D-Link DNS-323 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure Review

Nemo - 2008-11-30 19:28:16 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: Nemo   
Reviewed on: January 1, 2009
Price: $209.99

Introduction:

Storage comes in many different formats these days, from flash drives you can carry around in your pocket to massive enterprise storage area network arrays. As our lives become more media-centric, so does our need to have a repository for all those movies, photos and music files. There are many options for increasing storage space, from buying additional and larger internal drives for your computer to adding external drive enclosures. Often though, just having plenty of room to squirrel away all your digital goodies isn't the best solution. After all, what's the point of having all those media files if you can't share them with other devices on your network or even other users across the Internet?

The solution to that problem is a network attached storage (NAS) appliance. Although originally intended for enterprise class storage applications, NAS devices have evolved to the point where they are relatively compact and easy to manage and perfectly suited for SOHO and home networks. NAS units contain disk drives and connect to your network using an Ethernet cable allowing that storage to be accessed by anyone on the network. More than just a box to hold hard drives, NAS devices are miniature servers in themselves, generally running some form of embedded Linux and offering a wide range of features.

The D-Link DNS-323 is a two-bay NAS device capable of holding two SATA drives in a space not much larger than three paperback books stacked together. But don't let its small size fool you. The DNS-323 has many features normally found on units twice its size. But can this little box deliver when it comes to features and performance? There's only one way to find out!

Closer Look:

The review unit showed up in a sturdy cardboard box that arrived relatively unscathed. Opening the box up showed the DNS-323 nestled snuggly next to two separate boxes each containing a hard drive. The shipping box was obviously designed for just this purpose because the fit was so good, no additional packaging material was required. The actual box containing the DNS-323 displays the normal marketing information with a picture of the unit on the front of the box and the rear of the box depicting the functionality and how it might fit in to a normal home network. The ends of the box are used to list the features of the DNS-323 and the package contents and system requirements. No hard drives are included in the box.

 

 

Opening the box shows the protective molded cardboard cap protecting the top of the unit. Under that, the NAS box itself is wrapped in protective plastic and sitting in a second cardboard form. Stowed beneath the bottom tray are all the accessories including a power cord, the external power supply, a Cat-5e Ethernet cable along with a quick installation guide and a CD containing a full version of the user manual, the Easy Search setup utility and a copy of the Memeo backup software.

 

 

 

Extracting the DNS-323 from the box reveals a fairly compact unit that is surprising sturdy and well built. Except for the front cover, the enclosure is all metal with a matte black finish. The front panel sports a vinyl sticker with instructions on how to remove the cover to gain access to the internal drive bays and is easily removed (no sticky residue here). The front cover itself is heavy plastic that simply snaps onto the enclosure. There is a square power button in the middle sporting the D-Link logo and is backlit around the edges with a blue LED. Three more blue LED indicators grace the front panel along the bottom edge – a hard drive icon for each of the two drives to indicate drive status and activity and a center icon for network status and activity. The back of the unit has two drive ejection levers on the outboard sides with a 40mm cooling fan in the middle. Along the bottom from left to right we see the power connection, the RJ45 network connection socket and a USB 2.0 connection. Flipping the unit on its side to have a look at the bottom of the case, you'll notice that instead of feet at each corner, the DNS-323 has two rubber rails running the length of the case and a graphic describing the functions of the back panel.

 

 

Next, we need to install a pair of hard drives and configure the DNS-323 so we can see how well this unit performs.

 

Installation:

The DNS-323 is a BYOD (Bring Your Own Disks) device, which means it ships without drives. You will need to supply at least one 3.5” SATA drive of any size. You access the drive bays via the front of the unit. Removing the front panel is a simple matter of sliding the panel upwards and pulling it toward you. Once removed, you see the bays where the drives are installed with the SATA backpanel in the rear. You'll also notice the chassis allows for enough air space in between the two drives to assist in cooling. To give you an idea of just how compact this NAS device is, it's a little taller and about the same width as three paperback novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now, it's obvious the DNS-323 uses a tray-less mounting system. It's important to line the drive connections up correctly by making sure they are on the lower left side before inserting the drives. Mounting the drives is as easy as inserting a tape into a VCR; they just slide into the bay and seat into the backpanel with a gentle push. Once firmly in place, the front of the drives should be flush with the front of the chassis frame. At this point I noticed there was a small amount of play in the drives, allowing the front of the drives to wiggle a bit since they are not mounted using any type of hardware, but are only held in place by the friction of the power and data connections on the rear of the drive. This could be a real issue and put a lot of stress on the connections whenever the unit is moved. My fears were alleviated once I replaced the front cover, though, as I noticed there was no longer any drive moment and everything felt rock solid. The secret is in a rather ingenious design on the back of the front cover that employs a pair of tensioning springs that press firmly against the drives, holding them securely in place. The springs also act to keep the front cover in place – grasping the cover doesn't give the impression that it will accidentally come off. Removing a drive is a simple process of removing the front cover and activating the drive ejection lever on the rear of the chassis by placing your finger behind the lever and pulling down. Warning: The DNS-323 does not support hot-swap drives, so the unit must be powered down before removing a drive. Also be careful to remove the front cover prior to ejecting the drive and make sure you return the drive eject lever to the up position before attempting to replace a drive. Once the drives are installed you need to reinstall the front cover by reversing the removal process and you're good to go. The added weight of the drives give the unit an even sturdier and solid feel. The entire drive installation process is quite simple and straightforward and took under a minute to complete the entire process.

 

 

 

The final stage of the installation process is to connect the unit to your network using the included Ethernet cable. The DNS-323 is capable of connecting at either 10/100/1000 Mb/s speeds. Connecting to a Gigabit Ethernet network requires a Cat-5e/Cat-6 cable for optimal performance and I was pleased to see the included cable was rated at Cat-5e. Once connected to the network, the external power supply can be connected to the back of the box and plugged into the wall outlet. When the power button on the front panel is pressed, the unit will go through the boot-up process and the power button will flash until the process is complete.

Configuration:

Initial configuration of the DNS-323 begins by inserting the included startup CD into your optical drive and waiting for the startup page to appear and then clicking on the Easy Search Utility option on the navigation bar. The Easy Search utility detects all the DNS-323 devices on the network and displays them in a window along with the server name and network address information. If you have a router or other DHCP server, the unit should have its own IP address. However, if there is no DHCP server, the unit will automatically assign itself an IP address of 192.168.0.32. This screen also allows you to assign a static IP address as well as assign a mapped drive letter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have the DNS-323 connected to a router, it should automatically be assigned an IP address and you can skip to the Web GUI configuration step. However, for testing purposes, I will be using a direct connection to the NAS server and need to assign a static IP address. This is simply a matter of highlighting the NAS server in the top window and then entering the network address specifics in the middle frame as shown. Also note that since this is a new install there is no volume created and you will not be able to assign a drive letter yet. Next we need to configure a volume on the DNS-323 using the web-based GUI. To access the interface, make sure you have clicked on the server name in the top window and then click the Configuration button on the right. This launches a web page in your browser and you can log in using the default user id of 'admin' and leave the password blank. Once that is taken care of click on the Configuration button.

 

 

 

Once the format is complete you need to restart the DNS-323 by clicking on the restart button. You'll see a prompt warning you to wait while the system reboots and a final screen showing you the reboot status. At this point you have created a volume on your NAS called 'Volume_1', which by default is available to anyone on the network with read and write privileges. Once the volume has been created you can use the D-Link Easy Search Utility to map a drive letter to the volume. As before, you can access this from the setup CD and highlight the DNS-323 unit in the top window and you should now see the volume you created in the window at the bottom. Click on 'Volume_1', choose an available drive letter and click the Connect button. If you did everything correctly you should get a confirmation message that the drive has been mapped.

First, make sure the drives you installed are correctly detected by the software. In this case we see the two 500GB Seagate drives I'll be using for testing. Now it's time to set up the drives and you'll have a couple of decisions to make. The DNS-323 supports four different hard drive configurations: Standard (each hard drive is configured as a separate volume), JBOD, or Just a Bunch of Disks, (the two drives are configured as a single large volume), RAID 0 (also known as striping where two identical drives are set up as one larger drive) and RAID 1 (also known as mirroring where one drive maintains a copy of the other drive). The pros and cons of each type of setup are outside the scope of our review but a concise explanation can be found in The Official OCC RAID Guide, Version 2.0. While the first two configurations, Standard and JBOD, are not technically RAID types, they are all listed together on one page. If you had installed only one drive, the Standard configuration would be the only option available to you. The DNS-323, running firmware version 1.05 or greater, will allow you to install a single drive initially and migrate to a RAID 1 setup later if you wish (more on that later). In this case, I am going to set up a RAID 1 configuration by selecting the RAID 1 radio button and clicking Next. The following screen asks you to choose how much space to allocate to the volume. You can allocate all or only a portion to the volume, with any left over being configured as a JBOD (non-mirrored) volume. Now, before you wonder why we only see half the total drive space available (498GB is roughly half the total of two 500GB drives), remember that RAID 1 uses one drive as a copy of the first, so you give up half your total space for the sake of redundancy. We're going to choose to allocate all of the space to the RAID 1 volume. Once you hit the Next button, you'll get a pop-up dialog warning you that what you're about to do will erase all the data on the drive and give you a chance to halt the process. Clicking OK will begin the formatting process denoted by a screen with a progress bar.

 

 

 

 

Once the format is complete you need to restart the DNS-323 by clicking on the restart button. You'll see a prompt warning you to wait while the system reboots and a final screen showing you the reboot status. At this point you have created a volume on your NAS called 'Volume_1', which, by default, is available to anyone on the network with read and write privileges. Once the volume has been created can use the D-Link Easy Search Utility to map a drive letter to the volume. As before, you can access this from the setup CD and highlight the DNS-323 unit in the top window and you should now see the volume you created in the window at the bottom. Click on 'Volume_1', choose an available drive letter and click the Connect button. If you did everything correctly you should get a confirmation message that the drive has been mapped.

 

At this point, the storage unit is ready to go. A lot of users might stop here because they find they can use the unit to store files without any further work. However, they would be cheating themselves so now let's take a look at some of the other features offered by the DNS-323.

Configuration:

Now that the DNS-323 is set-up using all the factory default settings, it's time to tweak the settings and turn on any additional features offered by the unit. All of the management functions for the DNS-323 are handled through a web-based user interface. The devices includes its own built-in web server for this purpose and all you need to do is point your browser to the DNS-323 home page. You could launch the Easy Search Utility from the setup CD and then choose the configuration button as we did earlier. Another way is to type the DNS-323 server name into the browser's address bar. Either way, once at the login page you'll need to enter the default user name of 'admin' and leave the password blank.

The web UI management tool is divided into six main categories:
Setup – here you can use the setup wizard to walk you through changing the most common settings needed by the DNS-323, change the LAN settings and device and workgroup names.
Advanced – this section enables you set up users and groups, usage quotas and define access to particular folders on the unit. This is also where you can define the settings for the FTP server, UPnP AV server, iTunes server, DHCP server and enable LLTD (Link Layer Topology Discovery).
Tools – this is where you can change the configuration for the administrator account and the time and system settings. You can also set up e-mail alerts, set the power management options, change the RAID configuration and set up links to a DDNS service.
Status – this page contains a summary of the status of the DNS-323.
Support – contains links to the DNS-323 help files.
Logout – logs out of the web UI.

 

Setup:

The Setup tab contain options to set the basic options on the DNS-323, many of which were configured in the previous section. The Wizard option walks you through configuring the basic settings for your unit such as the password for the administrator account, setting the time and time zone, setting the LAN connection information (which was already done during the initial setup) and changing the default settings for the workgroup and device name. For Windows users, its probably a good idea to set the workgroup name to the same name as the rest of the computers on the network. All of the configuration items in the wizard are available on other pages if you need to change them later.

 

 

 

 

The LAN section contains the network address settings as we seen before, but it also has options to set the link speed and an option to enable jumbo frames and set the MTU size. The last section, Device, is where you can change the workgroup name, device name and description. The device name is how it will appear on the network and the default is 'dlink-' followed by the last six digits of the MAC address. While that assures a unique name on a network where there could be multiple DNS-323 devices, you might want to change it to something a little more descriptive.

 

 

Now we move on to the meaty part of the setup – setting up users and quotas and enabling some of the more advanced features of the DNS-323.

Configuration:

 

Advanced:


Many users may stop after the initial setup process when they find they can use the DNS-323 as it is, but at this point the entire volume is available to anyone that has access to the network. The DNS-323 offers various options to increase the security of your data by creating users and groups, establishing usage quotas and assigning permissions to those entities. In addition, you can enable other features to share fires over the Internet, stream media across the network to a multimedia player and set up an iTunes server.

Users / Groups, Quotas and Network Access
Setting up users and groups is the key to securing files on the DNS-323. The Users / Groups page allows you to create users and groups. Groups are collections of users that allow you to set file and folder permissions without having to grant access to each user. For example, you could create user accounts for all the testers and assign them to the testers group then give the group access to the appropriate folders.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have users and groups defined you can click on the Quotas option to allocate how much space each user is allowed to use. Initially all users/groups have unlimited space allocated and you can change that for either individual users, groups or both. Quotas are defined in MB, so 1000MB would be a gigabyte of space on the drive. You can also enable or disable the quota system as needed.

 

The final piece to the puzzle is defining the files and folders available to each group or user. Initially all users have read/write access to the entire volume. This could be dangerous so you can assign Network Access by user or group.

 

 

If all you want to do is use the DNS-323 for file storage this would be the end of the configuration process and you could skip over the rest of this page. However, you would be cheating yourself as the DNS-323 offers additional features to extend the functionality of your NAS server.

FTP Server

The DNS-323 can be configured to act as a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server so you can make files and folders on the box available via the Internet. This gives you the capability to access your data when you are away from home as well being able to share files with others. Unless you want to give everyone access to you data via anonymous login (probably not a good idea) you will need to have configured users as shown above. Setting up the DNS-323 for FTP access involves selecting which users can log in and which folders and the type of access (read/write) they have via FTP. In order to make this all work, you will also need to know how to forward ports on your router. All of this is covered in the manual included on the setup CD.

 

 

UPnP AV, iTunes and DHCP Servers

The DNS-323 features several additional server functions the first of which is a Univeral Plug and Play (UpnP) AV server which provides the ability to stream multimedia files to any UPnP media player on the network. Once enabled, the DNS-323 will be automatically detected by compatible players. The next server functionality is the ability to act as an iTunes server that allows the DNS-323 to share music and videos with other computers running iTunes. Once you've specified the folder containing your files, you can launch iTunes and it will detect the DNS-323 and show the files available. The DNS-323 can also act as a (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server to automatically assign IP address to network devices. This capability should only be used if there is no other DHCP server, such as a router, on your network. The final feature, new to the latest version of the firmware, is the capability to enable Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) that allows the DNS-323 to be discovered by Windows Vista and show up on Vista's network map.

 

 

 

 

If you were the comedian Tim Allen, right now you would be asking "Do you know what time it is?" and we'd all shout back "It's Tool Time!". So let's move on to the Tools tab where you take care of some of the housekeeping and maintenance chores.

Configuration:

 

Tools:

 

The Tools tab allows to make certain configuration changes that affect the basic settings of the DNS-323 and generally fall into the category of set once and forget.

 

Admin Password:

The DNS-323 ships with a default administrator account with user name of ' admin' and no password. It's a really good idea to assign a strong password to your unit and not leave it blank. Unfortunately, the DNS-323 does not allow you to change the default administrator user name to something less obvious.

 

Time:

During the setup process it's imperative you set the correct time on the DNS-323 so that files get the proper timestamp whenever they're changed or saved. If you used the Wizard during the setup process, you should already have the correct time zone selected. However, this page is where you can set the time using one of several options and designate whether to automatically adjust for Daylight Savings Time. Most of the choices are rather self-explanatory, however we'll briefly discuss the use of the network time protocol (NTP) server option. Using a NTP server will automatically synchronize the time on the unit to a server over the Internet and will periodically update the time to keep it as accurate as possible. The DNS-323 gives you the option of choosing one of two pre-defined servers or you can key in one of your own choosing.

 

System:

This page allows you to restart or shut down the system remotely, a handy feature if the device is located somewhere besides right next to your computer. You can also restore the unit to factory default settings, store the current configuration settings to a file and set the inactivity timeout parameters.

 

Firmware:

D-Link updates the firmware controlling the feature set of the DNS-323 and you can apply those changes to the unit from this page. It is important to note that you can render the unit unusable if you do this incorrectly and there is always the risk of data loss so make sure you back up your data before proceeding.

 

 

 

 

E-mail Alerts:

The DNS-323 can be configured to send e-mail alerts for various events such as out of space, hard drive failures and other system status messages. It can also be configured to report over temperature conditions and shut down the unit to prevent overheating.

 

Power Management:

The unit can be configured to go into low-power mode after a certain period of inactivity, resulting in additional power savings. The device will automatically wake up when any activity is detected.

 

RAID:

We visited this page during the initial setup process. You can change the configuration of the drives here. The latest version of the firmware also added the capability to add a second drive and configure both drives as a RAID 1 array without losing your data. Any other changes to the hard drive configuration will result in loss of all data, so exercise caution when using this function.

 

DDNS:

Most home and small office users have a dynamic IP address assigned by their Internet service provider. This means the actual address used to get to your computer from outside the network can change from time to time. Dynamic DNS (DDNS) is used to make your DNS-323 available over the Internet using a domain name and a dynamic DNS service. There are several providers available that offer this service for free and D-Link offers a free and easy way to sign up for free service through a link on this page.

 

 

 

Let's move on to the last couple of pages in the Configuration section.

Configuration:

The last two tabs in the configuration section of the web UI allow you to check on the status and health of the DNS-323 and to get a quick overview of the help topics in each section. Clicking on the Status tab presents you with an overview of the device information including LAN information, device and workgroup names and volume information including hard drive capacity and used and available space. Two items to note are the system temperature information under the Device Info section and the Printer Info Section. The DNS-323 can be used as a print server using the USB port on the rear of the unit. There is no capability of viewing the print queue or control what is being printed other than clearing the print queue from this page.

 

The Support tab offers a quick link to help topics for each of the items in the Setup, Tools and Advanced tabs covered above. This is a helpful way to get information without resorting to the user manual, although each of these items is covered in more detail there.

 

 

 

We have a couple more items to cover and those have to do with the downloading capabilities of the DNS-323 including scheduled downloads and using the built-in BitTorrent manager.

 

Configuration:

The DNS-323 offers two options for automating downloads either by using the download scheduler or through the BitTorrent manager. You can use the download feature to schedule file and folder downloads from FTP and Web servers as well as local network shares. The DNS-323 also features a built-in BitTorrent manager to enable you to download files using the BitTorrent protocol as well as seed files for others to download. In order to access these features, you will need to log on to the Web UI and select the Downloads button on the bottom right of the dialog.

Schedule Downloads:

The download scheduler allows basic downloads of files or folders from external entities such as FTP and Web servers as well as downloads from local network shares. This gives you a rudimentary backup capability without using third-party software. The Scheduling page is accessed via the left-hand navigation menu and allows you to enter the login credentials and choose whether to download a file or folder and specify the source and target destinations. Once that is complete, you can choose the date and time to start the download and whether this is to be a one-time or recurring download. The bottom of the screen shows the status of any downloads you have defined. The downloads will occur at the time specified or you can choose to start the down load immediately. One thing to note is that downloads from external sources will occur and overwrite any files and folders with the same name in the target destination. If you choose the Local option as the source, meaning a volume on the DNS-323, you can select the Incremental Backup checkbox which will cause the download to check the timestamps on the source and target destinations and only overwrite files when the source has a newer time on it.

There is also a Status option that displays the same information as the status section on the Scheduling page, minus all the schedule setting details.

 

 

 

 

 

BitTorrent:

New to the latest firmware version of the DNS-323 is the inclusion of a BitTorrent download manager. When you click on the BitTorrent tab you are presented with a screen where you can specify the torrent to download by either specify a URL or a file location. Choosing the Add Torrent From File option allows you to use a Browse button to navigate to the location of the file containing the torrent specifications. Once you specify the torrent and click the Add button, you can manually start the download using the Start arrow to the left of the torrent name. There is a progress bar that will display the status of the download. You can also click on the More Details option to see information on number of seeds and peers along with other pertinent information. The DNS-323 will also automatically begin seeding the downloaded files as well. There is a Settings option that enables to set the basic settings for the BitTorrent client including the port to use, set up bandwidth limits for uploads and downloads and several options to determine how you wish to seed the file.

 

 

 

Finally, there is a Support tab offering access to basic help information.

 

Now that we've had a chance to walk through all the configuration options the DNS-323 offers, it's time to check out the specifications and feature list.

Specifictions:

 Model Number  DNS-323
 Hardware Version  B1
 Firmware Version  1.05
 External Interface  10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet Port
 Jumbo Frame Support  Up to 9000 bytes MTU
 Additional Ports  USB print server port
 HDD Size  2 x 3.5" SATA Drives (not included)
 Drive Capacity  Up to 1TB drive
 CPU  500 MHz Marvell 88F5181
 Memory  64MB
 Flash  8MB
 IDE Controller  Marvell 88X7042
 NIC  Marvell 88E1111
 OS
 Linux 2.6.12.6
 File System  EXT2
 HDD Configuration  Standard, JBOD, RAID 0, RAID 1
 Power Supply  External adapter
 Cooling  40mm fan
 Dimensions

 (W x D x H): 4” x 7.8” x 5”
(101.6mm x 198.1mm x 127mm)

 Weight  2.7 lbs (1.2 kg) - without drives
 OS Requirement  Windows XP SP2/Vista
 Regulatory Certification  FCC Class B, CE, VCCI, CSA
 Warranty  1 year limited

 

Features:

1 Hard Drive(s) not included.
2 RAID 1 mirroring requires the use of 2 internal SATA drives.
3 Speed results will vary depending on the benchmark utility, hard drive configuration, and the network environment used for testing.
4 Note that use of an FTP Server to access files over the Internet does not provide for secure or encrypted transmissions.
5 D-Link cannot guarantee full compatibility or proper playback with all codecs. Playback capability depends on the codec support of the UPnP™ AV media player.

I'd like to point out something regarding the claim of support for "Drives of Any Capacity". After doing some research, I found that this statement was made before Seagate came out with the Barracuda 1.5TB drives. While some people report they have been able to use these drives in Standard mode, the DNS-323 does not support 1.5TB drives in a RAID array although a fix is supposed to be available in the next version of the firmware (1.06).

Testing:

To test the DNS-323 I will use SiSoft Sandra 2009 using the File System benchmarks. I will also use the Intel NAS Performance Toolkit (ver. 1.7) to gauge performance under several realistic usage scenarios. The tests will be conducted on all supported hard drive configurations with and without jumbo frames enabled. The DNS-323 will be connected directly to the Marvell PCI-E Gigabit Ethernet controller using a Category 6 Ethernet cable to eliminate any variations due to network components or traffic.

Benchmarks:

 

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

File System

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Lower is Better

Testing:

The Intel NAS Performance Toolkit is a set of tools used to test and analyze file systems and enable direct comparison of the performance levels of different network attached storage devices. It utilizes a set of tests based on real world applications such as HD video playback and record, office productivity, photo album manipulation and file and directory copying. The toolkit uses a set of traces based on these applications and mimics the file system traffic generated and records the system response. In our evaluation, the toolkit was run in batch mode which runs the series of tests five times in succession and the median throughput value used to report the results. The hard drives were reconfigured and the DNS-323 was rebooted before each test was run.

 

 

 

HD Video Playback (higher is better)

The HD Video Playback series of tests involve streaming a 720p HD video file using Windows Media Player and 256kb reads. The tests play either 1, 2 or 4 files simultaneously using different percentages of sequential reads (99.5% for the single file, 18.1% for the 2x HD Video Playback and 9.6% for the 4x HD Video Playback).

 

 

 

 

 

2x HD Video Playback (higher is better)

 

 

4x HD Video Playback (higher is better)

 

 

The DNS-323 really shines in the HD playback tests, turning in its highest performance numbers across all the tests. The playback tests are more dependent on raw data rate capability and managed to push data through at drive configurations ranging from around 19-22 MB/s in the single file test. We also see the biggest gains in throughput from both RAID 0 and enabling jumbo frames here. If streaming multimedia were to be the main use, the DNS-323 would be more than capable of achieving acceptable data rates.

HD Video Record (higher is better)

This test writes a single 720p HD video file to the NAS device employing 99.9% sequential 256kb writes.

 

 

Recording a video caused throughput to drop to the 15-18 MB/s range across all configurations which is to be expected when writing files across the network. The test results also show negligible benefits from either RAID 0 or jumbo frames here, although the write penalty is most evident in the RAID 1 configuration due to the performance hit required in mirroring the data to the second drive.

HD Playback and Record  (higher is better)

The HD Video Playback and Record test combines the two previous tests and reads and writes a HD 720p video file simultaneously.

 

 

The DNS-323 still maintains decent throughput from 14-21 MB/s while simultaneously playing and recording a video. There were no real surprises here with RAID 0 and jumbo frames showing performance boosts, mainly due to the increased throughput as we saw on the playback tests.

Content Creation  (higher is better)

This test simulates content creation on the NAS device such as might occur when rendering a video. There are 99 files used and is composed of 95% write operations with up to 64kb block sizes and consists of 39.1% sequential operations.

 

 

The content creation test really starts to put the DNS-323 under some pressure. After an initial set of reads, this test settles into writing a series of relatively small files which causes throughput to settle in around the 6.5 MB/s range without jumbo frames enabled and we see performance is consistent across all hard drive configurations.

Office Productivity  (higher is better)

The Office Productivity test is roughly evenly distributed between read and write operations using 607 small files consisting of 1kb and 4kb reads and mostly 1kb writes.

 

 

This test is where things get really interesting. We see consistently lower results across all configurations with throughput around 2.6MB/s without jumbo frames enabled. The results of this particular test were concerning enough to cause me to re-run the tests several times to make sure there weren't any anamolies and the initial results proved correct. Still baffled, I e-mailed Intel support which confirmed these results were consistent with results they had seen with NAS devices in Intel's labs.

"We have seen circumstances similar to what you describe in our lab.  Because the test is roughly 50/50 reads and writes there is a lot of buffered write data that must get to the drive while the NAS device continues to receive additional requests.  Depending on their buffer management algorithms and how much memory is available on the NAS device, this type of heavy, bi-directional traffic can lead to reduced performance.  This is most notable on those systems which tend to perform well on many of the other tests. The Office Productivity test is unique among the pre-configured tests because it includes both a large number of individual files and a heavy mix of read and write traffic."

So the conclusion we can draw here is that the DNS-323, with only 64MB of memory, can quickly become saturated under heavy loads to the point that performance is uniformly affected across all drive configurations.

File Copy to NAS  (higher is better)

The File Copy test copies a single large file to the NAS unit using 100% sequential 64kb write operations.

 

 

Copying a single large file (1.4GB) shows the DNS-323 can pump data across the wire at speeds of 16MB/s and above. Here we see the effect of using just a single large file on performance versus the writing of many files of various sizes in the Directory Copy to NAS test below.

File Copy From NAS

This test reads the single large (1.4GB) file from the File Copy test from the NAS using 64kb read operations.

 

 

Bringing the single file back in the opposite direction, the DNS-323 is able to maintain speeds above 17MB/s without jumbo frames and the performance held fairly consistent across all hard drive setups.

Dir Copy to NAS  (higher is better)

This test copies a directory structure with 126 files to the NAS device using predominately 64kb writes but also includes a wide distribution under 16kb.

 

 

Again, we see the effects of multiple consecutive writes as the unit's performance settles in around the low to mid 5MB/s range for all levels except the standard single drive configuration.

Dir Copy From NAS  (higher is better)

This test copies the same directory structure of 126 files from the NAS device using 64kb reads.

 

 

Copying the test directory back to the host shows a marked improvement over the writing to the directory. It is interesting to see the performance delta on the directory copy to/from tests versus the pair of single file tests which were much closer together.

Photo Album  (higher is better)

The Photo Album test simulates the viewing of 169 photo files of various sizes stored on the NAS and consists of 100% read operations.

 

 

Again we see a level of performance that is consistent across all setups as the test does a series of reads of various sized photo files.

Testing:

Now that we've looked at the configuration and features of the DNS-323 and evaluated the performance numbers, I'd like to spend a little time on getting a feel for some of the functionality and the impressions I got with some hands on experience with the unit.

Cooling:

The DNS-323 is cooled by a single rear-mounted 40mm fan. Experience tells us that smaller fans have to spin faster to move the same amount of air as their larger cousins do at lower speeds. Higher RPMs generally mean more noise as well. The fan on the DNS-323 is relatively quiet, mainly because it doesn't spin that fast. In fact, at first I wasn't sure it was spinning at all because it was so quiet and I couldn't feel any air exiting the unit. There are no external ventilation openings on the enclosure save for a single slot on the lower bottom edge of the front cover. This opening mates up with a opening on the inside of the enclosure which ducts cool air underneath the motherboard and then out the back through the fan. There is little allowance for cooling of the hard drives.

The performance tests we ran on the unit are fairly intense and can last for over three hours for each hard drive configuration. As soon as one test would complete, the unit was configured to a new RAID level and the testing began again. During this process I noticed the top of the enclosure became quite hot; not too hot to touch, but warmer than I'd want to keep my drives in for a prolonged period.

I decided to run a check on the case and system temperatures by kicking off another series of tests using the Intel NAS Performance toolkit while monitoring the interior case temperature using a digital temperature probe placed in the center of the enclosure directly between the two hard drives. Checking the Status page, the highest recorded temperature for the system was 39 C while the interior of the case was a toasty 36 C. I could not detect any noticeable change in the fan speed during the test and still felt little or no air exiting the enclosure.

  Idle Test
Ambient Room 20 C 20 C
System 35 C 39 C
Case Interior 24 C 36 C

The DNS-323 does not provide for any S.M.A.R.T. monitoring capability so I was not able to check on actual hard drive temperatures, but that's way too high a temperature for ensuring hard drive longevity. Let me emphasize a point here. Let's be careful to note the temperatures in the Test column above were under extreme sustained usage conditions not typical of normal everyday use. However, I'd definitely would like to see improved air flow in the case.

Power Consumption:

One of the benefits of using a NAS appliance is that it can offer significantly lower power usage versus using a PC for shared storage. As we saw in the Configuration section, there is an option under the Tools section to set the amount of time before the unit goes into a low-power mode and turns off the hard drives. This functionality was easy to set and worked as expected.

I tested the various power usage levels of the DNS-323 at idle with the disks spinning but no activity, during a full test with read and write activity with the drives configured in RAID 1 and finally in power management mode with both drives powered down. All measurements were taken with a P3 International P4400 Kill A Watt power meter.

State Watts
Power Mgt. Mode 8
Idle 19
RAID 1 Test 21-23

As you can see from the chart above, even with the hard drives being used for heavy concurrent read/write operations, the unit only uses 21-23 watts. At 8 watts with the drives powered down you'll realize significant savings over using a more power-hungry device like a PC.

Testing:

As we saw when walking through the configuration and setup options, there are several additional features offered by the DNS-323. While reviewing the unit I tested most of these features and have some general impressions.

 

RAID 1 Functionality and Drive Failure Recovery

To me, one of the most important features of a NAS appliance is the ability to set the unit up as a RAID 1 array so that data is mirrored to both drives. This offers an additional level of protection for your data in case one of the drives fails. In order to test the ability of the DNS-323 to recover from a hard drive failure without losing data I formatted the drives as a RAID 1 array and simulated a hard drive failure to see what would happen. The DNS-323 does not support hot-swap functionality so I was hesitant to pull out a drive while the unit was in operation due to fear of damaging the drive. Instead I simulated a failure by powering the unit down and removing one of the drives from the unit to see what would happen.

When I restarted the unit there was no indication of a 'failure' on the front panel LEDs (which should be amber to indicate a failed drive) and no email alerts were sent out. This is to be expected because this was not a true failure. When I checked the Status page on the web UI, it showed the total number of drives as 1 and a volume type of RAID 1. However, Sync Time Remaining reported 'Degraded' which is what you would expect with only one drive available in a two-drive RAID 1 array. I checked the data using a mapped drive through Windows and all the folders and files were present and accessible with only one drive of the RAID 1 array available. The next step was to power the unit down and replace the 'failed' drive to see what would happen. After the system booted I noticed a lot of hard drive activity as indicated by the LEDs on the front panel. Sync Time Remaining showed just over two and half hours as the unit automatically started resynchronizing the mirrored drives. The files were still accessible during the rebuild and upon completion everything was back to normal.

Another feature the DNS-323 offers that is new to version 1.05 of the firmware is the ability to start out with a single drive and later add a second drive and migrate to a RAID 1 array without losing your data. The unit passed this test as well, although it is always prudent to back up your data before attempting the change.

Print Server

One of the features we have talked about yet is the ability of the DNS-323 to act as a network print server. During our initial look at the unit, I'm sure you noticed there was a USB port on the rear of enclosure. The sole purpose of this port is to be able to connect a USB printer. There is no configuration involved on the DNS-323 side, you simply plug a printer into the port. You'll have to install the printer drivers on each local machine and add the printer through Windows. To test this feature, I connected a Canon MP780 to the USB port on the DNS-323 and added the printer through Windows. Browsing for the printer on the network, it showed up under the default sever name as 'lp' designated as a generic USB printer. Checking the Status window on the web UI showed the Printer Info section now displayed the correct information with the manufacturer listed as Canon and product showing as MP780. Once I added the printer and chose the driver, printing was just like using a direct-attached printer. I did get a pop-up notification from the Canon driver that it couldn't communicate with the printer, but the warning quickly disappeared and the document printed normally.

Users / Groups / Network Access

The DNS-323 is targeted toward home and small office environments and does not support Windows Active Directory as might be found in a work environment running Windows Server machines. D-Link provides similar functionality through the Users / Groups, Quotas and Network Access features. Setting up users and assigning them to groups was very straightforward. I was able to easily create a list of test users and add them to a test group. The default setup of the DNS-323 is for all users on the network to have full read/write permissions for all files and folders on the volume. Obviously, this is not an ideal setup, so you should take a few minutes to create users and give them only the necessary privileges.

FTP Server

Setting up the DNS-323 to act as an FTP server was also fairly painless while this may be somewhat of a challenge for the totally non-technical user. You will need to know how to create users and assign specific access rights and also how to forward ports on your router. The user manual covers port forwarding and uses a D-Link router as an example of how to do this. I had no issues with setting up the FTP server on both the standard port 21 and a non-standard port. I tested the functionality using the FireFTP add-in for Firefox and was able to access the folders for which the test user had permission. There aren't any extra bells and whistles in the FTP server and you can't monitor connected users or log activity, but it does provide a way to access and share files over the Internet.

iTunes Server

The unit also offers the ability to turn on iTunes server functionality by simply specifying the folder where your media files reside and click a radio button to enable the server. I set up a folder off the root containing a large amount of music files. I downloaded and installed iTunes on a client PC and as soon as the application launched, the DNS-323 was detected as showed up under the Shared Music section. Some users of previous version of the DNS-323 reported issues with using the unit as an iTunes server with music libraries greater than 4GB. The latest version of the firmware, version 1.05, reportedly fixes that problem. I loaded the test folder with more than 10GB of files. Once all the files were in place, iTunes dutifully reported 10.34GB of music files and there were no problems in accessing and playing the music.

E-Mail Alerts

You can configure the DNS-323 to send out e-mail alerts for various conditions including space status, hard drive failure, system changes and overheating issues. You will need to provide an SMTP server name in order to use this function. Setting it up was easy and I was able to get e-mails reporting space used and remaining on the volume. Since the other alerts were based on critical issues such as hard drive failure, I was not able to test those (fortunately). The wording and content of the email is not user selectable. As a nice touch, the e-mails are signed “Sincerely, Your DNS-323”.

DDNS Server

Using DDNS allows you to subscribe to a dynamic DNS service provider and address your server from the Internet using a domain name even though you have a dynamic (changing) IP address. Enabling this feature will keep the dynamic DNS provider apprised of any changes to you dynamic IP address supplied by your ISP. I created an account through DynDNS.org and was able to use the domain name to access the FTP functionality of the unit. However, this is where I encountered my first issue with the DNS-323. DynDNS blocked and then deleted the host name I created due to too frequent updates being generated from the DNS-323 when the IP address hadn't changed. Apparently this is a bug in the DDNS algorithm in the 1.05 firmware. You don't need this feature to use DDNS, however, as there are other alternatives such as routers and software agents that perform the same function.

BitTorrent Manager

The last feature I tested was the BitTorrent manager, another new capability added in the 1.05 firmware. In order to set this up, you must first use the Easy Search Utility, and not the Web UI, to install the BitTorrent program and create a folder on the DNS-323. Downloaded files are placed in the separate area on the DNS-323 and this is also where seeded files are located. Once the program is installed, you need launch the WEB UI and choose Downloads and then click on the BitTorrent tab. For testing purposes I located a file from the Fedora Project for a torrent for the Fedora Core 10 ISO image. I entered the file name and started the download. The DNS-323 began the download with no problem. By default, it also began seeding the file as well. The operation was very straightforward and once the download was complete, it continued seeding the file. There are several settings you can change to limit bandwidth, change the default port and limit the amount of time for seeding the file.

 

Conclusion:

The DNS-323 makes a good choice for a home or small office user wanting to add additional storage that is accessible across the network or via the Internet. I was impressed with the ease of installation of the hard drives, which can be done in a matter of seconds. The Web UI used to set up and mange the unit is well laid out and easy to use. The user manual is also well-written and very useful, not one of those poor translations to English that seems to be so common today. Performance wise, the DNS-323 put up impressive numbers while streaming video and moving single files between the unit and the client PC. Where the DNS-323 really struggles though is in tests involving large amounts of read/write operations. Here, its performance levels take a nose dive. However, taking into account its target market, I would say the unit performs admirably. Cooling is one of the main areas where the DNS-323 really needs improvement, especially during periods of extended heavy usage. The lack of any S.M.A.R.T. reporting features also a drawback because of the cooling concerns. While it currently does not support 1.5TB drives in RAID arrays, hopefully this will be corrected in the next firmware release. Overall, I was impressed with the DNS-323 in terms of ease of use, general performance and feature set. With the street prices now in the $150 - $175 range, the DNS-323 would make an excellent addition to any home or small office looking for network storage with good overall performance.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: