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Netgear ReadyNAS Duo RND2150 (500 GB)

 Author: Joseph Moran
 Review Date: 7/17/2008

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At one time, the typical NAS device was little more than a hard drive with a network connection used as simple backup storage or to share files between PCs. Today, more is expected from NAS, including data redundancy, the ability to stream various types of media, provide remote (and preferably secure) access to files, and maybe even a way to add storage without disturbing existing data.

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Netgear's new ReadyNAS Duo RND2150 fills the bill on all those counts. The Duo is small (5.6" x 4" x 8.7" — HxWxD), but sturdily constructed, with a jet-black metal chassis. The Duo connects to the network via a rear Gigabit Ethernet port, which is adjacent to a pair of USB ports that support printers or external storage expansion. Along with a power switch and status lights, the Duo's front panel sports a convenient third USB port. It's worth mentioning that the Duo uses an external power supply rather than an internal one, which is easier to replace in the event of its failure.

As you might have guessed from the name, the Duo can accommodate a pair of internal (SATA) hard drives, even though all Duo models ship with a single drive. Our $400 model RND 2150 evaluation unit sported a 500GB drive, but two other models in the line — the RND2175 and 2110 — offer 750 GB and 1 TB drives for $500 and $680, respectively.

Setup and Administration

After powering up the Duo and connecting it to our network, we used Netgear's RAIDar (get it?) utility to locate it. This utility lets you monitor the status of one or more Duos at a glance as well as view and access shared folders. All configuration tasks, however, are performed via FrontView, a browser-based administration console.


Administrative Interface
The admin interface on the Netgear ReadyNAS Duo

FrontView includes a setup wizard that will walk you through settings needed to get the Duo operational, but we found it less intuitive than most wizards we've used. For starters, you can't use the Tab key to move through a page of settings, as pressing it will jump you straight to the Next button. Even more irksome: The wizard requires you to click an Apply button before clicking Next to move onto the next page of settings. If you modify settings and simply click Next, you'll see a dialog informing you that you haven't applied your changes, but it doesn't offer to apply them for you; you must go back and click Apply. Finally, the wizard, like the admin console overall, is fairly sluggish — it usually takes several seconds for a configuration page to load after selecting it.

Usability issues aside, the wizard is comprehensive enough to save you from having to burrow through the menu system yourself to do things like create users, groups and shares. The Duo helpfully allows you to assign per-user or per-group storage quotas, and although we don't think most people would need to, you can conveniently import large numbers of users or groups via .CSV files.

The Duo offers some useful power-saving features, like the ability to configure a power timer that will automatically turn the Duo off and back on again according to a pre-defined schedule. Although excessive use of the power timer could curtail access to needed data, it can be useful to turn the unit off at opportune times, like overnight or during the day when you might be at work. You can also configure the drives to spin down after a certain period of inactivity.

To guard against power failures, the Duo's USB ports can also be connected to a number of compatible UPS devices. Our Duo recognized an APC XS1350 without a hitch when connected.

Those who want to back up computers to the Duo can use the bundled copy of NTI Shadow to do so. You can also back the Duo up to another storage device connected to one of its USB ports.

File and Media Support

The Duo supports an alphabet soup of file protocols for shared folders (e.g., CIFS, NFS and AFP) covering Windows, Mac, and Linux or Unix clients. (We successfully accessed the Duo with XP, Vista and Ubuntu 8.04.) For getting at files over the Internet the Duo also provides access via FTP or HTTP, but since neither of these are secure protocols we appreciate the HTTP/S support, which allows you to access the Duo via an SSL-encrypted connection. When setting up a shared folder you can assign read-only or read/write access to users and groups, or enable access from specific IP addresses.

In addition to standard file sharing, the Duo includes sever software to stream various media to a variety of devices. This includes a Slim Devices' SlimServer for sending music to a Logitech Squeezebox; Firefly Media Server, an open-source server that can stream to iTunes or a Roku Soundbridge; and a UPnP AV server to stream music, photos and video to compatible media players. We had no trouble accessing music stored on the ReadyNAS via iTunes or streaming audio/visual content to an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3.

Data Redundancy and Capacity Upgrades

Since the Duo comes with a solitary hard drive out of the box, there's no data redundancy until a second drive is added. Fortunately, that's not difficult to do. The Duo's front panel swings open to reveal a pair of slots — pressing a button and pulling the latch on the second slot removes an empty drive tray. Adding a new drive (standard internal SATA) isn't quite effortless since you must mount the drive in the tray using four supplied screws, but there are no data or power cables to mess with.

Since the Duo supports hot swapping, you can add a drive without first powering down the unit. The Duo also allows you to add the second disk without disturbing the contents of the first one thanks to a technology Netgear calls X-RAID (X as in "eXpandable"). The catch, if you can call it that, is that X-RAID doesn't enable you to increase your usable storage capacity by aggregating the capacity of both disks (RAID 0). Rather, it provides redundancy for current data by automatically mirroring it onto the second drive (RAID 1). For this reason, the second drive's capacity must be at least equal to the first; when one drive is larger than the other, the excess capacity goes unused.

This isn't to say that you can't increase the capacity of the ReadyNAS. If you add a second disk with more capacity than the first — say, add 1 TB disk to a 500 GB Duo — you have the option of repeating the procedure down the road by replacing the 500 GB disk with a 1 TB model, at which point you'll have a full 1 TB of usable storage. This is a somewhat circuitous upgrade path and not necessarily the most cost-effective since you're initially paying for unused capacity. On the other hand, anyone with growing storage needs will appreciate that the Duo offers an upgrade option that doesn't involve offloading data somewhere to replace drives.

When we added another 500 GB drive to the one already in the Duo, it took about two hours and 40 minutes rebuild the volume so data was protected. You can continue to access the Duo during this process, and there was no especially noticeable slowdown while doing so. Once the second drive was fully initialized, we removed the original drive to simulate a failure, and all the data on the Duo was still accessible. After reinserting the missing drive the volume began its rebuild process anew, again taking just shy of three hours to complete.

In some respects, the X-RAID-based Duo is similar to Data Robotics' Drobo in its ability to add fault tolerance and non-destructively add capacity, although the latter supports four drives of mixed capacity disks. (On the other hand, the USB/FireWire-based Drobo needs an add-on device to become a NAS.)

Netgear recommends using two of the same model hard drive with the Duo for best results. (Our extra drive was a Seagate Barracuda provided by Netgear.) A list of hard drives — as well as USB printers, storage devices and other peripherals — compatible with the Duo is here.

The Duo's OS allows the installation of add-on components, and the device includes two of them. One is a built-in BitTorrent client that lets you download torrents directly to the Duo sans PC. The other is ReadyNAS Photos, which lets you share photos on your Duo with others as an alternative to Web sites like Flickr. To use it you must install a PC-based utility to create albums out of your stored photos and then send out invitations to view them. It's interesting, and some will undoubtedly find it useful, but we'd much prefer it worked autonomously off the Duo rather than be dependent on a PC.

Conclusion

At $400, the Duo's price tag isn't insignificant, especially since you must shell out for another 500 GB hard drive (around $80 purchased online) to get redundancy. Nevertheless, there's much to like about the Duo, including hot-swap drives, support for disk quotas, and excellent media streaming capabilities. Despite some irksome interface issues, the Netgear ReadyNAS Duo RND2150 is a powerful and versatile network storage device for a home or home office environment.

Product: Netgear ReadyNAS Duo RND2150
Price: $399.99 (MSRP)
Pros: Provides secure access via HTTP/S; allows you to hot-add or hot-swap a drive for redundancy or more capacity without disturbing stored data; supports disk quotas
Cons: Pricey and comes with only one disk; adding second disk limits usable storage limited to capacity of single disk; convoluted setup wizard

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