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Performance - Competitive Comparison

For competitive comparison, I chose among the four-drive NASes at the top of the RAID 5 charts. The Synology DS409 uses a Marvell "Kirkwood" 88F6281 @ 1.2 GHz, the NETGEAR ReadyNAS NVX is based on an Intel Tolapai SOC @ 1.06 GHz and the QNAP TS-439 Pro beats with the heart of an Intel Atom N270 @ 1.6GHz. All have 1 GB of RAM, except the Synology, which has a surprisingly low 256 MB.

Figure 14 shows the NETGEAR starting out with significant cache boost, but then falling in with the rest of the pack starting at 256 MB file size. From 1 GB to 4 GB file size, the Synology is clearly the slowest, falling into the mid 20 MB/s range. The other three all converge to the low to mid 40 MB/s range for the same file sizes.

Competitive write comparison  - RAID 5, 1000 Mbps LAN

Figure 14: Competitive write comparison - RAID 5, 1000 Mbps LAN

Figure 15 compares the RAID 5 read performance, which, as usual, has more of a spread. The rankings are much clearer, with the NETGEAR NVX holding the top position across all file sizes. Both the Synology and Sans Digital cross below the QNAP TS-439 Pro as file sizes increase.

Competitive read comparison  - RAID 5, 1000 Mbps LAN

Figure 13: Competitive read comparison - RAID 5, 1000 Mbps LAN

So to sum up, the dual-core Atom 330 doesn't seem to provide much performance advantage over the Atom N270, at least as implemented by Sans Digital in the EN104L+. It significantly beat the Atom N270 only on the RAID 5 write file copy test and ran with the rest of the pack in the other benchmarks.

Use the NAS Charts to further explore performance.

iSCSI

I ran a quick check with around 100 GB of space on a RAID 10 array configured as an iSCSI target. The iSCSI volume was quick formatted in NTFS and tested using the standard Vista SP1 filecopy test that copies a 4.35 GB ripped DVD test folder to and from the target.

Writing to the iSCSI target was actually quite good at 78.5 MB/s, second only to the seven-drive Thecus N7700. But reading from the target was somewhat slower at 63.4 MB/s, which dropped it to next-to-last position in a very competitive field.

Closing Thoughts

Jim Buzbee looked at Sans Digital's MobileNAS MN4L+ just shy of a year ago and found it was a high performer, but with enough documentation problems and feature bugs to make it unappealing to many NAS buyers.

Unfortunately, Sans Digital doesn't appear to have moved the ball forward on any of their negatives, while the competition has improved feature sets, moved to much more sophisticated and easier-to-use interfaces and beefed up support and documentation. The bar has also been raised on performance in the past year. So even with its dual-core Atom 330 CPU, the EN104L+ doesn't sit comfortably at the top of many of the Charts.

For support particularly, Sans Digital still needs significant improvement. Buyers might be tempted to try a lesser-known brand if they find unique value and can be assured of good support. But with scarce documentation, no application notes, essentially no FAQ, no recommended drive lists, no GPL downloads and a Forum that isn't even linked from the main site, the message I get is much more that I'll be largely on my own should I decide to take the Sans Digital plunge.

Updated 9/3/2009: Sans Digital said that their Forums are accessed via the Community link on the main menu of their website.

It's been an interesting exercise to see how an Atom 330 stacks up against other processor platforms (it doesn't seem to provide that much of an edge). But the EN104L+ doesn't really have anything to recommend it over other RAID 5 NASes, rackmount or desktop, especially at a price point just shy of $1000 for a diskless configuration.

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