Remote Storage with the Newisys NA-1400 NAS Appliance

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THE RESULT

Once the NA-1400 arrived at the SPCR lab, we eagerly set about copying an installation of Windows over to it. Unfortunately, our assumption that we could simply use the network boot function of the motherboard to boot from a remote disk image turned out to be very, very wrong. Although it is possible to install Windows from an NAS box, running it is out of the question. Even then, the installation requires setting up a server to boot from. This was far more complexity than we wanted to deal with, so we were forced to abandon the idea of using remote storage for the boot volume.

For those who are interested, we did come across two technologies that do allow diskless installations of Windows:

  • iSCSI: A protocol that allows disk commands to be sent directly to a device on a network. The Newisys NA-1400 does not support this protocol, but similar devices exist that do. Even then, the device would need to support some kind of boot server software, like netBoot /i.
  • Ardence Desktop Edition: Server software that allows any kind of network storage, including an NAS box like the NA-1400, to hold a bootable disk image. This requires a server in addition to the storage box and the client machine.

To make a long story short, the technology to enable non-local installations of Windows does exist, but it is aimed at the server market and is not practical, affordable or simple enough for most end-users. At this point in time, only eSATA provides a (more or less) practical way of moving a Windows OS drive out of the system, and even that has a maximum distance of two meters.

A COMPROMISE

It is now clear our original solution to the problem of silencing large amounts of storage is unworkable with this NAS appliance. But, the idea of using an NAS box to locate most of the storage remotely is a sound one. Why not use a small notebook drive to boot from, but still keep most of the storage away from the main system? After all, this is exactly what the NA-1400 is designed for. With that in mind, we set about testing the NA-1400 on a conventional system.

Test System

  • Antec P180 case, with only the rear TriCool 120 fan, soft-mounted with rubber grommets, running at the Low speed
  • Soltek SL-K8T939FL Motherboard
  • AMD Athlon 64 3800+ (Newcastle Core, 89W TDP)
  • 2 GB generic RAM
  • NVidia GeForce Ti4600 video card, with cooling fan removed + Nexus 80mm fan @ 5V installed over VGA card with a Zalman FB165 bracket
  • BenQ DW1620 DVD burner
  • Enermax Noisetaker 325 power supply with all fans removed + Nexus 120mm fan @ 7V installed in PSU channel
  • 2 x Samsung Spinpoint P80 hard drives in lower chamber, one 80 GB (JVC motor), one 160 GB (Nidec motor)

The network consisted of a 10/100 switch, a 10/100 router, and several computer systems. The NA-1400 and the Test System were both connected to the switch, and both received dynamic IP addresses from the DHCP server in the router. A gigabit network may have provided better performance, but 100 Mbit connections are still much more common in home networks.

Ambient conditions at the time of testing were 22°C, 20 dBA, and 122V@60Hz.

Setup and Configuration

Setting up the NA-1400 was as simple as plugging it into the network, pressing the power button, and waiting for it to boot. After a minute or two it showed up in Network Places, and could be treated like any other share storage. By default, all files were accessible via any system on the network, although user accounts and permissions can be configured manually if needed. A small utility allowed the IP address of the box to be discovered so that it could be configured, but it was not necessary to run this utility during ordinary operation.

Setting up a direct connection was not so simple, since no DHCP server was available to give the box an IP address. Instead, it assumed a default IP address and relied on the main system to connect to the rest of the network. Another small utility needed to be run before this would work correctly. Unfortunately, we were unable to get the direct connection mode working correctly, so we were unable to test the box using a full gigabit connection.

Configuring the box was a matter of typing the appropriate IP address into a browser window. The resulting pages worked much like the configuration pages for a home router, with all interaction with the device taking place through a browser. The java-based interface was very slow, and it took five or six seconds for the box to respond to a command. Backing up the operating system onto a flash drive took more than half an hour. During this time, only a "please wait" message that refreshed once every few seconds showed that the box had not frozen entirely. Luckily, things were already configured more or less correctly, so most users should not need to spend much time in the configuration menus. Most of the options were the set-once-and-forget variety.

The ApplianceWare operating system allowed for quite a wide range of configurations, from the default RAID 5 volume to more specialized uses, such as multiple RAID volumes and partitions and the ability to control read and write permissions to various partitions. Individual user accounts could be configured on the box itself, but most users who do this will probably want to offload the authentication duties to an external server, using WINS or some other authentication system. Other features include logging tools and a limited amount of hardware monitoring.

Despite the wide range of configurations available, we were quite happy to stick with the default configuration. Things worked perfectly well in their plug-and-play defaults, and there was little reason to change them in a personal computing context.

One thing that we did need to configure was to mount the drive under a drive letter. This was done on the main system itself, and did not require going through the web-based configuration menus. This made the NA-1400 viewable in My Computer like any other drive, and significantly speeded the access time when it was accessed for the first time after booting up.

Noise and Power

As mentioned, the main reason to use an NAS box is to move a major source of noise away from the main system. This means that there is little point to using the NA-1400 if it will just be sitting beside the main system. To be effective, it needs to be elsewhere ... a long way from the main system. On its own, the NA-1400 was far noisier than the four drives would have been on their own; the cooling fan on the bottom was downright loud and could be heard from more than a room away. To provide any acoustic benefit, the NA-1400 needed to be locked away in a basement or a garage. It was simply too loud to be left in a room that is used with any frequency.

Newisys NA-1400: Noise & Power
Activity
SPL
Power Consumption
Idle
40 dBA@1m
42W
Heavy Seek
42 dBA@1m
44~57W

To be fair, an attempt was made to control the fan speed; the noise level increased noticeably after the box had been running for a while or during heavy use. Unfortunately, the baseline noise level was intolerable even at its quietest. Once in a while, the fan would not turn on at all until a few minutes after the power was turned on. At this time, only the idle noise from the drives could be heard. Unfortunately, this happened too infrequently to be measured, but we would estimate it at a little below 30 dBA@1m.

The noise character was dirty and unpleasant. The main source of noise was the fan, which made a grinding sound at low levels and produced a loud whine when it speeded up. A ringing resonance from the drives also faded in and out. Seek noise was very sharp and sudden, and seemed to be amplified by the metal casing. It was clearly audible, even above the drone of the fan.

Power consumption was about as low as could be expected for a box with four hard drives in it. Assuming that each drive consumed ~7 watts at idle, the chipset, fan, and efficiency losses in the power supply consumed only 14 watts. Peak power consumption occurred when the drives were under heavy activity, and was about 15 watts higher than idle. Even under heavy activity, the power consumption rarely reached its peak amounts, since the drives did not often hit their peak consumption simultaneously.

MP3 Sound Recordings of the Newisys NA-1400

Newisys NA-1400 @ Idle (40 dBA@1m)

Newisys NA-1400 @ Seek (42 dBA@1m)

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone was 3" from the edge of the fan frame at a 45¬į angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings was 18 dBA or lower.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the original), try playing the Nexus 92 fan reference recording and setting the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don't reset the volume and play the other sound files. Of course, tone controls or other effects should all be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on how to calibrate your sound system to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page four of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.


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