The Ultra 4 has standard media-streaming features, as is the case with many high-end NAS servers. You can stream digital content to any UPnP- and DLNA-compliant network media players, as well as iTunes.
We were impressed with the backup feature of the Ultra 4, where it can by itself pull the data from a network device to make backups stored on its internal storage. For example, if you want to back up a folder on a network computer, you just need to share that folder. From within the Ultra 4's Web interface, you set the backup feature to have access to that share folder and then make a backup schedule. From then on, a copy of that folder's content will be made and kept updated to a share folder of your choosing on the NAS server. This method of backing up is much better than using software installed on the computer, as it doesn't significantly affect the computer's performance when a backup is in progress.
Other than that you can also set the Ultra 4 to automatically back up important data onto Netgear's enterprise ReadyNAS Vault cloud service that costs $199 per year for the first 50GB and $150 per year for any subsequent 50GB.
The Ultra 4 supports Apple's Time Machine; all you need to do is turn this feature on via the Web interface. Any Mac running OS 10.5 or later will automatically find the ReadyNAS as a Time Machine backup destination.
The Ultra 4 supports both PC and Mac platforms really well; you don't need any additional software installed on any computer to access it. On Windows computers, you can browse for it using a network browser, such as Windows Explorer. On Macs, the NAS server will be automatically detected and listed in the Finder.
Though it doesn't support handy features such as PC-less downloading or IP cameras, the Ultra 4 can have more features added via its add-ins. Netgear bundles a few add-ins with the server, including the ReadyNAS Remote, which allows users to access the NAS remotely over the Internet. Unlike other remote access solutions, the ReadyNAS Remote requires a piece of software installed on the remote computer. This application then creates a VPN-like connection to the Ultra 4 server and allows remote users to access its share folder as though they were in the same local network with the server. We tried this feature out, and though it worked as intended, it's only good for business users because its setup process was rather involved.
The ReadyNAS Ultra 4 worked best where it's most important: throughput performance. We tested the NAS with the X-RAID 2 setup, and it consistently scored the highest in both the write and read tests.
In the write test, the Ultra 4 registered 443.7Mbps, noticeably faster than the Synology DS410's 429.4Mbps. Note that the Synology was tested with RAID 0, which is optimized for performance. In read, the Ultra 4 again beat the Synology 875.2Mbps to 867Mbps.
This excellent performance makes the Ultra 4 a perfect fit for environments where heavy data sharing and media streaming between multiple clients are required. Note that these speeds are faster even than those of some USB 3.0 external hard drives.
The Ultra 4 is relatively quiet, even during a heavy load. In a room with no ambient sound, you'll notice the humming of its large ventilation fan on the back.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Though the throughput performance was great, we noticed that the server took a long time to add a new hard drive to its X-RAID2 setup. For example it took about 10 hours to finishing adding a 1TB hard drive to a setup of existing two hard drives. This was probably because it has to rearrange the RAID from RAID 1-like format into that of RAID 5. The good news is you can remove the new hard drive at any time if you want to change your mind during the process. Also, other users can still access the NAS server's storage during the time a new hard drive is being processed.
Service and support
Netgear backs the ReadyNAS Ultra 4 with a rather generous three-year warranty. The company's Web site offers lots of support information, including troubleshooting, a knowledge base, firmware, a support forum, and manual downloads.