Ah, network attached storage; whether you’re building your own or buying premade, nothing beats a NAS box when it comes to storing and streaming media files across a network. For the most part, NAS boxes offer a stripped-down interface and very few bells and whistles, making them fairly energy-efficient compared to full-fledged PCs. Hey – aren’t netbooks low-powered too? Yep, and now that most everybody’s passing up netbooks in favor of tablets, a new report says that Intel may be planning to shift some focus for its low-powered Atom chips from netbooks to NAS boxes.
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.)
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.
A network-attached storage (NAS) device is the Robin to a LAN’s Batman. The two should be inseparable, and for good reason. A NAS box gives you a guaranteed way to store all of your files and stream your media. Running a NAS box also means that you don’t have to boot your power-leeching desktop rig every time you want to access your files from another device.
But you don’t have to go out and purchase a NAS device. You can build a superior alternative using spare parts left over after upgrading your PC.
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.
Our little hearts were ablaze with excitement when we busted open the chunky Buffalo TeraStation Live. And with good reason; on paper, the four-drive NAS device looked like it was going to be an easy winner–its two terabytes of total storage in a RAID-5 configuration made us smile.
We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. QNAP’s TS-109 Pro NAS device is more an enclosure than a NAS box–the storage part of the equation is BYO. Thankfully, NAS devices’ speeds are primarily determined by the connection and the interface of the device itself–purchase a decent hard drive, you’ll be sticking it into one of the fastest NAS boxes we’ve tested.
Installing the OWC NASPerform to a computer via a network is a confusing mix of simple and complicated. The installer program itself is a welcome relief from the typically agonizing process of having to play with IP address and configuration screens. But that doesn’t mean OWC has spared you from a headache: You have to not only type in a 20-digit device ID just to connect the NAS box to your rig but also input a “write key,” which is printed on a label on the enclosure, if you want more than read-only access. So much for simply dragging and dropping files or controlling users via a handy web interface!