Which four drive NAS storage solution to choose for home use?
August 12, 2010 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Which four drive NAS storage solution to choose for home use? (Summer 2010 edition)

It's time for us to consolidate our storage. We've a lot of photos and music and personal files and it's on too many different devices.

Required features: drive redundancy, online recovery and size expansion, Ethernet connectivity (NAS), four or more drive bays, "hibernation" to reduce power usage. Price is a factor but not as much as "not failing." $800 is our limit for an empty unit, but I'd prefer to spend less than $500. (I have plenty of drives here, I don't want a populated unit.)

I don't need a web server, FTP server, torrent host, on-device media playback, etc. But those might be useful differentiating factors if they actually work well and don't screw up the core use of the device. (Marketing bullet points FTL.)

Although there may be others, here are the vendors I've identified as having boxes that do what we need:

1) Drobo (model FS or better)
2) Netgear ReadyNAS
4) Synology

From what I can tell, these devices differentiate based on reliability, transfer speed, bonus features, ease of upgrade, and ease of catastrophic recovery. And price.

I'm looking for feedback about real-world usage of these devices for music and video sharing, day-to-day personal file storage (schoolwork, etc), and for holding a lot of photos and video in a warehouse capability. Really keen to hear from you if you've had a drive failure, have upgraded capacity since your original install, or had your entire device fail and how you recovered from that. Horror stories welcome.

Please do not suggest we build a server out of Linux and spare parts, this is not up for discussion. And, yeah, a NAS is not a true backup solution; that's a different topic for another question. Thanks!
posted by seanmpuckett to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One additional requirement: Time Machine support. How could I forget.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:04 AM on August 12, 2010

I use a ReadyNAS. I does all that you've asked for. I've swapped out drives and done dynamic rebuilds. I've had drives fail and be replaced and have the raid rebuild itself.

The winner for me was the occasion I had one drive fail, and another one fail during the Raid (5) rebuild. Whilst I assumed that meant my data was lost, the Netgear suppot team spent a lot of time working on it and restored all the data. Can't fault them.
posted by Simon_ at 7:08 AM on August 12, 2010

I'll make a negative recommendation: don't go Drobo. They work very well as USB attached storage, but my experience is that are not so good as NAS. We tried to use one at work (I'm a Linux SysAdmin), and experienced multiple software failures requiring re-boots of the device. We eventually gave up, stripped out the drives, and threw it on the junk heap.
posted by FfejL at 7:35 AM on August 12, 2010

Ive got a thecus 3200 setup for the media stuff. make sure you have a gig-E switch (and a gig-E nic of course) or the whole thing is going to be awfully slow.

the setup itself is fine and stable.
posted by H. Roark at 8:04 AM on August 12, 2010

I've had a ReadyNAS for about six years and it's given me no drama whatsoever. Had a drive fail a couple of times and replacing it with a new one Just Worked. I use it as a Time Machine target like you want to, and it works well (but slowly).
posted by jacobian at 8:42 AM on August 12, 2010

Had a Drobo, it was stupidly slow, got rid of it a week later. They've got newer models now, but I hear (via benchmarks) that they're still slow. I'm saving for a QNAP TS-459.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:42 AM on August 12, 2010

I went through this exercise a few months back, and ended up going with a Synology DS410. So far, I'm very pleased with it. Transfer speed is excellent, and it seems to function properly as a Time Machine backup destination, which was on my list of got-to-haves.
posted by nonliteral at 8:46 AM on August 12, 2010

I will also report a good ReadyNAS experience. Easy to set up and easy to add a drive.
posted by shothotbot at 8:47 AM on August 12, 2010

I did a lot of research about a year ago and decided to suck it up and get the QNAP TS419p (after many years of playing with DIY linux boxes) as a media/iTunes/iPhoto/backup device.

My reasoning at the time: QNAP was at the top of the heap speed-wise. They have a very responsive support group and active forums. I'd heard some (at the time) negative reviews of the NetGear and found very few serious users who were happy with their Drobos.

I'm still extremely glad I made the decision. I'm pretty geeky, so I understand what's under the hood of the QNAP and have done things like enabled SNMP monitoring with Cacti. It's been absolutely reliable and works fine in my mixed Mac/PC environment. Sorry, no horror stories other than choosing bad drives out the gate (see below).

One caveat (at least with the QNAP, likely with others), make sure you do your research on disks before loading the device - check the forums and see what other people are using successfully (don't just consult the manufacturer's compatibility list). It turns out that the uber-cheap Western Digital Green series of consumer drives don't play well with many RAID solutions.

I wouldn't totally discount the "added apps" side of things. I didn't think I'd care about the extra features of the QNAP, but it turns out a cheap flat panel TV I bought for the bedroom supports UPNP Media Servers, which most of the home/prosumer NAS devices now include (usually, TwonkyVision). I ended up using that fairly often to stream media directly to the TV.
posted by StickyC at 10:40 AM on August 12, 2010

We use a ReadyNAS at work for backup purposes and it's worked fairly well for 3 years. The only catch is that about a year into its life, the filesystem corrupted disallowing all non-administrator access. While Netgear didn't have a clue what happened, they did replace the entire system. I had to revert to a backup of the ReadyNAS. Of course, Raid is not backup in of itself. Other than that, I've been perfectly happy with the device.
posted by jmd82 at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: The QNAP literature isn't entirely clear but I don't think they have one-by-one online drive expansion. Looks like you can expand a volume by replacing all of the drives to a larger size, though (but you'd need to do it one drive at a time and let it rebuild each time, kind of ugh). From the QNAP site for the 419p: "The storage capacity of a RAID configuration can be expanded by replacing the hard drives with larger ones." An accompanying graphic shows 4x512GB drives replaced with 4x1TB drives.

The ReadyNAS series has a thing called X-RAID and X-RAID2 (with the Ultra) that claims to permit one-by-one expansion, Synology's latest firmware 2.3 has a SHR feature which will do the same thing, and of course Drobo does it.

These are very helpful comments so far, thanks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:42 AM on August 12, 2010

The ReadyNAS series has a thing called X-RAID and X-RAID2 (with the Ultra) that claims to permit one-by-one expansion

I have used this and it worked like a dream (except opening they bay was a bit funky).
posted by shothotbot at 1:00 PM on August 12, 2010

I've had a ReadyNAS for 4 years, and a 2-drive Iomega for 1. As a plain-jane file server without much demanded from it the ReadyNAS is awesome. Older versions (as mine is) are loud and underpowered in terms of CPU and network, can't speak to the current generations. The software environment though is very very good, it requires almost no interaction once it's set up.
posted by Runes at 2:48 PM on August 12, 2010

Another vote against Drobo based on my personal experience trying to recover some corrupted data off of it. The proprietary raid setup makes it very difficult to rebuild the raid if things go wrong.
posted by underwater at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2010

I've been using a Synology DS209j for a year plus and had no problems, including Time Machine. That's about the craziest thing I've done with it, just file storage besides. Can't speak to the 4 drive version or the expandability, but I've been happy with it. MeMail me if any questions.
posted by sapere aude at 9:15 PM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: I ended up getting a Synology DS410. Haven't received it yet (lowest price in Canada at time of posting is from newegg.ca); if it does fail or winds up being unsuitable I'll update again. Failing that, assume happy customer!

... vs. Drobo: Drobo was discommended by respondents quite firmly based on direct experience. Also, it is higher priced, uses more power, has underspecified hardware with slower transfers, and uses a proprietary filesystem. Most of the bonus networking/sharing features offered by others as part of their standard firmware are available as optional downloadable "apps" but apps are not at all supported by Data Robotics.

... vs. Netgear ReadyNAS: Netgear's previous generation offerings are solid and reliable, as reported by respondents, but the processor and memory are underspecified, resulting in fewer features and lower transfer rates when compored to QNAP and Synology's current offerings. Netgear's current Ultra generation is better specified but does not have competitive pricing.

... vs. QNAP: Very similar offerings, feature-wise, but I found two important differentiations, first: QNAP's firmware does not offer one-drive-at-a-time volume expansion. That was a dealbreaker for me. However, I also didn't like QNAP's website or firmware UX. They seemed to be too focused on a sort of uber-geek, control freak, all-trees-no-forest perspective that doesn't reassure me about important things like polish and refinement, testing and so on. This is a personal preference.

... vs. other Synology offerings: The 410j didn't seem as future proof with its lower CPU/memory specification. The 409slim (a 2.5" drive unit) was appealing for its compact size and low power, but I don't have a stack of pulled notebook drives to load into it as I do desktop drives. Also, I don't trust 2.5" drives for long-term pseudo-server class reliability.

Thanks to everyone again for your feedback!
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:29 AM on August 15, 2010

Response by poster: Since this Ask is still open, I'll just follow up. Five months later, still very happy with the DS410. Would purchase again!
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:53 PM on January 14, 2011

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