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Vox BlackBox (1TB) review: Vox BlackBox (1TB)

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The Vox BlackBox offers 1TB of storage and can be found online from about $310 to $340. Aside from its low cost per gigabyte, there's unfortunately little to recommend about this dual-drive Network Attached Storage device. From the desktop application to the Web-based interface, the device is consistently confusing. All of its functions--and there are just a few of them--are poorly designed, making setup and configuration a series of trial and errors. It's performance, however, is decent, and once we did get it up and running, it proved to be a reliable network device. If you have some experience with network devices and are looking for the largest capacity out of the box for the lowest price, the Vox BlackBox might be the NAS drive you're looking for. If you're willing to pay a little more for more features and intuitiveness, we recommend the D-Link DNS-323 or the HP MediaVault 2120.

5.4

Vox BlackBox (1TB)

Pricing Not Available

The Good

It has 1TB of storage; it is affordable; easily accessible hard-drive bays; USB ports for additional storage; supports RAID 0 and RAID 1; includes iTunes server; sturdy build.

The Bad

Noisy; confusing setup software and Web interface; does not support writing on external drives formatted in NTFS; rigid and rudimentary user account and file-sharing management; no print-serving capability; high latency.

The Bottom Line

The Vox BlackBox is a 1TB NAS drive that serves up a lot of storage but not many features for a good price. Though you may be tempted by its low cost per gigabyte, be warned it's noisy and plagued by brutally bad software.

Design
Despite its name, the BlackBox comes outfitted in a silver aluminum casing. Nonetheless, it is very sturdy, well-built, and compact, especially considering that the unit is the first two-bay NAS device we've reviewed that has a built-in power supply. This design, however, makes the device very noisy because its two fans on the back have to work harder to dissipate the heat.

On the front the BlackBox you'll find the two hard-drive bays that are locked. You need to use the keys, which are included in the package, to open them. Look at the key for a minute; you'll immediately realize that a paper clip would do the job just fine, which we consider to be a design flaw. If you decide to have a lock, make it a real lock; this kind of pseudo protection adds only nuisance not security.

On the back, the BlackBox comes with a USB port that can be used to add more storage to the device via an external hard drive or thumbdrive. The same feature can be seen in the HP Media Vault 2120; the external hard drive has to be formatted in either FAT32, EXT2, or EXT3 file systems to have both read and write access to it.

Setting up the Vox BlackBox could be a very simple job, but it's likely that most novice users will get tripped up because of its confusing setup software and incoherent Web interface. For example, after launching the setup desktop software, we were greeted with the message "Step1. Network Storage Link(s) Have Been Found!" whether anything has actually been found. You see the same message even if the drive isn't connected or powered on. And there's no indication of what the next step should be. We've worked with a lot of networking devices, and it took us quite a bit to figure the BlackBox out. The truth is there are no more steps with this application. It turns out that all you need to do is plug the device in the network then click on the tiny "Search again" button (and no, we didn't know why it says "again" when no search had been carried out in the first place), wait a bit for the BlackBox to show up on the list, and then double click on its name to launch its Web-based interface. You can then use this interface to make further tweaks, such as changing RAID settings or setting up user accounts and access privileges. The rest of the setup process, via the Web interface, unfortunately, is also a similar series of "lets click here and see what happens."

Features
The Vox BlackBox doesn't have a lot of features, which is a good thing considering the confusing setup routine. The device features an iTunes server that worked very well in our test. The rest on the feature list, including FTP and BitTorrent, didn't work at all (or we didn't know how to make them work, to be precise). Other than that, it has regular user accounts and privilege like most other NAS device where you can set read and write access to various folders on the drive.

The BlackBox comes prearranged in RAID 0 configuration, where the two drives are combined into a big 1TB volume. You can easily change this setup into 500GB RAID 1 volume for redundancy data protection. Either RAID 0 or RAID 1 took about 10 minutes to be configured and worked well in the sense that you can create share folders, then assign access privilege to each of them; you can also create a private share folder and disk quota for each of the user.

The device is compatible with Windows SMB, which means you can access it via Windows Explorer just as you would with another computer in the network. Despite the presence of a USB port, the BlackBox doesn't have print-serving capability. When browsing, we found a printer called "lp" being shared by the BlackBox, which was really odd because that "printer" didn't do anything; it was just there for some reason.

What's also odd is that BlackBox doesn't manage the hard drives very well if you want to use them as separate volumes, meaning you don't pick to set them up in any RAID configurations as mentioned above. In this case, you can do whatever you want with the volume two (or IDE2 as named by the BlackBox), but the other volume (IDE1) is shared as one folder as "IDE1," with the default privilege that everyone can have read and write access to it. There's no way you can create more share folders on this volume nor can you assign different access privileges to it.

Performance
We were neither impressed nor disappointed by the BlackBox's throughput performance. On our write test, the device registered 39.9Mbps, which places it in the middle of the NAS pack. On our read test, the BlackBox did much better being our second fastest NAS at 48.5 megabit per second, trailing behind the Synology DS107+ by just a small margin.

NAS write test (via Gigabite Ethernet connection)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Read  
Write  
Synology Disk Station DS-107+
52.8 
45.7 
Vox 1TB BlackBox DualBay Gigabit
48.5 
39.9 
Netgear ReadyNAS NV+
48.5 
37 
HP MediaVault MV2120
46.1 
39.2 
Apple Time Capsule
40.9 
36.6 

The BlackBox was very noisy throughout our testing process. The two fans on the back seem to run constantly at the same speed, regardless of the load and the ambient temperature. There's also a noticeable lag when you open a big file stores on the drive. For example, it would take about five seconds for you to launch Windows Media Player to play a movie file, excluding the time that WMP needs to buffer and actually start to play the clip. On the bright side, though, the unit stayed very cool even during heavy load.

Service and support
Vox backs the BlackBox with one-year warranty. However, you would hope that you won't need it. It's almost impossible to get a hold of anyone, either by phone or by e-mail. At Vox's Web site, you can find nothing but the manual of the product, which is also incoherent.

5.4

Vox BlackBox (1TB)

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Setup 5Features 5Performance 7Support 3