NetGear – ReadyNAS Ultra 4 review

advanced consumer NAS box with iSCSI support
Photo of NetGear – ReadyNAS Ultra 4
£459 (diskless), £700 (with 2 x 2TB drives)

Network attached storage (NAS) devices have morphed from being simple shared networked hard disks storage to all-singing, all-dancing media streaming and remote access products. Netgear’s ReadyNAS Ultra is no exception, with an impressive list of add-ons, features and built-in services.

We reviewed the 4-bay version (2- and 6-bay models are also available) populated with four 1TB drives configured in Netgear’s proprietary X-RAID2 format, giving 3TB of usable space. It’s a compact, robustly constructed unit, with the hot-swap disk carriers located behind a magnetically-secured door. At the rear are a grab handle, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB ports (for storage or printers) and the exhaust for the annoyingly noisy 9cm fan. At the front is a third USB port and a button that initiates backup to a connected USB hard disk. There’s only a single power supply, so a UPS would be a sensible extra investment.

The Ultra range’s big claim to fame is the ability to act as an external storage device for a Tivo digital video recorder (not currently available in the UK, although Virgin Media is planning Tivo-powered models for 2011). We couldn’t test this facility, although given the rest of the Ultra’s features it’s not really a show-stopper for UK buyers.

The Ultra 4 is managed using the supplied RAIDar utility, which displays basic status and gives access to the browser-based management interface. This can be used in wizard or advanced modes. It’s a fairly clear interface, but there are a lot of services to configure over and above the basic storage and user management features. Luckily the PDF manual is up to Netgear’s normally high standards.

As well as a pre-configured DLNA media streaming share, there are optional SqueezeBox and iTunes servers, this latter using the open source Firefly. For remote file access and media streaming, in addition to Netgear’s own ReadyNAS Remote service, the free Orb and Skifta clients are built in. You can sign up for any of these direct from the setup wizard.

Multiple file sharing protocols are supported; CIFS/SMB, NFS, AFP, FTP/S and HTTP/S, so it will slot easily into almost any network. With X-RAID2, only a single volume is allowed (standard RAID 0/1/5/6 with multiple volumes and hot spares can be configured using the Flex-RAID option instead). X-RAID allows you to expand storage on the fly, automatically configuring RAID options to suit the number of disks. For a 4-disk setup, 1 disk’s capacity is used for redundancy. Optionally, you can set it up to tolerate two simultaneous disk failures, but you lose another disk’s worth of capacity.

Borrowing from the business world, the Ultra has an iSCSI service that allows you to setup multiple volumes and use them just as though they were separate real hard disks. Windows Vista and 7 have built-in iSCSI support (free add-ins are available for OS X and Linux), making it a great option for applications that need block-level access to storage, and don’t work with network shares. Other features nicked from the business range include snapshot and Rsync support.

A backup facility is included to grab data from local or remote locations, but it’s a little fiddly to configure. Much easier is the bundled Memeo continuous backup software, although this only supports three PCs. The Memeo shell extension also broke our Windows 7 jump lists.

In tests using a Gigabit switch, we easily managed file transfers averaging 53MB/s to a 500GB iSCSI target, dropping slightly when using drag-and-drop to a CIFS share to about 40MB/s. Using Passmark’s Advanced Disk Test (using the File Server workload) on an iSCSI volume gave a similar result of around 50MB/s average.

Company: NetGear

Contact: 01344 458200

It's a powerful beast that includes almost every kind of media streaming and belt-and-braces redundancy that you could wish for. Although it may be a bit too noisy for many domestic settings, advanced users will appreciate the business-class features it brings to the living room. The range of media streaming and remote access options could bewilder novice users, though.