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Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra-6 Network Storage: First Impressions

2012/06/23

I recently had one of those moments of illumination where you realize that something you were doing had gone beyond making sense.  Sure, I experience these moments pretty often.  This time it happened when I was adding yet-another Network-Attached-Storage (NAS) unit to my home network.  That would be Number Four.  Hey, when there was “one”, it made a heck of a lot of sense.  When there were two, I could easily rationalize it.  The third unit, well, that was borderline.  And the fourth was just crazy.  I spent the required number of hours setting it up, trying to keep track of what to copy where.  Making sure the right disks were in the correct NAS.  And then I realized I was out of power outlets and network connections and copying things from there to here just took forever anyway.  It’s time to refactor my network storage.

I’ve been using the ReadyNAS platform since Infrant was in its hay-day.  I’ve been very pleased with so many aspects of the ReadyNAS NV+ that it was natural for me to consider the Netgear ReadyNAS product line.  When a friend pointed out the NewEgg.COM special on the ReadyNAS Ultra line, I just caved in and decided to repalce all my existing units with a single Ultra 6 component.  In doing so, I could possibly resell all the existing units and pocket a nice piece of change.  But knowing that someday I might need to select Restore Factory Defaults and wipe everything out, it seems like I’ll hold onto at least one of the older units as my backup to my backups.

The ReadyNAS Ultra6, which I’ll call RU6 to avoid typing errors, arrived within 24 hours from the time I ordered it.  It is nicely double-boxed in brown cardboard in true OEM style, not the shiny retail packaging I was used to seeing with the ReadyNAS NV+ units.  There wasn’t much inside the box: the RU6, a power cord, a massively fat yellow ethernet cord, a CDROM with the RAIDar software and a sheet of paper that told you almost nothing.  I unpacked everything and rushed to my workshop to begin the migration.

On the bench, my first impression is the look of the unit is very stylish.  WHile the older NV+ is chrome and has a solid mass to it, the RU6 is black with thinner body panels and more plastic on the front panel.  I suspect this won’t hold up to rough handling as well as the NV+ units could, and that might be one reason the RU6 no longer has a carrying handle on the back.  “Use two hands and be careful” might be somewhere on that sheet of paper they included – look for yourself.

The hot-swappable disk caddy has a much improved release.  Netgear has abandoned the problematic sticky-pushbuttons with a slider switch.  It seems lighter-duty than the old buttons, but seems less prone to sticking and banging than the old design.  (I found a light but sharp tab on the old buttons always releases them, so that was never an issue for me, anyway.)  I swapped the new caddy into an old system and vice-versa and they seem to be swappable.

While the caddy can be swapped between the older NV+ “Sparc” systems and the newer RU6 “x86” hardware, the actual hard disk surface formats are different.  As a result, you can’t just take your existing RAID disks from the old unit and place them in the new.  So, that’s exactly what I did.  To my existing four (4) 2TB drives I added two new 2TB drives and populated all six slots.  What happens next frustrates a lot of new users, but didn’t surprise me at all.  Upon boot, the RU6 reported “Corrupted Root” and would go no further.  And, at the time, the ReadyNAS support site was down.  Thank goodness there are search engines and on-line product reviews.

I was able to power-up the RU6 while pressing the back-panel Reset button (just above the dual ethernet ports) and brought up the Boot Menu.  Pressing the front panel Backup button moved through the menu until I reached the “Test Disk” option.  One more press of Reset and the RU6 began to test my disk media to see if it would work.  It took about one hour per terabyte to test the drives, and all tested fine.  I then repeated the Boot Menu sequence to select Factory Defaults.  Most experienced users know this means “Abandon Ship! All is Lost!” – I think that’s on the paper, too.  Anyway, what this does is rewrite the firmware to disk and recreates the entire RAID volume. Which means it wipes out all your data.  You backed that up, right?  I hope you did.  I did.  The rebuld took all night and much of the next day, but it was uneventful.

The next step was to Register the unit.  When you attempt to do a System Update Firmware, you get this Register button every time until you register for support.  Well, it seems that many people get that button even after they register.  I was one of those folks.  I clicked through “Later” to proceed with a firmware upgrade (after I registered) but the Remote Update failed with an unspecified error.  So, I went over to Netgear and downloaded the firmware and began a Local Update.  This update, from RAIDiator 4.2.15 to 4.2.19 included a change in disk layouts to support 3TB drives.  Although I don’t have 3TB drives, I did want some of the listed bug fixes, so I upgraded the firmware.  But when drives are changed, you can expect a long wait, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Well, actually, I was disappointed.  It took a long time.  And there isn’t a lot of staus from the browser interface or RAIDar.  If you have the unit next to you, maybe you see more.  I didn’t.  Mine was two floors away so I didn’t bother going to look.  When the update compelted, the <dot>19 was ther after reboot and the Register buttons were gone.  Great.

So, let’s assume you have an RU6 with less than six drives.  For example, an RU6 with 5 2TB drives will have 7.2TB of available space.  That means the various RAID options have a 28% space overhead by default.  When you add a sixth 2TB drive, an auto-magic expansion will take place.  Again, not much browser or RAIDar staus on this, but if you visit the unit you wills ee it display things like “Restriping 2.7%”.  That’s another long, slow process.  But it sends you an email when it’s finished. An email.  Not a text message.  An email.  Can’t these things Tweet?  Nope.

At this point you get an email that says there is a new firmware version, <dot>21, but you can’t interrupt the volume expansion so you wait to do that another time.  Have lunch, watch a sporting event, have dinner and come back and do the update.  Things should be fine.

Bottom line: It’s a great little unit, but active event status could be better reported.  The overhead of RAID is still pretty high at 28%.  But that isn’t new with this RU6.  That’s always true.  I think it’s very attractive and at 68W idle it’s much more energy efficient than running four NV+ units at 23W each.  Yes, I would do this again.

Now, I’m anxious to get those rsync copies going for the weekend.  And put those NV+ units on eBay.

16-JULY-2012 UPDATE:  The Ten Minute ReadyNAS Ultra 6 Memory Upgrade

I just returned from a relaxing vacation and figured it was time to upgrade the memory on my Ultra6 unit.  I just know the Factory Default of 1GB of RAM isn’t going to be satisfactory when I add things like the LAMP stack and the various add-ons I’ve learned to love.  So, I found a ten minute process to make the upgrade work for me.  Your mileage may vary and don’t blame me for things that might not work for you.  Once you take the screwdriver in hand, you agree to hold me free from liability for your problems.

1. Acquire DDR2 240-pin PC2-5300 Dual Channel memory.  You can make sure you have the correct memory by checking the /proc/cpuinfo file for the CPU and checking online references for what memory works with that CPU.  It is likely the proprietary motherboard in your NAS also supports that memory specification.  Mine does.  I selected two (2) 2GB G.Skill memory cards, a matched set from eBay that cost me US$35.  The G.Skill cards were DDR2 240-pin PC2-5300 2GB 1.8-1.9v with 4-4-4-12 timings. They might be overkill for an Atom machine, but they work.

2. Power off the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra6.  Unplug doesn’t hurt, either.

3. Remove the two (2) rear panel screws that hold the side panel on the motherboard side. This is the side where the Ethernet ports are located.  I used an undersized Phillips screwdriver to protect against over-torquing the screws and they wre not heavily torqued to begin.  Just apply enough pressure to keep the screwdriver from slipping.  Slide the panel slightly rearward and pull it away from the chassis.  Place it in a safe place to avoid scratching it.

4. Remove five (5) or six (6) screws from the bottom of the now-exposed motherboard.  If you can remove the right-most screws only, that would be great, but the memory is on the right end and it was very difficult to align it without pulling that end out a reasonable amount.  So, I took off all six screws and had to carefully realign the board afterwards.

5. Carefully carefully carefully pull the right edge of the motherboard away from the chassis.  Do NOT disconnect any wires or plugs.  Try to keep the left edge close to the chassis and aligned.  Pop open the memory card end-tabs and remove the existing memory card. Make note of where the alignment slot is located so you are inserting the new cards in the same way.  (For me this meant labels down and to the right.)

6. Carefully carefully carefully align the new memory cards (you got two, right?), doing the left-most card first and snapping the locking tabs back into place.  Do not force the tabs, since the need to force them indicates you don’t have them properly aligned.  Make sure the cards are aligned as the original card was and are properly seated.

7. Carefully (did I overuse this term?) align the motherboard and reinsert and don’t overtighten the six (6) screws.

8. Reinstall the side cover and two screws.

9. Power-up holding the Reset button to run a memory test.  Everyone says do this a zillion times.  I skipped it.  What system actually runs with bad memory?  Don’t skip it.

RESULTS:

RAIDisk:/proc# cat meminfo | grep Mem
MemTotal:        4044844 kB
MemFree:         3654408 kB

2012-12-03 Update: The Five-Minute Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 6 Plus Memory Upgrade

I found two nice 2GB sticks of PC2-6400 4-4-4-12 DDR2 on Newegg for a reasonable (for DDR2) price, and can tell you the installation was trivial. You simply remove two screws that hold the side panel and the memory sockets are staring at you. The fit is snug, with one front-panel connector making for the only installation complication, but it didn’t take five minutes from the first touch of a screw to the last touch of a screw.

There is a lot written about whether this upgrade improves performance and whether it is supported by Netgear.  My experience with the first upgrade was Netgear Support asked me if it worked and thanked me for the information.  All the caveats about testing memory ten times seems like folklore, too, but don’t take my word for it.  I now have two ReadyNAS Ultra units running 4GB of RAM, using the memory and they both run great.  I think a 32-bit operating system should have 4GB of RAM, but that’s just me.  I still get a little chuckle out of the forum “helpers” who eventually come-out after giving scads of advice and admit they don’t actually own the unit themselves.  But they are trying to help.

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