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Performance

Buyers of the NMH405 are likely purchasing the device for its media aggregation capabilities, not raw speed. Still, that doesn’t mean that performance can be ignored. IOzone was used to test the performance of the Linksys Media Hub (the full testing setup and methodology are described on this page).

The test unit had the factory installed 2.17.8 firmware. It was tested with 100 Mbps and 1000 Mbps LAN connections. Tests were not run for jumbo frames since the device doesn’t support them. Tests for each configuration were run for both a single drive and RAID 1.

Circuit Board circuit side
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Figure 24: Linksys Media Hub 1000 Mbps file performance

Figure 24 shows that performance for read operations was virtually identical for a single drive or for a RAID 1 configuration, settling in at around 15 MB/s once cache effects drop out at the higher file sizes. RAID 1 tended to show higher cached performance at the smaller file sizes than the single drive mode.

For a competitive comparison, I selected the QNAP TS-209 Pro, Linksys NSS4000 as well as Buffalo’s new LinkStation Live. I wanted to include Linksys' other dual-drive offering, the NAS200. But since it doesn't support gigabit Ethernet and I wanted to compare performance with a Gigabit LAN connection, I had to use the rack-mount NSS4000 instead.

Note also that only the results for the LinkStation Live are directly comparable to the Media Hub, since it was run using the new benchmark system that tends to produce higher results.

Figure 25 shows that three of the four products had around 15 MB/s read performance for most of the large file sizes. In contrast, the NSS4000 dropped to around 5 MB/s once cache effects stopped.

1000 Mbps Competitive Read Performance
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Figure 25: 1000 Mbps Competitive Read Performance

Figure 26 shows the corresponding competitive 1000 Mbps write performance chart for the same four products. The new testbed is likely producing the relatively high cached performance at the lower file sizes. But once cache effects fall away at 512 MB file sizes and larger, the QNAP TS-209 Pro is the clear winner, with around 15 MB/s write speed vs. the NMH405's 10 MB/s.

1000 Mbps Competitive Write Performance
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Figure 26: 1000 Mbps Competitive Write Performance

Final Thoughts

Cisco has taken a bold step with the introduction of the Media Hub products. Instead of a traditional NAS device with security and logging features that would appeal to networking-savvy SOHO and small-business users, Cisco has instead targeted the product at the general consumer who is looking for a way to get his or her digital life in order.

To that end, the product is right on target, with both an import utility that automatically brings in media content and the bundled NTI Shadow backup software that provides general file backup protection.

You can also use the Media Hub as a NAS, however. Windows Explorer has no problems mapping a drive to the Media Hub and the Mac OS Finder works with it as well. You just have to be willing to have your media and backup files publically accessible to everyone on your home network.

A couple of features that worked especially well are worth recapping. First, remote access was incredibly easy to set up—really a no-brainer—and worked well. Second, importing files from either memory cards or flash drives worked exactly as expected. I had no problem mounting the devices, and, unlike some other NASes, the Media Hub didn’t require reformatting removable media before using it. Best of all, you can map drives to the removable media.

But the Media Hub isn't a home run. Although it's understandable that Cisco focused first on Windows users with its setup, backup and file import features, it has unfortunately overlooked the community of Mac users who could be potential Media Hub customers.

HP appears to have done a better job of Mac OS support with its revamped MediaSmart server line, which includes Windows and Mac OS backup and even the ability to act as Apple Time Machine storage. And iPhone / iPod Touch access like that provided by newer Buffalo NASes would have been a nice touch, too. Cisco says more Mac OS support is in the pipeline, but there is no specific timeline.

The Media Hub's browser-based access to image, music and video files via browser plug-ins, is a mixed story, too. The concept of web-browser access to media files is appealing to those who have grown accustomed to accessing content this way and makes for easy remote access.

But the devil is in the implementation and I found that depending on the browser used, its configuration, the installed plug-ins / ActiveX controls and your system default media player(s), the experience of enjoying your music and video files via a web browser will vary greatly.

The bottom line is that the browser must have the correct codecs installed in order to play video and audio files. If it doesn't, you'll get (after a wait ranging from seconds to, in some cases, minutes) a message similar to the one shown in Figure 27.

File play error message

Figure 27: File play error message

But the link to the Linksys support site doesn't take you to a page about codecs, but instead to the Support site home page. I hope Cisco fixes this soon, since it doesn't make for a very satisfying user experience.

Of course, the Media Hub supports streaming to UPnP AV / DLNA media players as well as supporting iTunes, and this may be all that some consumers want. And others, like myself, will use tried-and-true applications for accessing content such as iTunes for music and Photoshop Elements for photo viewing and slide shows.

At $349.99, the NMH405 is a much better value than the $299.99 entry-level NMH305. The convenience of downloading media files from your camera’s memory cards as well as the LCD display make the extra $50 almost a no-brainer. Note, however, that you may have problems finding any of the models other than on the ShopLinksys.com company store and Amazon.com, at least initially, since Cisco appears to be rolling the product out slowly.

It's nice to see Linksys finally have a competitive NAS so that its poky, under-powered NAS200 can quietly fade away. The Media Hub's features, slick user interface and Linksys / Cisco brand aura will make it an appealing buy to Mom and Pop NAS buyers. It would have been nice, however, if Cisco had bumped performance up by another 10 MB/s or so that experienced NAS-buyers might give it more than a passing glance.

Check out the slideshow See the slideshow for more admin interface shots and internal photos

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