Western Digital Changes Its Reported Drive Speeds to Reflect Reality

Western Digital Changes Its Reported Drive Speeds to Reflect Reality

Western Digital has made some changes to how it brands its WD Red Plus hard drive family after taking heat for its decision to mislabel its hard drive speeds earlier this year. At the time, individual customers performed some rather clever acoustic analysis to confirm that the hard drives Western Digital claimed were 5400 RPM drives were actually 7200 RPM drives.

Western Digital protested that this labeling was fine, because “5400 RPM class” isn’t the same as “5400 RPM”, but it ignored the fact that 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM drives typically have different power and thermal requirements, and that products designed explicitly for 5400 RPM products might have trouble with 7200 RPM drives. The idea that communicating honestly about its products is the best way to cultivate and maintain consumer trust doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone, either.

The company has now announced that it will retire certain WD Red Plus model numbers and launch new ones to replace them. Nothing is changing about the drives themselves; Western Digital is just being honest about the fact that these are 7200 RPM drives instead of 5400 RPM drives. Heise.de reports that the new model numbers are:

8 TByte: WD80EFBX (-68AZZN0) instead of WD80EFAX (-68KNBN0)10 TByte: WD101EFBX (-68B0AN0) instead of WD101EFAX (-68LDBN0)12 Tbytes: WD120EFBX (-68B0EN0) instead of WD120EFAX (-68UNTN0)14 TByte: WD140EFGX (-68B0GN0) instead of WD140EFFX (-68VBXN0)

Heisse reports that WD has also updated its WD Red Pro product sheet to read “7200 RPM” instead of “7200 RPM class.”

Western Digital Changes Its Reported Drive Speeds to Reflect Reality

The actual WD Red Plus product sheet hasn’t been updated yet, but presumably that’ll happen soon.

Why Did Western Digital Do This in the First Place?

The big question it’d be nice to have an explanation for is why on Earth WD did this at all. When Western Digital introduced performance classes with its Green drives, it did so as a way of hiding the fact that they spun at less than 5400 RPM, not to cleverly imply they had a slower spindle speed than they actually did.

I can imagine a scenario in which it just became easier for WD to run every drive at 7200 RPM. Back when the hard drive market was crippled by extensive flooding in 2011, one of the expected outcomes that came true was the disappearance of smaller SKUs. When companies replaced their damaged equipment, they phased out smaller and older products that had been cost-effective to produce so long as old factory equipment was still in play. Maybe WD decided to standardize all of its production on 7200 RPM motors — but why not just run the same motor at a slower speed? Alternately, why not just advertise that you now ship 7200 RPM drives standard in all product lines as a way of thumbing your nose at the competition?

It’s not strange for a company to sell a component variant that compensates for lower performance in one category with higher performance in another, such as compensating for slower spindle speeds with larger caches, or clocking a CPU with a smaller L2 at a higher frequency to compensate. But why did Western Digital go to such lengths — to the point of programming its hard drives to misreport their own SMART data — to fake the speed of its hard drives? Was it trying to prop up artificial market segmentation because it believed margins would drop if it sold mostly 7200 RPM drives?

The chances that consumers were injured by this misrepresentation are small, but WD has yet to explain its thinking.

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