Limited savingOne of the normal functions of NAS is the saving of data and those here obviously offer various dedicated functions. However, a word of caution: all do not have the same capabilities in this area.
First of all, none of the models tested here is able of carrying out backups of network work stations on its own (however, this is possible with, for example, Netgear’s Readynas NV+). To save data, you have to install a client program on each work station. Of course, manufacturers provide a standard software which we aren’t overly eager to describe in detail however there are very complete and free tools available if the software in question is not to your liking ( Astase’s Ultrabackup, for example).
The common denominator to all these machines is the possibility to identically reproduce the NAS on another network storage system. In the case of Buffalo this has to be another Terastation (which limits saving possibilities…), while the others can accommodate any storage compatible with Rsync protocol or for Thecus even a classic FTP server.
Another possibility for saving NAS content is that some offer using storage spaces that may be connected on the open USB or eSATA extension ports. This is the case of Buffalo, Qnap and Synology. It isn’t possible with Thecus, but the N5200BR Pro does offer the opposite! An automatic loading function actually allows directly copying the content of a USB storage space (USB key, memory card player, etc.) on Raid. This is practical for quickly downloading, for example, your digital camera and without a PC. Qnap also gives us this option.
Download without your PC
More and more NAS integrate downloading capabilities. The protocol which is supported are HTTP, FTP as well as the more interesting (at least it appears so) Bittorrent. Downloading parameters are set via the NAS’ web interface (add a link or upload a .torrent file) or for work stations not having access rights to this interface with the help of a client program. Except Buffalo, all the models tested here have this function.
While in and of itself downloading functions without any problems, we were forced to realize that the Bittorrent clients provided will probably not be up to the expectations of many users. At best, the available options actually include setting downloading time periods (which also apply to HTTP/FTP downloads), bandwidth limits (send/receive) as well as the ports used by the service. Moreover, all of these NAS do not offer all of these controls. For example, Thecus does not allow personalizing ports while Qnap is the only one which proposes the control of sharing options (seed, number of hours after download) while not giving us the possibility of setting downloading time periods.
This isn’t enough! Some sharing communities require that users have an equal amount of download/upload time or their account will be suspended (for example, the famous Dimeadozen). Without having the ability to set seeding (sharing) options, maintaining a positive ratio becomes totally impossible. In the list of indispensable functions, it would also be desirable to be able to limit the number of simultaneous downloads. This is all the more so true because according to significant user feedback it seems that adding a large number of .torrents is a source of instability. So in short, if our tests did not reveal any particular problems, do not hesitate to sift through forums dedicated to each machine in order to obtain more ample information on this promising yet unperfected capability.
Official and unofficial extensions
However, you should know that to some extent it is possible to make up for some lacking functions. Because these are classic (or almost) Linux servers, NAS are entirely capable of executing all types of programs. You are limited only by their processor power and the quantity of RAM memory installed (generally both very limited), as well as the requirement to find compiled programs for the installed distribution (or to compile them yourself).
The only problem lies in the necessity to take over control of the NAS, generally with Telnet/SSH. Manufacturers offer this possibility more and more by default (Qnap), via a dedicated patch (Synology) while some continue to omit it for security reasons. You will then have to use a patch or alternative firmware developed by the user community that you can generally find on forums or the Wiki devoted to each machine. Once this is done, the installation of new tools intended to NAS is mainly just a formality : client for the eMule network (aMule, MLdonkey), more evolved Bittorrent clients (MLdonkey), alternative media servers (Twonky media, Slimserver, etc.), sleep functions, etc. Obviously, technical assistance is no longer given by the manufacturer and the proper functioning of these programs isn’t guaranteed either.
Note that with Thecus, the procedure is a bit difference because they provide an execution environment enabling the installation of complementary modules via a Web interface. Moreover, with the N4100+ there is a procedure to follow in order to benefit from media server functions, printer sharing, and downloading management as these are not included from the start.