Review: 3 NAS devices offer big-time storage for small networks

If your storage needs are heading into terabyte territory, you may want to check out these network-attached storage units.

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Promise SmartStor NS2300N

Promise Technology's SmartStor NS2300N NAS unit is a do-it-ourself BYOD (Bring Your Own Disk) product that supports RAID 0 and RAID 1. This model will hold two hard disks of your choosing; there is also the four-drive model (NS4300N) available.

While the BYOD approach is a bit less convenient than units that come with hard drives, the benefit to this approach is that while the NS2300N itself will set you back anywhere from about $165 to $250, you get to decide how much extra money you put into it in terms of the drives you buy.

To test the unit, I loaded it with two 1.5TB Seagate drives. At $140 for each drive, that's a total of about $460 for a 1.5TB SmartStor NAS RAID 1 array -- not a bad price.

3 NAS devices
SmartStor NS2300N

Setting up the SmartStor wasn't challenging. The box includes two removable plastic carriers for the drives. I discovered it was best to ignore any screws that came with the hard disks because they didn't clear the rails inside the box. Instead, I had to use the countersunk screws Promise provides with the NAS unit. That was the only sticky point of the whole assembly.

Once I slid the carriers and their hard drives into the box, I closed the front door and connected the power and network cables at the back. (There is also a USB connector for a printer.) I plugged the cables into my network and AC outlet as required and pressed the power-on button upfront. I was greeted by a slew of green LEDs and a single beep as the drive made a place for itself on my network.

Promise's drive comes with SmartNavi software that is used to configure the SmartStor's RAID level, shared volumes, network behavior and backup regimen (if you're using it as a backup device). You can also install plug-ins that enable its iTunes server.

When you're done, you can map either the entire SmartStor or any of its shared folders to your PC. You will need some networking skills if you plan to change things around at all (like swap in new hard drives at some point) or have special circumstances. Otherwise, you're done.

Since I chose drives for capacity and not necessarily for speed, the SmartStor's test results were about what you might expect. The unit came in dead last in both reading and writing -- but not much slower than Iomega's ix2. If I were on a budget and needed a large storage capacity, this would be my choice for a personal NAS or even a low-end SOHO environment.

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer who has written a half-dozen books and more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology, including Apple computers, PCs, Linux and commentary on IT hardware decisions.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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