by Platon Scheblykin
04/13/2008 | 04:14 PM
We have only reviewed Network Attached Storage devices that had one internal hard disk, but RAID technology has long become available to home users, and it would be logical to implement it in NAS as well. There are already a number of NAS devices available with support for two or even four internal HDDs. It means you can build a RAID array to increase the data-transfer speed or the security of disk data.
This review is about one such device. It is the dual-disk NAS200 from Linksys. Besides its main capabilities we’ll talk about below, this NAS is very appealing for its price. It is comparable to the price of single-disk devices of this class.
We’ll check out how efficient this offer is. If the NAS200 is really good, you won’t have to pay extra for dual-disk devices from other brands.
RDC R3210-G,133MHz (x86)
1 RJ-45 port (10/100/1000 BaseT)
2 SATA-150 ports (internal HDD)
Maximum internal HDD
2 x 1TB
Supported file systems
170mm x 114mm x 193mm
The box contains:
The NAS200 has an imposing appearance thanks to its large dimensions as well as original design. The device is indeed large even for a dual-disk NAS – such devices can be nearly half the size of the NAS200.
The design concept can be traced back to Linksys’ new routers with Draft N support, particularly to the WRT300N we tested in our labs. Cutting it short, the NAS200 looks like the WRT300N but is three times thicker and without antennas. The appearance is indeed original just because you can’t see a similar design from other brands.
The case of this NAS can be viewed as having three sections: a compartment with the PCB and two compartments with disks. This division is quite conspicuous. The NAS200 can only be installed flat. It would take almost as much space if placed upright, while wall-mounting such a large device makes no sense at all.
So, you need to install one or two hard disks for the NAS to work. The NAS200 supports HDDs with SATA/SATA-II interfaces and with a storage capacity of 1TB or less. You don’t need to dismantle the case to install them. Just open the two covers at the back panel. The HDDs are inserted into the compartments without additional fastening. There are special bands in the compartments for disconnecting and extracting the drives.
The case is ventilated in a very simple way. The NAS200 seems to have a lot of vent holes but most of them prove to be a mere decoration and do not let the air into the case. There is a small area of real vent holes in one of the side panels, though. The airflow is used for cooling the PCB only. The HDDs are not cooled directly.
The airflow is created by means of a small fan located at one of the side panels. The air is driven from top to bottom near that side. Of course, this ventilation system is not rational as the hottest elements, the hard disks, are left with almost no cooling at all.
The NAS200 inherited the indication system from the WRT300N together with the overall design of the case. The light from the LEDs on the printed circuit board is transferred to the outside with plastic light pipes. The indicators are absolutely invisible when inactive – you can only read their labels from the device’s translucent front panel. This indication system isn’t quite good just because you can’t see the shining indicators at a certain angle of view. The labels are also hard to read under dim ambient lighting. There is a total of 8 indicators here (from left to right):
Besides the indicators, there is a Backup button on the front panel. You can use it to make backup copies of data from the external storage to the NAS’ internal disks.
The back panel offers all the connectors and the remaining controls (from left to right):
Although you don’t have to get into the NAS’ case to install the disks, we couldn’t help dismantling it just to take a look at the PCB. It wasn’t quite easy. There are no locks or screws visible on the case. You have to start the process by detaching the gray plate at the bottom of the case – it takes an effort. The plate conceals four screw holes. Unfasten the screws to detach the first disk compartment – you should also disconnect the power and SATA cables. Repeating the same for the second disk compartment, you finally reach the PCB. It can be taken out of the case after undoing four more screws.
Now we can take a closer look at the piece of blue textolite that accommodates the electronic components of the NAS200. The reverse part of the PCB has only small surface-mounted elements, SATA and power connectors, and a Backup button. The other elements, including indicators and remaining connectors, are on the face side. The component layout is overall neat and clever.
There are no so many electronic components here. The NAS is based on a R3210 SoC from RDC.
Click to enlarge
Besides a 32-bit RISC processor based on the x86 architecture, it incorporates a number of important devices such as a 2-port USB 2.0 host-controller, a SDRAM controller, a PCI controller, etc. The integrated processor has a clock rate of 133MHz and 16 kilobytes of L1 cache. This high level of integration helped the developer save on the amount of chips used in the NAS200. For example, the integrated USB controller is employed instead of an onboard USB controller.
The system memory of the NAS200 is a P2V56S40BTP chip from MIRA (32MB SDRAM).
The device’s firmware is stored in an 8MB JS28F640 chip from Intel.
Besides these three basic chips, there are a SiI3512 chip from Silicon Image and an IP101A from IC Plus. The former is a dual-port SATA controller with RAID0/RAID1 capability. The other chip is a single-port Fast Ethernet switch.
A UART console for the processor can be installed on the PCB. There is a seat for it.
There is nothing exceptional about the hardware part of the NAS200, but the features provided by its integrated software may be interesting. You have to use Linksys’ official firmware because there are no third-party alternatives for the NAS200 as yet. Enthusiasts who are willing to undertake such a project can visit www.nslu2-linux.org. This resource is actually dedicated to another device from Linksys, the NSLU2, but it has a page about the NAS200, too. You can find some useful information about the device there, particularly how to build your own firmware out of the source code.
As for the official firmware, it was version 3.4R62 at the moment of our writing this review. You can download it from the manufacturer’s website.
Every feature is reflected in the NAS’ web-interface. It can be viewed as consisting of two parts: the NAS’ own settings (Administration) and the integrated file-manager that does double duty as a download manager (My Files). The page you’ll see in your browser has the same structure in both cases.
Besides the company’s name, the header contains tabs for the mentioned sections, for the Home page and for the Help system. In the left part of the page there is a menu of pages with settings (or the file manager’s modes). The rest of the window displays the current page with settings (or the folder structure of the selected disk).
If you click Help, a new browser window will open up with tips on the currently selected page with settings. Traditionally for Linksys, the Help system is high quality.
So, most of the NAS’ settings can be found in the Administration section.
Status is the first page in the list showing information about the available disks and the overall status of the NAS200.
And there is the first flaw you can see here: there is no info about the current temperature of the hard disks. Temperature monitoring is vitally important for a device with such feeble ventilation. The internal HDDs were indeed very hot at work.
On the Users page you can create accounts of users who can access the NAS200. When creating a user account, you can specify additional rules, for example a quota on the amount of transferred data, the right to access the download manager, etc.
Freely accessible resources are specified on the Shared Folders page. You can also set the level of access of different NAS users for each resource.
System Options is the largest page of all. It contains settings pertaining to the NAS200’s operation modes. There are a few subsections here:
Next goes the Firmware Upgrade page. Besides updating the firmware of the NAS200, you can save the current settings into a single file.
The Media Server page is about the integrated UPnP media-server. You can specify up to four locations to be sources of various multimedia content.
The Disk Utility page offers three integrated disk tools to format the disks, to scan the disks for errors, and to monitor S.M.A.R.T. parameters. You can also set up the sleep mode for the internal HDDs and set the storage threshold.
Disk Configuration is the last page in the list. You can specify the operation mode of the internal HDDs here.
The second section of the web-interface is My Files. As we noted above, it is in fact a files and downloads manager. There are three pages in this section: Files, My Downloads and Personal Info.
The first two pages are directed related to the name of the section. The third page is for choosing the password for the current user.
On the Files page you can navigate all the disks connected to the NAS200.
A simple download manager can be found on the My Downloads page. The window shows a list of current tasks with buttons to manage the tasks. Each task can refer to a FTP or a HTML source. Torrents are not supported, unfortunately.
Now that we’ve browsed through the web-interface, we can say the functionality of the NAS200 is average if not below average. The NAS200 doesn’t support BitTorrent or a print-server. It also offers but scanty setup options for the integrated FTP and UPnP servers. The structure of the web-interface is somewhat unusual even in comparison with other network devices from Linksys. On the other hand, the available settings are quite exhaustive as concerns the appropriate sections.
Finally, we’d want to tell you about the software tools included with the NAS200. There are two of them.
The first utility is called Network Drive Mapping Utility. It is used for mounting disks connected to the NAS200 like network disks in Windows. Its interface is simple and intuitive.
The second tool is somewhat more sophisticated. It is called NTI Shadow and is used for making data backups. This utility is developed by New Tech Infosystems. It allows you to create a list of tasks that describe what data should be backed up regularly. The utility is actually independent of the NAS200, but when used with the NAS, it provides one feature: you can press the Backup button on the NAS’ front panel to start up all the tasks from the program’s list. So you can create backup copies without even opening the NTI Shadow window.
The NAS200 cannot surprise you with its performance just because Fast Ethernet is too slow for a home NAS. Still, it’s our job to measure the speed characteristics of this NAS. We used the following equipment and software for our tests:
First we measured the data-transfer rate using IOMeter. There were three test modes: RAID1, RAID0 and Single Disk. We used two patterns, 512 bytes and 64 kilobytes. The first pattern shows the maximum amount of disk operations per second. The second pattern is indicative of the maximum data-transfer speed. The results are presented in the following table:
The data-transfer rate is very low even for the Fast Ethernet interface. It is 32Mbps on average. Such low results must be due to the NAS’ processor, which is indicated by the fact that the speed of data exchange with the SATA disks and the flash card is on the same level.
Next we benchmarked the integrated FTP server. As usual, we used three types of multimedia content: photographs (S), music (M) and video (L). To be specific, we read and wrote a 30MB folder with 130 pictures, a 130MB folder with 30 MP3 files, and one 700MB DivX movie.
As you might have expected, the results are just as depressing as those of the synthetic benchmark. The NAS200 is obviously a very slow Network Attached Storage. Firmware optimizations may bring about a certain performance growth, yet it cannot be high. The device can’t be faster than its hardware and numerous tests of R3210-based devices are indicative of this processor’s low performance.
Now that we’ve discussed the main aspects of the NAS200, it is still a question for us what was its developer’s goal. Considering the low functionality and very low performance of the device, its very appealing price (about $150) cannot be a decisive argument in its favor. This NAS can accommodate two disks, but this would only be beneficial if you build a RAID1 configuration as this RAID type is meant for higher data security in the first place. The other variants of using the internal hard disks are no better than a single-disk NAS due to the low bandwidth.
Of course, NAS200 also has a number of indisputable advantages, yet we wouldn’t recommend it for purchase. You should better spend the money for a good single-disk NAS that will be more functional and faster.