ZyXEL NSA310 1-bay Media Server review

Feature-packed but affordable single-bay NAS
Photo of ZyXEL NSA310 1-bay Media Server
£59.99 without disk; £139.99 with 2TB disk included

It never ceases to amaze us what gets crammed into even the smallest NAS devices, and ZyXEL’s new NSA310 1-bay Media Server is a good example. Available as an empty enclosure for £59.99 (inc. VAT) or populated with a 2TB drive for around £140, it offers many features more usually associated with larger multi-bay models. It’s an updated version of the existing NSA210 model, with some added goodies.

Our review sample was the empty enclosure, and we tried an old 500GB Maxtor STM3500418AS 3.5in. SATA hard disk (it doesn’t support PATA or 2.5in drives) – this particular drive doesn’t appear on ZyXEL’s official compatibility list, but we encountered no problems with it. Installation was a simple matter of removing the front panel and slotting it into the metal bay.

ZyXEL NAS router

There are no securing screws, and as the drive we used was a slimline model (2cm thick) it was free to flap about alarmingly as there’s no packing provided. A chunk of Blu-Tack solved the problem temporarily, but we’d advise making sure your hard drive is a full-fat (2.5cm thick) model.

Getting started
After this little bit of bodging, we connected up the external power brick and Gigabit LAN and ran the supplied ZyXEL NAS Starter Utility. A wizard takes you through the basic discovery, initialisation and configurations steps very quickly, including setting up local users, before optionally launching the Zpilot desktop widget onto which you can drag and drop files for sending to the NAS. It also helps with common tasks such as mapping shared folders to drive letters.

The web interface has icons for each media type, and media can be played directly in your browser using Windows Media Player or VLC plugins. The interface is reasonably responsive and easy to use, if a little quirky in places. It supports multiple 1080p video streams, and it handled a wide selection of video formats with no trouble.

ZyXEL NAS media player

So far, so ordinary – but opening the administration menu reveals the NSA310′s party trick – the large range of downloadable add-ons (‘packages’). These include a backup and restore feature (for data on the NSA310 itself), SMART drive monitoring, DynDNS, NFS, TFTP, Emule and SqueezeCenter support. This latter requires the phpMyAdmin/MySQL/PHP package, as do the Photo Gallery and WordPress blog hosting packages. It’s an impressive selection for a device of this class.

ZyXEL NAS admin menu

iTunes server
As well as full UPnP and DLNA support for streaming media, there’s also an iTunes server. A download server lets you download files direct from URLs or BitTorrent files, and the Broadcatching service lets you automatically download content from web feeds containing podcasts or other media files. These downloads can then be accessed via the shared folders and an RSS feed.

ZyXEL NAS iTunes server

You also get an FTP server and an FTP/Flickr/YouTube upload service that monitors specified folders for new content and uploads new items automatically. Unfortunately the system only supports passwords of up to 14 characters, with no quote marks, which won’t please those with super-strong passwords. Shares can be published to the web.

Useful extras
It’s all quite impressive for an inexpensive little box, and there are lots more useful  features tucked away in the menus, such as Wake-on-LAN, power management, plus the ability to add an external eSATA drive and create a RAID1 array (USB drives can’t be used for this purpose, though). There are two USB ports, which can both be used as print servers as well as for storage devices. A Copy/Sync button on the front panel lets you quickly copy the contents of an attached drive to the NAS.

ZyXEL NAS download server

The box itself is screwed together reasonably well, but it’s not particularly stylish. There’s a small fan at the rear that is almost silent, and the unit sits on a detachable plastic frame. One USB port is located at the front under the green status lights. The entire body is coated in black soft-touch paint, and it remained cool to the touch throughout our testing.

Company: ZyXEL

Website: http://www.zyxel.co.uk/

Contact: ZyXEL on 0118 912 1700

Positives
  • Very easy initial setup; cool and quiet.
Negative
  • Dull looks; won't accept slimline or 2.5in. disks

Verdict

It may look a bit plain, but it has a great feature set and is easy to set up, making it an excellent and affordable media server for sharing files on a home network or via the web. The Wordpress blog hosting and other advanced features are the icing on the cake.