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Updated 3/19/2009: Firmware revision info added

Buffalo Linkstation Pro XHL

At a Glance
Product Buffalo LinkStation Pro (LS-XH1.0TL)
Summary Updated, faster version of Buffalo's top-of-the-line single-drive NAS
Pros • ~ 2X throughput of previous-generation Pro
• Low Power consumption
• Excellent performance vs. price
Cons • Slow USB backup
• Only one USB port
• Status reporting needs improvment

Buffalo's has been busy revamping and simplifying its entire NAS product line. They are still in the process of rolling out the new models that they introduced at CES, which include the TeraStation Duo, TeraStation III and the subject of this review, the LinkStation Pro XHL. I'll tell you up front that the XHL has reset the bar for single-drive NAS performance, with about 2X the performance of all other single-drive NASes tested.

The XHL has a glossy black plastic case vs. the LinkStation Live CHL's matte black. But otherwise it's the same. The rear panel (Figure 1) holds the sole USB 2.0 port, which cannot be expanded via a USB hub. So you have to choose between using it to share a printer or attaching a drive for storage expansion or backup.

Front and Rear panels

Figure 1: Front and Rear panels

The Power Mode switch still requires the Buffalo NAS Navigator software to be used to automatically put the Pro into Sleep; there is otherwise no idle drive spindown feature. But you do now have access to three sleep / wake schedules for power management. The Function Button on the front panel can be used to reset the Pro to factory defaults and activate the Direct Copy function to copy the contents of a USB drive to the XHL.

The XHL draws only 11 W when active and 4W when "off". You'll hear the easily-replaceable fan when the XHL is booting. But even during the heavy load of testing, the Pro's fan was essentially inaudible. However, you will hear occasional dull "thunks" from the drive in a quiet room when it is busy.

Internal Details

Getting the XHL open required the same drill as with the CHL: removing the bottom stickers; releasing some recessed tabs with a screwdriver and carefully prying the rest of the plastic catches apart. The inside looks just like the CHL, so I didn't bother snapping a photo (see the CHL's photo instead). Instead of the WD Caviar Blue (WD5000AAKS) used in the CHL, the XHL had a 1 TB WD Caviar "Green" (WD10EADS) drive. The XHL also comes in a 500 GB flavor, which probably uses the Caviar Blue.

But what I really wanted was to see the new processor Buffalo hinted at during our CES meeting. Figure 2 shows that Buffalo stayed with a Marvell-based design. But instead of the "Orion" storage processor used in many current-generation mid-market NASes, there is a Marvell "Kirkwood" 88F6281 clocked at 1.2 GHz. RAM has been bumped up to 256 MB and a Marvell 88E1118 is used for the Gigabit Ethernet port.

The XHL board
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: The XHL board

That bare spot below the two RAM chips looks like it can hold a second Ethernet chip and there are holes for another Ethernet jack at the lower left of the photo. I couldn't find any Flash on the board.

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