Product Netgear Readynas Ultra 4
System Specifications 4-bay storage for 3.5-inch SATA HDDs, 1.66GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM (Sodimm), 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports, 3x USB2 ports
Price £490 including VAT
HARDWARE OUTFIT Netgear continues to expand its line-up of Readynas home and small business NAS devices following its acquisition of original equipment manufacturer Infrant a few years ago. This latest model is essentially a tweaked version of the Readynas NVX launched last year, but while that was aimed at business users, the Ultra has a more consumer bent.
The Readynas Ultra 4 is more or less externally identical to the NVX, which is to say it's a solidly made and smart-looking metal box, this time finished in gunmetal grey. It's also remarkably compact considering there's room inside for four 3.5-inch SATA drives - about as big as a stack of 15 DVD movie cases - although the sturdy metal handle at the rear is a welcome touch given the weight of a fully loaded unit. The noise generated by the built-in fan can be distracting, though.
Three USB 2.0 ports support external storage devices or printers for sharing on a network, but the two Ethernet ports lack the load-balancing and failover functions found on the Readynas NVX. The Ultra also lacks the NVX's support for Windows Active Directory and a few other business-oriented features, but few consumer users will miss these. Otherwise, the Ultra and NVX offer essentially the same kind of network functionality; see the NVX review on The INQUIRER's sister site V3.co.uk for more details on this.
As with the NVX, the Ultra offers the usual array of RAID options to suit the number of installed drives, but the proprietary X-RAID2 offers more flexibility. This creates an automatic mirror when a second drive is installed and switches to RAID 5 with a third - all without taking the array offline. Add a fourth drive and the array is expanded, then you can switch out each drive in turn to expand the array still further, all without any downtime. This effectively makes the Readynas Ultra capable of growing alongside your storage needs, upgrading drives as capacities increase and prices drop.
A snappier response in the web admin panel and when browsing shares are mere fringe benefits though, and it is the performance when multitasking that benefits most; streaming media while running multiple add-ons, for example. There are a wide range of add-ons to choose from including a Bittorrent client and Itunes server, and the performance boost is welcome since running these concurrently tended to bring earlier Readynas devices to their knees. Sadly, the Ultra's Tivo Series 2 connectivity is neither here nor there since this PVR isn't available in the UK.
Much more useful are the Skifta and Orb add-ons that are available for this and other Intel-powered Readynas devices. Skifta essentially provides a DLNA connection over the Internet, although its inability to steam directly to a DLNA device limits its appeal - it needs a Mac or PC at the remote location to act as an intermediate server. Orb, on the other hand, does not and can stream directly to a remote laptop, Iphone or Android smartphone over a wireless connection. Video quality obviously depends on the bandwidth and Orb will transcode video on-the-fly to suit, but it worked extremely well with an Iphone 3GS in our tests, with minimal pre-play lag and smooth streaming.
Although any NAS can handle general multimedia file serving for consumer use, the flexibility offered by the Readynas Ultra's nippy processor, flexible X-RAID2 technology and wide choice of add-ons make it more capable than most and a better choice than the NVX for non-business environments. µ
Intel Atom 64-bit instruction set theoretically supports up to 16TB capacities, flexible upgrade path with X-RAID2, speedy performer with excellent multimedia support.
Fan noise is distracting for a home environment.
Pricey for a barebones unit.