Digital domestic decisions


I have been running a Windows-based, self-assembled computer as our home server for the last few years. It’s served us very well; The thick chassis walls, rubber-suspended hard drives and passive CPU cooling made it almost entirely silent. The dedicated RAID card kept my 4x500GB Samsung drives in order and provided both adequate speed and a basic level of security for our precious music archive (ripped from our own records, mind you). It ran Squeezebox Server for music streaming, PS3 Media Server to stream video content through our PS3, an FTP server so I could access music at work and a remote desktop client for whatever else I needed to do.

On the downside, it’s about as energy efficient as whipping cream with a helicopter rotor. On top of that, all the extra services hampered performance for music making and the system began to crash at an alarming and increasing pace earlier this year. So what I really needed was to split the computer from the storage, so that one could be turned off while the other kept chugging.

Plenty of evenings were spent reading up on NAS servers: Makes, models and reviews were scrutinized while I tried to figure out what I really needed. Maybe a mac mini with some direct attached storage would be better? Or a new PC with an iPad for sofa surfing? The web, although still just in its teens, provides a wealth of research opportinities and evaluation tools almost unfathomable a mere 15 years ago. I used Swedish price comparison juggernaut for compiling a range of potential solutions. The site allows me to compare specs side-by-side and to find cheap prices not only on single components but on entire upgrade paths, including the tracing of price trends over time. On top of that, it aggregates both professional and consumer reviews, allowing me to dig deep into the real world performance and user experiences for each product.

My list of needs for a storage & home server solution quite soon boiled down to the following:

  • Raid5 or equivalent redundancy
  • 4 disk bays or more – we have a lot of data
  • Reasonably quiet – It’ll be in a separate room, but I want it as close to inaudible as I can get
  • Good speed – My previous experience with a ReadyNAS NV+ wasn’t overwhelmingly impressive in this department, so the new Qnap *59 series and ReadyNAS NVX & Pro units caught my attention thanks to their performance in review benchmarks.
  • The ability to run Squeezebox Server – This is absolutely essential. We have all our music as FLAC, and I intend to stick with the Squeezebox Duet for the foreseeable future.
  • Torrents – Our level of music nerdery requires a lot of research, and we mainly rely on BitTorrent to check out new stuff before placing orders. Having this centralized to our home server rather than running on laptops that need to be left on over night just to wait for a damn torrent is a huge convenience.

In the middle of pulling my recently acquired hair over which make and model to go with in order to make sure I’m as future proof as possible, one of my wishlist shopping carts suddenly dropped 2000 kronor (≈€200). The reason was that one of Swedens biggest and most highly regarded retailers suddenly (and perhaps mistakenly) slashed the price of the Netgear ReadyNAS NVX. I was lusting for the 6 bay Pro version but the fact that they also had an an eyebrow-raisingly generous price for the 64MB cache version of Western Digital’s 2TB Green Power disks sealed the deal. So to conclude the ridiculously inefficient blabbering so far in this post, I now own a ReadyNAS NVX, running it with 4x2TB in their proprietary Xraid2 configuration.

So, what’s it like? While I’m taking a risk running it with disks not in the official hardware compatibility list (only the 32MB cache version of the drive is listed as of this post), I must say I don’t think I could be happier with my purchase now that everything is up and running. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though: After setting it up it immediately started rebuilding the array as one of the disks seemed to cause some sort of trouble. This may be normal operating procedure (I’m lazy and  didn’t RTFM) but it took 24 hours before I had full parity. Populating the array from the Windows Vista box was both slow and peculiar; From the Raid5 array to a SATA disk in the same box gave me about 50MB/s, from the SATA disk to the NAS about 40 MB/s, but from the Raid5 array to the NAS I got an average of just 25 MB/s over FTP. When using a normal windows file transfer through CIFS it was even worse, dropping to well below 10 MB/s. But only from the Raid5 array! It took me two days before everything was transfered, and once that was achieved I noticed that over AFP I got way better speeds, even though it involved puny little 5400 rpm laptop drives. Since we’re aiming for an all Apple home, this was just fine.

Squeezeserver came pre-installed(!) but not very up to date. Changing to the very latest version, which Logitech thankfully keeps up to date with the Windows version, was very straightforward desipte involving quite a few steps. A full scan of our 1.5TB library takes about 2-3 hours with the new version, which is very impressive. I had fears that the rather demanding web GUI, which lagged notable from the 1.86GHz dual core Vista machine, would be even more sluggish on the comparatively weak, embedded single core CPU of the NVX. I was pleasantly surprised that it runs much quicker! Everything just feels snappier, and while it’s still not completely instant, I can’t say I have any complaints. It’s certainly better than iTunes…

There’s a BitTorrent client provided by Netgear, but it wasn’t preinstalled on the NVX. Instead of that official one, I decided to go with the slightly more accomplished Transmission client. It was very easy to set up, has plenty of neat features and has been running flawlessly so far. I had a torrent that was almost finished last night, and now 24 hours later I noticed it had seeded a whopping 450GB since yesterday! This shows what an insane throughput speed the ReadyNAS NVX is capable of, with over 5MB/s on average the whole time.

Setting up user accounts with their own private shares is super easy, as is Apple Time Machine support. The DLNA server works great in our scarce few tests so far, but it lacks the live transcoding abilities of the PS3 Media Server. There might be a good alternative out there, but I haven’t looked yet.

My overall recommendation for anyone looking for a quality home server with needs somewhat similar to mine is to get the ReadyNAS NVX unless you absolutely need the corporate/enterprise features of ReadyNAS Pro or Qnap *59, or feel that a 4 bay NAS is too restrictive. I hope my storage needs are now filled for the coming 3 years at the very least.

2 Responses to “Digital domestic decisions”
  1. Tobbe says:

    As always you supply an interesting and informative read.
    Actually got me contemplating a NAS again. In short, a big thank you and a small damn you.

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