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Updated 9/21/2010: EXT3 backup
Updated 9/19/2010: More info on Ultra 4 vs. NVX

NETGEAR ReadyNAS Ultra 4

At a Glance
Product Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4 (RNDU4000)
Summary Single-core Atom (D410) version of NETGEAR's popular four-drive NAS
Pros • Dual gigabit Ethernet
• Many backup options
• Many media serving options
• Root shell access
Cons • Dated, frame-based GUI
• Dual Ethernet doesn't support aggregation, failover
• No eSATA ports
• Some featured media services don't come installed

NETGEAR has made a few runs at protecting its premium-priced ReadyNAS line from the dreaded price (and profit) erosion that comes with participation in the consumer networking market. First was the SC101T Storage Central Turbo, an attempt to perpetuate NETGEAR's first entry into the "NAS" market, the SC101.

They did a bit better with their second attempt, the Stora, which runs on Axentra's HipServ OS, which has also been adopted by Seagate in its GoFlex Home. While both were significantly less expensive than their ReadyNASes, they lagged far behind in features and customer appeal.

So NETGEAR finally gave in and fielded the ReadyNAS Duo, which brought the expansive ReadyNAS feature set to under $200 crowd. But being based on the old Infrant processor and supporting only two drives, it didn't scratch the itch of folks who hungered for better performance and more storage at a consumer-friendly price.

Which brings us to the ReadyNAS Ultra 4 and Ultra 6 (and, supposedly next month, the Ultra 2). Announced in July with fanfare as the "death of local media storage", the Ultras are positioned for "power users yearning to set their digital entertainment content free".

But if you were hoping for aggressively lower pricing for an Intel-based ReadyNAS, that "feature" wasn't included. At around $600, the diskless D410 single-core Atom based Ultra 4 (RNDU4000) is currently selling for only about 50 bucks less than either a diskless ReadyNAS NVX (RNDX4000) or NVX Pioneer Edition (RNDX400E).

As noted above, the Ultra comes in two flavors, each of which has diskless and diskful SKUs. The Ultra 4 is based on Intel's single-core D410 Atom and supports up to four 3.5" SATA drives (2 TB max.), while the Ultra 6 uses a dual-core D510 Atom and can hold up to six drives. Both come with 1 GB of DDR2 RAM in an easily upgradeable SoDIMM.

The Ultra 4 comes diskless (RNDU4000) or with two Seagate ST32000542AS Barracuda LP 2 TB drives (RNDU4220). The Ultra 6's versions are diskless (RNDU6000) and with three Barracuda LP 2 TB drives (RNDU6320). I'll note that NETGEAR sent an RNDU4000 for testing, but stuffed it with four Seagate Constellation ES 1 TB (ST31000524NS) drives.

You could easily mistake the Ultra 4 for an NVX, since their metal cabinets are identical. But the keen-eyed would note that NVX's all-black case and "ReadyNAS NVX" logo on the front panel vs. the Ultra 4's dark grey sheet metal and no "Ultra" next to the ReadyNAS front panel mark.

Figure 1 calls out the front panel indicators and controls, which are a copy of those found on the NVX, so I reused the image.

ReadyNAS Ultra 4 / NVX front panel

Figure 1: ReadyNAS Ultra 4 / NVX front panel

Figure 2 shows the NVX' / Ultra 4's rear panel, with a single variable-speed case fan. Noise level is on par with the NVX, which is not whisper quiet. It was louder than my desktop PC, but didn't get louder under load during testing.

Ultra 4 / NVX rear panel

Figure 2: Ultra 4 / NVX rear panel
Updated 9/19/2010

The other two of three total USB 2.0 ports support additional storage, USB printers and USB-enabled UPSes (such as APC). Two 10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN ports support jumbo frames (auto-adjustable up to 9K) and can be configured in a variety of teaming / failover options explained here. But the only thing you can do with the two ports is assign static routes; there are no teaming or failover options available.

I was hoping to find that NETGEAR had finally included an eSATA port to increase backup speed. But, like every other ReadyNAS, the Ultra 4 and 6 ship without eSATA ports. I asked NETGEAR for the reason and received this response:

"We’re getting decent speed out of USB, and we only get occasional requests for eSATA. For small businesses who want to back up, we’ve always recommended having a more comprehensive and automated off-site backup with another level of redundancy, either using another ReadyNAS or ReadyNAS Vault. USB 3 is the direction that we’ll be adopting going forward."

I'm all for USB 3.0 in the future, too. But this response is getting way too old, considering that its competition has had eSATA ports in even its single-drive NASes for a few years now. I've clocked > 90 MB/s backups to an NTFS-formatted eSATA RAID 0 volume on QNAP / Cisco D510-based NASes.

Another thing that hasn't changed is the ReadyNAS admin interface. It gets the job done, but has always annoyed me with its very dated use of frames that cause a lot of unnecessary scrolling. This is way overdue for a redesign, given that QNAP, Synology and even Thecus have moved to nicer AJAX-based GUIs.

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