Review: Intel SS4200-E NAS

I have been looking for a NAS for a long time, so when Newegg had a deal on the Intel Entry Storage System SS4200-E NAS Server, I jumped right on it.  Selling itself with four internal SATA connections, two external eSATA ports and USB up the yin-yang, I thought this would be a good buy for my purposes.  My primary intention was to create a 6TB (yes, terabyte) array where I could have all my ripped DVD, Blu-Ray, music and computer backups but still have plenty of space to grow into.  To cut to the chase, I have had nothing but disappointment.

First off, you can only do configurations of two or four drives in RAID.  What this means is you can do a simple mirror (RAID 1) with two drives, or a mirrored-stripe (0+1) or parity (RAID 5) with four drives.  Those other eSATA ports? Just stand alone and cannot participate in the RAID array. This was disheartening because it dropped the maximum array size from 6TB to 4.5TB (using 1.5TB drives).  What's worse, though, is that the eSATA ports would not recognize my orphaned 1.5TB drive plugged into it.  After SSHing into it, I could see that the drive was mounted, but the web interface and SAMBA would not share it out.  Plugging in a spare 500GB showed up just fine.

Security controls are very coarse grained.  It's sad that this is running on Linux, but the web interface only does simple read/write/deny permissions.  This device purports to support Active Directory integration, but it only supports up to Windows Server 2003.  After digging into see what version of SAMBA it is running, I found bugs that were fixed in the next minor release that allowed joining to a Windows 2008 or 2008 R2 domain.  Too bad the device does not make it easy on you to do the simple upgrade.

If those issues were tolerable, the actual performance of the machine was certainly not.  While reads could almost saturate my gigabit network (which was very cool to see!), writes were woefully slow. When not doing anything but a dedicated write, maximum speeds topped out at about 20MBps (~160Mbps).  Since this is primarily a machine for streaming media content, that wasn't too much a concern, however if I were streaming a Blu-Ray movie or even a DVD on the device while trying to write to it, the experience would become completely untenable.  The movie would get really choppy and then outright fail.  This was a completely unacceptable outcome, given I was transferring small photos to the device.  Watching the CPU get maxed out for writes shows that this has a weak software RAID controller, which tax the CPU beyond usability.  Granted, since this an x86 platform, you can upgrade the CPU and memory on the device, but I would opine that throwing incremental hardware upgrades would only produce marginal results.  These dreadful results were experienced on both RAID 5 and 0+1 configurations. All in all the experience could have been greatly enhanced if the device would enable some sort of QoS so that streamed media received greater CPU priority, even if that meant that writes were slower.

I could have learned to deal with some of the other feature drawbacks this device has, but given its performance (or lack thereof) I cannot recommend this device for any storage need.

Posted on Dec 8
Written by Wayne Hartman