Editors' note: The BlackArmor 420 is very similar to the BlackArmor 440. For this reason, you may experience some deja vu if you have already read the review of the 440.
The BlackArmor 420 is exactly the same as the BlackArmor 440, with one difference: out of the box only two of its four drive bays are occupied by a hard drive, leaving the other two empty. This actually makes a huge difference; for instance, when you add two more hard drives to the BlackArmor 420, you will likely have to back up your data and re-create the RAID before you can take advantage of all four bays.
Other than that, it is a relatively fast and reliable NAS server with a price that starts as low as $500 (for 2TB). Still, we'd recommend the BlackArmor 440; or, if you want faster performance and more features, the Synology DS410 or the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra, instead.
Design and setup
The BlackArmor 420 NAS server has a bold-looking design with four bays on its front and a top part that protrudes farther out, showing off its tiny LCD. Each bay can hold one SATA hard drive of any capacity, meaning currently the device can host up to 12TB of storage. The 420, however, as mentioned, comes with just two hard drives, leaving the other two bays for you to add more storage later.
The device has a nice drive bay design that allows you to replace and add more storage easily without any tools. Seagate recommends you use only its hard drives. In fact, the company provides tech support only when you use its hard drives, but the BlackArmor will work with SATA hard drives from any vendors.
Considering its large size, the BlackArmor's fan is surprisingly quiet. Also, it is the first NAS server we've seen that allows you to replace the cooling fan completely if you need to. This will be a useful boon, as over time fans tend to collect dust, become noisier, or just stop working.
On the back of the BlackArmor are two Gigabit Ethernet ports and three USB ports, with another USB port on the front for quick and convenient thumbdrive use. The USB ports support both USB external storage devices and printers. A small LCD on the front displays the status of the USB-connected device, providing status information such as IP address, link status, date, and time. On the right side of the LCD are two navigation buttons that we found rather confusing to use at first because they are not labeled.
The BlackArmor 420's backup solution is based on Acronis' excellent True Image and comes with licenses for 10 computers. One of its more useful features is the capability to quickly recover a crashed computer by booting from the included software CD, allowing you to perform a complete system recovery from backup contained on the BlackArmor 420 NAS.
Thanks to the included discovery software utility, setting up the BlackArmor was a simple endeavor. Once you have everything set up, the utility assists in finding the NAS server on the network and will allow you to map network drives to its two default share folders, Public and Download. Fortunately, the utility isn't needed to access the NAS, because it fully supports the SMB protocol and can be easily found using Windows Explorer.
You can also use the discovery utility to launch the BlackArmor's Web interface, but that is where the simplicity ends. Unfortunately, you will need to figure out a lot by yourself, as we found the NAS server's manual is rather scant.
Though it lacks support for fancy features such as IP cameras or Time Machine, the BlackArmor 420 NAS server has a long list of features. In this review, we touch upon only those that we found significant or unique to this device.
The BlackArmor has standard user account management. By default the device comes with an "Admin" account that allows you to log in and create other user accounts. Though this default account has administrative privileges, it doesn't include all of the features of a user-created account. For example, you won't be able to use the Admin account to access the NAS remotely over the Internet. This is rather confusing because in most, if not all, other NAS servers, there's nothing you can do with a regular account that you can't do with the "Admin" account.
Once a new user account has been created, you can assign it different access privileges for each share folder. Also, placing a user account in a group automatically gives it the access privileges of that group. Aside from public share folders, each user account has a private share folder of its own and if you have an office with a centralized server, the BlackArmor 420 NAS can be set to work as a domain member. Again, this part requires you to understand Windows Server's Active Directory as well as other advanced user account management.
The NAS offers four different ways to set up the hard drive: Raid 0, Span, Raid 5, and Raid 10. As only two hard drives are included out of the box, you have only the options of using either RAID 0 or RAID 1. Setting up a RAID configuration takes quite some time--about half a day with two 3TB hard drives. The servers, however, come set up with RAID1.
Unlike other NAS servers that offer dynamic RAID configurations, the BlackArmor 420 supports only standard RAIDs. Dynamic RAID configurations, such as the Sinology's Hybrid RAID or Netgear's XRAID-2, allow you to scale up the amount of storage space as more hard drives are added, without building the RAID from scratch. In the case of the BlackArmor, you'll have to back up the RAID, rebuild it with a new hard drive, then copy the data back if you want the old and newly added hard drives to be part of the same RAID setup. This hassle makes the server much less appealing than even its linemate the BlackArmor 440.
With built-in support for Digital Media and iTunes servers, the BlackArmor can automatically stream music, video, and photos to compatible devices, including computers, set-top boxes, and game consoles. To share these types of files, simply place them in their appropriate folder within the default Public share folder. For example, if you want to share music via iTunes, first place the music files in the Our Music folder, which is inside the Public share folder. Then you can set the intervals that the server will automatically scan for new music to add to the shared folder, ranging from every 5 minutes to once a day. We tried this out and it worked very well.