If you don’t need a lot of storage, Seagate’s diminutive BlackArmor NAS 220 can be tucked into a bookshelf or the even the corner of your desk where it will quietly serve the needs of a small office or workgroup with as many as 20 PCs. The NAS 220 has two drive bays and can purchased with either one or two terabytes of capacity; we reviewed the 2TB model, which is street-priced at $279. Note that since the drives come from the factory in a mirrored configuration (RAID 1), usable capacity is actually 1TB.
The NAS 220 is housed in a steel enclosure painted gloss black (keep a feather duster at hand if you’re the fastidious type). Remove three very small Phillips screws and pull off the three-sided cover to access the 7,200RPM drives, which are user-replaceable, but not hot-swappable. Unlike Western Digital’s WD ShareSpace, you’re not limited to using Seagate drives. But since the NAS 220 doesn’t support online RAID expansion or migration, most people will never access the drives unless they fail.
Finishing our look inside the box, we see Marvell’s 800MHz 88F6192 system-on-chip on the motherboard, paired with 128MB of soldered-on DDR2 SDRAM. The chip integrates a two-port SATA controller, a two-port USB controller, and a Gigabit Ethernet controller. This processor handles most of the compute workload, including running the RAID software. As mentioned earlier, the NAS 200 comes from the factory in a RAID 1 configuration, but the system also supports RAID 0 and JBOD.
Western Digital is marketing this capacious WD ShareSpace to the home and small-office crowd. Both audiences will appreciate the low price tag, but this box’s several shortcomings and slow speed will leave both audiences wanting.
The ShareSpace is housed in a generic-looking gray steel cube. Loosening two captive screws in back and removing the three-sided housing exposes the motherboard and four of Western Digital’s environmentally conscious 2TB Caviar Green drives. The four platters on each drive spins somewhere between 5,400 and 7,200 RPM (Western Digital declines to state the actual speed), and each drive has 32MB of cache. The array comes from the factory in a RAID 5 configuration. Although the hardware also supports span (JBOD), RAID 0, and RAID 1 modes, RAID level migration is not supported. The more fault-tolerant RAID 5 + Spare and RAID 6 arrays are not supported, nor can you configure the drives in multiple volumes or limit the number of drives used in any given configuration.
The QNAP TS-239 Pro reminds us of nothing so much as an easier-to-use version of our home-rolled FreeNAS server (January 2010). Unlike most NAS boxes we’ve reviewed, with their little ARM embedded processors and 512MB of RAM, the TS-239 Pro packs a full gigabyte of RAM and a 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor. Furthering the impression that it’s a mini computer is the VGA-out port, which, when combined with a USB keyboard, lets you configure the QNAP’s Linux OS directly. Essentially, the TS-239 Pro is a two-bay Linux home server, with all the features you’d expect from a home or SMB NAS box, from UPnP and iTunes streaming to FTP and web servers—and even some features you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like support for networked cameras.
Like most NAS boxes, the web GUI is the key to configuring and using the TS-239 Pro, and QNAP’s web interface is better than most. The first screen you see when you log in offers wizards for creating groups, users, and shares, and configuring FTP access and backups. A side menu tree offers status, disk and hardware management, and more. System logs and S.M.A.R.T. disk info are easy to find.
The TS-239 ships with several shares enabled by default—helpfully, these all start with Q: Qmultimedia for media, Qweb for websites the NAS is hosting, Qusb for USB devices plugged into its two ports, etc. Both the included iTunes and UPnP media servers scan Qmultimedia out of the box, but you can change this. User and group permissions are one of the QNAP NAS’s strengths; it’s easy to set per-user permissions for files and folders, unlike some similar NAS boxes.
The Synology DS409+, though targeted at small- and medium-size business owners, is a great addition to any home network, with a robust web admin panel, media streaming of all stripes, cross-platform support, and easy backup—of the computers on your network, and of the NAS itself. To call this merely “network-attached storage” does the device a disservice.
The DS409+ is a squat brown-black box with a minimalist feel, and it ships sans drives, so you’ll have to provide your own. The ports are on the back of the device and include two USB 2.0, one eSATA, and one Gigabit Ethernet. In addition to two 8cm fans, the hinged back panel contains four thumbscrews, which, once unscrewed, allow the panel to open and the top of the case to lift off. The DS409+’s four hard drive trays accommodate 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives, which must be screwed into the trays and slotted into the NAS box’s SATA backplane. The DS409+ can be configured with up to 8TB of storage; we tested ours with four 750GB Samsung Spinpoint HD753LJ 7,200rpm hard drives in RAID 5, making a 2TB volume. (The DS409+ also supports JBOD and RAID levels 0, 1, 5 + spare, and 6.)
Acer’s entry-level easyStore H340 gives you everything you need to attach a robust Windows Home Server to your network, with plenty of room to expand. Its technical specs edge out HP’s comparably-priced LX195—both are budget servers equipped with a 1.6GHz Atom processor, but the H340 includes 2GB of RAM and 1TB of included disk storage. The feature that really sets Acer’s offering apart, however, is the availability of four hot-swappable drive bays, meaning you can add three additional 3.5-inch SATA drives with ease. And if those aren’t enough, the H340 also has five powered USB ports and even an eSATA port for you to go nuts with expansions.
If you don’t need terabytes of backup space for your network, the newest member of HP’s MediaSmart family may be the right fit for you. With 640GB of storage, the LX195 makes sense if your home network consists of just two or three PCs. Like its higher-end siblings, the LX195 lets you perform Mac OS backups, though you’ll have to partition additional drive space for Time Machine. Storage capacity is the LX195’s big weakness, since there are no extra internal drive bays or eSATA ports for additional hard drives. To enable WHS’s file duplication feature or add additional storage space, you’ll have to attach external drives with USB.
The LX195’s strengths lie in its small size and low power usage. It’s no bigger than a desktop speaker, and can be hidden out of sight under your desk. Its Atom processor draws very little power (especially when idle), and we couldn’t even hear the server operate during backups.
Last month we reviewed Western Digital’s MyBook World Edition, a small, white, single-drive, one-terabyte NAS box aimed solidly at Joe User. This month, we have the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440, the MyBook’s polar opposite in many ways. It’s big, it’s black, it’s user-serviceable, comes with four Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB drives, and is marketed toward small businesses without a dedicated IT staff.
The BlackArmor 440 is a brick, the front of which has a two-line green LCD status screen, a front door that opens to reveal the four hot-swappable screwless drive bays, one of the box’s four USB 2.0 host ports, and a power button. The back holds the 12cm exhaust fan, the power jack (for the external power brick), two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and the other three USB 2.0 ports.
The LCD display offers system status information and a few buttons to navigate with, but the real power comes from the BlackArmor’s web interface, which is easily accessible from the BlackArmor Discovery software included with the NAS. The Discovery software also provides easy mapping of shared folders—the defaults are Public and Downloads.
There’s a lot to be excited about when you consider the features Windows Home Server offers out of the box—primarily, automated backup of all your desktop and mobile machines and media streaming to every room in your house. HP builds on this goodness with a second-generation WHS product that boasts both improved hardware and a supercharged features list.
When we reviewed HP’s first foray into the world of Windows Home Server last year, we were optimistic about the future of the platform but a bit underwhelmed by the performance of the little box. Since then, the Home Server software has gone through some teething pains, including a horrific bug that corrupted users’ files (since corrected with the first Service Pack for the Home Server software).
Based on the name alone, one would expect Qnap’s TS-209 Pro II NAS box to offer more features than its predecessors—particularly our leader in this storage category, Qnap’s TS-109 Pro. And while the former does allow for increased capacity, it does not provide significant improvements in performance or offer more features than the TS-109 Pro, which has been out for more than a year.
Is bigger always better? Not necessarily. Qnap’s TS-409 Pro is packed with the same features as the company’s TS-109 Pro (http://tinyurl.com/yomys5) but includes twice as much memory and supports four hard drives rather than just one. And it rocks, but only if we compare it to similarly sized foes, such Buffalo’s four-drive TeraStation Live.
But how does it stack up to single-drive NAS boxes? Find out after the jump.