It's 2012 and more and more of us are generating and hoarding more and more data. Some of you crazies store terabytes upon terabytes of TV shows and movies downloaded off the Internet, on the off chance you'll watch them more than once (hint: you won't). Even if your storage requirements aren't copyright infringement related, the demand for more disk space is off the charts. Despite hard drives topping out at 4TB these days, that just isn't enough to store everything we need. Enter the world of network attached storage (aka, NAS) - little boxes designed to house multiple hard disks and make that aggregate storage avaialble to all the users on your network.
What's generally referred to as a NAS, is a small appliance like computer - something in a cube shape with a network port, space to shove SATA hard disks into and running a variant of Linux, modified for the task of accessing your files across the network. There are also various operating systems, dedicated to turning a spare computer, or a computer built for the specific purpose of storing files, into a NAS - FreeNAS, Unraid, OpenMediaVault and NexentaStor, just to name a few.
To use a NAS, all you do is configure it appropriately (sometimes easier said than done), and on your Mac, it will appear in the Finder sidebar, under "Shared", like so:
Enter in a username and password (or if you've configured your NAS not to have such things, you don't need this step) and that's it. That little box full of hard drives is now available to all the computers or devices on your network, just as if it was plugged in directly.
If you want, you can even run other services on your NAS, like say, a Bittorrent client, a personal web server, or a remote backup application - remember, a NAS is just a computer running Linux (most of the time), so what it can do is only limited by the amount of CPU power, RAM and what the particular operating system running on it has enabled.
For this review, I've managed to get my hands on a wide range of 4-bay NAS units availble in Australia (listed below with average street pricing via staticICE). I'll be going through each NAS individually, covering what I did like and what I didn't like about each one, then providing an overall comparison of benchmarks, both synthetic and real-world, together with power consumption info.
Before we start going into detail on each unit, let's compare what's the same amongst them - they've all got gigabit ethernet, have 4-bays, support SATA HDDs (even advanced format 3TB & 4TB drives) and all are pretty much the same in regards to noise. I didn't do any proper testing with a sound level meter, but in a silent study, none of the NAS units stood out as noisy, so I didn't think it worth the hassle of trying to compare the noise output of them. Of course, my FreeNAS server is much noisier than the smaller NAS units, but I could probably make it quieter if I tried.
All of the NAS units support Apple file sharing (AFP) and Time Machine, as well as Windows file sharing, for the PCs on your network. UPS support is in all the units too, so if you want to make sure your NAS shuts down cleanly during a power outage, or keeps working despite no power, plug in a UPS via USB and you're golden. However, it is not clear which UPS units are supported by which NAS! I'm going to assume they're all using a variant of Network UPS Tools, so if it's on their supported list, it will probably work on the NAS.
That's where the similarities end, and each unit has it's own unique traits and features. Instead of gasbagging on about each one, I'm going to highlight what I thought sucks, or is great about the unit and give links to more in depth reviews done by others.
Netgear RND4000 V2 - $293
manufacturer's page | other reviews: StorageReview.com, Anandtech
Built like a tank, yet, also the most compact unit in the bunch. Kudos to Netgear on the excellent construction, particularly of note considering it is the cheapest unit in the group and has a display on the front to give diagnostic messages, IP addresses, etc.
Unlike the other units, the Netgear has it's own properiatary RAID level called, X-RAID2, as well as standard RAID levels. From the ReadyNAS wiki, "What is the advantage of using X-RAID over RAID 5?" - I didn't test X-RAID in my time with the ReadyNAS, but if you're keen to find out more, check out some other reviews of the unit, it seems like a handy feature.
USB 3.0 support is included, which is useful for doing large data dumps to the NAS - e.g: you've already got an external HDD that you want to copy on to the NAS, or SD/CF cards you want to copy directly to the NAS.
There's also an active ReadyNAS community, where you can get support, ideas on how to better use your NAS and view a range of apps to use on your NAS.
D-Link DNS-345 - $338
manufacturer's page | other reviews: Hardware.info UK
Getting drives in and out of the D-Link was a treat, as there's no screws required. Just pop the front cover off, pull back the tabs on the rear of the unit, slide the drive in and push the tabs back in. I guess it doesn't make much difference if you're putting the drives in once and leaving it unless it fails, but if you've put the same four drives in and out of 6 other units, not having to screw in 8 or 16 screws each time is nice.
Two ethernet ports on a unit this price is handy, but in real world use, rather limited as the main point of two ports is to do link aggregation, as to get maximum bandwidth from the storage out to the network. AS you'll see in the benchmarks, the D-Link probably won't hit those speeds to make it worth it. It can act as a router however, if you're so inclined to plug this into your modem, so it can come in handy for that purpose. The inclusion of USB 3.0 would be more welcome than a 2nd network port.
QNAP TS-412 - $340
manufacturer's page | other reviews: We Got Served, Cybergamer, SmallNetBuilder
The exterior of the QNAP is nothing fancy, but as is common with most other NAS models, a copy button on the front is great for doing a dump of an external HDD onto the NAS. The inclusion of eSATA is nice, but USB 3.0 would have been more useful. The dual ethernet ports are welcome, but again, have the same issue as the D-Link, in that they're not going to be that practical for link aggregation due to the unit not capable of exceeding single gigabit speeds all that easily.
There are many other reviews that cover this unit in detail, so check out the ones I've linked to, if you want more info on the TS-412.
Thecus N4800Eco - $700
manufacturer's page | other reviews: none (this is a very new model)
The first thing that struck me as odd about the Thecus is that it has a HDMI and VGA port. By default, plugging in a monitor or TV just brings up a Linux login screen, and after logging in, you've got a familiar command line to do stuff with, if you so desire. Nifty if you're into that sort of thing. There's a HDMI port, which, according to the marketing material, allows you to watch video straight off the NAS. It requires you to download a module off the Thecus website to enable "local display" then you need to get another 3rd party module for media playback, like XBMC. Personally, I think it's sank, but if you want to plug your NAS into the TV to be an all-in-one box, then this unit is an excellent choice, as it's the only one with HDMI output.
It 's also got an eSATA port, so if you grab an external eSATA case and pop a drive in it, you can have a 5 disk RAID array. There's a PCIe slot too, which I'm not 100% sure of what you'd practically use it for, but I guess it's nice it's there.
Thecus OS isn't as pretty as the other firmware's from Synology or Netgear, but it's full featured and gets the job done. I really like the "Quick RAID" feature in ThecusOS, which makes creating a RAID volume not such a time intensive process. ThecusOS also installs apps, and the selection is okay, but not as deep as Netgear or Synology either. The Thecus forums are active, and there's a fair few 3rd party modules, like CouchPotato and sabnzbd, which are very handy. They are maintained by the community though, so updates could stop at any time.
Iomega PX4-300d - $485
manufacturer's page | other reviews: Brent Ozar, StorageReview.com, SmallNetBuilder
Iomega has priced this very well - considering there's an Intel Atom CPU and dual gigabit interfaces in there, at a street price of under $500. It's got the nicest screen on the front, displaying the time, status messages, IP address, etc. But it can be very bright at times. There's also a PCIe slot in there, but I don't know what you'd stick in it. Maybe an external eSATA card, so you can attach more drives, I dunno. Checking compatibility would be a crapshoot, as there's no list of what the Iomega firmware supports.
Whislt the Iomega NAS supports apps, the selection is rather woeful (take a look). That said, included on the NAS itself are some useful things, such as Amazon S3 integration, support for Axis video cameras, Mozy, and a BitTorrent client.
Synology DS413j - $375
manufacturer's page | other reviews: SmallNetBuilder, Legion Hardware, Vortez, Hardware Heaven
Synology DS413 - $529
manufacturer's page | other reviews: Akihabara News, We Got Served, Xtreme Systems, Mad Shrimps
Synology DS412+ - $660
manufacturer's page | other reviews: TechPowerUp, Legion Hardware, TweakTown
Synology are one of the leading NAS brands, having a solid line up at all price points. They were gracious enough to surprise me with three units (I only asked for the DS413j!), and they're quite similar, so thats why they're lumped together. Firmware wise, they all have the same features, which is great, as it makes it easy to use if you go up or down a model, or buy another one later on. The Synology firmware is the biggest strong point of their products, with a super easy to use and very modern interface. At first I thought it was overkill, as it mimics an entire windowing system inside a browser, but it's quite intuitive if you've ever used a GUI operating system (i.e: everyone using a NAS).
There's also a Synology app eco-system, that is quite polished, and has a healthy level of 3rd party developers. Synoloy also have dozens of supported & ported apps: DSM 4.1 Packages - Synology Inc. Network Attached Storage - NEW NAS Experience
Buffalo TeraStation 5400 - $842
manufacturer's page | other reviews: none
The Buffalo was actually the first unit to arrive and I got to play with it a little, however, it is not included in any benchmarks becuse it died on me. Kinda. To do the tests, I used the same four hard drives, to keep everything equal. Buffalo supplied the unit with their own 1TB drives, so I took those out and put mine in. The drives they gave me, I used around the place and in other NAS units to play around with whilst the benchmark drives were in other NAS units. Unfortunatley, this NAS keeps *all* of it's firmware on the internal hard drives, so if the hard drives are erased, the system fails to load. Unlike all the other units in this review, you can't restore it's firmware from the web, you need a USB flash drive from Buffalo to restore the operating system back on to any new drives. Because the unit given to me by Buffalo, included drives, I didn't get a USB recovery drive, which is what you get when you buy one without disks.
Normally this wouldn't be a big deal - contact support and they'll help you out. Well 2 weeks ago I emailed the support address (here's the email) and didn't get a response, after 10 days. So I called the number on their support page to ask what's happening, but it rang out. I tried again a few days later and was told the support team will get back to me within 24 hours. They didn't, and missed the deadline for this review. I could have emailed my PR contact (who sent me the unit) and had it replaced/fixed in time for the review, but that misses the point of a review designed to help people decide which NAS to buy. From my experience with Buffalo support, I can't recommend this unit at all, because if it dies, they're not going to help you in a timely manner. Plus, what sort of crappy NAS can't restore from the web or it's own internal flash storage? What happens if the drive containing the OS dies and you can't boot the unit up? All your data is gone. A very poor design and very poor support from Buffalo. That's why it will not be appearing in this roundup.
I've also got a FreeNAS server with the following specs that I built for under $400, that I'll be throwing into the mix, to see how these off the shelf units compare to a home built solution. The guts: AMD A4-5300 CPU, AsRock FM2A75M-DGS Motherboard, 8GB DDR3 RAM,
Fractal Design ARC-Mini Case, Corsair HX650 Power Supply.
FreeNAS is an operating system based on FreeBSD and centered around the ZFS file system. You install FreeNAS on a garden variety computer and the computer is turned into a NAS. Because of this, it's incredibly flexible and performance off the charts. The ability to pick your own hardware can be both a plus and a minus, so it depends on your level of technical skill. ZFS support is the killer feature of FreeNAS and none of the dedicated NAS units support it. If you need any of the features ZFS has, you probably know FreeNAS is for you anyways.
Because it's a full blown PC, a FreeNAS setup will probably use more power than a dedicated NAS, although if you try really hard, you can probably build a computer to use the same amount. Also, FreeNAS doesn't support Plex (something a lot of you are interested in), so you'd need to run a second machine, or look into virtualisation.
Basically, if you want to learn something and get your hands dirty, FreeNAS is an excellent option. But if you aren't up for tinkering a little, FreeNAS may not be for you.
To make things even, I've used the following setup and conducted the testing under these conditions:
- All tests done on a 2011 Mac Mini, 8GB RAM, 240GB Corsair SSD
- Fresh install of Mac OS X 10.8.2 with no 3rd party apps except benchmarking tools
- Connected to NAS directly via gigabit ethernet (no switch involved)
- 4x Western Digital 3TB Red (WD30EFRX-68AX9N0) drives configured to RAID5 (no proprietary RAID levels)
- Everything that can be disabled on NAS, turned off, except for AFP file sharing.
To test the performance of the NAS units, the following tests & commands were run:
- Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test 2.2
- QuickBench 4.0.6
- Copy iPhoto library (23.2GB, 5793 photos) to and from NAS using Terminal, and the "time" command to measure transfer time
- Copy Windows 8 ISO (3.58GB), also using the "time" command to measure transfer time
Using Blackmagic's Disk Speed Test and QuickBench give us some synthetic tests that are easy to run on each NAS unit. Copying the iPhoto library is a great test to see what real world performance is like copying, then reading, a large selection of small files. Copying the Windows ISO is another real world test, to see how long it takes to copy a single large file, like movies or TV shows for example. Hopefully, this combination of tests gives a great overview of a NAS unit's performance.
Also, as this can make a difference, here are the versions of the firmware used on each NAS:
- Synology DS413 - DSM 4.1-2657
- Synology DS412+ - DSM 4.1-2647
- Synology DS413j - DSM 4.1-2647
- Netgear RND4000 V2 - RAIDiator 5.3.7
- QNAP TS-412 - 3.8.0 Build1114
- Iomega PX4-300d - 220.127.116.1190
- Thecus N4800Eco - ThecusOS 5.0 v2.03.07.3
- D-Link DNS-345 - v1.01b09
- FreeNAS - 64-bit 8.3.0
The read tests show that all by the Netgear & QNAP are able to pretty much saturate a gigabit ethernet link, nothing surprising there except the fact the QNAP struggles here and the Netgear is slightly off the pace.
The write speeds also show that the QNAP is significantly slow (USB 2.0 is faster) and the gap between the expensive models ($400+) and the sub-$400 ones shows itself, with the sub-$400 models failing to write any faster than 42MB/sec.
The iPhoto Library reads were interesting, with the D-Link putting in some great times, considering it's price and specs. The Synology DS413 topped the reads, but in writes, along with the other Synology units, was quite disappointing. The QNAP again, is the most sluggish.
With this large file read test, every unit does it in about the same time, except for the Netgear, which lags behind for some reason. With writing the large file to the NAS, it's the same story of the expensive units beating out the cheaper ones, and the QNAP behind the pace as usual.
The giant wall of numbers below, is the output from QuickBench's Standard Test Results. The main thing I wanted to find out from this is random read & write speeds. And here again, price dictates the average random write speed pecking order. FreeNAS is significantly faster, with the Iomega and Thecus not far behind. The Synology units perform quite poorly here, with the D-Link putting in a great effort for it's price (again).
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 6.837 MB/Sec 0.528 MB/Sec 6.943 MB/Sec 0.239 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 11.298 MB/Sec 0.940 MB/Sec 11.485 MB/Sec 0.412 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 20.283 MB/Sec 1.486 MB/Sec 20.406 MB/Sec 0.705 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 39.272 MB/Sec 2.405 MB/Sec 39.353 MB/Sec 1.180 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 60.715 MB/Sec 3.884 MB/Sec 60.209 MB/Sec 1.816 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 77.748 MB/Sec 5.667 MB/Sec 77.850 MB/Sec 3.341 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 89.822 MB/Sec 9.271 MB/Sec 89.152 MB/Sec 5.223 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 97.465 MB/Sec 13.097 MB/Sec 98.289 MB/Sec 7.994 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 102.831 MB/Sec 17.539 MB/Sec 104.564 MB/Sec 13.337 MB/Sec Standard Ave 56.252 MB/Sec 6.091 MB/Sec 56.472 MB/Sec 3.805 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 8.407 MB/Sec 0.209 MB/Sec 8.391 MB/Sec 0.186 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 15.262 MB/Sec 0.422 MB/Sec 15.394 MB/Sec 0.329 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 25.985 MB/Sec 0.835 MB/Sec 26.010 MB/Sec 0.582 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 45.601 MB/Sec 1.528 MB/Sec 45.753 MB/Sec 1.092 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 58.865 MB/Sec 3.076 MB/Sec 57.615 MB/Sec 2.152 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 81.296 MB/Sec 4.958 MB/Sec 80.953 MB/Sec 3.454 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 92.334 MB/Sec 9.256 MB/Sec 92.623 MB/Sec 5.511 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 100.656 MB/Sec 11.582 MB/Sec 100.466 MB/Sec 8.482 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 105.824 MB/Sec 23.263 MB/Sec 105.958 MB/Sec 14.422 MB/Sec Standard Ave 59.359 MB/Sec 6.125 MB/Sec 59.240 MB/Sec 4.023 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 11.394 MB/Sec 0.198 MB/Sec 11.257 MB/Sec 0.118 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 18.683 MB/Sec 0.378 MB/Sec 18.926 MB/Sec 0.221 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 30.011 MB/Sec 0.713 MB/Sec 30.116 MB/Sec 0.431 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 52.433 MB/Sec 1.419 MB/Sec 52.879 MB/Sec 0.833 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 73.242 MB/Sec 2.447 MB/Sec 73.248 MB/Sec 1.584 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 86.287 MB/Sec 4.335 MB/Sec 86.484 MB/Sec 3.696 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 95.641 MB/Sec 8.342 MB/Sec 95.654 MB/Sec 4.670 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 102.408 MB/Sec 10.363 MB/Sec 102.292 MB/Sec 8.718 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 106.773 MB/Sec 17.055 MB/Sec 106.632 MB/Sec 12.936 MB/Sec Standard Ave 64.097 MB/Sec 5.028 MB/Sec 64.165 MB/Sec 3.690 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 6.753 MB/Sec 0.092 MB/Sec 6.875 MB/Sec 0.082 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 11.116 MB/Sec 0.180 MB/Sec 11.223 MB/Sec 0.158 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 19.943 MB/Sec 0.336 MB/Sec 20.166 MB/Sec 0.298 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 38.745 MB/Sec 0.629 MB/Sec 38.824 MB/Sec 0.563 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 59.276 MB/Sec 1.307 MB/Sec 59.586 MB/Sec 1.177 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 77.078 MB/Sec 2.344 MB/Sec 77.110 MB/Sec 2.366 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 89.313 MB/Sec 4.577 MB/Sec 88.519 MB/Sec 3.657 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 98.325 MB/Sec 8.258 MB/Sec 98.297 MB/Sec 6.701 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 99.631 MB/Sec 12.884 MB/Sec 102.922 MB/Sec 10.844 MB/Sec Standard Ave 55.576 MB/Sec 3.401 MB/Sec 55.947 MB/Sec 2.872 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 9.629 MB/Sec 0.267 MB/Sec 9.448 MB/Sec 0.274 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 18.288 MB/Sec 0.529 MB/Sec 17.738 MB/Sec 0.527 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 29.577 MB/Sec 1.021 MB/Sec 28.657 MB/Sec 1.020 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 48.992 MB/Sec 2.046 MB/Sec 47.927 MB/Sec 2.087 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 66.924 MB/Sec 3.823 MB/Sec 67.335 MB/Sec 3.695 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 84.005 MB/Sec 6.728 MB/Sec 83.187 MB/Sec 6.990 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 93.186 MB/Sec 14.884 MB/Sec 93.020 MB/Sec 14.040 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 100.548 MB/Sec 23.578 MB/Sec 100.279 MB/Sec 23.067 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 104.572 MB/Sec 36.648 MB/Sec 104.495 MB/Sec 33.499 MB/Sec Standard Ave 61.747 MB/Sec 9.947 MB/Sec 61.343 MB/Sec 9.466 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 8.821 MB/Sec 2.008 MB/Sec 8.824 MB/Sec 0.558 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 15.559 MB/Sec 3.773 MB/Sec 15.532 MB/Sec 1.049 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 25.787 MB/Sec 4.782 MB/Sec 25.700 MB/Sec 2.284 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 45.827 MB/Sec 7.437 MB/Sec 46.242 MB/Sec 3.713 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 66.257 MB/Sec 10.624 MB/Sec 66.365 MB/Sec 5.642 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 81.333 MB/Sec 12.739 MB/Sec 81.260 MB/Sec 6.752 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 92.386 MB/Sec 11.470 MB/Sec 92.634 MB/Sec 11.313 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 100.526 MB/Sec 15.261 MB/Sec 100.478 MB/Sec 10.533 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 105.697 MB/Sec 22.344 MB/Sec 105.465 MB/Sec 16.068 MB/Sec Standard Ave 60.244 MB/Sec 10.049 MB/Sec 60.278 MB/Sec 6.435 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 6.566 MB/Sec 0.504 MB/Sec 3.331 MB/Sec 0.237 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 10.630 MB/Sec 0.584 MB/Sec 9.576 MB/Sec 0.372 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 18.121 MB/Sec 1.167 MB/Sec 17.839 MB/Sec 0.693 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 29.834 MB/Sec 1.771 MB/Sec 14.298 MB/Sec 1.170 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 42.759 MB/Sec 3.130 MB/Sec 13.485 MB/Sec 1.582 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 46.832 MB/Sec 5.401 MB/Sec 26.008 MB/Sec 3.627 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 49.789 MB/Sec 6.976 MB/Sec 31.148 MB/Sec 4.220 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 45.101 MB/Sec 9.455 MB/Sec 41.801 MB/Sec 5.434 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 41.385 MB/Sec 12.139 MB/Sec 45.162 MB/Sec 8.199 MB/Sec Standard Ave 32.335 MB/Sec 4.570 MB/Sec 22.516 MB/Sec 2.837 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 6.237 MB/Sec 0.058 MB/Sec 1.857 MB/Sec 0.051 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 9.940 MB/Sec 0.109 MB/Sec 7.618 MB/Sec 0.105 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 18.013 MB/Sec 0.211 MB/Sec 15.623 MB/Sec 0.211 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 32.367 MB/Sec 0.397 MB/Sec 22.006 MB/Sec 0.441 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 44.038 MB/Sec 0.726 MB/Sec 24.106 MB/Sec 0.774 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 58.477 MB/Sec 1.326 MB/Sec 19.612 MB/Sec 1.596 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 66.485 MB/Sec 2.372 MB/Sec 30.310 MB/Sec 2.180 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 72.854 MB/Sec 4.341 MB/Sec 50.455 MB/Sec 3.513 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 77.673 MB/Sec 6.843 MB/Sec 71.005 MB/Sec 5.556 MB/Sec Standard Ave 42.898 MB/Sec 1.820 MB/Sec 26.955 MB/Sec 1.603 MB/Sec
Transfer Size Sequential Read Sequential Write Random Read Random Write 4 KBytes 8.368 MB/Sec 0.650 MB/Sec 8.315 MB/Sec 0.289 MB/Sec 8 KBytes 15.085 MB/Sec 1.366 MB/Sec 15.197 MB/Sec 0.710 MB/Sec 16 KBytes 25.712 MB/Sec 1.903 MB/Sec 26.042 MB/Sec 1.083 MB/Sec 32 KBytes 39.910 MB/Sec 3.299 MB/Sec 45.653 MB/Sec 2.477 MB/Sec 64 KBytes 59.545 MB/Sec 5.203 MB/Sec 66.025 MB/Sec 5.608 MB/Sec 128 KBytes 76.215 MB/Sec 7.865 MB/Sec 78.807 MB/Sec 7.876 MB/Sec 256 KBytes 86.213 MB/Sec 11.142 MB/Sec 89.213 MB/Sec 7.492 MB/Sec 512 KBytes 97.578 MB/Sec 15.830 MB/Sec 98.242 MB/Sec 9.963 MB/Sec 1024 KBytes 104.096 MB/Sec 22.578 MB/Sec 103.670 MB/Sec 17.038 MB/Sec Standard Ave 56.969 MB/Sec 7.760 MB/Sec 59.018 MB/Sec 5.837 MB/Sec
Because a NAS is generally on 24/7, I figured it's important to include the amount of electricity each unit consumes. Over the lifetime of the NAS, the amount of power it consumes can add significant costs to owning one, so if one unit is more power frugal than the other, it can be a major reason to buy it over the other, if all other things are equal. Plus, like, the environment and global warming, etc.
I used a Belkin Conserve Insight as my power meter and measured how much power was being used by each unit under full load - the kw/h measurement 2 minuntes after starting the iPhoto Library benchmark, and at idle - which was taken 15 minutes after the last test, when the unit is still awake and powered up, but not in sleep mode. If you are a home user, I strongly suggest enabling sleep mode on the NAS units, as it can drop power consumption down to under 5kW/h - particularly useful for when you're away from the computer for a long period of time, such as overnight. You'll save a lot of money on your power bill using sleep mode. The problem with sleep mode however, is that it takes a minute or so for the unit to wake up once it's accessed by a device. You might want to set a longer than default time before the unit sleeps (maybe 2 hours or so).
The Iomega unit was given to me without a power supply, so I had to use a 3rd party one (a Ritmo universal laptop power supply!), which may or may not be as effecient as the one supplied in the box. I would hope the one that comes with it is better, as with my Ritmo PSU, man, it sucked a lot of juice compared to similar spec NAS units.
The Synology DS413 is particularly power friendly, as it gives great performance, yet uses pretty much the same power as the significantly slower units.
And clearly, the FreeNAS PC used significantly more power than the others, more than double what the Synology DS413 consumes, for pretty much the same performance. If I kept both on for a year, at load 6 hours a day and idle for 18 hours, the PC would cost me $189.80 vs. $69.35 for the DS413.
User Interfaces & Ease of Use
All of the NAS units are controlled via a web interface, most of them are pretty easy to use, with none of them sucking so badly that they're unusable. I didn't particularly find one unit easier or harder to use than the other. Setting up the devices are also very straight forward, with all of them either purely web based, or having a Mac app in order to find the unit on the network and load up the latest firmware. The Synology and ReadyNAS interfaces are a step above the rest, but not so much so that it's a reason alone to buy them. The other interfaces are just fine. Synology has a fleet of iOS apps too - it's pretty clear that Synology leads the pack here, but like I said, I don't think it's that important in the overall scheme of things.
The Buffalo NAS, for reasons outlined in the intro, totally fails in this regard.
FreeNAS is a little behind here, as it's by far the most complicated for someone totally new to a NAS. You've got to download it as an ISO, write it to a USB flash drive and boot from it on your PC. Which I take for granted, but it's not as simple, or as guided as the stand alone NAS units.
A big reason why people buy a NAS is to use RAID - RAID gives you a level of protection against hard drive failure. If you are not familiar with RAID, I suggesting watching this YouTube video. The most important thing to remember is that RAID is not a backup. I repeat, RAID IS NOT A BACKUP. You need two copies of a file, in separate locations, at a minimum, for a backup.
The point of RAID is to prevent having to resort to your backups, but just to replace the faulty drive and continue on, business as usual. In practice though, this can be quite complicated. To test what the recovery process is like on each NAS unit, I created a RAID-1 volume on each NAS, copied a few gigs of data to it, pulled one of the drives out, formatted it on my Mac, popped it back in to the NAS and watched what happened.
I wanted to cover this in more detail, with screenshots and whatnot, but let's be honest, it's goddamn boring. They all beeped and put up alerts telling me to fix the RAID array. Each unit has a different way of doing it, but essentially, it's just clicking a button and letting it sit there whilst the data restores.
None of them chucked a hissy fit, and restored the data just fine. I didn't benchmark the drives before & after, but yaknow, the data was there, so we're cool, right? Obviously, the more powerful units did it quicker, but overall, they all take a very, long, time, to restore - most of them around 2-3 hours until complete. Data can be accessed in that period, but man it's slow, so you may as well leave it alone to do its thing. If restoring a 1TB RAID-1 array takes a while, I can only imagine how long 4x 3TB drives in a RAID-5 would take to restore (24 hours+?!).
Obviously, taking a RAID array and putting it into a different brand unit doesn't work (they all can't detect the volume and ask you to reformat the drives), but taking drives out of the Synology DS413 and putting them into the DS412+ worked really well. Because they both use the same family of firmware, it detects the drives are from a different unit and has a wizard to guide you through the process of adding the volume to the NAS. Nifty.
Plex and Other Non-NAS Things
I wasn't even going to bother writing about the media capabilities and apps of these NAS units, because that's not what I think a NAS should be bothering with. All I care about is performance, reliability and what it costs. But when I asked on the forums for anything I should cover in the review, almost everyone wanted to know about running Plex - not just DLNA or anything else - just Plex Media Server.
If you're not familiar with Plex, it's a really easy to use media playback and library system. I think it's really cool, even though I don't use it personally. People want to be able to use their NAS more like a home server, doing all sorts of things, rather than just have it be a big hard disk with a network port. Fair enough! Clearly, I'm the odd one out here. Pfft.
The idea is to run Plex Media Server on the NAS itself, which is kept say, in a cupboard, or in the garage or somewhere out of the way. Then on your TV or on a smartphone/tablet, a Plex front end (of which there are dozens), reads media from your NAS and can even transcode the media on the fly, if your front end doesn't natively support the playback format.
Plex is officially supported on QNAP, ReadyNAS (Netgear) and Synology hardware, but doesn't work the same on all devices, even if it is supported. The ability to load a library up on a front end is basic and works across the board, but transcoding media, a popular feature, has varying degrees of success, depending on your NAS hardware. Only the Thecus NAS is able to transcode on the fly, so if even if you do manage to get Plex Media Server on the NAS, your Plex client will need to support the file format natively, otherwise, it won't play. So if you have a a hacked Apple TV with Plex on it and want to watch stuff downloaded off BitTorrent or Usenet, with the NAS as the Plex Media Server - none of these NAS can do it for ya, as the Apple TV can't play back MKVs on Plex without transcoding - something these NAS units won't do. If you've got a Windows PC or a Mac connected to your TV running the Plex client though, it can do the transcoding, so the NAS runs Plex Media Server and just provides file access to your media and all the heavy lifting is done on the more powerful client.
On the Thecus devices, there are 3rd party modules of transcoding using Plex Media Server, and it doesn't work too well. Doing 720p transcoding, it stutters pretty bad and is unwatchable. It's also not officially supported, so the dude doing it now could just stop and you've got no more updates.
I would not recommend running Plex on these NAS units if you need transcoding. If you don't need transcoding, then yeah, chuck on Plex, if the NAS has a port of it.
Almost all the units also support DLNA, which is like a poor man's Plex, but accessible by many, many more devices, like the Playstation 3, or many "Smart TVs" - for more info on DLNA, take a look a their website.
It's clear that there's a class divide in the NAS units, split by price and performance. All the sub-$400 units struggled to really perform as to the limits of the drives and the gigabit network interface. If you need a NAS that has decent performance (e.g: carting lots of video/photos around, or multiple users), then you're gonna have to pony up a bit more cash, or go down the FreeNAS route and build your own PC.
I would recommend going the FreeNAS route, as for under $400, a PC can be built with more than enough grunt to run FreeNAS and even Plex Media Server simultaneously, thanks to virtualisation (look up vmWare ESXi). But that gets rather technical and if noise & power are considerations for you, the Thecus N4800Eco would be my recommendation. It's consistently amongst the fastest NAS units, so if performance is important, get it. But if you can take a little bit of a performance hit and save $100-$150 or so, the Synology DS413 is a good all rounder. The Synology web interface is excellent and the range of apps pretty damn good. It's not as fast as the Thecus though.
If you're just after a cheap unit to store data on (some time machine backups, storing movies, etc.) and price is more important than performance, the D-Link DNS-345 is a standout. It manages to match it with the more expensive models in some of the tests, uses the least power, and is cheap - only $299 down at UMart. The app range, again, isn't as good as the Synology, but the D-Link performance is significantly better than the DS413j.
So what to buy? If it's performance above all else, build a FreeNAS box. If it's performance above all else, but you don't want to get your hands dirty, the Thecus N4800Eco is it. If you want a solid app range and can handle a little performance loss, the Synology DS413 is for you. If you need bang for buck and write performance isn't too important, the D-Link DNS-345 is my pick. If you want to run Plex on the same machine as your storage, build a Linux box, as none of these NAS units can do transcoding on the fly, or if transcoding isn't important to you, but you still want a Plex Media Server, get a Synology.