The BlackArmor NAS 420 is a flexible network storage appliance that can be used to form the core of a small business network. Users can share printers and other storage by connecting these to BlackArmor, and the unit can double as a backup device for computers on the network when used with Seagate's backup tool. However, this flexibility will probably make the BlackArmor tricky for many small business users to install, unless they can rely on a reseller for technical support, and the documentation provided with the unit is less than helpful in many instances.
Provides 1TB of shared storage with redundancy in case of drive failure; can be used to share printers and other storage; acts as central backup drive for network PCs.
Requires numerous settings to fully configure; likely to prove tricky for less technically aware users; documentation could be better.
Seagate's BlackArmor range of network attached storage (NAS) hardware is aimed at meeting the needs of smaller businesses, providing shared storage space up to a maximum 8TB. It also offers optional backup of user machines, and the ability for users to share other resources such as printers by plugging these into the unit.
Available now, each BlackArmor appliance is a compact box that can sit easily on a desktop. The unit is essentially a self-contained file server designed to attach directly to a network, and comes with either two or four hard drives. Each drive is fitted in a pull-out cartridge that makes it easy to replace, should the need arise.
The BlackArmor has a small LCD screen at the front that displays status messages, plus a single USB port at the front. To the rear are three more USB ports and two Ethernet ports.
We looked at the entry-level BlackArmor NAS 420 that comes with twin 1TB Serial ATA (Sata) hard drives ready installed and configured as a Raid 1 array. Other models in the range ship with four drives and have greater flexibility in configuration, although the 420 can be upgraded with extra disks.
Raid 1 means that the two drives mirror each other exactly. If one drive should fail, you will not lose any data and can carry on working, although the failed drive must be replaced as soon as possible. The downside of this arrangement is that you have only 1TB of storage available to use out of a total of 2TB, but this is still ample capacity for a small workgroup to start out with.
Setup and configuration
In tests, we found the BlackArmor unit relatively easy to set up and configure, but we expect that users with limited technical experience may struggle. Seagate's documentation also leaves a lot to be desired and assumes a great deal of technical knowledge.
Even worse, the documentation seems to contain little or no information on what to do in the event of a failure, which is critical if you are a small business and all your data is stored on the BlackArmor, of which more later in the review.
Once set up, however, we found we could access shared folders on the BlackArmor as easily and speedily if they were drives connected directly to our test PC. We could also share USB drives such as memory sticks, by connecting them to the USB ports on the BlackArmor itself.
USB printers can also be shared among a workgroup by plugging these into the BlackArmor unit. However, Seagate's instructions are misleading and tell you to connect the printer to the BlackArmor, switch it on and then install the printer drivers as normal. Users instead need to use the 'Add printer' function in the Printers and Faxes tool in Windows Control Panel, then select Network printer and let Windows discover it on the network.
The physical installation of the BlackArmor simply requires you to plug the unit into mains power, and connect it to an Ethernet switch or router via port one on the device. The unit takes several minutes to boot up, during which it should pick up an IP address, which you can check using the LCD display on the front of the unit.