The empty, two-bay Zyxel NSA-220 NAS device has solid overall performance, a good Web interface, and can be found online for a reasonable cost of $220. Aside from an FTP server, media server, iTunes server, and print server, the NSA-220 also has the capability to keep track of RSS feeds for podcasts and news. Its throughput performance wasn't the best. However, its performance was generally above average, except for the RAID 1 configuration where it was at the bottom of our charts, but only by a small margin. The NSA-220 doesn't offer very elaborate over-the-Internet remote data access, either. If you are looking to access your data conveniently over the Internet, we'd recommend the Synology DS-107+ or the HP Media Vault 2120. Otherwise, the Zyxel NSA-220 is a good NAS for local network environments. It costs a bit more than the seemingly similar D-Link DNS-323, but the D-Link is inferior in terms of functions and ease of use.
Design and setup
The Zyxel NSA-220 is a compact, two-bay NAS server that is about the size of the D-Link DNS-323. Unlike the D-Link, however, the Zyxel's drive bays are accessed from behind where the power and network connectors are. This means you will have to unplug it from the power and network before you can install or remove hard drives. This also means it is physically impossible to offer hot swapping for RAID 1 configuration with the NSA-220. However, the NSA-220 is far easier to use and has more features than the DNS-323, more than justifying its slightly higher price.
On the front, the NSA-220 has what looks like a big LCD panel, but it turns out to be just a decoration. It does have two functional USB ports that support printers and external USB storage. There's a copy button that initiates the quick copy function, where the entire content of a USB thumbdrive is copied onto the NAS server's internal storage.
The two USB ports are, unfortunately, both on the front of the NSA-220, making it cluttered if you want to connect a printer or an external hard drive. It would be better to move one to the back to support long-term use of a USB device.
The NSA-220 can house two SATA hard drives, up to 1TB each, giving it a total internal capacity of 2TB. The hard drives can be set up in RAID 1, RAID 0, and JBOD configurations, and we found it easy to switch the hard drives' setup from one configuration to another--it was a matter of a few mouse clicks in the hard-drive setup wizard. It took less than five minutes to set up each configuration, including the RAID building time.
Our test unit came with two 250GB hard drives preconfigured in JBOD; however, you will likely have to get the hard drives and install them on your own as the NSA-220 is sold without hard drives.
It was also easy to set the NSA-220 up with a local network. The device comes bundled with a desktop application that, though unnamed, worked well in detecting the device and launching its Web interface.
The best feature of the NAS-220 is its Web interface. Like most NAS servers and networking products, the NAS-220 lets users access its control panel via a Web browser. Most Web interfaces are static and require a lot of user inputs, but this is not the case with the NAS-220. The device's Web management application is rich, intuitive, and works very much like a desktop application.
Thanks to this, the NSA-220 offers an easy and clear way to manage shared folders and user accounts. You can make a shared folder public, where it can be accessed by anyone in the network, or make it private, where you can set a user's specific right to it including: no access, read-only, or read-write access.
Like other NAS servers, the NSA-220 offers popular network storage features including FTP server, media server, iTunes server, PC-less download service, and print serving. We tried these out and they worked as intended. The download service lets you download files directly to the NAS server without having to use a computer, which helps save energy, frees up your computer for other tasks, or can just be used for a long download--such as downloading a video overnight. In addition, the NAS also has an interesting feature called "broadcatching" that automatically keeps tab of RSS feeds such as podcasts or news. We tried the feed for the Inside CNET Labs podcast and were impressed by how well it worked. We could, very conveniently, set this up, download all the episodes at once, put them in designated folder, and make them available to other PCs via the iTunes and media servers.
On the other hand, the NSA-220's over-the-Internet access is rather hard to set up and was limited. We had to manually change the settings of the router to make this work, which include mapping the IP of the NAS server and forwarding the port to that IP. The NSA-220 doesn't have a special way to host photos or media files, like the Photo Station feature found in the Synology DS-107+.
We tested the NSA-220 in all the hard-drive configurations it offers, including JBOD, RAID 0, and RAID 1. Other than the sluggish RAID 1 that registered only 34.3Mbps and 35.2Mbps on CNET Labs' write and read tests, respectively, the NSA-220 did above average in the rest of our throughput testing.
In RAID 0 configuration, which is optimized for speed, it scored 49.5Mbps on our write test and 41Mbps on our read test. By comparison, these were significantly faster than the similarly configured VOX V1, while at the same time noticeably slower than Thecus N3200. In JBOD configuration, the NSA-220 scored slightly slower at 47.8Mbps and 39.4Mbps on our write and read tests, respectively.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Overall, the Zyxel NSA-220 worked well and was quiet during our testing. We didn't run into any problem getting it to work with our network and test computers.
Service and support
Zyxel backs the NSA-220 up with a two-year warranty. The company's technical support is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, on weekdays. There's no phone number listed on its Web site, so you will need to fill in a Web-based form and wait to hear back from the support team. At the company's Web site, you will also find a knowledge base and downloads for software, firmware, and other utilities.