- Review Price: £286.35
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.
Rather than turn the A2000 into just another PC, we wanted to test with proper storage related operating systems and opted for Windows Home Server (WHS) and the highly featured FreeNAS software. Starting with WHS, we dropped a couple of Western Digital Raptor hard disks in the A2000 and booted it from the installation disk using an external USB DVD drive. This process does take a while but after an hour or so we had the A2000 up and running with WHS ready to go.
Management options are extensive as you can put a local monitor, mouse and keyboard on the A2000 or access it from the remote WHS console. Either way, we were able to configure the system to present SMB and FTP services over the network without any problems.
We found the A2000 handled WHS extremely well and didn’t find that it handicapped performance at all. For real world testing we copied a 2.52GB video file over Gigabit Ethernet using another Vista system and saw respectable read and write speeds of 23.5MB/sec and 15MB/sec. FTP performance was even better with the FileZilla client utility reporting very good read and write speeds of 51.5MB/sec and 24.5MB/sec
FreeNAS installation was a far swifter process as we booted the A2000 using a DVD created from the downloaded ISO image and were up and running in less than ten minutes. Considering it’s a freebie, FreeNAS really does pile on the features as it supports Windows, Unix, Linux and Mac clients and can use Active Directory authentication. Multimedia services include the Firefly iTunes server and you even get support for iSCSI targets and initiators.
The only drawback is performance as standard Windows copies using the same test file returned meagre read and write speeds of 9.2MB/sec and 8.9MB/sec. FTP speeds weren’t any better with our tests returning 11MB/sec and only 4.7MB/sec.
As a DIY storage and media streaming appliance, the ARTiGO A2000 is a remarkable little system with a lot of potential. Our only reservation is the cost of this project, as add together the price of the system, a memory module and a single 500GB hard disk and you’re already over £300. For less than this you can pick up Netgear’s smart little ReadyNAS Duo with a 500GB drive – we rest our case.
(centre)”’We found the FreeNAS software worked fine with the A2000 and supports software managed RAID arrays”’(/centre)
(centre)”’For a free utility, FreeNAS really does offer an impressive range of features”’(/centre)
(centre)”’Multimedia services in FreeNAS include the Firefly iTunes server”’(/centre)
(centre)”’WHS worked just as well with the A2000 and delivered a better overall performance than FreeNAS”’(/centre)
(centre)”’For Windows operating systems you have VIA’s System Management utility although we found its power controls failed to work”’(/centre)
Score in detail
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