|At a Glance|
|Product||Plextor 4-Bay Network Attached Storage (PX-NAS4)|
|Summary||Inexpensive BYOD four-bay NAS from a NAS newcomer|
|Pros||• Relatively inexpensive
• Easy setup
• Stable SMB/CIFS support
• Unique RAID and backup features
|Cons||• Missing many features vs. competition
• Relatively big
• RAID doesn't automatically start rebuilding when drive is failed
• Support website doesn't inspire confidence
Plextor is a brand that you might normally associate with optical DVD or Blu-Ray drives. So it was interesting to see a NAS from them come in for review. Plextor is a relative newcomer to the NAS market and the PX-NAS4 is their top-of-line NAS.
The company aims to compete with more feature-rich NAS vendors, offering business features such as iSCSI target and initiator, NFS sharing, and Active Directory integration. But Plextor also has missed some of the simpler features that many other NASes support.
Plextor also has a two bay RAID 1 NAS that comes in both BYOD and diskful configurations. The PX-NAS4 however, is offered only in a diskless configuration. Plextor filled our review unit with four 500 GB Western Digital Blue drives.
The PX-NAS4 has a dated design, based on an 800 MHz Freescale 8543 processor with only 256 MB of DDRII RAM and 256 MB of flash. The design is essentially the same as the discontinued Synology DS408.
Pictures are better than words when it comes to getting a feel for a NAS admin interface, So, I'll summarize the NAS4's feature set bullet-style and you can hit the Gallery for the screenshots and captions.
Volume Types, File Systems, Services
- CIFS/SMB, NFS, FTP, HTTP, DFS share types
- External Disk Formats: EXT2/3, FAT32, NTFS, XFS
- Internal Disk/Volume Format: XFS
- RAID Types: JBOD,RAID 0/1/5/10 - Hot Spare Support for levels 1 & 5
- Online Volume Expansion in JBOD & RAID5
- SMART support
- iSCSI Target & Initiator
- USB Printer Server over CIFS
- 2 USB and 2 eSATA Ports for additional external drives
- USB supports USB Card Readers
- Dual Gigabit Ethernet
- Standalone, Failover, Link Aggregation, and Load Balancing modes
- Port Trunking
- Jumbo Frame support
- DHCP or Static IP
Multimedia Services & Features
- Media servers: UPnP AV / DLNA, iTunes
- Joins NT Domain / Active Directories for account information
- Unlimited Users
- Unlimited Groups
- Scheduled and immediate networked backup to other Plextor NASes or standard CIFS servers with compression and encryption options.
- Volume snapshots
- Client Backup: Genie Backup Manager Lite (Windows only, unlimited licenses)
- Scheduled Backup to attached drives
- USB device pushbutton copy
- UPS shutdown sync via USB
- Programmable idle drive spindown
- Auto restart after power failure
- Email alerts
- Logging / Syslog Access
- Resource monitor (CPU, memory, network usage graphs)
As I noted above, the NAS4 lacks features that its competition has long had. Let's take a run through them.
- AFP Support- This is required to support Apple Time Machine, which Plextor says it supports. More on this later.
- Automatic RAID Recovery- The Plextor in our tests did not automatically recover its RAID volume when a new drive was inserted.
- SSH/SFTP access- Access to the file system via a secure method is useful for more security-minded individuals and businesses.
- Remote Access to files- Plextor offers no concept of being able to remotely access files either directly from the NAS or via a hosted portal
- Remote media access - Some NASes have photo sharing services and remote access to stored music and video via browser or mobile device apps. The Plextor has neither.
- DDNS support- Dynamic DNS would be needed if Plextor supported remote access features.
- Download manager- Many consumer NASes include a download manager to handle downloading BitTorrent and other file types.
- Add-on system- Unlike NETGEAR and other vendors, Plextor NASes do not allow the addition of new features via optional modules.
- IPv6 support- You might not need it now, but you'll eventually need this replacement for the current IPv4 networking settings.
- Root access - You can't log in as root or any other user via SSH or Telnet.
Setup & Configuration
Plextor, like most of the major NAS vendors, has a software utility you install on a desktop PC to initially find and configure the device. Plextor's utility can actually configure the network capabilities of the device without having to enter the web GUI, which is nice if you want to immediately give the device a static IP address. But it has a strange requirement on installation that you enter a company name. It also doesn't show any health state of the NAS like NETGEAR's Raidar utility.
The main configuration utility is web-based. Plextor flags you to change the password upon login, but allows you to ignore the request. But if you don't set a new password, you get the nag upon every subsequent login until you enter one.
After initially logging into the admin pages, you are presented with a wizard to set up the initial RAID and volumes. It's a fairly straightforward process, although Plextor makes some assumptions that the user knows the difference among the different RAID levels. Once configuration is complete, you are presented with a home screen (Figure 1).
Figure 1: NAS Home Screen
The web admin's home screen is surprisingly devoid of information, unlike most other NASes that display the status of the device. In contrast, Plextor puts the share configuration front and center, which I guess is ok since it's the primary reason for having one of these devices. But I would prefer some kind of status display without having to dive into the configuration screens.
The configuration screens themselves are chock-full of information. Sadly the web portal is designed for an 800x600 screen, so there is a lot of scrolling to get to items. This is where you configure things like volumes, additional users, etc. Check out the Gallery to see what the admin interface is like.
Figure 2: This screen should be part of the admin setup, not buried under of all places Log settings.
As I mentioned, the admin panel is somewhat difficult to navigate, and this can cause features to be missed. For example, I missed on the first two passes the fact that the PX-NAS4 actually does have email monitoring functions. It wasn't until I found it buried in the poorly structured User Guide that I even knew it existed.
Email monitoring support is one of the more critical features. Many times a drive could be failing in the unit for weeks, and SMART will detect the errors at least a day or two before the drive fails. Plextor would be wise to make this part of the initial wizard setup, as NETGEAR and Synology do.