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Seagate BlackArmor NAS 220 NAS server review: Seagate BlackArmor NAS 220 NAS server

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The two-bay BlackArmor 220 NAS server is the stripped-down version of the BlackArmor 440. However, it's only stripped in terms the physical size and numbers of drive bays. On the inside, it's still an advanced NAS server and shares the same set of features as the 440 (for this reason, you will find this review similar to that of the 440). At around $400, the 220 comes with 2TB (or $650 for 4TB), and is one of the most affordable advanced NAS servers for both home and small business use.

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7.0

Seagate BlackArmor NAS 220 NAS server

The Good

The Seagate BlackArmor 220 offers decent throughput speed, easy-to-use remote access, and many customization options. The server supports RAID 1 and RAID 0 configurations and is compact.

The Bad

The Seagate BlackArmor 220's hard drives are difficult to replace and more than basic networking know-how is required to use its advanced features.

The Bottom Line

The Seagate BlackArmor 220 is a good entry-level NAS server for small business and advanced users.

Like the 440 before it, the 220 isn't the most user-friendly NAS server. It makes up for that by offering very good throughput performance, RAID configurations, and a straightforward vendor-assisted remote access solution. If you're looking for a quick network storage device and you're not a networking noob, the BlackArmor 220 is a smart investment.

Design and setup
The BlackArmor 220 NAS server comes in an elegant pyramid-like shape with its two bays in a vertical position. Accessing these bays is difficult; you're required to remove the cover using a screw driver. After that, the two SATA hard drives can be replaced fairly easily. Unlike with the BlackAmror 440, Seagate didn't design the 220 with hard-drive user-serviceability in mind. Seagate would prefer you used the hard drives included.

On the server's front are three small, blue, LEDs: one shows the status of the internal hard drive, another show the status of the whole system, and the last one indicates that the power is on. The back of the server includes its Gigabit Ethernet port and two USB ports. The USB ports can be used to host extra storage and printers.

Like the 440, the 220 comes with the BlackArmor backup solution, which is based on Acronis' excellent True Image software. 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 a backup file contained on the BlackArmor NAS.

The server comes with a discovery software utility, making setting up the BlackArmor a simple task. Once set up, the utility assists in finding the NAS server on the network and allows you to map network drives to its two default share folders, "public" and "download." Fortunately, no software is needed to access the NAS, as 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 this is where the simplicity ends. Unfortunately, novice users need to figure out a lot by themselves; the NAS server's included Quick Setup poster and its PDF manual are rather scant. For example, if you need to create a new user account, you will have to guess; there's no "add" button on the Web interface, only a tiny plus sign that you need to click. Advanced users won't have much trouble, however.

Features
The BlackArmor has standard user account management. By default, the device comes with an "Admin" account, allowing 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 can't use the Admin account to access the NAS remotely over the Internet. Puzzling, since with most other NAS servers, the Admin account allows for complete access.

Once a new user account has been created, you can assign it different access privileges for each share folder. Also, placing a user account into 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 220 NAS can be set to work as a domain member. Doing this requires that you understand Windows Server's Active Directory, as well as other advanced user account management tools, to set up.

The NAS offers three ways to set up the hard drive: Raid 0, Raid 1, and Span, and it is quite fast to change from one to another. The server took us about an hour to switch its two drives from RAID 1 to RAID 0. Other NAS servers we've reviewed could take hours to do this. Out of the box, the server includes a RAID 1 configuration.

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. So 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 share, ranging from every 5 minutes to once a day. We didn't run into any problems using this feature.

Like most high-end NAS servers, the BlackArmor 220 supports self-downloading with its Downloader Management feature. This allows you to run three download jobs at a time and in our test, the feature worked well with sites that require authentication. You can also schedule the downloading job to run at a particular time, like at night, to avoid bandwidth congestion.

The BlackArmor 220 NAS server has support for a network file system (NFS), which allows the system administrator to store resources in a central location on the network, providing authorized users continuous access to them. It can work as an FTP, HTTP, and secure HTTP (HTTPS) server. It also has support for dynamic DNS through DYNDNS.com, which means you can set up the above servers to work over the Internet for free.

Remote access
Apart from FTP and HTTP servers, the BlackArmor also comes with a very convenient way for users to access its data securely over the Internet via Seagate's free Global Access solution . This method of remote access was introduced first with the Maxtor Central Axis NAS server and was also available for the BlackArmor 440.

Like the 440, the BlackArmor 220 supports multiple Global Access accounts, one for each user account on the NAS. For example, User 1 can create a Global Access account, then log into the NAS server via its Web interface to associate his Global Access account with the user account on the NAS. Then, User 1 can go to the Global Access Web site and access his private folder as well as public folders on the BlackArmor from anywhere in the world. User 2, User 3, and so on can all do this simultaneously. Seagate says that the BlackArmor 220 supports up to 50 users.

Once logged into the NAS from a remote location, you can transfer files back and forth between the remote computer and the NAS server. While this vendor-assist method of remote access is nothing new and can be found in other NAS servers, such as the WD My Book World Edition, Seagate's Global Access allows for easily copying an entire folder from the NAS server to the remote computer--a feature not available in the My Book. You won't be able to simply drag and drop the folder, however; instead, once you've selected a folder to download, the NAS server will compress that folder into a ZIP file and you'll need to decompress it once it's downloaded. This helps the file download faster, and since Windows (and Mac OS X) supports ZIP files natively, we didn't see this as a big hassle.

Back up
The BlackArmor 220 NAS server includes one of the best pieces of backup software we've seen. It's wizard-based and allows for a long list of options, including incremental and differential backups. You can restore by running a restore wizard, by booting using the included CD, or by mounting the backups into a virtual hard drive and copying data off using Windows explorer.

The server supports external hard drives formatted using both FAT32 and NTFS file systems, allowing you to simply plug any existing USB drive into the NAS and immediately share its files. The NAS can also format external hard drives using the FAT32 file system, regardless of the drive's capacity. This is really useful as Windows only allows you to format a hard drive that's smaller than 32GB using FAT32.

Performance
CNET Labs tested the BlackArmor 220 in both of its supported RAID configurations and we were pleased with its scores. While its write speed was consistently much lower than its read, its overall performance is among the faster NAS servers we've reviewed.

In RAID 0--which is optimized for performance-- its write speed was 150.8Mbps, while the read speed achieved more than twice as fast 311.0Mbps. At these speeds, you could copy 500MB from your computer to the NAS in about 25 seconds and copy it back in another 15.

In RAID 1, which sacrifices storage space for data protection, the gap between its write and read speed was even larger. The NAS scored 139Mbps for the write speed, which, as expected, was slower than that of the RAID 0. On the other hand, its read speed posted at 345.2Mbps, noticeably faster than that of the RAID 0. This is sort of unusual, as most NAS servers would have consistently slower performance in RAID 1. However, the BlackArmor 440 also showed the same performance pattern.

Overall, the BlackArmor 220 posted very good data transfer rates, though not the best we've seen. It's actually a little slower than the BlackArmor 440, which is expected since it comes with a less-powerful processor.

CNET Labs NAS performance scores (via wired Gigabit Ethernet connection)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
QNAP TS-239 Pro
373.9 
223.9 
Seagate BlackArmor 220 (RAID 1)
345.2 
139.3 
Seagate BlackArmor 220 (RAID 0)
311 
150.8 
Apple Time Capsule
114.2 
81.2 

The BlackArmor 220 worked quietly in our test. The only complaint we had about its performance was its Web interface, which is sluggish at times; it would take a few seconds after you click on an item for anything to happen.

Service and support
Similar to the BlackArmor 440, Seagate backs the BlackArmor 220 NAS server with a decent three-year warranty; many other NAS servers only offer one-year warranties. Toll-free phone service is available weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT, or you can e-mail technical support via a Web form. Seagate's support site offers installation and troubleshooting assistance, a download library, a knowledge base, and a drive troubleshooter.

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Seagate BlackArmor NAS 220 NAS server

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Support 7