Product: NetgearReadyNAS NV+
System Requirements: N/A
Price: £550 ? approx.
WHENEVER we look at something new to us on The INQ we like to put it thoroughly through its paces in terms of benchmarking, testing and the while shebang.
Last year we brought in a £5,000 testing application suite just to review a £100 D-Link wireless router. Hopefully, this goes someway to explaining the 70 hours of benchmarking and testing we put into this Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ review ? so please excuse us, just this once.
Netgear is primarily known for its networking wonders and is a fairly recent player in the world of storage. It entered this arena by collaborating with a few well-known vendors, one of which was Infrant, which was established way back in 2001 to offer enterprise-level storage to lesser mortals like home users. Netgear liked the company so much it bought it - in May last year.
So what we're looking at here is a fully Netgear enveloped storage array ? the ReadyNAS NV+.
NETGEAR ReadyNAS NV+
There are only one or two mentions of Netgear on the shipping box and a nice shiny Netgear badge on the front of the NAS. Apart from that, you wouldn’t even know it had any involvement as there’s even a complete absence on the shipping firmware/OS of a Netgear logo. But very recently it knocked out a firmware update, finally showing its presence with a blazing Netgear logo on the OS.
The physical presence of the NV+ is a tad confusing as it’s the smallest and heaviest NAS we’ve come across. Its dimensions are only 7.9 H x 5.2 W x 8.7 D (inches), but it weighs in at hefty 15.2lbs (6.9kgs) stacked with 4x250 Seagate ST3250620AS drives. The creates a solid beast of a system, with the theory being that after the next world war all that will be left standing are cockroaches and the ReadyNAS NV+.
One of the NAS redeeming qualities is that it’s capable of hot-swap, it’s expected but we take nothing for granted these days. It was shipped to us with the data volume configured to their proprietary X-RAID array format. This can be rebuilt though, if not rather awkwardly to the standard RAID 0 and 5.
We had hoped the re-initialisation of the NV+ to another RAID could be performed from within its Linux-based OS. To actually Re-RAID the NV+ a near physical factory reset has to be performed using a paperclip in the rear of the unit whilst holding down the power-on button. Followed by running it’s set-up software RAIDar from a computer and rebuilding the array from there, all of which was a rather clumsy process. The rear has two USB ports and a 10/100/1000 Ethernet socket for all your connective and expansive needs.
We have noticed via the very extensive Infrant forums that one of the USB slots can be used in conjunction with a Wi-Fi adapter to turn it the ReadyNAS into a wireless NAS, although this has currently been disabled in the latest firmware which was disappointing. Also at the back, is its cooling fan that we found to be a tad too noisy for home living-room usage, their forums do have a fix to safely reduce the speed and dampen the noise.
The front is equipped with a small LCD display panel or a mirror as they called it, minus a reflective surface as one would associate with such a device. This performs the unimpressive roles of showing drive capacity and IP address, whilst any error messages are shown via the drive indicator lights flashing ? only Larry knows why the screen couldn’t be used for this too. It’s powered by Infrants own 32-bit RISC Network Storage Processor managing four S-ATA channels, so effectively it’s a minor-hardware based RAID solution ? standing out already from other offerings on the market.
The NV+ OS was shipped to us was running a Linux 2.4 kernel, although with the latest update brings it nicely up to 2.6 with some improvements on possible disc capacity, SSH access, Active Directory support to name but a few. Management and configuration of the ReadyNAS are performed mostly from its built-in web-based OS known amusingly as RAIDiator. It’s all fairly intuitive to use and obvious in all its options and functions.
We did however find some glitches in the latest firmware that bothered us, more of that later. The shipping firmware/OS had a different structure to the new version and was much easier to navigate we found, and warmed to it a lot more.
Setting up the ReadyNAS NV+ is very straightforward and it’s really here where you find the usefulness of the device besides its workhorse tasks of just file sharing.
From the very start of the process, you find the options by default on the filing system are Common Internet File System (CIFS) based, used for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux users alike. On one of the final config screens is the crux of the beast ? the Streaming Services. There you’ll find the ReadyNAS NV+ has a built-in UPnP Home Media Streaming Server, iTunes and Slim D evices server for all your music, video and picture streaming needs to various devices.
This all means that most of the common consoles of today are catered for, as we found out to our extreme delight on the Xbox Elite. Their own X-RAID is a nice alternative to the common RAID formats around, in that you can start out with one disk, and add 3 more disks when you need more capacity.
The volume management is automatic; adding a second disk becomes a mirror to the first, providing protection from a disk failure; adding a 3rd, the capacity doubles; add a fourth and your capacity triples. In addition, X-RAID is optimized for larger sequential access request patterns, such as video streaming and editing. The performance over RAID 5 in large data transfer can be as much as 15-20 per cent better ? from NETGEAR/Infants own stats.
There’s a downside to X-RAID and that’s in the smallest capacity leading problem; if you have 3x500GB HDD and add a 750GB ? it’s only seen as a 500GB. It’s worth mentioning there’s a wide array of add-ons mentioned in the forums for customising and expanding the platform, with some useful and recommended FLAC codec ones from twonkymedia. All these are to boost the overall usefulness of the ReadyNAS NV+, which some appear to do so.
Although they mention and try to harp on that the ReadyNAS NV+ can be geared to the small office, many of the dominant features just wouldn’t be used there. To hammer home they’re angling this for the home market and advanced users rather than the office, they were giving away a free Nintendo DS Lite with each purchase up until recently. BENCHMARKING When we initially benchmarked and tested the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ we produced an array of results ready for publishing.
While we waited for answers to questions from Netgear over queries we had whilst reviewing the kit, they snuck out a firmware release. The time that elapsed between these two events was quite considerable, the test setup had changed completely; a different computer, router and almost everything else was now in play. This meant the 25 hours we invested to-date all went to waste and we had to start the testing all over again ? especially if we were to make an honest comparison including the current updates. We then began the benchmarking and testing of every facet of the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ all over again, on the shipping firmware that had been around for well over a year along with the new version too.
Although we didn’t want to make this review about firmware versus firmware, in the end both had two different results and benefits over each other so we thought we’d compare them both for your viewing pleasure. Within all the benchmarking below, we took at triple-pronged methodological approach ? where we simply performed each test three times. The first, being the yard stick/control group and the following two to balance out any anomalies/have a better idea of its performance ? in all the tests, we found the three results to match up with each other adequately. We first began by testing the Initialisation Times, this is where the RAID first comes alive after it's been built by the ReadyNAS OS and can start to be used whilst the redundancy aspects are still being initialised.
As you can see, the time differences between the RAID arrays have been improved in the latest firmware ? all apart from RAID 5, the most widely used inside an IT department. Although not a real damning smudge against the NETGEAR ReadyNAS NV+, it is troubling why it took 40 minutes to accomplish the task and there’s no real explanation as to why from NETGEAR. What’s more troubling though is how RAID 5 works in the new firmware, more about that later. In the next test we measured the time duration that every RAID format took to fully complete synchronisation for full redundancy, within both firmware versions.
The times have greatly improved in RAID 5 from the shipping firmware, but a minimal improvement in the X-RAID ? which comes off far greater than RAID 5 no matter which version was used. This clearly indicates which format is leaned upon by Infrant/NETGEAR in the development cycle and why not, seeing as it’s their proprietary format to do with what they will. Only after the RAID arrays had been built and fully synchronised, we began the testing of writing and reading to and from the ReadyNAS NV+ ? in order to attain true throughput speeds in transferring data, with no overheads compromising performance. The computer we used was powered by an Intel QX6850, 2GB RAM, S-ATA HDD, with Gigabit cables and a Gigabit router.
For the actual tests we transferred a 4.3GB ISO DVD image to and from the NAS, recording the speeds along the way. For this, we used the bandwidth monitoring software DU Meter from Hageltech. It’s software that we’ve found to be extremely accurate, even when measured up against the £5000 software IxChariot by Ixia.
Throughput Speeds ? Shipping Firmware
Throughput Speeds ? Latest Firmware
As you would expect from any firmware you’re upgrading to improvements should be made. Once again, it’s clear from the above results they’ve done their work in gaining better write and read performances.
Most of the results were satisfactorily and expected in the testing, all apart from the unusual gain in the read time from RAID 0 in the latest firmware. The next set of results were taken from the same tests as above, as the monitoring software could also produce the Average Transfer Rates figures from the benchmarking. It’s the only set of results where we would really expect to see an increase from firmware to firmware.
Comparing the results against each other once again shows gains, all apart from reading in RAID 0. It’s really only in the latest firmware we see a significant boost in speeds within X-RAID and the justification for having that Gigabit port onboard. For the last test, concluding the 70 hours of benchmarking, we simulated a disc failure to see how long the system would take to recover in both RAID 5 and X-RAID arrays. After the ReadyNAS NV+ was powered down, we removed one of the drives and powered the system back on again.
From here we could see how each firmware really performed its dues and made its worth in providing a decent NAS and rebuilding the array from it’s redundancy ability. In the shipping firmware X-RAID took 1hr 31mins to rebuild the array and in the latest firmware, just 1hr 29mins to fully synchronise. All of which was acceptable, knowing the time it initially took to build the arrays in the first place. With RAID 5, the shipping firmware took 2hrs 32min to complete its task ? once again as expected. On the latest firmware, there was no automatic rebuilding of the array as seen beforehand, nor was there a manual option in anyway shape or form.
In fact, it could not build the array again what so ever. What use is RAID without the ability to rebuild the drive set? None at all, it makes the whole system useless and redundant ? no pun intended. We posed this troubling question to NETGEAR and gave them ample time to respond; more than a week’s graces have passed and still no comeback at the time of going to press. From all the tests X-RAID seems to be the best option to be used than the usual RAID 5, in both v ersions of the firmware, obviously.
With the latest firmware installed the ReadyNAS OS/front end was almost completely unresponsive whilst in the syncing process in both IE and Firefox ? unless X-RAID was used. Which is just another troubling factor in the latest v ersion of the ReadyNAS NV+ OS, which makes us favour the shipping/old version as this didn’t have that problem at all.
The ReadyNAS NV+ does have its good points as an alternative to Windows Home Server, which the whole world and its best friend seems to still be harping on about. In saying that, it does have its downsides, especially in the quirks and unreliability of the latest firmware.
X-RAID, Hot Swap, Beefy build, Streaming Engine
Quirky faults in firmware, perhaps the cost
RAID 5 doesn’t work with the latest firmware
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