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unRAID System Specs
Motherboard Asus M2NPV-VM
Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+
Memory 2 GB
Hard Drives Western Digital WD2500KS 250Gb (SATA)
Segate Barracuda 7200.8 ST3300831AS 300Gb (SATA)
Table 1: unRAID System Specs

Test Setup

  • All tests were run from an AMD Opteron 165 running Windows XP SP2
  • unRAID was tested with and without a parity drive installed
  • All tests followed our standard iozone-based test procedure

With such a light package of protocols and options, one would expect unRAID and the underlying Slackware system to be lightning fast and indeed it is. unRAID really upholds the old mantra, "do one thing and do it well."

On a gigabit Ethernet connection, read performance without a parity drive blazes past the Synology DS107 [reviewed] and FreeNAS DIY system [reviewed] that I previously tested using the same iozone test machine described in the Test Setup notes above. While these single-drive NASes are not intended to be directly comparable to the unRAID system, they provide some basis for comparison using the same benchmarking tool.

One would think that the the parity drive wouldn't be heavily utilized during reads. But, surprisingly, unRAID takes a considerable performance hit with a parity drive installed. It basically drops back down into the realm of the Synology.

Read Performance
Click to enlarge image

Figure 10: Read Performance

Write performance shows the typical declining performance with larger filesize characteristic seen in our other NAS tests. The unRAID system handily beats both the Synology and FreeNAS systems at filesizes up to 128 MB. But for 256 MB and higher filesizes, parity-enabled performance drops below the Synology, but still beats the FreeNAS system.

Write Performance
Click to enlarge image

Figure 11: Write Performance


For anyone looking for a fast, basic, lightweight NAS on a primarily Windows based network, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better solution than unRAID. I found the "Exception" permission management system especially handy for media shares where I generally want to give everyone read-only access and only give myself read/write permission.

For SOHO's, I agree with Tim; RAID is all about uptime. RAID is no substitute for a good backup schedule. In this vein, unRAID offers a unique solution which keeps the parity and disk rebuild functions of RAID, but doesn't stripe data which leaves you the freedom to add disks to the array at anytime or even take disks out of the array anytime.

Personally, I found the offering of protocols and features, or rather the lack of protocols and features, a bit limiting. Linux savvy users might be better served administering their own server as unRAID really consists of just Samba, FUSE, and a nice little web administration interface (which SWAT could be substituted for) built on Slackware 11. Depending on your Linux know-how, you have to decide if the $69 price tag for the "Plus" version is worth it.

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