A home user' first impressions

This weekend I received my copy of a NA-1400. It is a 1TB model equiped with four Seagate 7200.9 250GB hardisks and this page sums the first impressions I got trying to familiarize myself with it.

What's in the box

The Newisys NA-1400 comes in a cardboard box and is protected agains damage during transport and handling using foam struts. There is also a seperate power supply (like the ones used for laptops), a Quick Start Manual in several languages and a Safety Regulatory Information leaflet in several languages. Also a Discovery CD containing software and the usersmanual is enclosed. However I was unable to use this CD; it wouldn’t be recognised by (all) three of my CD/DVD players/recorders.

Note: If you order your own copy of the NA-1400 make sure you ask for a power cord, because in some countries the power cord isn’t provided automatically.

Oh my God: The noise!

While Newisys claims the NA-1400 is a ‘desktop appliance designed for home use’, I can assure you: it is not! The noise produced by the 9cm system fan is loud, so loud in fact that you can clearly hear it in other rooms. For a device that is designed to run 24/7 this is totally unacceptable in my opinion.

I must admit Newisys has tried to implement some intelligence in controlling the fan, but I can only conclude this attempt has failed: The fan starts revving up after a few minutes and never settles down after that. Having the box turned on for one day and one night the fan was still going at 3/4 to full rpm creating heaps of noise.

When the NA-1400 is booting the fan is rotating at a basic speed at which it could barely be heard if the fan wouldn’t ‘rattle’ that much at this rpm. It sounds as if the fan is old and near the end of it’s lifespan allready (When the fan is connected to a stabalized power supply this behaviour is not present, therefore the problem is not the fan but in the system that controls it).

I also noticed that the fan speed is changing a lot when it is still spinning at lower speeds. With a frequency of about 1Hz the fan is revving up and slowing down again which is also very noticable.

On top of the fan noise, the housing seems to amplify the seek noises produced by the harddisks. These clicks can even be easilly heard over the whine of the system fan. Every now and then there is also a high pitched beep, which sounds like a piezo beeper (but there isn’t any piezo beeper in the system). I suspect that these beeps are produced by the harddisks and are not caused by the NA-1400.

Waiting for the userinterface...

While the webbased userinterface looks good and has quite a lot of options, it is also slow. Every request made to the webinterface is answered at least five to seven seconds later. This is enough to give you the feeling that it is slow. This slowness is getting enormous proportions when there is data being sent to or from the NA-1400. In this case one has to wait about 30 to 60 seconds on every request. Using seperate ethernet ports for data and webinterface doesn’t resolve this problem. This is not a workable situation.

What are they doing?

The NA-1400 is constantly reading and/or writing to the harddisks. Even when the NA-1400 is left running for a day and a night without any activity from the network, the harddisk LEDs are still flashing erratic every few seconds. So far I have no idea what they are doing (well, they could be swap space actions but I’m not sure of this), but judging on my experience with other Linux servers this is not what it is supposed to do.

The staggered spinup of the harddisks works beautifully though!

Firmware update please

During my early tests I’ve encountered a few hickups in the firmware. Nothing big and probably easilly fixed. Newisys provided a Release Notes document listing all known problems. This - hopefully - indicates that Newisys is serious when it comes to fixing bugs and will provide new firmwares on a regular basis! Only the future will tell...

There is currently no way of knowing if there is a newer firmware available. Users of an NA-1400 have to ask their reseller to provide this information which makes this process far from straight forward. I think it would be a good idea for Newisys to make their latest firmware downloadable for anyone whithout having to ask for a special download link. Better yet, the webinterface of the NA-1400 should have an option to automatically install the latest version.

Because the NA-1400 uses Linux as it’s operating system, Newisys should comply to the GPL license of Linux and provide the source code to anyone asking for it.

Below are some of the bugs I encountered:

SSH: Authentication failed

The NA-1400 is running an SSH server providing secure shell access. Trying to logon to this service using the credentials given in the users manual (root/secret) results in an error ‘Authentication failed’. Trying to do a ‘brute force hack’ where I tried several commonly used username/password combinations failed miserably. Also the webinterface option to synchronise the SSH password with the admin password of the webinterface did not work as did the ‘reset to defaults’ function. So far I’ve got no idea how to access the SSH daemon.

Second network connection

When two network cables are connected to the NA-1400, only one will become active. The second has to be activated manually using the webinterface. This is a minor problem but it seriously confused me at first, but then I learned it was actually a bug.

Moving the data around

To get a feel on the speed I’ve done a couple of ‘tests’ using my desktop computer (AMD64 3000+) as a host, explorer to copy the data and a stopwatch. I am aware that these tests won’t meet any real test criteria, but they will represent a normal users experience when it’s using the Newisys NA-1400 (How long does it take Windows to get it done). During the gigabit network tests the NA-1400 is directly connected to the desktop’s onboard Marvel gigabit network card, there is no other network gear involved. For the 100 Mbit tests the NA-1400 is connected to the desktop computer using a cheap 8-port 100 Mbit switch.

  1. Single large file (340 MB)
  2. Single small file (20 MB)
  3. Website 3000 files, 336 folders (14.1 MB)
WRITING DATA
test nr gigabit speed duration average
1 yes 4 - 17 MB/s 40 seconds 8.5 MB/s
2 yes 7 - 13 MB/s 2 seconds 10 MB/s
3 yes 0.1 - 1 MB/s 77 seconds 0.18 MB/s
1 no 3 - 9 MB/s 58 seconds 5.3 MB/s
2 no 3 - 9 MB/s 3 seconds 6.6 MB/s
3 no 0.1 - 1 MB/s 75 seconds 0.19 MB/s

Clearly gigabit has an advantage here in most situations, but not as much as Newisys is stating in it’s datasheet (18 - 22 MB/s). This is because RAID-5 puts the most strain on the CPU and storage subsystem and Newisys has probably used RAID-0 or JBOD to produce these numbers. This is somewhat misleading because all NA-1400’s are sold with the harddisks preconfigured to use RAID-5. I assume not many users will change this default configuration.

When it comes to moving lots of small files around, the NA-1400 cannot benefit from a gigabit network.

Conclusions

If you are looking for a nice and quiet machine, hidden away somewhere on your desk or even in your room where you spend more then a few minutes a day, then you should definately look further. The Newisys NA-1400 is way too loud to fit into this picture.

The reason for this could lie in the close proximity of the harddisks to eachother which results in the fan needing to rev at higher rpm’s to be able to pull the air into the housing. It is also possible that it is merely a poorly designed fan, certainly there are fans around that are much quieter then the rest (like Pabs). Also the outtake fan is place very close underneath the systemboard. It is also possible the noise is created by the air flowing around some of the components on the systemboard. Whatever the reason is, Newisys would have made a good choice when they had taken a closer/second look on this.

It is probably feasable to reduce noice produced by the fan by replacing it with a low-noise version and by adding additional cooling, but this will probably void the warranty and it is certainly not something every ordinary user is able/willing to do. Also the seek noises can probably be reduced by adding some heavy matting on the side panels to reduce the vibrations, but again this is not something that can be done without voiding the waranty because the inner- and outerhousing is rivetted together using four rivets.

 
doc/general/firstimpression.txt · Last modified: 2006/07/13 17:57 by admin