Although it has a consumer feel to it, the flexibility offered by the ReadyNAS Ultra 4 and its nippy processor make it more capable than most. The lack of load-balancing and failover functions, however, could dissuade some business users.
Decent performance; flexible upgrade path with X-RAID2; excellent multimedia support.
Fan noise is distracting; lacks some of the business-related features of the NVX.
4-bay storage for 3.5in SATA HDDs, 1.66GHz Intel Atom processor, 1GB RAM (Sodimm), 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports, 3x USB2 ports
Netgear's range of ReadyNAS network attached storage devices have gained a loyal following among business and home users thanks to their wide-ranging feature sets and decent performance.
We looked at the ReadyNAS NVX last year and were generally impressed. Now we have the Ultra 4 version, which offers many of the same features. It certainly has more of a consumer feel, but the lower price tag will appeal to smaller businesses that don't require some of the more advanced features of the NVX model.
The ReadyNAS Ultra 4 is more or less externally identical to the NVX, which is to say it's a solidly made and smart looking metal box, this time finished in gunmetal grey.
It's also remarkably compact considering there's room inside for four 3.5in SATA drives, and roughly sits at the same height as a stack of 15 DVD movie cases. The sturdy metal handle at the rear is a welcome touch given the weight of a fully loaded unit. During testing, however, we found the noise generated by the built-in fan to be distracting.
Three USB 2.0 ports support external storage devices or printers for sharing on a network, but the two Ethernet ports lack the load-balancing and failover functions found on the ReadyNAS NVX.
The Ultra also lacks the NVX's support for Windows Active Directory and a few other business-oriented features.
These omissions may instantly rule it out for medium-sized businesses, but it's unlikely to worry smaller businesses and those planning to use it in a home office environment. Otherwise, the Ultra and NVX offer essentially the same kind of network functionality; see the NV X review for more details on this.
As with the NVX, the Ultra offers the usual array of RAID options to suit the number of installed drives, but the proprietary X-RAID2 offers more flexibility. This creates an automatic mirror when a second drive is installed and switches to RAID 5 with a third. This is all without taking the array offline, ensuring that business-critical data is always available.
Add a fourth drive and the array is expanded, and you can then switch out each drive in turn to expand the array still further, all without any downtime. This effectively makes the ReadyNAS Ultra capable of growing alongside the storage needs of your business, upgrading drives as capacities increase and prices drop.
The Ultra 4 comes with a faster processor than the NVX; a 1.66GHz Intel Atom chip compared to the NVX's 1GHz CPU. A snappier response in the web admin panel and when browsing shares are mere fringe benefits, though, and it is the performance when multi-tasking that benefits most; streaming media while running multiple add-ons, for example.
There are a wide range of add-ons to choose from, including a BitTorrent client and iTunes server, but these are likely to appeal only to home users. It was here, though, that the performance boost is welcome since running these concurrently tended to bring earlier ReadyNAS devices to their knees.