Promise is known in the consumer space for producing entry-level storage card solutions, and it has taken this one level up by producing a NAS. The SmartStor NS4600 is a NAS that takes four 3.5-inch SATA disks. Three sides and the rear are powder-coated silver, while the right-hand side and the front are piano black.
The front is spartan, featuring a swing out lockable door giving access to the drive trays, blue diagnostic lights for hard drive and network activity as well as power, and a one touch backup button. Curiously, the power button is on the back, next to two USB ports, an eSATA port, a single gigabit Ethernet port and an 80mm fan.
The drive caddies are simply four sides of plastic, attached to the drives via four flat screws. It can initially be a little fiddly but it's effective enough, and once the drives are in it has enough structural integrity to do the job.
Flipping to the underside, a hatch is discovered, covering the NS4600's power supply — which is simply an external adapter that's been fitted inside, removable presumably to cut down on heat generation.
Initial set-up is performed through the included SmartNAVI program, which sits in your system tray and allows you to locate and configure your NAS. SmartNAVI could do with a redesign — it looks like an IM client, is non-resizable and gives you no idea of progress after you've selected how you want your disk array to be set up, an infuriating prospect since the unit is inaccessible until it's finished. The unit also beeps annoyingly until SmartNAVI finishes setting up, the device is clearly unable to tell a new set of drives from a failed array.
SmartNAVI also establishes a trend that's continued into the web UI — that is, Promise is trying to use "friendly" terms instead of real world terms, and so users are never really sure what they're getting. For example, initially you are prompted either to set up the disks as maximum capacity or data security. This is either going to set you up as RAID 0 or 5, but it never mentions this, making for some confusing moments. Thankfully, once into the web UI (the awkwardly named WebPASM), you can select RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 or 5 plus spare and it does give volume creation progress here — although you have to go through the rigmarole of deleting the array already established by SmartNAVI.
SmartNAVI looks like an IM client. It's not that useful
though, and can't be resized. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
After launching the web UI welcome page and clicking on WebPASM, the UI looks dated, but is functional enough. Further obfuscation exists here under the Protocol Control section, presumably with the good intention of making it "easier" for non-technical users, but in the process making things a little bit harder for everyone else. As a result, CIFS/AFP/NFS are simply listed as "Windows", "Apple" and "Linux".
If you looked at a website nine years ago, it probably
looked like this, with horizontal lines and frames. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Still, it does offer an FTP server, print sharing, an SMB recycle bin, will work on AD, offers a BitTorrent server through MLDonkey and Firefly media streamer for iTunes and DLNA support. The BitTorrent server simply doesn't work, it needs you to add IPs to a validation list, which seems to be inaccessible through the web UI or through SMB.
Backups are offered through snapshots and NAS replication, and it supports dynamic DNS services. APC UPS's are supported over USB, and wake on LAN and disk spin down are also available, and of course user and group management is here. Despite ticking all the boxes, we can't help but feel underwhelmed compared to the impressive feature sets and interfaces offered by D-Link, Synology and QNAP. As if to hammer the point home, firmware upgrading is esoteric, requiring you to upload the firmware separately to a location on the NAS, then enter the file name manually by typing it.
The secondary part of Promise's web interface is its "Media Center" — an HTML front-end to play back music, video and image files. The layout was broken under Firefox 3.5 and Internet Explorer 8, and failed to show any of the video or music files we copied across, despite having the option to sort by artist, album, genre or playlist for the latter. There's no link back to the main administration menu, and you're forced to log in to both, rather than universally under the one session.
Another design FUBAR — if you have a 22-inch monitor or larger, the "Media Center" interface will break. Oh, and it can't find any files like it's meant to, either. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
The NS4600 is based on Intel's Tolapai system on a chip, running at 600MHz and paired up with 256MB RAM. Its price point should be a giveaway on performance — in RAID 5 with four 1TB disks, transferring a 1GB file over a Netgear GS108T reached a maximum write speed of 32MB/s, and 57MB/s maximum read. This doesn't improve at all when setting the NS4600 up in RAID 0. This is unsurprising considering the cost — the SmartStor was never going to be a high-end Netgear ReadyNAS, Synology or QNAP competitor, nor should it be. Rather, it's in the same mainstream arena as D-Link's DNS343.
The SmartStor NS4600 ticks all the required boxes for being a NAS. However, it has a dated interface, its ease of use needs attention, and some features simply don't work. Admittedly, these are all software issues that could be fixed with time — but if you need an affordable four-bay NAS now, we'd recommend the D-Link DNS-343 instead.