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.
Like most high-end NAS servers, the BlackArmor supports self-downloading with its Downloader Management feature. This lets you run three download jobs at a time and, in our test, the feature worked well with Web sites that require authentication. You can also schedule the download jobs to run at a particular time, for example at night, to avoid bandwidth congestion.
Remote access: Apart from FTP and HTTP servers, the BlackArmor also comes with a very convenient way for people 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 the BlackArmor brings it up a notch.
The BlackArmor supports multiple Global Access accounts, one for each user account on the NAS. For example, User1 can create a Global Access account, then log in to the NAS server via its Web interface to associate his Global Access account with the user account on the NAS. Then, User1 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. User2, User3, and so on can all do this simultaneously. Seagate suggests that the BlackArmor can support up to 50 users.
If logged in to the NAS from a remote location, you can transfer files back and forth between the remote computer and the NAS server. Though 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 entire folders from the NAS server to the remote computer, which is not available on 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) support ZIP file natively, we didn't see this as a big hassle.
Backup and dual Gigabit Ethernet: The BlackArmor by far offers the best backup solutions we've seen in a NAS server. The wizard-based backup software allows for a long list of backup options including incremental and differential backups. You can restore data by running a restore wizard, by booting using the included CD, or by mounting the backups into a virtual hard drive and copying data using Windows Explorer.
Other than being the destination to store the backups of network computers, the NAS also comes with many options to back up itself, including NAS to USB and NAS to NAS. The first one allows for backing itself up to USB external hard drives and the latter means you can back up one BlackArmor NAS to another. Either of these options can be used without a computer, manually or automatically.
The server supports external hard drives formatted using 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.
The BlackArmor 440 NAS server comes with two Gigabit Ethernet ports. These ports, apart from allowing for the linking of multiple units together for NAS to NAS backup, can also be used for aggregation.
A year ago, we tested the BlackArmor 440 using Windows XP Professional; we did the same set of tests again using a Windows 7 64-bit computer. Though the new scores were significantly better than what we got a year ago, they were still noticeably slower than recently released NAS servers. As this is a four-bay NAS serve, we tested it with RAID 0 and RAID 5, which are the most popular RAID configurations.
In RAID 0--which is optimized for performance and maximum amount of storage at the expense of data integrity-- the BlackArmor 440's write speed was at 245Mbps; its read speed was 567.1Mbps. For comparison, the Synology DS410 scored 429.4Mbps and 867Mbps for write and read, respectively.
In RAID 5, which is the recommended configuration to be used with the BlackArmor 440, as it balances between data safety and the amount of storage, the NAS' scores were slightly lower, as expected, at 223.8Mbps and 465.0 145Mbps for write and read, respectively. Again for comparison, the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra did much better with 443.7Mbps (write) and 875.2Mbps (read).
Overall the BlackArmor 440 posted decent data transfer rates, above average in reading and slightly below average in writing on our charts. With this performance it's capable of handling most data sharing and media streaming needs. However, as it's one that offers the most amount of storage, we wish its performance were on par with that of the Synology DS410 or the ReadyNAS Ultra4.
The BlackArmor 440 worked quietly in our tests, but we happened to run into very unusual situations where the NAS didn't work well at all with certain routers that have their QoS features turned on. More specifically, we experienced extremely slow read speed with both the D-Link DIR-655 and the D-Link DIR-825 when the QoS feature is turned on. It's recommended that you turn off your home router's QoS when you use the BlackArmor 440.
Service and support
Seagate backs the BlackArmor 440 NAS server with a decent three-year warranty, whereas most other NAS servers are backed with one-year warranties. Toll-free phone service is available weekdays, 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 knowledgebase, and a drive troubleshooter.