Review: Nano-NAS impresses, despite flaws

D-Link's DNS-323 is one of a new batch of very small NAS devices on the market. Simon Sharwood puts it through its paces.

D-Link's DNS-323 is an impressive small NAS device that will be more than useful in many small business and home scenarios.

The slim black machine is about the size of a shoebox for a primary school student's footwear. It is, however, reassuringly heavier than a shoebox thanks to a very sturdy metal case adorned by a power button, an activity indicator for each of two drives it can operate and a third light informing users that it has made a network connection.

The NAS' rear panel boasts a single 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a USB 2.0 port and a pair of levers to eject the SATA drives the unit houses. There's also a fan which, in more than a week's operation, we almost never heard.

The USB port can connect to a printer, making the device a print server, or additional storage devices.

Installing the device is simplicity itself. The machine's faceplate clicks off with little pressure, revealing the two SATA bays within. Drives slide in easily and click into place with no chance of incorrect installation and no need to mess about with cables or connectors.

The installation software auto-loads from the supplied CD and was a little unpredictable, thanks largely to its inability to establish a persistent connection to the device's drives. This was peculiar because the DNS-323' Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol features worked as advertised, instantly negotiated with our router for an IP address and made the web administration interface available without an user intervention being required.

We suspect this is because it instructions to Windows to mount its disks as shared drives are in some way flawed, a situation we corrected by using the 'Map Network Drive' command and entering the IP address and volume name of the drives, a process that worked perfectly in both Windows XP and Vista.

Once installed, the machine is entirely and happily uncontroversial. The drives are simply ever-present and available for whatever uses you put them to.

The web-based administration tool is simple to use and easy to learn, if occasionally unreliable. We could not get the email alerts facility to work and the procedure to re-allocate RAID levels and format drives crashed twice, leaving us uncertain if the machine was ready for use.

Another concern is the ext2 file system the unit applies to its drives. This filesystem is an old Linux favourite, but is hardly mainstream. It is, thankfully, accessible under Windows, which in any case declares the unit contains NTFS drives. For maximum portability we would have preferred the machine apply either NTFS or FAT32 to the drives

The FTP server worked flawlessly although, perhaps recklessly, it was pre-configured without a password for anonymous connections. It's reliance on an older GUI could deter those used to FTP software, but does not have a steep learning curve.

Power management is a welcome and effective inclusion, with options to time the powering down of drives available in increments of five minutes to a maximum of half an hour. Facilities for creating groups and granular access rights are a little crude but do the job. Users will have to be assigned new user names and passwords to use this facility, a chore but an understandable one given that Active Directory integration and single sign-on seem unreasonable inclusions in a $399 device!

Notable omissions include NDMP support, but we can imagine a backup regime could be created using FTP creatively. Our test unit was also missing the defragmentation utility promised in the manual. Hot swapping would also be nice, but again could be too much to ask for at the price.

The setup routine could also be a little more expressive to help non-technical users understand the level of protection available under various RAID levels.

Overall, however, this is an impressive machine that will suit networked home users to a tee and should comfortably serve a small office.

Disclosure: D-Link gifted the NAS to the author, after this review was written but before it had appeared.

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