ReadyNAS Duo V2 plus firmware upgrade (November 30th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: Netgear
Price: Diskless: $199; As reviewed:$499
-Easy RAID configuration
-Simple storage extension
-Fast Web-based interface for configuration
-Drives purchased with the case are expensive
-Slow-growing app ecosystem following migration
-Overly complex "cloud" configuration
Without a doubt, home and professional computing storage needs are escalating. With the advent of so-called "Retina" displays for Apple products, and similar resolutions becoming available for Windows and other devices, the need will only grow as time goes on. Today's solution is just that- today's. Couple the need for storage with the trend towards portable computing, and the issues compound -- flash-based storage for tablets and smartphones isn't as cost-effective per GB as rotating platters are. Network attached storage (NAS) devices for the consumer market have been around for nearly a decade, with varying degrees of utility. Seemingly ubiquitous device manufacturer Netgear updated its line of NAS cases at the end of 2011. This review will examine the latest in the respected ReadyNAS line -- the two-bay ReadyNAS Duo V2, coupled with the latest RAIDiator 5.3.7 firmware update.
The hardware itself is capable on its own. The two-bay enclosure can utilize a pair of 3TB SATA 3 3.5-inch hard drives -- one per bay. A pair of USB 3.0 ports adorn the back, with a front-mounted USB 2.0 port. All three ports can be used to extend the NAS RAID automatically, at the expense of some processing time. Additionally, any one of the three ports can be used to plug in an external drive and automatically back up the contents of the NAS to the drive, allowing for a backup of the stored data above and beyond any RAID protections offered by the Duo V2.
The Duo V2 has an impressive list of features and protocols -- RAID 0,1 and JBOD are supported and bolstered by the X-RAID 2 auto-expansion software. Protocols include CIFS, SMB, AFP 3.2 for Macintosh OS 9 and OS X, NFS for Linux and UNIX, FTP, and HTTP/HTTPS and all standard. The unit is DLNA compatible for media streaming, with a robust journaled file system and hot-swap drive support and automatic RAID rebuilding in the case of drive loss.
With its spinning fans, beeping gadgets, and music continually in the background, one would be hard pressed to describe our testing room as anything approaching "quiet." Regardless, immediately upon power-on, we were struck by the relative silence of the unit. Many of the NAS cases we've tested in the past have more relation to a wind tunnel than a silent computing accessory, so this was a nice touch. After our initial impression with the lack of noise, we started evaluating the internal hardware. The processor is a 1.6Ghz Marvell Kirkwood ARM processor with a Linux kernel, changed from the Infrant chipset used in the V1. DDR3 SDRAM is used for software and add-on execution.
Initial network performance testing wasn't impressive. Deviating from a normal review script a bit, very shortly after putting the NAS on service and moving 300GB to it, we installed a second hard drive, taking advantage of the hot swap feature. We thought that the case would generate a mirrored raid, but instead, defaulted to a concatenated RAID set, nearly instantaneously increasing the capacity of the NAS to 2TB in the customizable X-RAID 2 configuration. Speeds were bolstered across a sparsely populated Gigabit network, but oddly, not by much as we expected.
A single drive copying a single 1GB file across the LAN to another gigabit wired client on the same network switch showed 38 Megabytes per second read, and 37 Megabytes per second write. The X-RAID 2 configuration with a pair of 1TB 7200 RPM drives gave us 52 Megabytes per second read and 44 Megabytes per second write. Curious to see what happened, we manually configured the NAS for RAID 0 and RAID 1. Raid 0 provided 46 Megabytes per second both read and write, with RAID 1 giving 50 Megabytes per second read and 43 MB/second write. All very similar numbers, and not really distinguishable by most users in a home or small office setting shuffling around a periodic file or streaming media.
With RAIDiator 5.3.6 and greater, the Duo V2 becomes an Apple Time Machine backup server, in theory capable of backup and restore both over a LAN as well as the internet. The feature works excellently on a single subnet of a LAN, but falls a little flat across the internet. The ability to restore remotely does work, after a somewhat arduous installation process involving three sets of login credentials, assuming the remote location has a uPnP-capable router with no blocked ports and only one subnet. Any deviance from the ideal prevents backup or restore completely, and in our testing, very few networks met this ideal, specifically the "blocked ports" portion. So, while we do like this feature at this price point, relying on it to function properly while away from the "home" network in every environment is fraught with peril.
An additional feature of the Duo V2 is a ReadyDLNA media streamer. It really couldn't be simpler to load up the box with content -- just copy the video or music to be played into the media folder, and a compatible player will pick it up, index it, and make it available for streaming. It is important to note that this is not an iTunes DAAP share, but apps do exist for iOS devices to display the media. This is another feature that is supposed to be seamless across the internet with the ReadyNAS Remote functionality. As with the Time Machine remote backups, the availability of the service is highly dependent on the configuration of the external network the user is working from.
The biggest addition to the ReadyNAS line with the RAIDiator firmware updates are apps, both NetGear and independently coded. Simple features can be added, such as LED control, or complex functionality like streaming media broadcast, and even a phpBB implementation. The problem with the ReadyNAS app ecosystem is the ARM migration -- nearly all of the third-party add-on apps and a great number of the "official" add-ons are incompatible with the device nearly a year after the switch. This is a shame, because the power of the new machine really asks for some of these apps to be available on the newer, faster device.
One of the Electronista testers prides himself on the ability to repurpose old hardware. Some decade-old Windows XP and OS X machines have been crammed with drives well in excess of what the laws of physics and thermodynamics should allow. Despite its flaws, the ReadyNAS Duo V2 out of the box gives the flexibility in a smaller and lower-powered case that a full tower computer does for a home network packed with hard drives. It's not the fastest NAS we've ever seen, nor the prettiest, nor the fullest featured. It, however, does what it says it will do. It takes the user's drives, serves up the data stored both on a local network, and on the Internet (with some caveats), and it does it with relatively easy configuration and a healthy-enough set of features for nearly all users even without a robust application collection.
A key selling feature of the device, secure configuration for remote file access isn't for the timid or uninformed, though, so we don't recommend configuration of this feature by basic users other than on a local network. The ReadyNAS Duo V2 paired with a reasonably technically-savvy individual with some patience and the willingness to pore through some arcane documentation does provide a satisfactory cloud replacement as well as a large repository of data ready for consumption or use on computers, smartphones, or tablets.