Seagate Business Storage 4-Bay NAS review

Seagate is one of three remaining manufacturers of hard disk drives in the world; and like Western Digital is also expanding beyond just making the disks, to making NAS enclosures for home and business too.

Read more: Best NAS for Mac

The Seagate Business Storage NAS line includes three versions of the model reviewed here, holding either one, two or four 3.5in disks. Each unit comes pre-stuffed with, unsurprisingly, Seagate drives, allowing capacities between 2 and 16 TB. Alternatively you can also buy as a ‘0 TB’ model that’s empty of disks. The latter would cost around £300, while the 16 TB model we tested sells for around £900.

All three enclosures are based on the same hardware and firmware, using a low-power dual-core ARM processor with 256 MB of memory. Clocked at just 700 MHz, it seems a surprising choice for a server aimed at business, since this kind of processor is normally reserved for undemanding and cheaper consumer models.

For Mac users, there are some issues worth noting. AFP is switched off by default, although easily enabled once you’ve logged into the drive’s graphical interface.

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Time Machine backup is hidden away, under Protect/Protect Job Manager/Local Backup. There is a facility to control storage limits per user – essential to prevent TM backups from continuing until the NAS becomes full – but it requires some grappling with the admin interface.

Seagate Business Storage 4-Bay NAS: Build and design

The Seagate is made from a folded steel box, with a deep plastic front fascia featuring a hinged doorplate. This can be locked close with a supplied circular key. Once opened, four upright disks can be reached, levered out by orange plastic levers on each drive caddy. The disks are secured in their caddies by a tool-less clip arrangement that seems to secure the disks satisfactorily.

On the rear of the box is found a single large 90 mm cooling fan which cools all disks and the undemanding processor. The power supply is external, a laptop-style charger, which connects to the NAS drive with an unsecured barrel plug. There is potential for this plug to get inadvertently pulled out, with disastrous consequences for the disks and all your data.

Supplementing the front-facing single USB 3.0 port are two more behind, along with two gigabit ethernet ports that can be configured for failover, or what Seagate calls Round Robin LAN. The latter is link aggregration to potentially speed up network transfers, although the processor is already the limiter to faster speeds here.

A unique addition is a slot on the unit’s front for easily adding a 2.5in drive. This universal storage module (USM) dock will accept drives such as Seagate’s own GoFlex Ultra-portable, and others made to the USM standard developed by Seagate.

Seagate Business Storage 4-Bay NAS: Interface

The Seagate NAS operatiing system includes many features that can be configured, such as network file-sharing services, backup and media server.  The latter is perhaps the most home-centric feature on this more business-focused unit.

While the interface looks relatively simple, in a traditional style majoring on text over graphics, we found that changing some preferences – such as setting user folder permissions – would bump us from pillar to post before we’d completed the necessary changes. Some aspects are entirely user hostile, such as the poor password administration: the unit will not accept non-alphanumeric characters, but carelessly does not warn you of this failing when you’re setting your passwords.

In use the interface could also be somewhat slow to react, taking tens of seconds to refresh some configuration pages.

Seagate Business Storage 4-Bay NAS: Performance

The Seagate Business Storage NAS has the slowest-clocked processor we’ve encountered in unit advertised for professional use. And in practice it showed. While large files can be read at the gigabit limit using AFP, the standard protocol for Macs, writing large files to the drive proved to be slow – down to snail-like USB 2.0 levels of 37 MB/s measured by Blackmagic, and just 27 MB/s when averaging 20-100 MB transfers in QuickBench.

Random reads were only a little below average at 54 MB/s, but random writes dropped from snail to glacial speeds, at just 2.3 MB/s.

Power consumption was rather high for a NAS with the slowest processor. It consumed 46 W with disks idling. Despite selecting ‘HDD Hibernation’ mode in the settings, they did not ever actually spind down, so consumption figures remained steady.

OUR VERDICT

Seagate’s bid for the small business and enthusiast NAS market is half-hearted at best. Its software is slow and clumsy, and feature set limited. As worrying is the pitiful file-write performance, a sure indicator that the unit is seriously underpowered. In its favour the hardware is sturdy enough, and also the cheapest at £250 for an empty enclosure. But what you save in initial outlay you may pay in your time in waiting for files to copy.

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