Promise SmartStor NS2300N Home Digital Media Server Review

We continue talking about NAS solutions. Today we will introduce to you a NAS system from Promise that belongs to the new SmartStor product family. Read more in our new review!

by Platon Scheblykin
09/09/2008 | 04:25 PM

We are going to talk about a product from Promise today. A well-known maker of RAID systems and controllers, this developer has recently entered the SOHO sector of the Network Attached Storage market with two products, NS2300N and NS4300N, which make up the SmartStor series. The former model is a dual-disk NAS and the latter is a quad-disk one. In this review we will focus on the junior model.

 

The NS2300N looks promising with its specifications. This is what we might expect from such a respectable developer as Promise, actually. Let’s see if the first impression is not misleading.

Specification and Accessories

Parameter

Specification

CPU

333MHz

RAM

128MB

WAN

1 RJ-45 port (10/100/1000 BaseT) 
GigabitEthernet with auto crossover

Other interfaces

2 SATAII ports
1 USB 2.0 port

Maximum internal HDD 
capacity

1TB

Supported file systems

EXT2/3
FAT (external storage devices)
NTFS (Read Only, external storage devices)

Cooling

60x60mm fan

Power consumption

39W (2 HDD 350GB)

Temperature

5-35ºC

Dimensions

92mm x 145mm x 213mm

Power supply

External PSU

Additional features

  • DNLA Server
  • Download Station
  • iTunes Server

Besides the NAS itself, the box contains the following:

Exterior and Interior Design

Although network equipment makers do not focus much on the exterior design of such devices as, for example, routers, most of them do make a point of creating a nice-looking exterior for their home-oriented NASes. Promise doesn’t make routers, but takes the problem of design very seriously. The NS2300N looks original with four out of its six panels painted silver and shaped into a single detail. The face panel and one of the side panels are made from black corrugated plastic and differ greatly from the rest of the case. The overall impression is that of an expensive and top-class product.

You install HDDs into this NAS through the front panel. Just press its bottom part with your finger and the door of the HDD bay will open up. You must first attach a special plastic frame to your HDD. The frame serves as the rails for rolling the HDD in and taking it out when necessary. You have to fasten four screws for each HDD, but that’s the single inconvenience here. The installation method is handy overall.

The cooling system is not original, yet practical. The cool air is coming into the case through large vent holes in the bottom of the case. It then proceeds in between the HDDs and is exhausted through the back panel by a 60mm fan. The efficiency of this cooling system is rather questionable, though. On one hand, the NAS is very quiet but its HDDs get very hot if you enable the automatic fan management in the NAS’s settings. The HDDs are actually scorching hot in idle mode because the fan is rotating at a low speed or even stops altogether. On the other hand, if the automatic fan management is disabled, the fan is rotating at its maximum speed (about 3200rpm) and the HDDs are barely warm. The fan is rather noisy then, though.

The NS2300 has a minimum of connectors and indicators. The front panel offers the following (from top to bottom):

The few indicators the NAS has are implemented well enough. They differ in shape and position to prevent you from confusing them while their brightness level is just optimal.

There is a minimum of connectors on the back panel. Besides the fan, you can see the following (from left to right):

Now let’s check out the device’s electronics. To reach its system card we unfastened four screws at the bottom of the case (you need a screwdriver with a star-shaped tip for that).

Next we removed the bottom part of the case, unfastened two more screws (with cross-shaped heads) and took the PCB out. The PCB occupies almost the entire case. We could see now that the card with the SATA ports was connected to the main PCB by means of a connector resembling a PCI Express x4 slot. The manufacture quality is high: the components are evenly distributed on the surface of the card. There are no stains or anything.

The main chip on the PCB is, of course, the MPC8313 SoC controller from Freescale which is based on the e300 core with Power architecture. Here are its specifications taken from the Freescale website:

Parameter

MPC8313/MPC8313E

Core

e300c3, 2-IU, w/FPU, up to 333MHz

L1 I/D Cache (KB)

16 KI/16 KD

Memory Controller

16/32-bit DDR2-333

Local Bus Controller

25b/8b dedicated or 25b/16b max Add/Data,
up to 66 MHz

PCI

1 32-bit up to 66 MHz wake-on-PME

Ethernet

2 10/100/1000 MACs, SGMII, 98145.452

98145.452

1 high-speed USB 2.0 host/device + HS PHY,
wake-on-USB

Security

None /SEC 2.2

UART

Dual

I2C

Dual

SPI

1

Boot options

NOR, NAND

Int. Controller

PIC

Mux/Dedicated GPIO

10/16

DMA

4 channels

Est. Core Power

1.2W

Power Management

Standby power <300 mW

Near the processor there are two consoles, one of which is not installed, and three seats for some jumpers.

 

The NS2300N comes with 128 megabytes of system memory, which is quite a lot for a home NAS. These are two 64MB DDR2 SDRAM chips from Promos (V59C1512164QAF37).

The NAS’s flash memory is based on Hynix’s HY27US08561A chip. The capacity of the chip is 32 megabytes which is quite a lot for a home NAS, too.

Of course, Promise packs its own RAID controller into all of its products. Here, the NS2300N comes with a dual-port PDC20771 controller, the same controller as you can see on the TX2300 PCI card.

The NAS’s Gigabit Ethernet interface is supported by the popular RTL8169SC chip from Realtek.

As for the USB interface, the Promise website says that the MPC8313 has certain limitations about the performance of the USB port (this must be the reason why the NS2300N has only one USB port). It is because of those limitations that the NAS uses a discrete physical-level USB controller (a USB3300 chip from SMSC) which is connected to the processor via a ULPI interface.

And finally, the indication and control system of the NS2300N is based on the GAL16V8D microcontroller from Lattice.

Firmware and Web-Interface

It is interesting to check out the firmware of the NS2300N because Promise doesn’t have much experience in writing firmware for network equipment but it is the firmware that determines a device’s appeal to the user. So let’s see if the developer has done his job right.

The NS2300N was released recently, so Promise’s NASes haven’t yet gathered a numerous user community. No one has made serious attempts to modify the firmware for SmartStor series products as yet; at least we couldn’t find any such projects on the Web. So, you have to rely on the official firmware which is interesting due to its modular structure. It means you can add new features to the basic version of firmware by installing plugins. Although not new, this method of adding functionality is not yet popular among network equipment makers. Today, SmartStor series products have plugins that add an integrated DLNA media server, a download manager (with support for BitTorrent, Edonkey, HTTP and FTP), and an iTunes server. That’s something to begin with. Besides, the basic firmware of the NS2300N has an integrated print-server and a tool for working with certain models of UPSes. For our tests we installed the latest version of firmware downloaded from the Promise website. It was version 1.03.0000.07.

The web-interface of the setup manager available in the NS2300N has a traditional design. Besides the manufacturer’s logo, the header offers a few functional items.

For example, you can choose the language of the web-interface (from a rather long list) in the dropdown menu here. The next item, called Contact us, leads to a Promise page with contact information. To leave the setup manager, click Logout. The Help link leads to a brief informational page. In the left part of the setup manager there is a menu for choosing pages with settings. The menu has only two levels and a logical structure. It is very easy to navigate. The rest of the manager’s window displays the contents of the selected page with settings.

You can open up the Help system by clicking the appropriate button in the top right corner of the settings page. The Help page is displayed in a separate window and shows information pertaining to the current page with settings. Unfortunately, the Help information is always rather too general for the user to make out what exactly the particular settings do.

The pages are limited in scope, meaning that there are a lot of pages and groups but each page contains but a small number of settings. The setup manager offers eight groups, each with a self-explanatory name.

Wizard Group

The menu begins with the Wizard group that contains a few quick Setup Wizards.

Users & Groups

The next group of settings is called Users & Groups. Here you can create user accounts for accessing the NAS as well as groups those accounts are combined into. On the Quota page you can specify how much disk space individual users or user groups can use if there are personal folders created for them.

File & Print Group

The File & Print group contains settings of general access to the NAS’s folders and to the integrated print-server. Particularly, the Protocol Control page allows you to specify the parameters of the integrated print and FTP servers as well as Windows and Linux-related services. The FTP-server has rather scanty setup options. You can’t even limit its speed or the number of simultaneous connections.

On the File Sharing page you can delete and create folders on the NAS’s disk and specify when the folders are going to be accessible.

User rights concerning the NAS’s folders are specified on the Sharing Setup page.

RAID & File System Group

The RAID & File System group contains settings pertaining to the operation mode of the internal HDDs. You do this on the RAID Management page while the File System Management page is just more detailed about the created partitions. The NS2300N offers quite advanced RAID-related features, by the way. It supports hot swapping and installation of HDDs and you can migrate from one type of RAID to another without data loss in some cases.

Backup Group

The EzBackup page of the Backup group enables quick backup mode available in the SmartNAVI program.

Network Group

The Network group contains but one page called Network Setup. The parameters of the network interface of the NS2300N are specified here.

Management Group

The Management group contains a lot of settings referring to the operation of the NAS proper. The Event Log page offers a system log, which is not very detailed or informative, though.

The Mail Alert page is for setting up e-mail notifications that will be sent to the specified addresses.

The System Upgrade page is where you can update the NAS’s firmware and install plugins. There is one limitation, though. The update files must be located in the root folder or in one of its subfolders.

The integrated speaker can be turned off on the Buzzer page.

If the system identifies a supported UPS, you can set the latter up on the APC UPS page.

System Group

The purpose of the System group is rather vague as its settings resemble the previous group. The Date/Time page is for specifying the NAS’s system date and time. You can enter these parameters manually or use an NTP server.

You can reboot or shut the NS2300N down on the Reboot/Shutdown page.

The last menu page is called System Information. It provides some basic information about the NAS, reports the current voltages, and the current speed of the cooling fan. You can disable the automatic fan management here.

That’s all we can tell you about the setup options the NS2300N offers. The setup manager is good overall yet some features, particularly the FTP-server, do not have enough setup flexibility.

SmartNAVI Software

Before testing the NS2300N, we want to dwell upon the software you get with this NAS. It is called SmartNAVI. This program provides a visual interface to the most frequently used features. The interface looks good, employing large icons and buttons. All data are represented visually as tables and lists whenever possible.

When started, this program goes into the System Tray and opens up on a double click. It then shows you a basic version of the program window with action icons (such as launching a scheduled backup or specifying a user account to use in SmartNAVI) on the left. The advanced version of the window will open if you double-click any of the system partitions of any SmartStor device. This window offers seven tabs:

  1. Download Station. This tab offers an interface to the namesake firmware plugin. It is simple, consisting of only three items. You can add new downloads, view the lists of current and completed downloads.

  1. Share Folder. Here you can perform basic operations over the folders in the current partition.

  1. SmartSYNC. You can specify the parameters of the backup system here. Also on this tab you can create or restore a backup with a single click of your mouse.

 

 

  1. Setup Wizard. It is a simple Wizard for setting up the basic parameters of the NS2300N.

     

  1. User Management. This tab contains the same settings as the User Management and Group Management pages of the NAS’s web-interface.

  1. Volume Configuration. Most settings of the web-interface’s RAID & File System group are duplicated here.

  1. NAS Management. This tab contains some settings of the web-interface’s Management and Network groups.

Performance

Industry equipment from Promise enjoys good reputation due to its high performance. So, we expect good performance from the company’s NAS, too. For the sake of comparison we will take a Synology DS207+ NAS, which has had the highest results in our tests so far. Let’s see if the NS2300N can match our leader.

This is the equipment used for this test session:

We first measure the speed of the internal HDD using IOMeter. There are two patterns: 512 bytes to determine for maximum amount of disk operations per second and 64KB to see the maximum data-transfer rate. We exclude random and write operations in both cases to get the highest results possible.

So, the NS2300N delivers high performance, but cannot match the favorite of this testing. For a home NAS, the NS2300N provides an acceptable speed of data transfer to and from the internal HDDs. The data-transfer speed of the external USB drive is even higher than average, probably due to the use of a discrete physical-level USB controller.

The next test is about the integrated FTP server available in both NAS devices. We measure the data-transfer speed not only for the integrated HDD but also for an external device, a USB flash drive. We upload and download files with FlashXFP and mark the average download speed reported by the program in the server connection log. We use the following content types: a 700MB DivX movie (L), a 200MB folder with MP3 files (M), and a 200MB folder with photographs (S).

The NS2300N is rather slow in this test, especially when working with the external drive. This indicates a poor implementation of the integrated FTP server because the USB interface itself proved to be fast in the previous test.

Conclusion

Frankly speaking, we had expected a little more from a NAS developed by such a respectable company as Promise. Well, the NS2300N has more advantages than drawbacks, but the poor implementation of the integrated FTP-server is a disappointment, unfortunately. This aspect of the firmware seems to have been disregarded by the developer. The second problem with the NS2300N is the ventilation system, but it may not be a problem for you if you don’t mind the buzzing fan.  

What we like about the NS2300N is that it has a good exterior design and a large number of additional features (hopefully, there will be even more plugins in the future) and comes with good software. This puts it somewhat higher than the average level of this class of devices.

The NS2300N will cost you about $190-200, which is average as dual-disk NASes go. We guess it is quite worth the money.

Highs:

Lows: