Design Con 2015

Beating the heat: A NAS's CPU requires a critical mass of software in order to compete

-February 25, 2013

I've given up on the Linksys NAS200 I spoke about in detail in my prior post. 750 GByte HDDs such as those in my particular unit are non-standard, and were I to replace the failing drive, it's seemingly only a matter of (brief) time until it or its partner dies again. So what did I replace the NAS200 with? I've got (and have long been happy with) two Infrant-now-NETGEAR ReadyNAS four-HDD units; a NV back in CA, and a successor NV+ here in CO. My girlfriend doesn't have stringent network storage performance needs, and standalone HDDs are much bigger (and more cost-effective at a given capacity point) now versus when the ReadyNAS NV and NV+ were originally introduced. So I went with a lower-priced two-drive ReadyNAS Duo:

Specifically, I intentionally bought a gently used version 1 ReadyNAS Duo on Ebay, versus going with a new v2 unit. Sales price differences between the two weren't the fundamental motivation. The v2 ReadyNAS Duo seemingly delivers higher performance, as SmallNetBuilder's review documents. But as I said in the introductory paragraph, minor performance variations will likely be imperceptible to my girlfriend, particularly since she'll be exclusively accessing the NAS over Wi-Fi. Similarly, for reasons that SmallNetBuilder explains, the lack of Gigabit Ethernet jumbo frame support in the v2 ReadyNAS Duo isn't a concern to me.

The v1-to-v2 CPU migration was the core of my decision. The original ReadyNAS Duo (as with my ReadyNAS NV and NV+) uses Infrant's SPARC-derived processor. The V2 successor is designed around a Marvell ARM-based SoC. The SmallNetBuilder v2 review shows, via pictures of the two generations' backsides, a fan size difference between them ... the v2 fan is actually bigger (80mm versus 60mm). However, this discrepancy shouldn't be interpreted as an indictment of the 1.6 GHz Marvell 88F6282's power consumption (therefore heat dissipation). SmallNetBuilder postulates, and I concur, that NETGEAR increased the v2 fan diameter in order to reduce its average rotational speed, therefore quieting its operation.

But the newer ARM SoC doesn't yet have the level of third-party software support that its SPARC precursor enjoys. And software-based functional expansion is at the core of my enthusiasm with the ReadyNAS product line. NETGEAR has finally delivered a reasonably robust built-in DLNA client, so purchasing a third-party product such as TwonkyMedia no longer seems to be necessary. But I also install Logitech's SqueezeBox Server software for connectivity to (for example) my SqueezeBox Boom. And although Logitech has belatedly developed a Marvell-supportive version of SqueezeBox Server, plenty of other ReadyNAS add-ons also exist, both from official partners and the enthusiast community, and many of them aren't ARM-aware.

My ReadyNAS NV and NV+ (along with their ReadyNAS X6 predecessor) have run 24/7 for many years without a single thermal-related hard drive failure. I'm confident that the ReadyNAS Duo (which like other ReadyNAS devices, vertically stacks the HDDs) will fare equally well, unlike the no-longer-made Linksys NAS200 or (judging from user reviews) many of its low-priced successors. Bill-of-materials slimming often makes sense; after all, many markets encompass both "boutique" low-volume and feature-rich participants and higher-volume, cost-optimized alternatives. But if penny-pinching goes too far, products like the NAS200 result.

Designing inexpensive but insufficiently reliable products, as I've said many times before, might ensure you short-term sales. But it also creates both high (and costly) product returns and cultivates customer animosity that does long-term brand harm. If the accountants and marketeers in your company are pressuring you to excessively cut engineering corners, I encourage you to push back. And if the NAS200 case study I've described helps make your case, feel free to pass it along.

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