Give me a home where my MP3’s roam

by Davis Freeberg


Buffalo HD-HTGL/R5 TeraStation

About four years ago, I made a conscience decision to digitize my life. At first it was extremely difficult to let go of my CD & VHS collection, but after experiencing the benefits of digitization, I could never go back. Digitization has been great to me. Whether it’s the ability to automatically record only the new episodes of The Family Guy or my being able to narrow down my music collection to records only produced in 1941, digitization has made exploring media fun and exciting again. This evolution has not come without a few bumps along the road. Ever since I bought my first 40 hour TiVo box, I’ve experienced storage anxiety in one form or another. Whether it was Jimmy Kimmel live being automatically deleted from my TiVo or yet another Maxtor External drive failing on me, I found that the more media I collected the bigger this problem seemed to be.

Initially I thought that I could buy external drives as my media needs grew, but I quickly learned that the problem with being an early adopter is that you don’t always know where the technology is going to head. When I finally ran out of ports on my USB hub, I knew that I had to come up with a better solution. In order to address my storage needs, I turned to the Buffalo HD-HTGL/R5 TeraStation.

The Buffalo TeraStation comes in three sizes, they have a 600 GB server, a 1 TB server and a 1.6 TB server. I decided to go with the 1 TB server for $999.99. Of course depending upon how you set up your server, you may not actually get to use the full terabyte. The server allows you to choose between Raid Spanning (no backup for your data), Raid Parity (25% backup of your data) or Raid Mirroring (100% backup of your data.) The more backup you choose, the less storage capacity you will receive. Because of the numerous drive failures I’ve seen, in retrospect, I think that I would have been better served by going with the 1.6 TB drive.

My initial impressions of the server was very positive. At the 2005 CES, the TeraStation won CNET’s Next Big Thing award. The irony of winning this award is that the server itself is remarkably small. It’s measurements are only 6.6″ x 8.7″ x 9.5″. This seems pretty impressive considering that it has the capability of storing 500 hours of television. The server comes with four USB ports and an ethernet connection for networking the server with the rest of your home. As I hooked up the server to my system, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how quiet the fans operated inside the unit. It was almost as if you didn’t even know that it was running. Once I finally had the unit hooked up to my system however, I soon discovered it’s fatal flaw.

Moving data on and off of the system was extremely slow. It took approximately one hour for each GB of data that I wanted to transfer onto my new server. If you included the countless I/O device errors that seem to plague the external drives, it took me nearly three weeks of continuous data transfer to move a little over 600 GBs onto the server. At first I thought that this was due to limitations from my computer, but after speaking with Buffalo Tech support, I was reluctantly told that this is a known issue and there is no solution available in the near future. When I asked if the server would work with a Media Center PC, I was told that it could not handle the speed at which the video files were written to the system. While I never verified that this was the case, it did seem strange to me that they would tell me that it wouldn’t work with a Media Center considering that they claim that the TeraStation is compatible with their own Buffalo HD Wireless Media player.

After searching through the internet, I was able to find an underground TeraStation site that focused on hacking into the machine, but in the end, I had no interest in voiding my warranty and I simply could not handle how slow the transfer speeds were. Had technical support stepped up to the plate and offered a timeline for when/if data transmission speeds would be improved or had they offered a work around, I probably would have kept the box, but the only encouragement that I received was to check the website in a couple of months and they might have a new driver.

While I see a huge market developing for personal media servers, without some serious improvements, Buffalo may soon find themselves facing extinction. Undoubtedly, this is one of the more attractive machines from a product design viewpoint, but with this critical flaw I would encourage anyone considering the product to think long and hard about how they need to access and write data before making a purchase.

*Update – Brian Verenkoff From Buffalo Tech responded to this article with an email disputing what I was told by their tech support. According to Brian, he felt that the speed and performance should be better then what I experienced. ZDNet also has a review on the product and they were able to acheive data speeds between 3.3 Mbps to 8 Mbps. He also made it clear that the TeraStation is “absolutely compatible with Windows MCE.”

“Our internal reports, as well as other editor’s findings rate the
TeraStation at about 7-8 MegaBYTES per second in 10/100 mode and about
11-12 MegaBYTES per second in Gigabit mode. Thus, in 10/100 mode it
shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to move 1 GB worth of data.”

In the email he goes on to explain that these connection issues are not unique to Buffalo Technology and provides some good background information as to the limitation of NAS devices in general.

Unlike USB or FireWire direct attached storage, NAS devices are mini-computers that have extensive overhead. To get full hard drive performance out of a NAS box, one would need to purchase a $5,000+ NAS that has at least a 2 GHz X86 processor in it. For these small embedded devices, processing power is limited. We use a 266 MHz processor, our competitors actually use slower processors (200 or 240 MHz). Some customers do complain about the performance because they compare it to direct attached storage which is not even the same
product or concept.

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32 Comments

  1. John Röthlisberger says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I hope you can return it! Philip Greenspun recently installed a music system in his house, using an Infrant ReadyNAS 600 – 1TeraByte for storage (he seems to love it).

    Philip’s setup:
    http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/whole-house-music

    Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BL5NE6/104-1854084-5606341?v=glance&n;=172282

    A new model just came out:
    http://www.infrant.com/products_ReadyNAS_X6.htm

    Review:
    http://www.tomsnetworking.com/Reviews-217-ProdID-H2H5-1.php

  2. Alex Barnett says:

    really useful review, thanks Thomas!

    Alex.

  3. Adam says:

    Your comment on RAID parity (which I assume is probably RAID5) is a little misleading. It’s not “25% backup”, it’s (in this case) that 25% of the drive space goes to backup. Your data is still 100% backed up if one drive fails.

    There are four 250GB disks in the box, which means you can get 1TB of RAID0 storage (striped), 750GB of RAID5 storage (parity), or 500GB of RAID1 storage (mirrored). This is not a factor of the box, but true of any storage solution that uses four 250GB disks.

    For RAID5, you need three disks minimum, and your total available storage is size * (n-1). Regardless of how many disks you have in the array, you still only need one for backup (and possibly one for hot spare), and any one drive can fail without losing data.

    If you have a machine with the disks, it’s trivial to set up a RAID array with linux and share it to a Windows network via samba.

    Also, if you’re using an external box to store your data, absolutely upgrade your network to gigabit ethernet if you haven’t already. It makes a HUGE difference.

  4. Aaron says:

    I would echo what Adam said. Set up a cheap linux box (doesn’t need to be powerful at all, an old P3 box would work just fine) with a RAID5 array, throw it in a closet and forget about it. It would cost half of what you paid for the Terastation while being much more stable and reliable.

  5. Jeff says:

    adam/aaron – how is the performance of software RAID on Linux? My motherboard provides RAID 0,1 in hardware, but addon cards to do RAID 5 in hardware are still pretty pricey.

    Thomas, I can sympathize. My MCE box is rapidly running out of recording space and I was thinking of offloading some stuff to the network. Luckily, I still have 2 3.5″ bays available and several USB ports, so adding storage directly on the box is still an easy option. There’s still something really clean about centralizing your storage, though…

  6. Anonymous says:

    For a flexible storage system with parity checkout unRAID.

  7. Adam says:

    First, realize that almost all of the raid5 cards aren’t actually hardware raid5, but require driver support. With those cards, you’re better off doing full software raid anyway, since you get more partitioning flexibility.

    I just put together a new development server / fileserver with a 4x300GB (7200rpm) array, with a Pentium Celeron D 335 and SATA. The whole setup cost me about $1000, and $500 of that was drives.

    Tests show that I’m averaging around 25MB/s write and 125MB/s read speeds for the array. I don’t know what kind of speeds you need for video, but that’s plenty fast for digital photography and music storage.

    I’m using gentoo with the 2.6.13 kernel and mdadm for raid array maintenance.

  8. Adam says:

    Unless you’ve got a real need for 12 disks in the same chassis and don’t want to do a linux installation, that $1300 (before disks!) is probably better spent on something other than an unRAID tower.

    A standard tower chassis will hold 7-8 drives, and that’s probably enough for most people.

    Also, unless your data is totally expendable, you really want to use RAID1 or RAID5 to protect yourself against a drive failure. Having each drive be its own share simply forces you to do the mirroring yourself.

    Not that RAID is an alternative to regular backups and archiving, but it makes life a lot easier to recover when a drive inevitably dies.

  9. Grant says:

    unRAID give you some flexibility that regular RAID can’t. Like using various size disks. You can also roll your own unRAID server for less then what they are selling a pre-assembled solution for. It’s really a matter of choice.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I just added a 3ware 7810 from ebay ($165) and 6 seagate 300gb drives (about $125 each) to an existing windows server in my basement and now have a 1.5TB Raid 5 (fully in hardware) on my gigabit network. The next time I see one of these drives cheap, I’ll add a hot spare.

  11. Anonymous says:

    We have one of these at work and it continues to go down during the night every other day or week for no reason. We have to physically press the power button on the front to start it back up in the morning. Unfortunately, there are no logs on the system, so you cannot tell why it went down. This is not a device that you can set up once and forget about. I recommend looking at another product because of its shoddy reliability.

  12. Anonymous says:

    fx

  13. Anonymous says:

    I have the terastation setup in RAID5 and store my DVD collection on it. I’ve received results comparible to what other reviewers (8-10MB/s) when transferring files.

    Initially storing movies on it was not a problem, since I setup DVD Shrink to write directly to the device, and while it was faster to write to direct attached storage, there wasn’t that much difference (mabye 20 min per DVD rather than 12).

    For me speed is an issue only when initially writing to the drive. It reads fast enough to support multiple video reads from MCE, even with HD content.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I ran linux software raid0 on an old p200 for some bittorrent goodness for quite a while (main machine had HD problems). Overall speed was quite acceptable, no speed demon mind you, but it’d peg the network quite well. The biggest issue is I ran it through my flaky switch which sometimes drops through put to less than 50k/sec.

    Phosphers

  15. Anonymous says:

    There’s a little option in the terastation’s management menu. It’s called “jumbo” packets.”
    Turning that on will double your speeds on a gigabit network. You can get reads of up to 20MBytes/sec and writes of up to 12-15MBytes/sec. If your network switch supports it.

    For a 100 baseT network, you’re stuck at max 8MBytes/sec, if you’ve got a good switch. If you’re on a hub or have a lousy switch, or even stuck on 10 baseT then you’re screwed. John’s problem really sounds like his network is not up to par. Nothing wrong with the terastation itself. I have one and transfered 300 Gigs from 3 seperate machines over the span of an afternoon. No reason 600 gigs should’ve taken 3 weeks.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Check out Coraid for an alternative.

    My dad has been looking for a way to put more storage on his work’s network and the Coraid system is his current favorite, but he hasn’t tested it yet.

    It will still suffer from a pore network, but it is supposed to be more efficient in its communication.

  17. It’s a shame those speeds were so paltry. However, it makes sense given that a chip has to actually process things rather than an external drive where stuff does almost directory to the drive. If the TeraStation had received better speeds, I still would have liked to see a FireWire connection. Good Review!

  18. Mark says:

    Anonymous said…

    Turning that on will double your speeds on a gigabit network. You can get reads of up to 20MBytes/sec and writes of up to 12-15MBytes/sec. If your network switch supports it.

    I have a Terastation and connected via Gigabit, although not via a switch – but have a cross-cable direct from the Terastation to my Gigabit ethernet card in my PC. My writes are around 8 MBytes/sec, consistently. I also have Jumbo Frames enabled, set at 7K. Would putting a network switch in between help? Only one PC is accessing the Terastation, but I do share it also wirelessly with a laptop. I know little about network configs. Just looking for things to try to help improve throughput, although it is not that bad currently.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Yep, the secret is to enable Jumbo frames. After updating the the latest firmware and setting RAID5 on the TeraStation, I picked the largest of the two options, (7,418 bytes, Jumbo) in the Network section, Ethernet Frame Size Properties of the TeraStation’s setup. This increased my throughput about 10x from around 500kbps to 5+ Mbps, enough to sync my very large data folder (around 300 gig on a RAID5 array) from my desktop to the TeraStation. First sync took hours, but not days. Incrementals are now quite reasonable. I do have Gigabit on the desktop, and my switches are all SMC 8508Ts with both Gigabit and Jumbo frame support. So, overall, I’m now pleased with the TeraStation. It would be almost useless to me, though, without the Gigabit/Jumbo frame capability.
    REO.

  20. My transfer speeds are tolerable. However, it doesn’t seem to play nicely with Google’s PICASA at all. When i tell Picasa on my desktop to index the photos on my TeraStation it generally fails, worst case forcing TeraStation into doing a long diagnostic checkdisk.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Great comments on the Terastation throughput problem. I thought I would pass along my findings also. Mine is set up with RAID 5 on a Gb network with several other PC all running through a switch. Getting everything working jumbo frame got me about a 25-30% increase in throughput overall, except the Terastation. PC to PC speed is great (often >25-40MB/s). First started using the Terastation as bulk storage and backup for the other PCs. Not a good idea with the slow speed and other problems (directory depth, filename length, etc.). Started using performance measuring software and found that the best read speeds from the Terastation were about 11-12MB/s, and writing maxed out around 4-5MB/s. These speeds only occurred with large files, so continuous transfers were being made. But if a directory with lots of small files were transferred, speed dropped to a painfully low level. For instance, while sending a directory of many 2K-10K files, the speed dropped down to less than 200K/sec. Ouch!

    I now use the Terastation only for large file storage and only archive media to it (not for playing). For backing up, I use Acronis True Image 9 which can image an entire drive as one file or image select directories as one file.

    One more note to consider: the power usage. The Terastation manual indicates it uses only 17W (great!). If you set up a PC as a server, you will be buring at least 150-200W continuous. That will run you about $17/mo. extra on the power bill in the winter and around $27-$30/mo. extra in the summer (increased A/C costs). At 17W continuous, the Terastation will run you about $22 for the whole year. Much better for the home budget.

  22. Anonymous says:

    infrant readynas was supposed to be faster, but noisier.

    I seem to get about 5MB/sec on my 100MB Ethernet without tweaking. works ok.

    I wish they allowed the ability to copy/move directly from an attached drive, i.e., avoiding going through the PC.

  23. Anonymous says:

    so is this 1gigabit or what?

    took many hours to copy over 300gb

    –> my blog = chadp.org

  24. Anonymous says:

    I have the same issue as commented in the article..

    When the system is set up at default im getting 60mbit speed writing to the unit, and 80 reading.

    The speed improves by setting the units networking option to the jumbo options.
    At the highest level I get nearly 90mbit writing and 70-80 reading?!?!?..

    Im puzzeled by this.. how can they claim its a gigabit net-interface? when its really only performing at 100mbit?

    Im appauled… Iv writte buffalotech… interested in the excuse…

    –kurgan

  25. Hello, tnx for your precious post about firewire usb hub, well done!

  26. I’ll stick with my iPod.

  27. Thermal Mugs says:

    How times change! WD just put out an internal 3TB drive at a reasonable price (sorta).

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  29. Pretty cool toy, will check it out.

  30. Super Foods says:

    I love my MP3s.

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