Dressed in matte black, the serious exterior is quite simple — a meshed grille to allow airflow to the drives, a power button, a USB port and a programmable backup button. An OLED readout is at the top of the unit, letting you know if disks have failed, if it's rebuilding and its progress, network connectivity, capacity used and other diagnostic messages. This is a boon, allowing for quick-glance diagnostics of the system.
The back is similarly simple: two gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB ports and a hardware reset hole (the type that requires a straightened paper clip to press). There's a strange four-pin adapter there too, almost hidden, but its purpose is anyone's guess. At one time it seems there was a serial port there as well, but all that's left now is a blank place holder where it used to be.
Open the front door and six quick release, hot swappable hard drive bays with caddies are presented, each with grilles for airflow. They're released by a simple push-button system, which flips the front cover of each caddy up and levers the drive away from its connection so the user can easily remove them. Installation is easy — simply screw your drives into the caddies, push them into the bays and you're away.
Initial set-up requires the installation of Netgear's RAIDar software (available on Windows, OS X and Linux), which can scan to find the ReadyNAS on the network, set up the RAID level, automatically load the SMB share in Windows Explorer or flash the disk icons on the LED to physically locate the ReadyNAS if you have more than one.
Netgear's RAIDar will help you find your ReadyNAS and configure it. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Management is otherwise done through Netgear's web interface (launchable through RAIDar or directly accessible through a browser), which is consistent, powerful and easy to use. There are a wealth of options that may scare off new users, but pro users are in for a treat, with not only access to all the ReadyNAS features, but diagnostic lights provided at the bottom of the interface to let you know that all your disks, volumes, fans, UPS and temperature are all operating within spec. A click on these brings up the appropriate status screen. Online firmware upgrade is supported, which is highly fortunate as the firmware we downloaded from Netgear's site was not recognised.
A comprehensive log of all activity is kept and warning messages pop up whenever a critical event like a disk replacement occurs. A few bugs are present here though — for a start, Netgear hasn't implemented proper tab ordering, making it next to impossible to hit tab to go from one input field to the next. If you hit tab enough times to reach the expandable menu on the left, the menu options start disappearing. Not good, and something we hope Netgear will address rapidly.
Noise is also a small concern with the ReadyNAS Pro. Equipped with a 90mm fan on the side, and a 90mm and 120mm fan on the rear, for the most part it was reasonably quiet — however, occasionally it spun up to relatively annoying volumes. Cooling six disks is not an easy task, but it is a factor home users should be aware of. You can recalibrate the fans through software, though the absolute speed is not user-definable.
Like other ReadyNAS devices, the Pro is incredibly feature-packed. There's actually two versions of the Pro, the Business Edition and the Pioneer Edition. The latter comes with no included hard drives and lacks Ethernet failover and teaming, iSCSI, Active Directory, Access Control Lists, snapshots, SNMP support and backup utilities, and has a three-year warranty instead of five. That huge whack of extras may make the Business Edition look appealing, but you can only buy it with included hard drives and Netgear applies quite a hefty tax for those.
To illustrate this, the single Pioneer model (RNDP600E) costs around AU$2400. The base RNDP6350 Business Edition model, which comes with three 500GB hard drives, goes for about AU$2900. Upgrade this to the RNDP6310, which comes with three 1TB hard drives, and suddenly the cost sky-rockets to around AU$4200. Upgrade again to the RNDP6610 with six 1TB drives and you can expect to pay approximately AU$6500. This is utter daylight robbery, considering the included business-grade 1TB Seagate Barracuda ES.2 drives go for around AU$290. Drop down to the more consumer 7200.12 drives and you can expect to pay AU$180 per 1TB drive. Take our advice — buy the cheapest model, and add your own drives.
The biggest addition is X-RAID 2 — the next version of Netgear's proprietary RAID. X-RAID 2's speciality is online expansion — it lets you start with one disk, then if a second is added it treats that as the redundant disk, and any further disks added simply get added to the capacity of the volume.
Where X-RAID 2 has evolved over the original X-RAID, however, is in volume expansion when all bays are full. With the original X-RAID (as featured on the ReadyNAS NV+), to get extra capacity in an already full device, you needed to pull a hard drive, insert a larger capacity one, wait for the rebuild to complete, then pull the next hard drive, wait for the rebuild to complete ... once all hard drives had been replaced, only then would the volume capacity increase.
X-RAID 2 starts things earlier — once you have replaced two of the smaller drives with larger capacity drives (one for data, one for parity), extra volume space is made available immediately, as it is with each subsequent replacement. It's a nice way of not only allowing the user to upgrade piecemeal whenever budget allows, but it also means several hours aren't lost waiting for a rebuild before capacity is made available. For those that feel safer not putting their faith in X-RAID, RAID 0, 1, 5 and 6 are also available.
The ReadyNAS Pro's web UI (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Curiously there's no way to destroy or create an array in the web UI, despite the manual's suggestions otherwise. What needs to be enacted is the same ungraceful procedure required to recover from a catastrophically failed array — the occurrence of which will render your ReadyNAS inoperable until you perform the procedure below, as the OS is installed to the disks themselves.
This involves turning the NAS off, holding the hard reset button at the back down, powering the NAS back on and releasing the reset button when a boot menu appears. After this you can then use the backup button to cycle through menu options — selecting Factory Default by pressing the reset button again and then using RAIDar will allow you to set up your new array. From the boot menu you can also choose to boot the ReadyNAS normally, do an OS reinstall, skip the volume check, do a memory test or test the disks.
It's only when you finally get inside the ReadyNAS' UI that you realise the wealth of features the thing has. On the networking front, the gigabit network ports are teamable (supporting round-robin, active backup, XOR, Broadcast, IEEE 802.3ad, transmit load balancing and adaptive load balancing) and support failover, VLAN and jumbo frames. WINS, DHCP and setting manual routes are supported, as are CIFS, NFS, AFP, Bonjour, UPnP protocols, and FTP, HTTP, HTTPS, Rsync, Squeezecenter, iTunes, DLNA and home media streaming servers.
As an add-on, ReadyNAS remote can access your shares on your ReadyNAS securely without the need for a VPN. The device will work over either a workgroup or a domain, and supports iSCSI targeting. Snapshotting is possible (using a user-definable amount of space in 5GB increments up to 100GB); scheduled disk scrubbing with auto parity fix makes sure that the old spectre of the RAID write hole is hopefully avoided.
Backups can be scheduled, with almost any remote or local source or destination you can think of. It supports Apple's Time Machine and also Netgear's ReadyNAS Vault, supplying online, offsite backup for 30 days free, and then US$5.95 a month after that for the basic service (5GB storage, up to 20 file versions kept, US$0.40/GB for additional storage per month) and US$19.95 for the business service (50GB storage, US$150 for an extra 50GB per year).
Printer sharing and UPS management is implemented, customisable email alerts are available and there's even a performance tab, allowing you to tweak settings to your desire to try and eke out extra speed. It supports a multitude of languages, allows you to backup your configuration if you want to wipe the NAS and start again, offers power on/off scheduling and disk spin down, as well as Wake on LAN.
For the most part this is quite easy to set up; however, user creation and folder sharing could do with a more user friendly overhaul, such as on Synology's DS209. As it stands, adding a new share doesn't tell you that you're creating a new folder (initially confusing for those who are used to creation and sharing existing as two different things) and sub-folder permissions don't exist. User names and groups have to be entered manually instead of from a generated list and on the whole is something that could be done a lot better.
Interestingly the "C" folder turns up in Windows Explorer as being shared on the ReadyNAS. This is the root folder of the volume — though it is password protected, and seemingly cannot be accessed or its permissions modified through the web UI.
One thing that needs to be highlighted is Netgear's amazingly comprehensive ReadyNAS community, offering software downloads, third-party expansions, tips, manuals, updates and a highly active set of forums.
Internally, Netgear has forsaken the Infrant Technologies IT3107 CPU that drove its earlier ReadyNAS products and has jumped on the Intel bandwagon, resulting in a significant performance boost. Featuring a 1.8GHz Intel E2160 dual-core CPU and 1024MB of dedicated DDR2 RAM, the Pro means business and is unlikely to suffer from any slowdowns. It is essentially a small PC, even allowing users to upgrade RAM up to 4GB.
With its default configuration in X-RAID 2 with six 1TB drives the ReadyNAS screamed, reaching 105MBps writes to the unit over a Netgear GS108T switch, and 106MBps reads, making it by far the fastest NAS we've tested to date.
With the ReadyNAS Pro, Netgear has proved it's still king of the hill, from insane performance figures to an unmatched feature set. However, some interface quirks, inelegant recovery from catastrophic volume failure, and poor volume, user and share management may put some users off.