By Joe Moran
Price: $599 (MSRP)
Pros: Provides 2 TB storage capacity with data redundancy; simple hard drive upgrade/replacement; lights out feature hibernates server when not in use
Cons: pricey; low-end Atom CPU, only 1 GB memory; Quick Copy button only copies files but not folders
The notion of having a home server to serve as a hub for centralized storage, system backup and remote access has been around for some years now. The concept may finally be poised to really take off in the new year though, thanks in part to a recent crop of devices running Microsoft’s capable and user-friendly (relative to a typical NAS device) Windows Home Server operating system.
Lenovo is the latest major system vendor (along with Acer and HP) to launch a WHS-based device. In spite of a few flaws the IdeaCentre D400 turns out to be solid cornerstone storage for a home or small office network.
Note: In this review we won’t delve too deeply into software features that are common to all Windows Home Server devices, but check out our previous article on building your own Windows Home Server system, which provides some detail on what you can do with WHS in general.
Design and Specs
The D400 is larger than your typical single- or two-drive NAS device, but not by much. The unit is almost a perfect cube, measuring a bit more or less than 8 inches in all three dimensions (7.9×8.2×8.3, WDH). Within the D400 chassis hums a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N230 CPU–essentially a 64-bit, non-power optimized version of the netbook mainstay N270—paired with 1 GB of RAM.
Swinging open the diamondplate-like smoked plastic door reveals four drive bays, two of which were occupied by 7200 RPM, 1TB hard drives in our $599 (MSRP) model 3013-1BU test unit. (D400 model 3013-1AU includes a lone 1TB drive and rings up $100 less, but otherwise specs and features are identical.)
Each of the D400’s bays supports up to a 2TB drive, for a total internal storage potential of 8 TB. If that’s not enough—or if you want to take advantage of any external hard drives you already own—you can make use of the four USB 2.0 and one eSATA port (along with Gigabit Ethernet) on the rear of the D400. A fifth USB port is conveniently located behind the drive bay door, though it would be even better if you could access it without having to open the door.
The D400 isn’t Wi-Fi equipped, as Windows Home Server doesn’t officially support Wi-Fi. You can certainly use it though (providing you’re willing to endure the likely performance penalty), by connecting the D400 to a wireless Ethernet bridge.
After connecting the D400 to power and Ethernet (or if you prefer, Wi-Fi via a bridge), the next step is to install the Windows Home Server Connector client software included on DVD (for up to 10 Windows 7/Vista/XP PCs) which is needed to access and manage WHS.
The setup wizard takes you through basic configuration chores like naming the server setting up a strong administrator password (at least seven characters including at least three uppercase letters, numbers or symbols) and deciding whether you want WHS updates to download and install automatically. Our unit came with a fairly outdated version of WHS, so it took a number of update and reboot cycles to bring the operating system current with the latest software, including the recently released Power Pack 3.
Once the D400 is up-to-date, you can go about installing the Connector software on other systems and using the Windows Home Server Console to create user accounts (again, up to 10), add/customize shared folders, and perform other configuration chores.
During the configuration process, the D400 automatically turns on WHS’s RAID 1-like duplication feature for most of the server’s shared folders. This ensures that in the event of a single drive failure there’ll be a redundant copy of anything stored in the Music, Photos, Public, Software, Videos, or any user folder. Lenovo (Note that duplication isn’t available in the aforementioned single-drive D400 model unless you add a second drive.)
In addition to the standard WHS Console components, Lenovo provides an additional tab that lets you monitor the server’s health and performance info—things like CPU, RAM, and storage usage, CPU and system temperature, etc. There’s also a slider bar to turn down (or turn off) most the server’s front LED indicators. (Although the Performance Monitor in the screen shot implies a dual core processor, the N230 has but a single core—Intel’s HyperThreading feature makes it look like two.)
The D400 includes a Quick Copy feature available via the front USB port. When you connect a storage device and push the adjacent button, the D400 pulls the data off the drive and into the server’s Public folder. Then it analyzes the files and drops them into the appropriate shared folder based on file type (i.e. Music, Pictures, Video, etc.). It worked as advertised, but two important caveats limit its usefulness. Since there’s no standard shared Documents folder in WHS, things like DOC or PDF files are left to languish in the Public folder (even if you create your own). Also, folder structure on the USB device isn’t preserved, so if your drive has a bunch of photos in a folder, the files are copied to the D400’s Photos folder individually, not within their folder.
Another included utility (which must be installed on each client separately from the connector software) called EasyAccess automatically maps a group of WHS folders to the PC. It also includes a right-click upload function that makes it easy to copy files or entire folders from the PC to one of the WHS shared folders. Thankfully, unlike the aforementioned Quick Copy feature EasyAccess does actually copy whole folders and not just the files they contain.
Another nice aspect of the D400 is its included LightsOut software, which automatically hibernates the server when it’s not in use but automatically rouses it when a client comes calling or its time for nightly system backups–it can be a real power and money saver over time.
Adding internal drives (of any capacity up to 2GB) to the D400 is a snap, and can be done while the unit is running. Drive trays slide out with the push of a latch, and drives can be mounted to the tray sans tools. Pop the tray back in, and within a few seconds the new storage is visible in the console and ready to allocate as primary storage or as backup for files already on the server (i.e. the duplication feature).
The D400’s pair of 1TB drives in lieu of a single 2 TB means you’ll need to eventually replace both drives to realize the D400’s full TGB capacity, but it’s a worthwhile compromise in exchange for the data redundancy feature. The D400’s memory is upgradable to 2GB, though there’s only one DIMM socket.
The Bottom Line
The D400’s price tag could be considered a bit high relative to some competing WHS products—example, Acer’s 1 TB easyStore H340, which differs from the D400 mainly in aesthetics, includes 2 GB of RAM for about $100 less than the comparable 1TB D400, and HP’s similarly-priced MediaSmart EX490 nets you a beefier 2.2 GHz Celeron CPU. (More CPU and RAM can come in handy if you plan to run lots of third-party Add-ins, which give WHS additional capabilities).
That said, neither company offers a model with the twin-drive, 2GB configuration of our D400 test unit. If you want the highest amount of redundant storage out of the box in a WHS server and can live with the modest CPU and RAM, the D400 will make a fine home server.