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With terabytes of photos, videos and miscellaneous stuff spread across five computers, I'm probably the ideal candidate for a network-attached storage (NAS) device. So when Western Digital's WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra, a dual-bay server, crossed my desk, you could consider my interest piqued.
We were fond of the original My Cloud EX2, a simple plug-and-play option for folks looking to wrangle storage across their home network. And the EX2 Ultra is almost identical. You're getting the same simple enclosure, with LED lights that show the status of the EX2 Ultra's drives. On the back, you'll find the Gigabit Ethernet port that'll connect the drive to your home network, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. You can use those USB 3.0 ports to add a bit more storage space to the EX 2 Ultra, or to connect the NAS to a backup destination. The Ultra offers a slightly faster 1.3GHz dual-core processor and twice as much RAM, bumping up to 1GB. (NAS drives are basically little dedicated servers, so reasonably zippy hardware counts.)
Setup is delightfully simple: Just plug the NAS server in and connect it to your home network via that Ethernet port. The drive will show up on your home network, in either Windows Explorer or the Finder on Apple's OS X, and you can just drag and drop files at your leisure. The NAS is DLNA-enabled and also supports Plex, so music and videos you drop onto it will pop up on your Plex-enabled apps and media players on devices such as Roku, Apple TV and game consoles.
If you're willing to download software and sign up for a Western Digital account, the EX2 Ultra offers a number of additional, cloud-focused features. The My Cloud is my favorite of these, as it gives you remote access to everything on the drive from a browser, or through free apps, available for Android and iOS.
And the allure of the "personal cloud" is strong: having access to my raw photos wherever I have a Web connection is a tantalizing prospect. I just have to pop over to Western Digital's MyCloud website, log in and see whatever I've stored on the drive. Though a little cumbersome, it's convenient enough; I'd appreciate being able to sync a folder on a remote computer with one on the NAS automatically, as many other NAS servers can do this.
At the very least, the EX2 Ultra saves me from the sort of subscription fees I'd see if I tried to store this much stuff on services such as Dropbox. I'd still of course hold onto my Crashplan account, for the peace of mind that a proper offsite backup solution affords, but having ready, convenient access to my stuff is a nice touch.
It's worth noting that while the new EX2 Ultra is clearly a step up compared to its predecessor, it still lags behind NAS servers from companies such as Synology and QNAP, in terms of features, functionality and the number of supported apps. But the EX2 Ultra is a little friendlier to non-techies, and it's generally cheaper than the competition, too.
The EX2 Ultra is available with no hard drives (add your own), or in 4TB, 8TB and 12TB configurations. Naturally, the pre-populated versions come with two of Western Digital's WD Red hard drives. But if you get the disk-less version, you can just pop the lid open, and use a pair of standard desktop SATA hard drives from another vendor. The 8TB model we're checking out comes preconfigured in RAID 1, which means it actually has 4GB of available capacity; the data is mirrored across both drives to keep data intact if a drive fails. You can configure the drive in RAID 0 to get access to a full 8TB, but you're risking data loss there -- you can read more about RAID configurations here.
The iOS and Android apps are serviceable, if not very useful for me. You can automatically upload photos and videos taken with your mobile devices directly to the drive, but I'm fairly comfortable letting Apple and Google's native photo functionality handle that. Downloading files from the drive to your phone is easy and may prove useful, but again, I turn to services such as Dropbox and Google Drive for most of my needs. And playback is limited to what your mobile device can natively handle: that largely rules out my raw files and the more esoteric video formats I've got kicking about.
We've yet to put the My Cloud EX2 Ultra through the usual performance tests in the CNET Labs. But in my anecdotal testing on my home network, it's been appreciably speedy. Stay tuned for our full tests though, as we see how this new model stacks up to the competition.