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Plenty of desktop NAS vendors are offering diskless systems allowing you to put your spare SATA drives back into active duty but VIA's Artigo A2000 goes one step further. This little box of tricks has enough grunt to run just about any operating system that takes your fancy enabling it to play a wider range of roles.
Measuring a modest 135 x 115 x 259 mm (W x H x D), the A2000 is home to a tiny Nano-ITX motherboard which manages to pack in an impressive specification. You get a 1.5GHz VIA C7-D processor and the single SO-DIMM socket accepts a 667MHz DDR2 module up to 2GB. The board has integrated audio and graphics plus a pair of 3Gbps SATA II ports that are wired through to a backplane allowing drives to be slotted in from the front.
You have a USB 2.0 port at the front and two more at the rear, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and room for an optional 802.11b/g wireless module where a hole is already cut out at the back for its aerial. There's more as underneath the motherboard is a CompactFlash slot so you could boot your chosen OS from an SSD and use the two SATA drive bays purely for storage. The only feature conspicuous by its absence is RAID, so if you want this you'll need to choose an OS that can manage its own arrays.
The lid is easily removed and its piano black finish will have you poised with the polishing cloth as it shows fingerprints easily. The motherboard sits at the back and we were impressed to see that VIA has managed to squeeze an active heatsink on top of the processor. General cooling is handled by a decent 8cm ball-bearing fan at the back and we found the A2000 to be almost silent during testing.
The front panel needs to be popped off first and then you can slide your drives into place and secure them with the supplied mounting screws. Don't forget to source some memory as the system is not supplied with any and the suppliers, mini-itx.com, can furnish you with a 2GB module for just under £40. However, we did some shopping around and found one for less than £30 at www.orcalogic.co.uk.
As its full moniker suggests, VIA has aimed the A2000 at network storage duties but it has passed it as clear to run XP, Vista, Ubuntu and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop. VIA provides a small software bundle for Windows that includes its Strong Box utility which takes advantage of the VIA processor and allows you to create encrypted virtual drives for securely storing data. You also get True Delete, which securely erases files, and a System Management Tool for monitoring the system and scheduling power on and power off actions.