Seagate BlackArmor NAS 420 Review

by Reads (11,458)
  • Pros

    • Fast for a typical NAS device
    • Shares USB storage or printers
    • Hot-swappable drives
  • Cons

    • Recycle bin can be annoying
    • A little price for the space

Network attached storage, in a nutshell, is the idea of making hard drives available through a network connection. Despite solid state drives taking the spotlight in recent months, rotating magnetic storage isn’t dead yet, and still manages to offer capacities unmatched by their electronic brethren. Seagate’s new BlackArmor series of NAS boxes offer 2 – 4 TB of remote storage, and with features like hot swappable drives and automated backups, could be a great fit for your needs.  Read on for our full review.

Specifications

  • Hard drives: Two 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 drives in a RAID1 configuration
  • Drive connectivity: Four hot-swappable SATA II ports
  • Expandability: Four USB2.0 host ports (one front, three rear)
  • Networking: dual Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Supported protocols: CIFS, NFS, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, Bonjour, Microsoft RALLY
  • Network authentication: Microsoft Windows Server Active Directory
  • File system: supports RAID levels 0, 1 10, 5 and JBOD
  • Media streaming protocols: iTunes server, DLNA compliant media server
  • Remote access: Seagate Global Access Service
  • Dimensions: 6.30 x 8.15 x 10.59 inches (H x V x D)
  • Compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X (10.4.11 and later)
  • Warranty: Three-year limited warranty

The Seagate BlackArmor NAS 420 comes with two 1TB hard drives and carries a suggested retail price of $799.99. The BlackArmor NAS 440 comes with four hard drives; the 4TB model is $1199.99, the 6TB model is $1699.99 and the 8TB is $1999.99.

Build and Design
The Seagate BlackArmor NAS 420 is an imposing piece of equipment. Small but densely heavy, the unit is pretty sleek for what is essentially a business technology product. The front of the network attached storage unit is simple, with a 2-line LCD and two buttons on top, and power switch, activity lights and USB port at the bottom. The power switch and first activity light are active when the unit is up and running; the other two lights blink to show network activity on each of the BlackArmor’s two Gigabit Ethernet connections.

The small screen on top can be used to access quick bits of information about the unit: LAN IP addresses, domain and host names, drive health, volume space being used, fan speeds, drive temperatures, notable log events, USB port statuses and the unit’s date and time. The two buttons to the right scroll up and down through the list; to get more information, users can hold one of the two buttons down. It’s a nice feature that can save some time; there’s no need to fire up the web interface to check on small issues. If users lose track of the unit’s IP address, it’s easy to pick it up here. Additionally, if the BlackArmor NAS is sitting in a network room away from a terminal, the status display can be used to see which drive is bad so it can be swapped out for a fresh one.

An indentation on the left side of the unit reveals that the front of the NAS is actually a door. Opening this door reveals four drive bays with small orange buttons that let users pull the drive bays out. Thanks to the nature of SATA drives, these drives are hot swappable, so if one goes bad it can be replaced without removing access to the other drives’ data until the RAID array is rebuilt. The exception to this is RAID0; if one drive goes bad in a RAID0 array, the data on all the drives is lost. The removable bays are easy to pop out and mount new drives to before pushing the newly populated bay back into one of the slots. One small criticism is that it’s a little difficult to push an empty bay back into the device, since they’re so lightweight.

The sides and top of the unit are unremarkable save for the air intake vent on top. The rear of the device, however, reveals the rest of the storage unit’s connectivity. There are two Gigabit Ethernet ports here, granting users a fair degree of flexibility as regards network connections. It’s possible to connect the unit to two different networks or one network and a standalone computer terminal. There are three more USB 2.0 ports, the power input and a reset button in case the unit were to freeze up. The USB ports can be used to hook up external hard drives or thumb drives, then share these devices over the network.

Setup and Features
The BlackArmor line of networked storage devices are geared toward the specific needs of small business users, though Seagate managed to include a number of features that mesh well with home offices or even single home users. Just plugging the unit into a network and turning it on will set up two different shares on the network: Download and Public. These are immediately accessible by any client on the network, so even if you don’t take advantage of any of the considerable number of extra features, the unit is read to use. 

The included CD comes with two programs: Seagate BlackArmor Discovery and Seagate BlackArmor Backup. The BlackArmor Discovery is a simple utility that finds the NAS on the network, lists the available shares, and offers the ability to map drive letters to the individual networked shares. It also has buttons to manage the NAS and backup data to the unit, but these just launch the web interface and backup program, respectfully.

The idea of the web interface is showing up in more and more networked devices, and it makes it easy to modify device settings from any computer that has access to the network at large. Five large headings in the web interface give users a huge number of options to change and manage. SYSTEM manages the NAS itself: general setup, email setup, firmware updates, license management, etc. The email feature is handy especially for IT personnel; if major events happen while the NAS is powered up and connected, it can be set to send out messages to a list of pre-determined email addresses. NETWORK lets users change LAN settings and services as well as change the workgroup and dynamic DNS information, if applicable. Additionally, printer management is found here: users can connect a USB printer to one of the unit’s four USB ports and share it over the network as well, with the BlackArmor unit acting as a print manager.

The STORAGE menu lists the several disk management utilities, from the physical disk manager to the volume and share setups. USB drives can also be shared from here. One interesting feature that this NAS possesses is a built-in Recycle Bin. Similar to how the trash bin in modern operating systems works, the BlackArmor Recycle Bin is a configurable amount of space reserved for ‘deleted’ files. Anything deleted from one of the network shares is moved to a Recycle Bin folder. While this sounds like a handy feature, going back in and actually deleting the files via the web interface is hugely time consuming at best and pretty annoying at worst. ACCESS is self-explanatory, letting administrators set up individual users and groups, and setting access and permissions on an individual, folder, share or global basis.

Finally, MEDIA reveals what might be considered the most consumer-oriented features of this all-business device. Both the iTunes Server and DMS Properties are functionally the same. When activated, users can add media files: music, pictures and videos. Once copied, the BlackArmor will move them from wherever users copied them to and place them into set public folders. It works surprisingly well and moves the files almost instantaneously. Even in a business setting, this utility could be useful for letting admins crack down on heavy media storage by certain users.

The second bundled utility, BlackArmor Backup, lets users quickly and easily start backing up both specific folders and files or whole partitions or drives. You can also specify just email or just certain application settings instead. The drives can be backed up in a fairly short time; the 30GB SSD in my laptop was fully imaged in just over half an hour. Keep in mind that this is over a network connection. Future backups can be incremental, and the BlackArmor utility can install itself as a Windows service, set to automatically back information up on a set schedule without any required input on behalf of the user. The system works very well; I was a little surprised at how easy it was to manage. The NAS comes with a 10-client license for the backup features. Additional licenses can be purchased in a 2-pack for $49.95 or 5-pack for $99.95. Seagate also partners with Acronis to provide discounts to their data archival tools at a reduced rate.

Performance
While a Gigabit network has a theoretical maximum throughput of 1000Gbps, or 125MBps, these rates are almost never realized in the real world. In fact, one of the fastest NAS devices we’ve tested to date had a maximum read speed of under 40MBps. Fortunately the BlackArmor is even faster. Sequential write speeds averaged around 24 megabytes per second in ‘real-world’ testing, with read speeds being much higher at around 54 megabytes per second. These speeds are averages, as the actual rate can vary wildly depending on the size and number of files being copied. Copying hundreds of files only 4 kilobytes in size, for example, dropped the rate down to about a megabyte per second instead.

Atto is one of the standard synthetic benchmarks we use to test storage devices. How well did the BlackArmor 420 fare against other external storage we’ve tested? Very well, in fact. It’s now become the fastest NAS we’ve had in the office to date.

Seagate BlackArmor NAS 420


Western Digital My Book World Edition

Iomega StorCenter ix2

WD My Book Mirror Edition USB External Drive

Power draw for the BlackArmor was manageable as well. With the included two drives, the unit used a constant 24 watts of power. Compared to a full size computer sharing drives on a network, this is a pretty substantial power savings.

Conclusion
The Seagate BlackArmor series of network attached storage devices is a powerful set of tools designed for small business to centralize and safeguard their data. Fortunately, however, the units are very easy to use for anything comfortable with computers; an important aspect since many small businesses and especially home offices don’t come with much in the way of IT support. The BA 420 was fast when reading and writing data, for a NAS, and the ability to share both USB storage and printers is a very valuable feature. A few aspects of the device could use some tweaking, though, such as the recycle bin manager. It’s very time consuming to purge the files or even just sort through if you’ve deleted more than a few dozen. Additionally, when portable USB storage is being shared on the network, you can’t just remove the device from the NAS when finished without risking the files you’d copied over. Instead, you need to go into the web interface and safely remove the device, just like within Windows itself.

Despite these two very small facts, the BlackArmor NAS 420 is an excellent and feature-filled server. Whether you’re a small business looking for a new way to manage important data or a home office looking for something a little more robust than typical consumer offerings, the BlackArmor is a well-designed, easy-to-use device and we highly recommend it.

Pros

  • Fast for a typical NAS device
  • Shares USB storage or printers
  • Hot-swappable drives

Cons

  • Recycle bin can be annoying
  • A little price for the space

 


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