, because of the fact that if one of the internal drives fails you'll lose data stored on both.

The My Cloud EX2 overall worked well in my testing. It didn't produce any noise and never got hot.

Conclusion
The My Cloud EX2 is an excellent replacement for the already-excellent original My Cloud server. Thanks to having two internal drives, the new server offers data redundancy as a safeguard if one of the drives fails. That, plus the excellent performance, the affordability, and the ease of use make it an ideal choice for an entry-level, yet robust, network storage device.

If you're looking for a dual-bay server that offers similar performance with much more advanced features, however, also check out a dual-bay server from Synology, such as the DS712+.

MyCloudEX2_(6).jpg
8.3

WD My Cloud EX2

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 9Support 8
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