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Drive Pull Test

In addition to protecting your files, the Stora can also provide RAID 1 mirroring with the installation of a second drive.  NETGEAR has stripped out all of the hassles of adding a new drive.  You merely open the front panel, insert a second 3.5" SATA drive of the same capacity (1 TB), and you're done.  You don't even have to shut down the unit, since drives are hot-swappable. 

The Stora automatically recognizes the new drive and adds it into a RAID 1 volume with the first drive.  The mirroring process starts immediately, but it takes a little over 5 hours to mirror the original drive. You do have full access to your Stora while the RAID 1 sync is running, however.  Note that no other options are available for configuring the second drive. So you can't use the second drive to expand the Stora's capacity.

I simulated drive failure by pulling one of the drives while I was copying a portion of my music library to the device.  The file copy continued without a problem.  Later, I re-inserted the drive and it was immediately recognized as a new drive and the mirroring process started without any intervention. 

I was pleased that I also received an email, shown in Figure 16, which notified me of the drive failure. 

Email notification of RAID failure

Figure 16: Email notification of RAID failure

You can track the mirroring process in the system preferences menu, shown in Figure 17.  No data was lost during the drive failure or the re-mirroring.

RAID recovery status

Figure 17: RAID recovery status

Performance

Testing and analysis by Tim Higgins

The Stora was tested with our standard test process. I used the latest 1.1.1:2.0.0.84:1.0.0.101.5 firmware and ran iozone and Vista file copy tests with a Gigabit LAN connection in the default single drive and RAID 1 dual drive configurations.

Write and read performance with a Gigabit LAN connection for both single drive and RAID 1 are shown in the plot below (Figure 18) Average single-drive write performance using a Gigabit Ethernet connection averaged 20.6 MB/s for file sizes between 32 MB and 4 GB, with cached behavior not included in the average calculation.

Stora Performance Benchmark summary

Figure 18: Stora Performance Benchmark summary

Average read performance was noticeably higher, measuring 32.7 MB/s with the same conditions. This puts the Stora in the same performance ballpark as Seagate's BlackArmor NAS 220 and Western Digital's My Book World Edition II (white bar).

In comparison to Cisco's Linksys Media Hub, Stora is about the same for single drive and RAID 1 writes, but about twice as fast for reads. (~30 MB/s vs. 15 MB/s for larger file sizes).

Stora file copy performance using a Vista SP1 client under the same conditions tracked the iozone-based results pretty well with write at 23.0 MB/s, and read at 39.3 MB/s. This is about 2X the performance of the Cisco / Linksys Media Hub.

Closing Thoughts

In general, I like the NETGEAR Stora.  It accomplishes its mission as an easy-to-use, consumer-oriented NAS.  The underlying HipServ software is fairly institutive, though a few features caused me to check out the user guide.  An obvious improvement would be to include context-sensitive help in the browser-based user interface.

The Stora does a good job of the things I consider important—backing up my data and providing fault tolerance.  I like the desktop mirror for its simplicity, and with a Terabyte of storage, I might consider using the Stora for my Time Machine backups.  In multiple tests of a drive failure, the Stora kept running on a single drive, and the subsequent re-mirroring process on the replaced drive worked by just re-inserting a "good" drive.

I'm not a huge fan of browser-based media players, however.  There are just too many media incompatibilities because of missing plug-ins or codecs.  But you can't pin that problem on the Stora; other media servers I've reviewed that use flash-based browsers had the same issues.  I personally prefer just to map a drive (or mount a volume on the Mac) and use a native multimedia client like iTunes or Windows Media Player.  Either of these clients is far more robust that what you'll find in a flash-based browser.

Update 01/19/2009: Premium features clarified

It's important to note a number of the Stora features are available only via an optional $19.95 annual subscription.  Without a subscription, the Stora is limited to 3 user accounts, but you get full remote access. and standard FTP access.  Remotely, you're limited to viewing shared albums.  With the premium subscription, you get the following:

  • Push photos to Flickr
  • Online slideshows via Cooliris
  • Sharing content via RSS feeds
  • Unlimited user accounts
  • Secure FTP
  • Enhanced remote access for iPhone, Blackberry and Windows Mobile Phones

You can activate a 30 day trial through the admin preferences to see if you really want to spend the additional $20.  I wish that NETGEAR had just included the premium features in the purchase price, or at least not limit the number of users.  After spending $200 or so on the product, that kind of nickel-and-diming reminds me of the airlines with their baggage charges and in-flight snack sales.

But even with the subscription, if you're looking for an easy to use, affordable NAS with decent performance, the Stora is worth a look.

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