Editors' note: This is an updated review to reflect the server's performance with Seagate's new 3TB internal hard drives.
When it was first released in 2009, the BlackArmor 440 was considered to be a fast NAS server. More than a year later, we revisit the server, as Seagate recently started shipping the industry's largest 3TB internal hard drive with it, and found that the server's glory days are over. It's no longer one of the fastest NAS servers on the market.
Nonetheless, the BlackArmor 440 is still relatively fast and continues to prove itself to be a reliable workhorse in our testing. If you can deal with its sluggish and rather unfriendly Web interface, at around $650 for 6TB (up to $1,900 for 12TB), the BlackArmor 440 makes a decent investment for businesses that need a secure and abundant network storage solution. If performance and features are what you are after, check out the Synology DS410 or the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra4, instead.
Design and setup
Other than the support for 3TB internal hard drives, making its total support amount of storage up to 12TB (up from 8TB), the BlackArmor 440 NAS sever is exactly the same as what it was a year ago.
The server has a bold-looking design, with four bays on its front and the top that protrudes farther out, showing off its tiny LCD. Each bay can hold one SATA hard drive of any capacity, which means that the device can host up to 12TB of storage. Seagate only ships a 3TB hard drive with its NAS server. However, the company said it will soon ship 3TB upgrade kits so that owners of existing BlackArmor 440 servers can take advantage of this significant pump in storage space.
The device's design is such that you can completely replace these hard drives by yourself, without any tools. Seagate recommends you use only the company's hard drives, providing tech support only for Seagate drives, but the BlackArmor can work with SATA hard drives from any vendor.
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 its cooling fan. This is a useful feature, as over time the 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, data, time, so on. On the right side of the LCD are two navigation buttons that we found rather confusing to use at first, as they are not labeled.
The BlackArmor's backup solution is based on Acronis' excellent True Image and comes with a license 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 that lets you perform a complete system recovery from a backup contained on the BlackArmor NAS.
Thanks to the included discovery software utility, setting up the BlackArmor was a simple task. Once you have everything set up, the utility assists in finding the NAS server on the network and will let you map network drives to its two default share folders: "public" and "download." Fortunately, the utility isn't needed to access the NAS, as it fully supports 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 this is where the simplicity ends. Unfortunately, you will need to figure out a lot by yourself as we found the NAS server's manual rather scant on details.
Though it lacks support for fancy features such as IP cameras and support for Time Machine, the BlackArmor 440 NAS server has a long list of features. In this review, we touched on only those we found significant or unique to this device.
General features: The BlackArmor has a 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 confusing since most, if not all, NAS servers, give the "Admin" account the same (or more) access to features as it does regular accounts.
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 440 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 to set up.
The NAS offers four different ways to set up the hard drive: RAID 0, Span, RAID 5, and RAID 10. At least three hard drives are necessary for RAID 5, and all four for RAID 10, which is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0. Setting up a RAID configuration takes quite some time with the BlackArmor 440. In our test using four 4TB hard drives, RAID 5 took us about half a day. However, if you buy a BlackArmor 440, it's likely that it will come set up in RAID 5.
With built-in 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, 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 share, ranging from every 5 minutes to once a day. We tried this out, and it worked very well.
The BlackArmor NAS server has support for Network File System that lets the system administrator store resources in a central location on the network, providing authorized users continuous access to them. It can work as a FTP, HTTP, and a secure HTTPS server. It also has support for Dynamic DNS through dyndns.com, meaning you can set up the servers to work over the Internet for free with an easy-to-remember address.