|At a Glance
|LG Super-Multi NAS (N2B1DD2)
|Two drive RAID 1 hot-swappable NAS with built-in optical drive for backups.
|• Simple to set up
• Supports Apple Time Machine
• Standby and Hibernate modes to conserve energy
|• No jumbo frame support
• No secure remote access
• eSATA port did not mount eSATA disk
• iSCSI supports only optical drive
• Weak U.S. support
If you’re like me, you associate LG Electronics with premium-priced appliances such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. And, over the years, I’ve owned at least four LG cell phones. LG isn’t, however, a name that you’d associate with Network Attached Storage.
LG is out to change that perception with six new dual-drive NASes that join their previously-introduced N4B1 quad-drive sibling. As with LG’s appliance product line, the new Super-Multi NAS products carry a premium price, but also have several features that just might justify the price.
LG’s main claim to fame for its NASes is the inclusion of an optical drive for backup. The N2 line has the option of either a DVD or Blu-ray writer, while the N4 comes standard with a Blu-ray drive. Table 1 shows the six versions of the N2 that are available. LG sent the N2B1DD2 version for review.
Table 1: LG N2 NAS Product Family
Figure 1 shows the N2B1DD2 NAS with the front door open to reveal two 1TB drives. The two Hitachi HDT720100SLA360 Deskstar 1 TB drives each mount in a tray that slides into one of the two drive bays. To remove a drive, you have to unlock a small mechanical release, and then squeeze the two buttons on the front of the drive. The front panel also has multi-colored LED indicators to show LAN activity, individual drive activity and optical drive activity. An LCD panel at the top displays or allows you to configure the IP address for the device, and lets you do “one touch” backups. On the top of the NAS, there’s a pop-up panel that has a memory card reader and a single USB port.
Figure 1: N2B1 NAS with front panel opened to expose the hard drives.
Figure 2 shows the rear panel with a Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 and single eSATA ports. The eSATA port doesn’t appear to be functional, since it didn’t recognize a drive we plugged in during testing. The port also isn’t even mentioned in the User Manual.
The rear panel also has a security slot so that you can lock down the device with a security cable. And a cable restraint helps ensure that the power connector won’t be accidentally disconnected.
Figure 2: Rear panel of the N2B1 NAS
On The Inside
Figure 3 shows the N2’s circuit board. The N2 is powered by the slowest version of Marvell’s 88F6192 "Kirkwood" CPU running at 800MHz along with 128 MB each of RAM and flash. Other key components include a Marvell 88E1116-R for Gigabit Ethernet, D78F0535 8 bit microcontroller, NEC 720114 4 port USB 2.0 hub and Marvell 88SM4140 SATA Port multiplier.
As previously mentioned, the review unit came with Hitachi HDT721010SLA360 Deskstar 7K1000.B 1 TB drives. The drives run at 7200 RPM and have 16MB of cache memory.
Figure 3: LG N2B1 board
Setup And Configuration
Like most NASes, the N2B1 comes with a CD that installs a NAS discovery program (Mac and PC). Figure 4 shows the NAS discovery screen. However, you don’t really need to install the program, since you can easily determine the IP address from the LCD front panel. All you really need to do is point your browser to that IP address, and enter the default admin credentials (admin/admin).
Figure 4: NAS Detector
When you log into the administrator console, you are greeted with a menu system that’s easy to navigate. Figure 5 shows the Home page with the six top level menus (System, Share, Blue Ray, Service, Mobile Device and Info) expanded to display all of the options available. Many of the sub-menus are fairly self explanatory, so I’ll just highlight the ones I feel are important for this product.
Figure 5: Web admin console
Remote Access – The N2B1 NAS supports only LG’s own DDNS (Dynamic Domain Name Service) so you can’t really configure the device to be a remote resource on your own domain – at least not easily. To set up remote access, you enable the DDNS feature and enter in a user name and password. This creates a sub-domain on lgnas.com. Oddly, if you disable DDNS for some reason, you can’t re-enable it with the name you originally used – you must create a new name.
In my testing, I found that setting up the service or even going to the remote access page often resulted in a “loading” icon that occasionally timed out. Ultimately, I was able to configure the DDNS setting, and the page showed the correct public IP address for my network as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6: DDNS and UPnP Port Forwarding Setup
This menu page also allows you to use UPnP to automatically set up port forwarding on a UPnP compatible router. I enabled this feature and turned on UPnP on my DLink DIR-625, but port forwarding wasn’t automatically configured. I had to manually forward port 80 to the IP address of the NAS. This isn’t really a problem with the N2, but with UPnP in general because automatic port forwarding isn’t really widely supported.
Mail Notification – The N2B1 NAS supports emailing of regular status reports. To their credit, LG also included the ability to use an SMTP server that requires authentication. Figure 7 shows email notification setup. Unfortunately, the email notification only sends status reports, and not reports of hardware failure or other problems. Email notification of major events, such as a failed drive would have been a nice feature.
Figure 7: Email Notification setup sends only regular status reports
Selective Mirror – This is a feature that I haven’t seen on other NASes. Selective mirror allows you to mirror a folder from one location on the NAS to another location. If, for example, you had configured a two drive system with separate volumes for each drive to maximize the amount of usable storage capacity, you would be without the fault tolerance offered by a RAID1 (mirroring) configuration.
But in this configuration, you could use selective mirroring to mirror critical data from a folder on Volume1 to a folder on Volume2. While you wouldn’t achieve the fault tolerance you would get with a true RAID1 configuration, this would allow you have a backup copy of data that you consider critical. Even though I had configured the review NAS for RAID1, I did configure selective mirroring between the “service” volume and Volume1 and successfully mirrored my iTunes directory.
Power – The N2B1 NAS has both a Standby mode, configurable for 10, 30, 60 or 120 minutes, as well as a scheduled Hibernate mode. In standby mode, which spins down the drives, power consumption is reduced by about 50%, from 24 W to 9 W. It takes between 3 and 15 seconds to come out of standby mode. Hibernate mode further reduces power draw down to around 6W. Hibernate mode can be terminated by web access with administrator credentials or from the front panel.
The Share menu allows you to create users and groups, set up folders, enable services for folders, create shared folders, and create access restrictions for folders. Access control is available only for top level folders, and is disabled by default. Unless you explicitly enable access controls, all users have full rights to all volumes. There’s relatively little control available, however. You can’t for example, set user storage quotas.
Figure 7 shows the folder properties for the default Volume1. For each folder, you can enable Windows, Apple, (AFP), FTP or WebDav. NFS isn’t supported, so Linux clients will need to connect to SMB-shared folders.
Figure 7: Folder Properties for the default Volume1 folder
Though you don’t really need AFP to allow Mac OS X clients to connect to network shares, you do need to enable it on the \service volume if you intend to use the N2B1 as an Apple Time Machine storage target. Also, enabling WebDav for a folder disables access control.
The Blu-ray (or DVD depending on model) menu lets you burn data from anywhere on your NAS to optical media for backup. I ran multiple tests and burned gigabytes of data onto multiple DVD -R disks without a problem. Note, however, that at the end of the burning session, the disk is closed and is no longer a writeable disk. Burning also must be initiated maually; you can’t schedule it to run at night, for example.
You can also use the optical device, interestingly named CDDROM, to share data on a read-only basis with everyone on the NAS. You can’t, however, do a “one touch” backup directly to the optical drive. Figure 8 shows a burning session in progress.
Figure 8: Burning data onto the N2B1 NAS’ optical drive
The Service menu allows you to enable or disable various services on the NAS. The N2B1 includes DLNA and iTunes media servers, supports USB printer sharing, unattended BitTorrent downloads, Time Machine (Mac backup) and iSCSI. Network services include FTP and AFP.
iTunes server – When the iTunes server is enabled, you can share any of your multimedia content with other users on your network. The content shows up in iTunes under the “Shared” menu on the left. Note: You must put your content in the /service/itunes folder – that’s the only place that the iTunes server will look for content.
You can manually force the iTunes server to re-index your content, or set it to re-index every five minutes. I enabled the iTunes server and copied about 2.5 GB to the appropriate iTunes folder. The content appeared in iTunes both on the Mac and PC Platform. My personal feeling is that the iTunes server is a nice feature to have, but the most recent releases of iTunes allow peer-to-peer sharing of your library with up to four additional users on your network. And libraries shared through iTunes, unlike those available through an iTunes server, include play lists.
Time Machine – Time Machine was a feature introduced in Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard) that allows users to back up their Macs to a networked store. Most Mac users simply use an external drives. But a number of NASes now include a feature that allows the device to be used as a storage “target” for Time Machine.
However, setting up time machine on the LG NAS can be a bit tricky. First, you must configure Time Machine from a Mac. The NAS detects your browser and won’t let you configure the settings from a PC. When you do log in from your Mac, you’ll need to provide the MAC address of the Ethernet card in your Mac along with the local name of your Mac. It turns out that the local name on my Mac as 13 characters, and the NAS would only accept 12. Perhaps that’s a limitation of AFP.
I found the MAC address of my Mac in the advanced portion of Network preferences – I didn’t have to launch a terminal session and use ifconfig as suggested by the instruction manual. I also found and changed the local name to 12 characters under system preferences, sharing.
Once enabled, it took me several attempts to change the Time Machine target on the Mac, but eventually, I was able to get this feature to work as shown in Figure 9. Note: It’s good idea to disable system standby, because the Time Machine backup will fail if the NAS is in standby mode.
Figure 9: Time Machine backup running on the LG N2B1
iSCSI – iSCSI, as implemented on the N2B1, was a real disappointment. On other NASes, iSCSI support allows you to set aside and format a portion of the storage to be used as an iSCSI target. When used with an iSCSI initiator, that storage then appears as local storage and supports block level access, which improves performance.
But on the N2, the iSCSI feature only allows access to the optical drive. And, with iSCSI enabled, you lose the ability burn and well as to share the optical device via SMB. Perhaps LG should have left iSCSI support for a later release, when they could have implemented it in a more useful way.
Mobile Device Menu
USB Backup – Under the Mobile Device menu, you’ll find USB Backup, which is pretty nice feature, although not unique to LG NASes. When you insert a supported memory card into the pop-up card reader, or connect other USB storage devices into one of the USB ports, you can back up its contents directly to the NAS.
By default, the backups are copied to /service/backup directory, but you can custom configure each device. In addition, as shown in Figure 10, you can configure each device to be copied to a location you specify, set the backup type to incremental or full, and choose auto.
Figure 10: USB Backup configuration
If you choose auto, connecting the storage device to the NAS will automatically initiate a backup of the type specified. Alternately, you can deselect auto, and run the backup using a front panel button. I tried an SD card as well as a CF card that was plugged into a connected card reader, and the backups were performed as expected.
The Status menu displays a useful summary of the status of the NAS along with links back to the appropriate menus such as networking, volume and burning.
The Log menu has tabs for system, Samba and FTP logs. The number of entries appears to be fairly limited in each category, and the log messages are fairly cryptic – what you’d expect coming out of a Linux-based system, but not particularly the user-friendly messages you might expect from a device targeted at the home user. Figure 11 shows a sample from the FTP log.
Figure 11: FTP log
Drive Pull Test
No review of a multi-drive NAS would be complete without testing the fault tolerance of the RAID 1 configuration. For this test, I started copying a number of.MP3 files and then, with the file copy running, pulled one of the hard drives.
The N2B1 continued to write files to the remaining drive, and the LCD Panel indicated drive removal. The drive status light on the front panel also turned from the normal status blue to failed status red. When I logged into the admin page, however, there wasn’t an alert on the home page, or on the main status page for that matter, showing that the NAS was running in a degraded condition. However, when I clicked on the Volume tab in the Status page, I finally found an error indication as shown in Figure 12.
Figure 12: Status showing unexpected removal of a hard drive
I continued to copy files with the NAS running in a degraded condition and then reinserted the drive. The LCD display noted the drive insertion, but RAID rebuild didn’t begin automatically. The drive just appeared as “Inactive” and I had to select it as shown in Figure 13 and add it to the existing RAID1 volume.
Figure 13: Adding hard drive
After finishing that step, the replaced drive was added to the RAID and synchronization began (Figure 14). The entire synchronization process took a little over 5 hours during which the NAS was still online and available to service client file requests. No data was lost in this process.
Figure 14: RAID resynchronization
Testing and analysis by Tim Higgins
The N2 was tested with our standard test process. I used the latest 188.8.131.52759 firmware and ran tests with 1000 Mbps LAN connections in RAID 0 and 1 modes.
Figure 15 shows a summary plot of all the benchmark tests. Write cache boost is quite moderate at the low end, with no values exceeding the speed of the Gigabit Ethernet connection. Once the 1 GB and higher file sizes are reached, write speed settles in at the mid mid to high teen MB/s range for both RAID 0 and 1. Read is somewhat better, in the mid 20 MB/s range for RAID 1 and high 20 to low 30 MB/s for RAID 0.
Figure 15: Performance benchmark summary
Average RAID 1 write performance using a Gigabit Ethernet connection was 37.7 MB/s for file sizes between 32 MB and 4 GB, with cached behavior not included in the average calculation. Average RAID 1 read performance was lower, measuring 31.6 MB/s with the same conditions.
File copy performance using a Vista SP1 client under the same conditions (RAID 1, Gigabit LAN) measured significantly lower for write at 17.4 MB/s, but higher for read at 40.9 MB/s. This ranked the NAS in the lower half of two-bay RAID 1 NASes, right next to the Iomega ix2-200. Figure 16 shows the File copy ranking chart, filtered for dual-drive products.
Figure 16: Vista SP1 File copy – RAID 1 write
Figure 17 shows the RAID 1 file copy read rankings.
Figure 17: Vista SP1 File copy – RAID 1 read
Use the NAS Charts to further explore and compare performance.
LG got a number of things right on the N2B1. The white case with the black door is quite stylish, and the mechanical design seems solid. I also liked the USB sync feature as well as the folder synchronization. Time Machine backups, though a bit squirrelly to set up, are also a nice feature.
LG made a good choice in beefing up the processor as compared to the previous N4B1 four bay model. But they probably could have moved up the performance charts a tad if they had used a 1.2 GHz Kirkwood processor rather than the 800 MHz version they choose. And I don’t think this would have added much cost.
Speaking of cost, N2’s equipped with a DVD writer represent a fairly good value, and carry only a slight premium over competitive products that lack optical drives. For example, LG’s 1TB N2 with DVD carries only a $39 dollar premium as compared to Buffalo’s 1GB LinkStation Pro Duo priced at $259.99. Similarly, LG’s 2TB DVD model carries only a $29 premium compared to Buffalo’s $349.99 2 GB LinkStation Pro Duo.
But if you want the Blu-ray writer, it’s going to cost you an extra $100 compared to a corresponding DVD model. Perhaps the best value of all is the two bay BYOD enclosure; at $229.00, it carries only a slight premium as compared to DLink’s $199.99 DNS323, or NetGear’s two bay Stora (MS2110).
A number of my complaints are fairly minor, and could undoubtedly be fixed with a firmware upgrade. For example, the N2 doesn’t support jumbo frames and secure FTP (FTPS) doesn’t appear to work. (I tried FTPS connections with three different FTP clients.)
The eSATA port doesn’t currently do anything and remote access could use some improvement, as well. The web remote access found on the Buffalo LinkStation Pro duo provided a much better remote experience than the remote web UI on the N2B1. A choice of built-in DDNS providers could also make the N2B1 more attractive to those looking to use the N2B1 for remote access for their small businesses that have their own domain names.
Backup features also need some serious attention. The bundled Comnso client backup software (PC only) is not particularly user friendly. And while you can manually burn folders from the NAS to writeable optical drive on the NAS or copy data from the optical media to the NAS, you can’t automatically do incremental (or any other kind of) scheduled backups to the drive. And backup to the optical drive really shouldn’t be the only choice. Schedulable backup to attached USB and eSATA drives should be added as a minimum and preferably backup to networked rsync targets, too.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our reservations about the current support for LG’s NASes. Lack of support (and web-based information in general) caused SmallNetBuilder to pass on a full review of the four-drive N4B1. And while LG has made some advances in the past six months or so since that product’s introduction, support is still a weak spot.
While we’re reviewing products, we typically have questions that are quickly answered by whoever our company contacts are. Sometimes there’s an overnight wait while the real techies somewhere in Asia are queried. But LG’s response time to questions was particularly slow, taking days for answers to come back, which sometimes didn’t really address the question. If getting good answers for reviewers is this difficult, how hard will it be for consumers?
It’s also hard to know where to go for product info and support, too. Product info for LG’s NASes can be found at http://www.lgcommercial.com/products/. But there are no real support resources available there. The Contact Us link takes you only to a general sales query form and there are no phone numbers or mailing addresses to be found there.
But if you somehow find your way to http://www.lgcommercial.com/networkattachedstorage/pop.html, which doesn’t appear to be linked from anywhere on the main site, you will find a Support link that will eventually get you to a Customer Service form and links for Knowledge Base, Live chat, email and phone support. There’s also a Forums link, but don’t bother with it; it’s just for LG mobile phone products. The best site may be http://www.lge.com/us/computer-products/network-storage/index.jsp, which seems to have both product information and support links properly integrated.
I tried the Live Chat option, but the screenshot below speaks for itself.
Figure 18: Live Chat session
I also called live support (800-243-0000) and after a long voice tree, got to a live person fairly quickly. He was able to confirm that the N2B1 doesn’t support jumbo frames. But he had no suggestions about UPnP or FTPS not working. If LG wants to get a serious foothold in the NAS market, they’ll need to raise their support game.
In all, the N2B1 still has a bit of a “1.0” feel to it. But I hope that LG will make improvements with future firmware releases and improved support resources. The product certainly has the bones to be a contender. It just needs more meat.