by Platon Scheblykin
02/27/2009 | 04:40 PM
We have tested a lot of expensive home NASes but have somehow forgotten about entry-level products from this class. Such devices are demanded by many users, especially with the global economic crisis upon us, due to two main reasons. First of all, not all people are ready to pay $200-300 for a home NAS. And second, many users don’t need the excessive functionality of expensive products but can be quite satisfied with just the basic functions, i.e. creating network folders and running a simple FTP server.
So, this article is going to make our amends to such economical users as we have got an entry-level NAS called D-Link DNS-313. It is in fact a combination of a network attached storage and an external drive with USB interface. We will check out its capabilities and benchmark its performance.
1 RJ-45 port (10BASE-T/ 100BASE-TX/ 1000BASE-T)
1 SATAII port (internal HDD)
Maximum internal HDD
Supported file systems
40 x 40 mm fan
200 x 124 x 49 mm
The box contains:
Sometimes entry-level devices look just as presentable as top-end models, but it is not the case with the DNS-313. This NAS shows it with its every feature that you must not expect anything exceptional from it. What you can see here is the straight lines of the case, cheap plastic of the front and back panels, and a few indicators. Expensive products can follow minimalistic design as well, but there is a difference between them and the DNS-313 which you may find it hard to describe but feel instantly.
On the other hand, the case of the DNS-313 is practical. Its matte surface doesn’t make finger marks and speckles of dust too visible, and its main part is made from a whole piece of metal with thick panels. This improves the thermal conductivity of the case and makes it steadier thanks to the heavier weight. This NAS can be positioned both vertically and horizontally.
When placed horizontally, the device stands on the barely noticeable rubber juts located at the junction of the panels and the main part of the case.
To place the DNS-313 upright you should insert the included stand into the groove in one of the side panels. The stand doesn’t stick out much, but makes the device quite steady.
Installing a hard drive into the DNS-313 is a matter of few seconds. And you need even less time to take the HDD out afterwards. So, in order to put your HDD in, you should move the front panel sideways (or up, if the NAS rests on the stand) and insert the HDD into the case until its connectors are inside. The HDD is securely fixed within the case with spring-loaded brackets. Then, to take the HDD out, you just pull at the lever on the back panel of the case whereas the front panel must be open. This is a simple and elegant solution.
The HDD must be cooled somehow. The DNS-313 employs a 40mm fan for that.
The fan is installed on the back panel. When the NAS is idle and the HDD is rather cool, it does not rotate at all. When the HDD is being accessed for a while and reaches a certain temperature threshold (about 45°C), the fan starts up and drives the fresh air from the holes in the front panel through the entire case. The fan has a velocity sensor, but we didn’t notice it to be gaining speed steadily. If it works, it is rotating at maximum speed and is quite audible. The fan is noisier than the HDD then. By the way, the DNS-313 supports HDD hibernation mode: when not accessed for a certain while, the HDD halts, making the NAS absolutely silent.
Talking about the back panel, here is what you can find on it (from left to right):
As mentioned in the specs, the DNS-313 cannot work as a USB host. It means you cannot connect, for example, USB drives to it. The DNS-313 cannot work as a NAS and an external HDD simultaneously, either. Therefore there is a special shutter above the Ethernet and USB connectors that physically blocks the currently unused interface. Besides, there is a lever on the back panel, above the interface ports, for taking the HDD out of the case.
The front panel is even more desolate than that (from left to right):
We don’t have any complaints about the indication system of this device. The indicators have optimal brightness and are designed as intuitive icons.
Now let’s check out the interior of our DNS-313. We had to unfasten four screws at its back panel to take it apart. Two screws attach the panel to the case while the other two hold a metallic piece with the fan. After that we could take a look at the device’s PCB which was inserted into grooves in the interior panels of the case and pressed with self-tipping screws at the edges.
There are few components on the PCB and all of them are mounted neatly. Most of them face the side panel of the case. The reverse side of the PCB carries connectors for external devices (HDD, fan, etc).
The DNS-313 is based on a SoC controller SL3512 manufactured by Storm Semiconductor which can often be found in low-end NASes. Besides everything else, this controller incorporates an ARM9 processor clocked at 300MHz.
The DNS-313 doesn’t make use of all the capabilities of the SL3512 as you can see from the flowchart. In fact, the NAS only uses the processor and the SATA port.
There are bonding pads on the PCB for installing two consoles supported by the SL3512: a 4-pin UART and a 20-pin GPIO.
The NAS’s system memory is represented by a 32-megabyte NT5DS16M16CS chip from Nanya. Its capacity is large enough even for midrange NASes.
The OS is stored on the internal HDD, so there is only a boot-loader in the NAS’s flash memory. It fitted into a 512MB Spansion S29AL004D90TF102 chip.
The SL3512 incorporates two Gigabit Ethernet controllers, but the DNS-313 employs a discrete RTL8211B controller from Realtek instead.
That’s about all we can tell you about the internal configuration of the DNS-313.
We have found that the DNS-313 is a typical entry-level NAS in terms of hardware. What about its firmware then? The general specs you can read at the D-Link website indicate rather limited functionality. Its key feature is the integrated iTunes server. The UPnP media-server is hardly a competitive advantage since it is available in nearly every home NAS. Of course, it is no wonder for an entry-level device to have underdeveloped software, but users always ask for more, especially as the OS is installed on the HDD and its capabilities are in fact limited by the amount of the NAS’s system memory. DNS-313 users are lucky, actually. Quite a long time ago we wrote about D-Link’s DSM-G600 product and referenced the http://dsmg600.info resource where a few enthusiasts were busy improving the characteristics of their NASes – and quite successfully. Today, there is a sub-forum at this website’s forum where problems and ideas relating to the DNS-313 are shared. You can find are a few recipes there, for example how to launch funplug or install a torrent client on this device. In other words, the DNS-313 provides a good opportunity for enthusiasts to have some fun.
As opposed to them, the manufacturer himself does not hurry up with improving the functionality of the device’s firmware. The latest version we installed (number 1.02b4) lists only DLNA support for working with PS3 and Unicode for the FTP-server among the key new features. There exists firmware version 1.03 but we didn’t use it as it had nonofficial status as of the time of our tests.
We’ll describe the settings available in the official firmware to give you an idea of its functionality. Right now let’s take a look at its web-interface.
The interface is typical enough for a home NAS.
Besides the heading where the model number and firmware version are indicated, the page offers four frames. The top bar crossing the screen displays four global groups all the setup options are divided into. The Setup group is needed for initial setup (you can do it manually or with a wizard’s help). The Advanced group contains almost all the remaining settings pertaining to the functionality of the DNS-313. The Maintenance group offers settings of the device’s internal parameters. And finally, the Status group shows general information about the device’s status. There is a Help link nearby. The Help system offers all the information you may need when setting up various parameters but its descriptions are often too succinct to give you a good idea of what the particular parameter means.
The left frame displays a list of pages with settings included into the current group. The page selected in the list is shown in the center of the screen. The advantages of this navigation system are obvious: everything can be found easily and quickly. The menu structure must be logical for this system to work well but it’s not a problem here because there are but few options in total.
The right frame shows a few tips concerning the information available in the Help system about the current settings page.
We will begin to discuss the setup options available with the DNS-313 from the first group which is called Setup. Three pages are the most interesting here. The first of them is called LAN Setup. Besides the standard network interface settings, you can enable the LLTD protocol here. This protocol is used in Windows Vista and Windows XP SP3 to build a network map. If it is disabled, the DNS-313 will not be displayed on the map.
You can enter the device’s name in the Device page.
The device’s system date and time are specified on the Time and Date page. It should be noted that you can choose from multiple time adjustment sources. You can choose an NTP server, set the date and time manually, or synchronize them with a computer on the LAN.
Next goes the Advanced group with the Users/Groups page. Easy to guess, you can specify user accounts here. The accounts can later be united into groups.
The rights to access network folders can be assigned to the created users and groups on the Network Access page.
The FTP server page is where you can set up the namesake server.
There are quite a lot of options here. You can choose the encoding to be used by the server (from a very long list), create rules for users to use the FTP server by, and specify the basic parameters of the server such as speed limitation, server port, etc. We guess the only significant drawback here is that you can only open one folder for each user to access (this goes for the previous page as well).
The UPnP AV Server and iTunes Server pages are for setting up the corresponding servers. You can only chose the folder for indexing and enable/disable the necessary service.
It is unclear what an entry-level NAS might need a DHCP server for, but its settings are located on the DHCP Server page. The settings are very scanty, though. You can’t even reserve IP addresses for specific MAC addresses.
The first page in the Maintenance group is Admin Password. You can enter a new administrator password here.
The System page is where you can back up and reset the NAS’s settings, reboot and shut it down, and specify the time-out for the device to exit the Setup Manager if the user is inactive.
The firmware is updated on the Firmware Upgrade page.
On the Email Alerts page you can specify a sender’s account and an email address for sending notifications about NAS-related events which are selected here, too.
On the Power Management page the time-out for the HDD to enter sleep mode is specified.
Disk formatting and scanning tools can be started on the Format Disk and Scan Disk pages, respectively.
On the Dynamic DNS page the parameters of a DDNS account can be entered for assigning a domain name to devices with dynamic IP addresses.
The Status group contains the Device Info page that provides general information about the NAS. There are no logs here, which is a serious drawback. Another drawback is that the current temperature of the HDD is not shown anywhere.
Finally we want to note the integrated download manager.
There is not much we can say about it, actually. It only allows to download files via HTTP or files and folders by FTP. It doesn’t support batch processing or download restarts. In other words, the download manager of the Firefox browser looks more appealing to us, for example.
Summing it up, the firmware of the D-Link DNS-313 doesn’t offer much setup options for you to play with.
Although the DNS-313 is an entry-level NAS, it may produce interesting test results. We’d want to know the difference in the effective data-transfer rate of its USB and Ethernet interfaces since their theoretical bandwidth is comparable. We used the following equipment for our tests:
First of all we tested the NAS’s bandwidth with the IOMeter software. There were two test modes: when the DNS-313 was connected via LAN or directly to the notebook’s USB port. In both cases we tested the speed of writing and reading in two patterns: 512 bytes and 64 kilobytes. The first pattern reveals the maximum amount of disk operations per second, and the second pattern shows the maximum data-transfer rate. Here are the results:
The results make it clear once again that we are dealing with an entry-level device. However, it does quite well for its class. The use of Gigabit Ethernet is just a marketing trick because the data-transfer rate is within 100Mbps. The DNS-313 is not impressive as an external USB drive, either.
Next we performed another group of tests to benchmark the integrated FTP server. As usual, there were three types of multimedia content: a 30MB folder with 130 photographs (S), a 130MB album with MP3 music (M) and a 3.7GB DVD image (L). The iTunes and media servers had been disabled before this test.
The results are somewhat better here. Of course, the speeds are rather low, but comparable to those of many midrange NASes. The only unclear thing is why the speed of reading the folder with music is lower than the speed of writing the same folder.
Having tested the DNS-313 in typical usage scenarios, we can claim that this model is quite good in terms of performance for an entry-level NAS. We guess using both its interfaces is going to be the optimal variant. That is, you can run the DNS-313 as a FTP or iTunes server but large amounts of data should be loaded to the integrated hard drive via USB.
We have tested a D-Link device that has all the typical features of many products of this brand such as unassuming exterior, good quality of manufacture, average performance, and support from the enthusiasts community. The DNS-313 is no different from other NASes of its class. We guess its most important feature is the creative community whose members are doing their best to improve the device’s functionality. It is hard to recommend or not to recommend the DNS-313 for purchase just because it is up to the particular user to decide if its price is worth its capabilities. And of course, if you want to experiment with Embedded Linux over the weekend, the DNS-313 will make a good device to start with.