ReadyNAS Ultra 6: A Beta Tester’s Review

The ReadyNAS Ultra Series is the most recent addition to NetGear’s ReadyNAS line of NAS (Network Attached Storage) Products. So far the Ultra 4 (4-bay unit) and Ultra 6 (6-bay unit) have been released with a 2-bay unit the Ultra 2 due in November and a faster 6-bay unit, the Ultra 6 Plus also due to be released in November.

Background

My first ReadyNAS purchase was a ReadyNAS NV+. I found the NV+ great for storing my files and sharing them wirelessly with devices across my network. I was impressed with the device and realised that storing data on a single device is not a backup, so I purchased another NV+ to use as a backup to my main NV+. This setup works great for me.

So why have the Ultra Series?

The ReadyNAS NV+ is a great product with a great range of features. However with only minor differences compared with the NV released back in early 2006, the NV+ is not a fast NAS anymore. Whilst it was originally targeted at business users, with speeds in the 20-40 MB/s range over gigabit ethernet, it’s now targeted at entry level home users.

Of course, NetGear has released newer models since the ReadyNAS NV+. The ReadyNAS Pro, a 6-bay ReadyNAS, that is king of the desktop ReadyNAS line performance wise, and the ReadyNAS NVX, a 4-bay ReadyNAS are both great improvements over the ReadyNAS NV+. However these were introduced at price points that clearly indicated an intended market of business users, with home versions (the Pioneer) released later in reaction to unexpected demand from home users for the devices.

Whilst the NVX and the Pro are faster than the NV+, both consume more energy. With rising electricity prices and increasing costs of living, not to mention environmental concerns about energy usage, many would like to have the best of both worlds. A good balance between high performance and low energy usage. The ReadyNAS Ultra Series provides this. The Ultra 4 has slightly less energy usage than the NV+, whilst the Ultra 6 still uses more. The Ultra 4 and Ultra 6 are more power efficient than the NVX and Pro respectively.

First impressions of the ReadyNAS Ultra 6

With my main NV+ filling up earlier this year, I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that I need a new ReadyNAS for extra space. When the opportunity came along I jumped at the chance of testing a new ReadyNAS product. I soon learned that it was targeted at Advanced Home Users and received a diskless ReadyNAS Ultra 6 unit to test. Apart from the colour of the casing, the ReadyNAS Ultra 6 looks much the same as the ReadyNAS Pro. The ReadyNAS Ultra has a dark metallic charcoal coloured casing as opposed to the black casing of the Pro.

Initial setup

When I received the unit, I simply connected the supplied network cable up to my router, put a disk in the NAS and turned the NAS on. The NAS formatted the disk and set it up using the default X-RAID2 configuration found on x86 ReadyNAS. I didn’t have to wait long for the OS to be installed before I was able to open Frontview (the ReadyNAS web interface) and take a look around. One of the great things about the ReadyNAS line is, as NetGear puts it: “Regardless of whether you’re using a 2-bay ReadyNAS Duo or a 12-bay ReadyNAS 4200, the user interface remains consistent. Once you’ve used one ReadyNAS, you already know how to use them all.”

Moving from a ReadyNAS NV+ to a ReadyNAS Ultra 6

The NV+ is on the Sparc platform and the ReadyNAS Ultra 6 on the newer x86 platform. Unfortunately you can’t move the disks across from a NV+ to a ReadyNAS Ultra 6 and keep data intact. One of the focuses of my testing was moving from a Sparc ReadyNAS to a x86 ReadyNAS and I’ve written an easy to follow Unofficial Guide for Moving from Sparc ReadyNAS to x86 ReadyNAS on how to do this.

Performance

I was impressed with the speed of the unit. Not only was the web interface quicker, but using X-RAID2 dual-redundancy (similar to RAID-6 and like RAID-6 available on 6-bay or greater x86 ReadyNAS) with six SeaGate ST31500341AS 1.5TB disks I achieved an internal disk benchmark DD result in excess of 110 MB/s using super-poussin’s Bonnie++ add-on. The ReadyNAS Ultra 6 can do much more than the NV+. Whilst the NV+ is good as a basic file server, it’s Infrant Sparc CPU is fairly slow by today’s standards. The ReadyNAS Ultra has an Intel Atom processor giving it the horsepower to do much more, whilst at the same time still being energy efficient.

It’s so fast that my MacBook could not keep up with it over gigabit LAN. The hard drive in my laptop is the bottleneck.

Media Streaming

In the 21st century, digital media collections are becoming more and more prevalent. Not only have we had the iPod craze (where people have moved to storing digitally their Music and playing this back on a portable mp3 player such as Apple’s iPod), more and more, the Advanced Home User is storing video (such as home movies) electronically as well.

With the ReadyNAS Ultra targeted firmly at the Advanced Home User, NetGear saw the importance of not just making the Ultra a great place to centrally store media, but as a device to stream that media from as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an iPhone/iPod/iPad yet, so I was unable to test Orb, but I was able to test Skifta. Skifta allows you to stream media from your ReadyNAS at home to a UPNP/DLNA device at a remote location. I was able to give this a try. Though it understandably didn’t work properly with my slow, unreliable internet connection, it showed great promise to be really useful in the future (I wish I had a fibre internet connection). Accessing a vast media collection away from home without having to take it all with you is a great feature.

The ReadyNAS Ultra also has a nice feature for archiving non-DRM protected shows recorded on a TiVo. TiVo‘s have limited hard drive space and this feature allows you to automatically backup videos to a ReadyNAS and play them back on demand. TiVo missed the boat in my country in my opinion. I use EyeTV tuner sticks hooked up to Mac Minis and don’t like how locked down TiVo boxes are here (ad-skipping is not allowed). However for those who’ve come to love the TiVo, I’m sure the TiVo archiving feature will be very welcome.

Sure these media features are also available on the ReadyNAS NVX and ReadyNAS Pro, but they were introduced primarily with the ReadyNAS Ultra Series in mind. These features take advantage of the fast CPU found in the Ultra.

What I like about the ReadyNAS Ultra Series – Keeping data safe.

The ReadyNAS Ultra 6 shares the same boot menu found on the ReadyNAS Pro, and likewise also has a display that shows important information such as the status of disks. This boot menu is a great improvement over the one found on the ReadyNAS NV+. There is also a nice new feature, the “Test Disks” boot option useful for testing the disks before replacing/adding disks. This will help identify failing disks, before it’s too late.

The ReadyNAS Ultra has the option to schedule an Online File system Consistency Check and Disk Scrubbing with Auto Parity disk. Scheduled during off-peak usage periods these are designed to detect problems before they become serious. With the Disk Scrubbing in particular, the fast CPU in the Ultra 6 is of great help. The ReadyNAS NV+ just isn’t fast enough to make Disk Scrubbing practical.

Whilst these great features help look after your data, they don’t eliminate the need for backups e.g. to a USB disk or another ReadyNAS, but they do mean that you are less likely to need to restore from backup.

What I like about the ReadyNAS Ultra Series – Great build quality

Whilst the ReadyNAS Ultra Series lacks business features such as Active Directory for integration with a Windows Domain, the hardware is built to an enterprise standard. It runs a customised form of Debian Linux optimised for the ReadyNAS hardware and in my experience runs reliably 24×7 just like my ReadyNAS NV+. Linux is an incredibly stable and efficient operating system and NetGear has done a great job to make it work well with the ReadyNAS hardware. Only needing to reboot to install updates is great.

Protecting the ReadyNAS with a UPS and thus safe shutdowns

My ReadyNAS NV+ is connected to a UPS from the compatibility list for greater peace of mind. With USB monitoring, it is shutdown safely in the event of an extended power failure by my UPS. I also have the ReadyNAS NV+ configured to share the UPS monitoring over my network with the ReadyNAS Ultra 6 as well. The UPS battery is so good that the ReadyNAS haven’t had to shutdown during a power failure yet. I even had a power failure of about an hour recently and the UPS battery was sufficient to keep two ReadyNAS and a couple of routers running for that time. Of course depending on your needs you can purchase a much lower end UPS. The ReadyNAS only needs about a minute or so, to shutdown safely.

iSCSI – another great feature

Network protocols such as CIFS/SMB (Windows File Sharing), AFP (Apple Filing Protocol), etc. are great for sharing files, but some programs are not written to work with a network drive. iSCSI allows you to mount a volume stored on the ReadyNAS as if it was a local disk. With the fast speed of the ReadyNAS Ultra 6, you can work with huge volumes of data stored on iSCSI volumes and not be able to tell the difference between working with them on your local disk. It’s an awesome feature.

Backups

The ReadyNAS Ultra 6 has the same comprehensive Frontview Backup as found on all other ReadyNAS. I’m a big fan of using Rsync to backup NAS to NAS, but this is CPU intensive as it compares files on the source and destination and only copies the changes to files across. I’ve noticed this is much quicker using the ReadyNAS Ultra 6. With a growing data collection, keeping backup times to a minimum is very important to me.

As the ReadyNAS Ultra, like the ReadyNAS Pro (but not the NVX) is a 64-bit x86 ReadyNAS, it has a 4TB limit for Time Machine. This is double the 2TB limit on the NV+. Using Time Machine on my Macs, my data is automatically backed up wirelessly to the ReadyNAS! No need to think about using USB disks with each of my Macs or backing up using lots of CDs/DVDs!

What’s more, if the hard disk in a Mac fails, you can put a new hard disk in and easily restore from a Time Machine backup! Or if you spill some coffee by mistake onto your Mac, you can even buy a new Mac and restore onto that and then keep working with all your applications and data as if nothing had gone wrong!

Much more

With its fast CPU, there is a vast range of applications for the ReadyNAS Ultra. There is a vast collection of community add-ons available on the ReadyNAS forum. Whilst I haven’t tried many of these, you can do a wide variety of things such as managing the files on your ReadyNAS using a File Manager, downloading Torrents using Transmission, providing extra ways to monitor your ReadyNAS e.g. using the iStat app on your iPhone, or even to host a website with a WordPress blog! This is just a few of the many things you can do.

Which ReadyNAS is right for you?

I hope this guide has helped you decide which ReadyNAS to purchase. If you need help deciding which ReadyNAS to purchase please ask for advice on the ReadyNAS forum. You can also learn more about the ReadyNAS Ultra Series, such as specifications from its Definitive Guide. You can compare the features of various ReadyNAS models using the Comparison Charts.

Recommendation

This is an excellent product for advanced home users. I give it a rating of 10/10.

Disclaimer

As a ReadyNAS Ultra 6 beta tester, I received a free RNDU6000 (Diskless) unit to test. Please take this into account before making a product purchase. This review is based on my use of the product and I hope you find it helpful.

Category: Reviews 8 comments »

8 Responses to “ReadyNAS Ultra 6: A Beta Tester’s Review”

  1. Les Greenberg

    Thanks for the completeness of your review. We have happily used an NV+ for two years and am now considering an upgrade.

  2. Camden

    Great review!!

    One clarification please: When you say, “Using Time Machine on my Macs, my data is automatically backed up wirelessly!” Do you mean that you’re able to back up to the ReadyNAS wirelessly?

    I currently have an Apple Time Capsule to do that because I thought it was the only way to do the backups *wirelessly*. Are you saying that you can back up with Time Machine to the ReadyNAS wirelessly?

  3. mdgm

    Yes. I sure can. I followed the instructions at http://www.readynas.com/TimeMachine

    I much prefer backing up my Macs to a ReadyNAS than backing up to a Time Capsule. The Time Capsule has a single non-user replaceable drive. Whereas the ReadyNAS has multiple drives and X-RAID2 provides redundancy so that if a disk fails you don’t lose your backups. It would be a shame if a single disk failure meant you lost all your backups. I backup my ReadyNAS (including Time Machine backups) occasionally to another ReadyNAS which I then take off-site for protection against theft, fire, data corruption etc.

    Then there’s also performance to consider. Many ReadyNAS models are much faster than the Time Capsule. For example the Ultra 6 comes pretty close to saturating gigabit ethernet. Ethernet is good for the initial full backup and if you ever need to restore your entire Mac from Time Machine or even restore onto a new machine from Time Machine.

  4. Bashar

    I have a small question, is this product good for saving files in case of any hard drive failure?
    Is it a hardware or software RAID device?

    Regards.

  5. mdgm

    Good question Bashar. The default single-redundancy configuration protects against a single disk failure. The optional dual-redundancy configuration protects against two disk failures. There are a range of problems that RAID cannot protect you against, so if you primarily store important data on any device whether it uses RAID or not, you should back it up. See RAID is not a backup

    Like all other x86 ReadyNAS, the ReadyNAS Ultra 6 uses software RAID.

  6. Peter Cook

    I have been a Drobo user for the last 2 years, until last
    night with no issues…. The Power supply seems to have failed so I
    am looking at a replacement and the Ultra 6 looks like a great
    option. Question, if I build it initially with 4 disks, can I add
    additional disks on the fly, similiar to the Drobo or will I need
    to reconfigure the array?

  7. mdgm

    Good question Peter. You can add additional disks to expand your array if using the default X-RAID2.

    Be aware that the ReadyNAS will need to wipe your disks before it can use them so if using used disks be sure to backup the data on them first

  8. tuxdelux

    Probably the best READYNAS FILEMANAGERS: XNC (free and open source) and Midnight Commander!
    I wasted almost a day looking for a decent filemanager to manage the data on my Readynas Ultra and the attached USB-drives. Moving GigaBytes of files around with the Windows Explorer was just to slow as the files would move from the NAS to the PC and then all the way back to the NAS. The same problem goes for the ftp browsers or HTTP browsers. To move the data only localy on the NAS, the filemanager itself should run ON the NAS itself while the Input and Output should be on my PC. I tried all the ReadyNas community PHP-solutions available like AjaXplorer, ExtPlorer, PHP-navigator etc. but it was a pain in the 😉
    I knew that the X-windows filemanager xfm or even the good old Midnight Commander (mc) would be just perfect but couldn’t get them installed with apt-get. But then I discovered xnc. !!! EUREKA !!!
    Simply installable as root from the shell on you NAS: “ReadyNas:~#apt-get install xnc” . Then run it as admin or root on your Nas: ReadyNas:~#xnc – display your.pc.ip.address:0 and star moving files around on you NAS. Of course you’ll need an X-server on your PC. I used Xming with the Xming-fonts. See http://www.straightrunning.com/XmingNotes for more info but any other X-server will do.
    After playing around with xnc, I tried the apt-get nstall mc again and this time it was successfull. To uninstall just replace “ap-get install” by “apt-get –purge remove”.


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