The $200 D-Link DNS-323 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure offers a quick, yet comprehensive solution for network storage. We really liked the device for its flexibility and useful features, and at the same time wished it supported FAT32 or NTFS hard drives like the Iomega StorCenter Pro. The device can house two 3.5-inch SATA hard drives of any capacity in RAID configurations. It can also be used as an FTP, a DHCP, a UPnP AV, or an iTunes server with an excellent, intuitive Web interface. The DNS-323 comes up big where it matters most: throughput performance. Despite its few flaws and rather bulky power supply, we can easily recommend it to people who are looking for a fast, reliable way to extend their network's storage and functionalities. If you are looking for a simple NAS solution that already comes with a hard drive, however, the Iomega StorCenter might save you some start-up time and money.
Setup and design
The D-Link-DNS-323 boasts a simple, compact design with all the ports (Gigabit Ethernet, USB, and power) on the back. On the front is the hard-drive bay cover that has the power button and three blue activity status LEDs, one for each hard drive and one for the network port.
The DNS-323 doesn't come with hard drives--leaving you the option to choose what storage capacity to add. It's very easy to open the device to access its hard drive bays. We found it a bit too easy, in fact. More than once we accidentally opened the cover just by holding the device from the front to lift it up. It would be a lot better if the DNS-323's face lid had some sort of lock to prevent this. Fortunately, NAS devices are generally not supposed to be portable, and the act of opening the cover doesn't interfere with the D-Link's working status. The device can take two 3.5-inch SATA hard drives, preferably of regular thickness: all you have to do is to slide the drives in and they fit in very well. Thinner drives don't fit as snugly. There's a release latch for each drive at the back of the device, in case you want to replace the hard drives. You can use just one drive with the DNS-323, but if you want to take advantage of the RAID configuration, the second one is a must.
Once the hard drives are installed, it's very easy to set up the DNS-323 on your network with D-Link's Easy Search Utility (included on the bundled CD). In our case, the Easy Search Utility found the NAS within a few seconds and helped us launch the configuration Web page. Of the many networking vendors, D-Link has always been our favorite in terms of how its Web-based management applications are designed. The DNS-323's is no exception. Its Web interface is very well organized and intuitive with a lot of built-in help, tips, and useful information. Nonetheless, the D-Link still comes with a very clear, well-illustrated Quick Install Guide that most people wouldn't need to read.
At the initial login, the Web application will prompt you to set up the drives. There are four options: No RAID, RAID 0 (Striped), RAID 1(Mirrored) or JBOD. JBOD (Just A Bunch of Disks) is an interesting setup that, similar to RAID 0, merges two hard drives. JBOD combines the drives in a linear way, meaning the combined storage is the total of the two hard drives even when they are of different sizes. (With RAID 0, the combined storage is always the size of the smaller hard drive multiplied by two.) Also, if one hard drive in a JBOD setup dies, only data on that hard drive is lost and it's possible--though not always--to recover information on the working one. JBOD's performance, though, is much slower than RAID 0. In short, if you want to maximize your storage space and have a bit more peace of mind about data integrity, then JBOD is a better choice over RAID 0. Then again, RAID 1 offers even better data security (at the expense of storage capacity, of course) and is probably the best option for a backup solution.
If you get new hard drives for the DNS-323, all these options work very well and the setup is very convenient. If you want to use hard drives that already contain data, however, it's a different story. If you have hard drives laying around that are formatted in FAT32 or NTFS file system (supported by Microsoft Windows), the DNS-323 will need to reformat them into Ext2 file system (supported by Linux) before they can be used. This means it's impossible to move an existing Windows/Mac-friendly hard drive into the DNS-323 without having its data completely wiped. This can also be potentially problematic in case the DNS-323 fails and you want to just hook its hard drives to a Windows computer for data access or recovery. For all the NAS devices (of which the hard drives are user-replaceable) we've reviewed to date, the DNS-323 is the first that supports only the Ext2 file format. This makes the user-replaceable aspect of the device less flexible. The formatting takes a relatively short time depending on the size of the hard drives. In our case, it took about 5 minutes for a drive of 400GB.