Review: Netstor NR710C 5 Bay RAID Storage Enclosure

by ZimTommy on November 1, 2011 · 3 comments

in Reviews

My first Windows Home Server lived in a beast of a case with plenty of room for 12 hard drives at a push, so when I decided to scale down and go the MediaSmart Server route it was a thought always in the back of my mind…. “What if I need more than 4 drives?”

I know I could always add extra single USB drives but then it’d probably end up looking like some sort of octopus will cables spewing out of it. Not exactly the look I’d be going for in my newly converted broom closet/office. The next step up would be the drive enclosures that hold multiple drives with their own power source and any number of different connection types.

So when Netstor got in contact about reviewing their brand new RAID storage array I was very interested to see what I thought of it and if this type of device would allay my fears.

Netstor NR710C

Netstor NR710C

About Netstor
Netstor Technology focuses on developing external SAS/SATA data storage products aiming to provide users with reliable, cost-effective and high-performing SAS/SATA data backup solution.

From the “world first company” to announce their Mini Dual Hot-swappable external Hardware RAID solution in 2002, these days Netstor continues to make efforts in expanding their product offerings and now the product lines include External Mini Duals, Desk Towers, a full line of 19” Rackmount storage enclosures, Internal Multi-Drive Modules and all kinds of SAS/SATA converters. Netstor’s customer base covers the field of Audio/Video editors, IT managers, Telecom and DVR companies who are seeking a stable, trusted and newest technology data backup solution.

The NR710C is the latest offering in their RAID subsystem range and now features USB 3.0 amongst other new features.

The external desktop 5-drive multi-interface NR710C subsystem features high efficiency built-in hardware RAID processor, providing 0, 1, 3, 5 and 10 RAID levels. Among the highest-speed combo interfaces of USB 3.0, eSATA, and FireWire B, the SuperSpeed USB 3.0 connectivity delivers high-speed data transfer rate 5 Gbps, ten times the USB 2.0; moreover, RAID management can be configured completely by users in minutes using the comprehensive LCD control panel in front or through the user-friendly GUI on screen.

And a quick glance at the specs sheet shows some pretty comprehensive stuff:

Features

  • Provides most high-speed combo interfaces of USB3.0, FireWire 800 and eSATA
  • Supports up to 5* SATA (3/6 Gbps) HDDs
  • Built-in Hardware RAID processor providing Raid levels 0, 1, 3, 5 & 10
  • Aluminium housing, anodized surface, benefits for cooling and durability
  • Backplane design for five removable SATA drive trays
  • Built-in thermal sensor for automatic fan speed controlled
  • Individual key lock of each HDD tray for physical security
  • User friendly GUI and front LCD control panel for setup, alarm mute and configuration
  • Environmental Monitoring with Power/FAN/TEMP LEDs and mutable buzzer alarm.

Specifications
Host Interface Combo USB3.0/ FireWire 800/ eSATA
HDD Interface SATA (3.0Gb/s or 6.0Gb/s)

No. of Disk(s) Up to 5
RAID Levels RAID 0, 1, 3, 5 & 10, Large, Clone
(With Spare Disks can be assigned to any RAID group)

LED Display for Tray
Power on- white
HDD Access- flashing blue
HDD Failure – Red

LED Display for Enclosure
Power on LED – white
FAN normal – green; fail – red
TEMP normal – green; over 50°C – red

Dimension
230(D) x 157(W) x 229(H) mm
9(D) x 6.1(W) x 9(H) inch

Material: Stylish Aluminum with solid metal construction
Power Supply: 220W (High reliability of IPC form-factor)
Input: 90 – 230 VAC 50- 60 Hz
Output: +5V and +12V DC
Cooling: One 90 x 90 x 25 mm Cooling Fan

O.S. support OS Independent
GUI support Windows, Mac OS, Linux

What You Get
The review device was shipped to me directly from Netstor in Taiwan and arrived in perfect order with the packaging protecting it as would be expected. No fancy printed packaging, just a brown non-descript box with a bit of printing on the sides although not sure if this is the final packaging. But hey do we care about the packaging, I didn’t!

The Packaging

In the box we get :

  • The NR710C Storage Enclosure (With empty trays installed)
  • USB 3.0 Cable
  • eSata Cable
  • Firewire 800 Cable
  • Power Cable
  • Drive tray keys
  • Hard drive screws
  • Software CD
What's included...

What's included...

Now I haven’t picked up too many of these storage enclosures but was expecting it to be pretty light without any drives in it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it felt heavy and solid in my hands. Another thing I noticed straight away was how cool it was to the touch, which must be due to all the aluminium used in the construction.

The drive trays are constructed of steel with the front locking mechanism made of heavy duty plastic, a FAR cry better than the trays that came with my MediaSmart server in my opinion! Every time I swap a drive out of those trays I’m terrified I’m going to break something. The HDD is attached to the tray using 4 screws on the underside of the tray.

A single drive tray

A single drive tray

The drives lock into the enclosure with a nice smooth double action : Push the drive in all the way, close the lever till it clicks into place. And then to remove the tray simply slide the latch next to the Kensington lock left and the lever flicks out.

The locking mechanism

The locking mechanism

The enclosure is made of aluminium with a black or white Perspex front depending on which model you go for. One interesting design feature is that the enclosure edges are not completely straight and have a slight curve to them. Around the back we see the multitude of ports along with power and a small switch that is used to indicate if you prefer to use greater than or less than 2TB drives, this appears to be related to what your host operating system can support so I’ve set it to < 2TB as WHS doesn’t support any larger.

Round the back

Round the back

The enclosure fan is also user upgradeable should you wish to replace it with a slightly quieter model.

The stock fan

The stock fan

With the fan removed

With the fan removed

On the front of the enclosure there are two LEDs for each drive where one shows power and the other shows data access (blue) or drive failure (red). At the top of the front there is a blue LCD screen and various buttons that let you configure the RAID setup, enclosure settings and even view such things as fan speed and internal temperature.

Enclosure LCD Display

Enclosure LCD Display

In Use
When sat next to the HP EX490 MediaSmart server the enclosure is slightly shorter and wider than the server but doesn’t look too out of place and you can see that it fits quite snugly next to the server in my little mini office.

Size comparison with HP EX490

Size comparison with HP EX490

Side comparison

Side comparison

Fitting into the home office

Fitting into the home office

Fits just perfect

Fits just perfect

I have to confess that I haven’t delved into RAID very much at all over the years. I know the concepts and have a basic understanding but it always sounded like quite a bit of work to get something up and the thought of it failing me somehow makes me nervous.

But I must say that straight out the box I was configuring a RAID array using the device LCD and front panel buttons. I didn’t read the manual at all and quickly had my five 750GB hard drives configured in a RAID 5 array which in theory would allow one drive to fail and still keep on going. As this is just a review I even took the chance of testing out the theory by randomly pulling out a drive while I was copying files to a share on the server. My transfer didn’t skip a beat and the array kept on chugging along, albeit with a nice loud alarm sound letting me know something had gone wrong. I then placed the missing drive back into the enclosure and the LCD display let me know that it was commencing a rebuild of the the RAID array.

The enclosure does come with software that can be installed on a windows pc/server which gives you even more control of the enclosure when it comes to setting up and maintaining the device. A comprehensive user guide takes you nicely through all the available options.

It’s not my intention to do a full breakdown of exactly how well this enclosure handles all the different RAID setups and the associated transfer speeds etc, but I was very surprised at how easy it made RAID feel to someone who’d been a little nervous of it before. I’ve been holding off on WHS 2011 for a while now waiting to see how the DE replacement plugins progress, but now I’m sat here imagining how easy it could be to setup WHS on a small nettop and hook it up to a RAID enclosure like the NR710C in RAID 5 or similar and just let the hardware handle all the redundancy and headaches.

For the purpose of this review I have focused mainly on WHS v1 and so setup the enclosure to present the 5 drives as JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks). The EX490 recognised all 5 drives easily enough although this won’t be the case if you have some of the earlier MediaSmart models. It’s always worth checking how many eSata devices the port(s) on your server can recognise which will help you decide on an enclosure, with the appropriate number of bays, should you decide to get one.

The Drive Extender technology in WHS v1 makes short work of a random collection of disks so is probably the way I would use JBOD with this enclosure and WHS v1. Another benefit is that it allows you to use all the available space if you make use of varying size disks. WHS v1 also only supports up to 2TB drives so setting up five 2TB drives in this enclosure to make a 10TB (RAID 0) or 8TB (RAID 5) array seems overkill to me because just making use of such a large “disk” would be impossible without some clever drive partitioning.

And then as I said earlier, if I were to use this enclosure with WHS 2011, I would definitely look into setting it up in some sort of RAID setup which would make more efficient use of the available drive space. This could also mean that I don’t have to install any third party addins to replace the old faithful Drive Extender from WHS v1.

5 drives showing in Server Storage

5 drives showing in Server Storage

All five drives showed up as External (SATA) and were ready to add to the drive pool or be used for other purposes.

I was hoping that the fantastic Disk Management plugin might show me the individual drive temperatures but this wasn’t the case. I did try a number of other utilities that are able to show hard drive “smart” data but I couldn’t get any of them to show me individual drive temperatures. I’m not sure if this is an eSata shortcoming or the enclosure itself as I’ve not tried too many enclosures out yet.  The GUI software that comes with the enclosure do show drive temperature and other SMART data and the Netstor also confirmed that reading the SMART data is possible,  so must just be a drive or software issue on my server.

5 drives showing in Disk Management addin

5 drives showing in Disk Management addin

Performance and Power Usage
I must confess I’m a bit of an electricity scrooge when it comes to the amount of power I want my gadgets to consume.  So I was very keen to connect up the NR710C to my kill-a-watt meter to find out exactly how much juice it needed. All of the drives used were Western Digital Green drives except for one which was a Black drive.

  • Switched Off : 16 Watts
  • No Drives : 33 Watts
  • 1 Drive : 38 Watts
  • 2 Drives : 45 Watts
  • 3 Drives : 49 Watts
  • 4 Drives : 52 Watts
  • 5 Drives : 56 Watts

A powered off power draw of 16 watts did shock me a little as it seems a little high but I was glad to see that loaded up with 5 drives the enclosures averages out at about 10 watts per drive. * This will obviously depend on what model drives you install.

My EX490 goes into standby at 1am every night and wakes up again at 8am all in an attempt to save a little power.  I was kinda hoping the NR710C would be intelligent enough to power down and start up in sync with the host machine but Netstor have confirmed this is not possible as they have designed the enclosure with the intention that it’s powered on 24/7 or switched off manually when required.  It is possible to configure the enclosure to power down the drives after a period of inactivity which will go a little way to saving some power when there is not much system usage.  The drives do need to be in some form of RAID setup for this standby feature to be possible.

I couldn’t see the drive temperature of each individual drive but the onscreen LCD did let me know that after an hour of usage the enclosure’s internal temperature was a cool 26 degrees and the fan was running at 2200 RPM.

I don’t have a decibel meter to test out fan noise so just used the MediaSmart server as a reference.  The NR710C was considerably louder,  maybe twice as much.  Considering that the MediaSmart has two internal fans that spin at about half the speed this can surely be remedied by installing a more silent after market fan.  I did have a chat with the guys at Netstor and they mentioned that they have recently tweaked their fan speed calculations to reduce the fan speed by 5% while still keeping the optimum internal temperature.

A quick test of data transfer speeds on the most common interfaces went as follows…

Read & Write Speeds

  • eSata 110 Mbytes & 99 Mbytes
  • USB2 27 Mbytes & 19 Mbytes
  • USB3 77 Mbytes & 77 Mbytes
  • USB3 (Black Drive) 122 Mbytes & 85 Mbytes
  • USB3 (Raid 5) 85 Mbytes & 89 Mbytes

Drive speed tests were done using a freely available tool called HD_Speed.  The utility measures both sustained and burst transfer speeds of your disks, just be warned as the “write” test deletes everything on the disk you are testing.

Pricing & Availability
The NR710C is currently available from DynaPower in the USA and has a MRP of US$449.  It’s also listed for sale in the UK from Span and can be picked up for £312.00.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Multiple connection interfaces including USB 3.0
  • Solid Construction
  • Excellent cooling due to aluminium enclosure
  • Simple setup of RAID configurations directly on enclosure LCD
  • Useful design items such as locking drive trays, easy fan access, hardware alarm, and LCD system display
  • Hard drive screws are provided 

Cons

  • Slightly high electricity usage
  • Drives unable to be hot swapped in JBOD mode but I suspect this is an issue with my MediaSmart server as this worked fine with a laptop eSata
  • Louder than desired fan noise

Over the few weeks that I’ve had the NR710C I have to say that it’s a superb device that gives great flexibility around additional storage options and with it’s design, build quality, attention to detail and functionality I think it would do a great job expanding the capacity of any Windows Home Server.  For anyone who has not tried out RAID before I must also add that the NR710C makes it so simple that you’ll find yourself testing out all the different RAID configurations just because it’s so easy to do.  With a slightly quieter fan and loaded up with low power Green drives this would make a perfect companion to my trusty MediaSmart EX490 server.

Finally, I’d like to thank Netstor for providing the review unit for this article.


Article by

Hi there, I'm Tommy and I've been messing around with PCs and electronics since before I can remember. I had been running my own WHS "frankenserver" for a good few years before I picked up an ex490 on super special after HP has discontinued them and that's, in turn, how I found this little community of fellow enthusiasts.


{ 2 comments }

Alex Kuretz November 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Nice review, Tommy, thanks. I find this part particularly interesting, let us know if you try out WHS 2011 with the enclosure.

I’ve been holding off on WHS 2011 for a while now waiting to see how the DE replacement plugins progress, but now I’m sat here imagining how easy it could be to setup WHS on a small nettop and hook it up to a RAID enclosure like the NR710C in RAID 5 or similar and just let the hardware handle all the redundancy and headaches.

TechBari November 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Hi Alex, I just made a purchase of a NAS server as well. In my case I chose the Sans Digital 5-Bay eSATA RAID 0/1/10/5/JBOD Tower Storage Enclosure w/ 6G PCIe Card TR5M+B, mainly because it’s on sale right now at Newegg.ca $149.00. Mixed reviews however, some people are reporting a whining sound from cooling fan, so I hope I’m able to change that out if I have the same problem.

In any case, I would like to maximize its storage capacity and Seagate has recently announced a new drive the Barracuda XT high-performance desktop drive Model ST33000651AS, 7200-RPM, which is said to “3TB of capacity easily configurable with Seagate® DiscWizard™ software to overcome legacy capacity limits of 2.1TB with no additional hardware required.”

My question is, do you think the Seagate DiskWizard software could be used successfully on my HP EX495 to overcome the 2.1TB capacity limit of my MediaSmart server?

Let me know what your thoughts. Thank you.

TechBari

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