by Platon Scheblykin
10/10/2007 | 07:15 AM
So far we only discussed routers in our reviews of network equipment but this is not the only kind of such equipment the ordinary user may be interested in. Today we are going to tell you about one device that is sure to appeal to a wide user audience, especially to those who exchange large amounts of data over a network.
The problem of the rapid growth of amounts of information that must be stored somewhere is common to large organizations that have to accumulate and process some kind of data, and this problem has also become urgent for many home users as various multimedia technologies develop and become more affordable. The digital archive of every modern man contains a lot of digital photos, video clips, musical files, etc. People also want to share such materials with friends, relatives, and other network users. It is for such people that the Network Attached Storage technology, long employed by serious companies for accessing large amounts of data, is offered now. Without delving deep into the functioning of the technology, suffice it to say that for the ordinary user it is just a data warehouse that is accessible as a disk from any machine on the same network.
For this review we’ve got an entry-level NAS device produced by D-Link. It’s called DSM-G600. Besides NAT-related functionality, the DSM-G600 carries a Wi-Fi access point and can act as a media or FTP server. Let’s see how useful all this functionality really is.
We want to tell you right away that the DSM-G600 exists in two hardware revisions, A and B, which differ not only in the electronics employed by also in the functionality of the end product. We’ll be talking about revision B below, specifically noting any reference to revision A. And here are the brief specs of the DSM-G600.
- IEEE 802.11b
- WEP (64/128bit)
One external dipole antenna
2.4 - 2.5 GHz
- 802.11g: 6, 9, 12, 18, 24, 36, 48, 54Mbps;
15dBm (32 mW) 2dBi
11 for N. America, 14 Japan, 13 Europe (ETSI),
1 RJ-45 (10/100/1000 BaseT) 10/100Mbit/s Gigabit Ethernet
- 2 USB 2.0 ports;
External power supply unit
274 x 137 x 64 mm
- Media ser- media server;
The box contains:
D-Link has been manufacturing the DSM-G600 for quite a while already. This explains the traditional design concept of its case. There’s no need to describe the exterior of the device at length as you can just recall older home-oriented products from D-Link. The only distinguishing feature is the color and size of the case. The tested network storage appliance is all silver while other D-Link products used to combine silver and gray. The device is rather large in order to ensure proper ventilation of the installed HDD and of the device’s own electronics. You can put it down flat or place it upright using the included rubber feet – there are small juts on the sides of the case to keep the device steady.
There seem to be too few vent holes for normal heat transfer, but that’s just an illusion created by the largeness of the case. In fact, the vent holes in the sides of the case and near the edges of the top and button panels are quite enough for keeping the temperature inside at an acceptable level although the HDD becomes rather hot in there. According to the integrated sensor, its temperature would grow to 44°C. For the hot air not to stay within the case there is a 40mm fan at the back panel to exhaust it. The fan is rather noisy, producing a hum you can hear from a distance of 2-3 meters. So, it is somewhat discomforting to sleep in the same room with a working DSM-G600.
All the indicators and controls are placed on the front and rear panels, as usual. There are a total of six LEDs you can see in the oval windows of the front panel. They are sufficiently bright to be visible from a distance even at daylight, yet they do not irritate the eye. The indicators are labeled in D-Link’s traditional manner, above the indicators, which makes the labels almost unreadable under dim ambient lighting. Here is a list of the indicators (from left to right):
There is a Power button on the front panel, which is quite handy. The rest of the controls are placed together with the connectors on the back panel. These include (from left to right):
And there is also the above-mentioned fan near the right edge of the back panel.
To begin using the device, you have to install a HDD into it. The HDD must not be formatted because the OS of the DSM-G600 copies some of its files onto the installed HDD and marks out the boot sector for itself. It is easy to take the DSM-G600 apart as it is meant to be taken apart more or less often. You undo the two screws at the back panel and pull the cover of the case backwards. The cover itself is somewhat loose even when the screws are tightened, which is a kind of a manufacturing defect.
What do we see inside? It’s good that there is a solid metallic bracket, mounted on the bottom of the case, for the HDD, but it’s bad that it is so close to the rear panel that there is almost no place left for the interface and power cables. Following the procedure described in the user manual we managed to connect the HDD, but we had to twist the cable mercilessly, and the power cable nearly pressed on the fan. The HDD is held very tight (even too tight) in the bracket and it is suggested that you additionally fix it with the screw. It’s not very easy to put the screw in although it is done without a screwdriver.
Now let’s get back a little and see what electronics the DSM-600 has. We had to take the PCB out of the case, having first removed the HDD bracket that was fastened to the PCB via rubber shock-absorbers. It takes undoing four screws that go through the PCB and the shock-absorbers and two screws the ground wires from the bracket are fastened to the PCB with.
Now that we have the PCB in our hands we can examine it closely. The large green piece of textolite is loaded with components uniformly. There is a chip (the Gigabit Ethernet switch) even under the WLAN module which is connected to the main PCB via a miniPCI connector. The components are installed very neatly, yet not quite properly. Although the main PCB has a free seat for a flash memory chip, such a chip is installed on the reverse side of the PCB together with a second RAM chip.
The DSM-G600 contains quite a lot of electronic chips. Its B revision uses a processor with the Power PC architecture manufactured by Freesale. It is the MPC8241 model, based on the MPC603e core. Here are some of its characteristics we took from the manufacturer’s website:
Here, the processor works with 32MB of memory in two 16MB M12L128168A chips from Elite Semiconductor Memory.
The firmware is stored in the 4MB S29GL032M90 flash memory chip from Spansion.
ACARD’s ATP865 controller is responsible for the installed HDD. It supports two IDE channels with RAID capability, but you can only attach one disk to it in the DSM-G600.
The USB functionality of the DSM-G600 is provided by the D720101GJ controller from the famous NEC. This controller supports up to five USB 2.0 ports, only two of which are employed here.
The Gigabit Ethernet port is supported by the IP1000A switch from IC+.
Finally, the indication system of the DSM-G600 is based on the universal 8-bit microcontroller Sm8954A from SyncMOS.
The WLAN module resides on a separate card connected to the main PCB via PCI. This is in fact a ready-made solution from RaLink whose products can but rarely be seen in serially made Wi-Fi devices.
The module consists of two chips: an RT2560F MAC-controller and an RT2525L RF-module.
Winding up this section of the review we want to say a couple of words about what the PCB doesn’t have.
There is a seat for a console connector on the PCB but the connector itself is missing. There are also two not-soldered connectors near the processor. Their purpose is rather vague.
One of them must be an output of the processor’s I2C bus judging by the processor’s pin-out. One more connector that might have been installed is a USB port on the front panel of the DSM-G600. A second flash memory chip is not installed on the main PCB. This must have been done to make the device cheaper.
The DSM-G600 turned to be an interesting device not only from the hardware aspect. The software section of this device is no less interesting, not only for ordinary users but also for enthusiasts. We mean alternative firmware versions, of course. There is a very informative English-language resource entirely dedicated to the DSM-G600 and DNS-323. It is located at http://dsmg600.info and offers a detailed description of the device as well as lots of information about using it. The main value of the resource is in its forum and various howtos, from the installation of a console to the writing of your own firmware. There are also enthusiasts’ catalogues containing modified firmware and various packages for extending the functionality of the DSM-G600. In other words, this resource is the way you should go if you want to see what your DSM-G600 can do.
Notwithstanding what we’ve written above, the official firmware of the device is the main one. Not all users employ alternative versions of firmware even if such exist, and alternative firmware is often installed as a means to get rid of the problems with the official firmware. Before describing it, we want to mention the problems the DSM-G600 had during its market life. Besides various small defects every complex device has, the DSM-G600 had one big problem that brought its popularity down significantly in countries with non-Latin alphabets. Being a home NAS device, the DSM-G600 has to play the function of a network UPnP media-server. If the media server does not support characters other than the Latin ones, a filename in Cyrillic letters or Chinese hieroglyphs, for example, won’t be displayed correctly, which is inconvenient for the user. That’s what you had with the DSM-G600 and it took the manufacturer quite a long time to issue an official solution of that problem. It only appeared in firmware version 1.02. To enable support for non-Latin characters, you have to perform quite non-trivial actions. Besides the firmware itself you need the EasySearch program version 2.9 or higher. We want to say a couple of words about that program here.
EasySearch is free software distributed by D-Link. You can find it on CDs included with some products from the company or download the latest version from the D-Link website. The point of the program is in searching the available LAN segment for D-Link devices and notifying the user about any devices found. You can try to enter any of the found devices right from the EasySearch window, but you’ll have to set them up from the browser. For the DSM-G600 this program is additionally useful as it allows to map the installed HDDs and set up support for exotic character sets.
To solve the problem with the display of non-Latin filenames you should update the device’s firmware to version 1.02 and download the latest version of EasySearch (it doesn’t require installation). The European 1.02 version (1.02eu) does not support the change of the character set, according to EasySearch, while the American version supports it. When everything is ready, you press the Language button in EasySearch and select the necessary character set which will be used after reboot. But talking about Cyrillic letters, for example, the problem is not solved completely. EasySearch sets codepage 866, which is the DOS encoding, and files created in Windows won’t be readable as they have a different encoding (1251).
Now let’s look at the web-interface of firmware 1.02. Like the exterior design of the DSM-G600, this interface is alike to the one you can see in many other old devices from D-Link with differences due to the specifics of the particular device. Here, the difference is the configuration of the menu. The interface is a page designed in a uniform style and divided into four sections. The heading of the page shows the name of the device and its brief description. Below is a string of tabs each of which corresponds to a specific group of parameters. The open tab has two parts: there is a list of pages with settings on the left while the selected page is shown on the right. We have reviewed quite a lot of D-Link devices, so this interface seems familiar and quite practical.
There are five tabs in the menu of the web-interface, three of which contain settings. The other two are for reference.
The first, Home, tab offers the basic network parameters of the device. The first page of this tab provides a Wizard for a step-by-step setup of each basic parameter.
The LAN page contains Ethernet-related settings. You can choose the speed of the network port and the connection type (with appropriate parameters).
The Wireless page is where you chose the operation mode: client or access point. After that you can set up such parameters (of the access point) as SSID, channel number, protocol (802.11b/g, 802.11g), encryption method, etc.
On the Device page you specify how the DSM-G600 is going to be identified on the network.
The Advanced tab contains all the network settings that didn’t fit into the first group. The User page, the first one in the second group, offers an editable list of users for managing their rights to access files on the NAT device. The list is at the bottom of the page.
The users’ rights to access the network disk are specified on the Network Access page.
The name of the FTP Server page speaks for itself. Here, you specify the rights of the users of the integrated FTP server and its parameters such as the maximum number of users, time-out, speed limitations, etc.
Low-level parameters of the wireless connection are specified on the Performance page.
The path to the directory the integrated media-server begins to index files from is written on the UPnP AV page.
All settings pertaining to the DSM-G600 proper can be found on the Tools tab. The first page of this tab is called Admin. You can change the administrator password here.
Go to the Time page to set up the device’s internal time. This can be done in three ways: using an NTP server, copying the system time from the PC, or typing it in manually. It’s good that the current time and date are also displayed on this page.
The System page allows to save/load a settings file and reboot or shut down the NAS device, etc.
The device’s firmware can be updated on the Firmware page.
The Disk Utility page is for managing disks connected to the DSM-G600. They can be formatted or scanned for errors.
The last page with settings is called E-mail Alerts. You can enter email account parameters and specify which events should trigger a notification to be sent to that email address.
The fourth tab of the web-interface is called Status. It shows you the current status of the device.
The final tab is called Help. It offers an integrated Help system describing every setting of the device. The information is presented in a rather succinct form, yet everything is quite clear. By the way, you can get help for each settings page by pressing the Help button at the bottom of each page.
After you’ve set up parameters on some page, you should press the Apply button for the changes to take effect. Some actions require your rebooting the device.
So, the available setup options allow to reveal the potential of the DSM-G600 although we’d want to see some additional parameters like a log-file integrated into the web-interface.
The DSM-G600 is not a router, so we won’t have too many tests today. Here is a list of equipment and software we used to perform the testing:
Unfortunately, we couldn’t test the DSM-G600’s integrated media-server due to the lack of a UPnP player, so our tests concern the NAS functionality of the device such as network disk and FTP server.
We first benchmarked the bandwidth of the internal HDD. We mounted it in Windows as a network disk and launched IOMeter. The test was performed according to the program’s documentation with two different patterns. One pattern was meant to show the maximum number of operations performed per second and used 512-byte blocks. The other pattern helped determine the maximum bandwidth of the disk and performed reading in 64KB data blocks. For both patterns we disabled random access to the disk and selected read-only mode, which corresponded to the file-server mode according to the developers of IOMeter.
Transactions per Second
Average Response Time
The results are not excellent, but acceptable. Unfortunately, we didn’t have another device similar to the DSM-G600 for comparison, but it’s clear that the speed is high enough for using media content stored on the DSM-G600.
Next we tested the speed of downloading files via FTP. Besides the internal HDD we also used an external USB drive for this test. We couldn’t use it in the previous test as it was formatted in NTFS (i.e. it was available only for reading whereas IOMeter had to create its own file on the tested disk). We downloaded a 700MB DivX movie and watched for the speed reported by FlashFXP when the download was complete.
Loading speed ( MB/s)
The DSM-G600 passed this test successfully, too. Each disk showed a high data-transfer speed for its class.
Finally we tested the device’s bandwidth when accessed via Wi-Fi. The DSM-G600 worked as an access point. We established a secure WPA-PSK connection with TKIP encoding and measured the bandwidth in five points:
Point 1: Near the DSM-G600
Point 2: At a distance of 4 meters without obstacles
Point 3: At a distance of 5 meters + two thin gypsum wallboards
Point 4: At a distance of 6 meters + one brick wall, about 30cm thick
Point 5: At a distance of 17 meters + one thin gypsum wallboard and one 30cm brick wall
The results are excellent. The data-transfer speed is very high for 802.11g, and the coverage zone was uniform and large.
Summarizing the tests, the DSM-G600 has done very well in each of them. It is a fast NAS device.
The D-Link DSM-G600 is not free from drawbacks (most of which are due to the solid age of the model, though) but it offers a lot of opportunities for improvement. And some of its defects are not such for all users. For example, the problem with character encodings is not a problem for English-speaking users. One thing is sure, though. The DSM-G600 is going to make a good buy for enthusiasts who can make the most out of it. For users who want to have a ready-made solution out of the box, the only strong argument in favor of the DSM-G600 can be its Wi-Fi module, which is quite a rare feature for this class of device.
So, you can find a newer NAS device for $160, which is the price of the DSM-G600. But will the community of users of that other device be as active and productive as the users of the DSM-G600?