Saturday, October 21, 2006

Netgear SC101 Storage Central Review

The third time's a charm . . . sort of.
I have recently taken an unplanned pilgrimage to the market for Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. These devices let you add more storage to your existing home network so that you can share music, movies, and other media with other computers or with devices that can stream content in your house. The key advantage to NAS devices are that they plug right into your router/switch, not an individual computer on the network.


I first purchased D-Link's DSM-G600 (reviewed here) and returned it because of a manufacturer's defect. I then purchased Linksys' NSLU2 (reviewed here) and was quite dissatisfied by Linksys' false advertising and the product's overwhelmingly poor performance, so I returned that as well.

I have purchased Netgear's SC101 Storage Central and, although it has some drawbacks, it is probably the best out of the three. Although with slight reluctance, I declare this NAS device a keeper.

I. Yet Another NAS Concept



Netgear has stayed out of the NAS market for a long time and the SC101 represents their first real attempt to capture any portion of the home consumer market. As noted in earlier posts, NAS devices come in many shapes and sizes and the SC101 is no exception.

As you can see above, the SC101 has 2 drive bays that can take 3.5" hard drives, which unlike the DSM-G600 that can only take 1 hard drive. Having 2 drive bays allows mirroring of your hard drives (RAID 1 configuration), but according to Tom's Hardware Guide, enabling this kind of setup slows down performance.

The drawback of this setup is that the SC101 has no USB ports available, which means you cannot add additional hard drives to your network later on.

The SC101, D-Link's DSM-G600, and Linksys' NSLU2 represent a spectrum of NAS concepts. The SC101 offers no expandability, but doesn't require to you buy individual enclosures for your hard drives. The drawback here is that you cannot add drives later on. Compare this with the NSLU2, which represents the other extreme. The NSLU2 is minimal and simply allows you to plug in whatever external devices you like. Occupying a middle ground is the DSM-G600, which basically gives you an internal enclosure and USB ports. The DSM-G600 is the best option theoretically, though the fact that the product line is defective means that it isn't a viable option.

II. Installation and Setup

I had two spare 200GB drives laying around (one from Seagate and another from Maxtor). Opening up the machine was very easy. On the front panel is a spring loaded lock that you can twist open with a quarter. The face of the SC101 pops up easily and reveals two drive bays. You don't need any screws; just slide in the drives and connect the IDE cable and the power connector. It's a snug fit, but the face of the SC101 does not seem to be set tight enough, which does make some noise from vibrations.

You turn on the machine and plug it into your network, then you have to run the setup CD. One possibly major drawback for some users might be that the SC101 only works on PCs running XP or Win2k. Although I use XP Professional, I can really see how this might be a point of contention for a lot of other users who use a mix of machines.

The other drawback is that you must add the drive manually to each and every computer on your network by running the install CD. This might make the SC101 a poor option for a small business that has several computers.

III. File Systems Revisited

I won't go into the same tirade I went into last time on how NAS devices require you to format your hard drives to a particular format, rendering whatever media you already have useless. The SC101 is no exception. Nowhere on the box does it suggest that it will reformat your drives or that it uses a peculiar proprietary IP-protocol. It turns out you do have to format your hard drives, information virtually hidden on the Quick Install pamphlet that comes with the CD.

The SC101 employs "Z-SAN" technology by Zetera. This format is proprietary, and Windows mounts the hard drives as "SFSZ" disks, which I have never seen before and have very little information about. I have also noticed that after updating to the latest firmware, the SC101 drives are now displayed as "DATAPLOW_ZFS" file systems. The SC101 lets you create one large virtual drive or multiple drives of different sizes, all independent of the number and size of the physical hard drives you are using.

At this point, I have conceeded that there are no good NAS options that have true NTFS compatability and I am willing to trade off this significant drawback in exchange for ease of use and strong performance, of which the SC101 has both. I figure I already have at least two spare hard drives that are wiped clean, so I'll just format them and move on from there.

IV. Using the SC101

During installation, the SC101 installs a SCSI driver on your system for these hard drives. When you leave your home network, the drives disappear from your "My Computer" listing. But the moment you log into your home network, the drives appear.

Windows XP creates an annoyance here because of its "Autoplay" feature. When the computer recognizes a drive, a status bar pops up scanning the hard drive and then a window pops up how you'd like to view the new media. This major pain has been mentioned on a number of forums and I am glad to say that Netgear's most recent software/firmware update resolves this issue.

I will mention that Netgear's process for updating your software and firmware is counterintuitive because you have to download and install the updates on each and every computer. And after an update, one of the drives won't show up or attach properly for a few hours. Buggy firmware as usual.

Once installed, browsing and streaming your files is a breeze, however. I can upload to the drives at about 5,000 KB/sec, which is more than I was expecting. There are no significant lags unlike the DSM-G600 and the NSLU2. Nor are transfers are interrupted when I or someone else on the network access the drive. I can also access both drives at the same time too. I have not had any problems streaming movies, music, or working on documents directly from the network drive.

V. Conclusions

I am still a bit skeptical about NAS technology, but the SC101 makes me feel a bit more secure about the data I am putting on these drives. I think this product deserves a 6 out of 10.

22 comments:

Aaron said...

I just got my SC101 today. I wish I had found all these reviews about the proprietary file format and drive incompatibility beforehand. The mirroring is a good thing, though. The only real drawback once you get everything setup is the actual device itself crashing. Someone needs to write a program that will let windows read the ZFS file format so you pop the drive in your computer and recover your data.

A.H. Rajani said...

My guess is that someone will be able to reverse engineer such a utility in a short amount of time, so I'm not too worried about that part.

After the first few days of my SC101 crashing a few times, it has been working pretty clean since. I have a weak fuse in my house, so even with the power going out a few times, the thing booted right up and reconfigured itself nicely.

I think the router you use has a lot to do with how well the SC101 works. I shifted to a Netgear router and it's honestly the best router I've had to date. I was using a Linksys WRT54G beforehand and it would keep shuffling IP addresses, causing the unit to create mounting errors.

sten said...

I'ts a nasty little thing. Took me 38 hours to create a mirroring drive of two 320Gb disks. Then the speed is 5 times slower copying files than copy to a share on another pc in the network. And the filename length is maximized to 127 characters and then it is NOT compatible with Windows XP.

Richard said...

I got one of these a while ago, yes it can be a pain to set up, especially running Zone Alarm which I coudn't get it to work with at all! My query is "Where does all the disc pace go?" I created a 140GB partition on a 320 GB single disc, and in "My Computer / Properties" the partition shows as 99GB! just where has 41GB gone? answers on a poscard please. Apart from that it's a nice unit and mostly reliable :-)

Count Zero said...

well i got me a sc101 like half a year ago and by now i'm about to replace it with something similiar but - hopefully - better.
i did stream movies and music off of it and did burn images from files being stored on the sc101. no problems or loss of data.
i didn't even have big trouble setting up the 2 containing drives 'til i updated my Zonealarm firewall.
that was the moment when things started acting weird.
win2K with the most recent ZA firewall only did recognize one out of the 2 drives.
i did unmount and remount them but no way to get my music drive to work. though i got like 150gb ouf music stored what was a pain to upload due to slow transfer rates i downgraded the FW.
i'm not happy with the transfer rate and not happy at all with the service netgear provides.
there are other NAS devices which do support ftp for upload and a regular filesystem so even my kids could use their xbox to watch movies.

Anonymous said...

The SC101s are the worst. I had even bought a 2nd one thinking that can't be normal. I've been waiting nearly two weeks for Netgear to tell me how to save 60GB of my data. 1 Week to determine that they needed to send it to a level 2 tech...The drive shows the directories but every access results in the power LED flashing to indicate a bad drive.

It started with the RAID breaking every once in a while and being a pain to re-create. The drives would also often just vanish...you could hear them vanish because XP makes a sound as they detach. At times they couldn't be seen unless you did Netgear's manual registry hack to clear them.

Perhaps it's the driver too...I can run multimedia off the drive...but try to transfer a lot of digital pictures at once or run a search and the Explorer window normally locks up after a while.

The short of it is that I had enough small problems along the way I haven't ever been able to use them as intended and now that it thinks my newer Seagate 160 is bad I don't even know what to do --I can't put it in my Linux or Windows box and read it...and they provide no utilities for checking the disk or recovery!

Plus the initial press reported that Linux drivers were coming...well, I'm still having to share out the local drives in Windows so other machines can access the NAS devices THROUGH my XP system. Ick.

Eric said...

I have had my Sc101 for quite some time now. Installation for me was a breeze, and I am one of those people who only look at an installation manual when problems arise.

The thing that bothers me most with the SC101 is the ZFS file format. This makes it impossible to Defrag with XP defragmenter, Diskkeeper and PerfectDisk.

Did anyone encounter this problem?

Sadder-But-Wiser said...

Have two SC101 "toasters", one of which just earned it's nickname by becoming "toast". Here are the sad details....

If you are running a mirror, be forewarned -- back up the data on it to a THIRD drive or get it off the SC101 NOW. The mirror I was running "broke" when my PC crashed while copying a large file to the SC101. When I rebooted and tried to access the mirrored partitions, I couldn't. I ran the SCM utility and it couldn't even see the mirrored partitions.

I contacted NetGear support and so far have zip to show for it. I dug around their website and found the troubleshooting guide and CLI/DOS utilities -- ut.exe and ut_full.exe.

Following the instructions in the guide, I used the utilities to determine that my mirrored partitions were indeed broken. Unfortunately, using their ut_full newattr command to reset the attributes on the partitions has been completely unsuccessful. The command finds the partition and asks me to enter the new attributes (as provided in the guide), which I do. So far, so good. Then, when I hit the enter key, I get a reply telling me the partition couldn't be found. I've tried it at least two dozen times, all with the same result.

I consider it outrageous that the command could find the partition, then NOT find it seconds later. Over and over. Every time.

There is no way I'll ever trust one of the things again. As far as I'm concerned, they are unreliable trash. Inexpensive to buy, but very expensive to use.

Anyway, I can't access my data, most of which are irreplaceable, and which I naively thought were protected by the mirror array. It never occurred to me that both partitions of the mirror would be taken out of action at the same time and be totally inaccessable.

Anyway, a previous poster here mentioned a registry hack -- can anyone tell me what it is and if it will help me? Does anyone know any way to retrieve my data? I don't care about fixing the damn mirror -- I'll never use it again -- I just want my data back.

Any help would be be greatly appreciated.

BoomersMech said...

Vista users beware this drive will cause issues!!! I have 8 pc's in my house one of which is a Vista Desktop. I installed the SCM software on all 8 machines and it worked great! UNTIL I rebooted my Vista PC. I got my welcome screen, attempted to login and that was it. My PC just sat there. Coicidentally the SC101 is about 10 feet from that computer, I noticed the drive activity light was blipping on and off, I reset my PC and it stopped.. I disabled the Z-san service and my computer booted fine. I contacted Netgear and they recognized the issue immediately. There is apprently a hardware issue with the unit and its current drivers as of today.

None the less I now have 8 PC's with XP..

:) 1 TB and all is well, I do agree that the throughput is crap, and my friend that has 2 of theses says that he has had spotty luck finding compatable ATA6 Drives. He recommended I stick with ATA100 ATA133's almoast never work.

Kevin said...

So far, it is a piece of crap. The Dlink unit is better. The only reason I bought the SC101 is because I had two 250gb IDE drives I wanted in the same housing.

A.H. Rajani said...

boomersmech,

i was worried when upgrading to vista as well, but I actually haven't had any issues with installing the drivers and getting the drives to show up normally.

there is a sort of low-tech workaround that works very well for me. i don't like installing the netgear drivers/software on my computers because it tends to slow things down. and i have 3 computers, one is more of a home-made server that stays on all the time, a desktop workstation, and a personal notebook. i installed the SC101 on the server and then access those SC101 drives through the server as network drives on the other two computers. i know this might defeat the purpose of having access to storage without needing to access a computer, but it works very well for me because the SC101 only has backup storage which i seldom need to access.

Anon Emous said...

Found this blog while investigating a problem with my SC101. Seems it cannot handle long file names ( >127 ?? ).

I was backing up some music from my Vista system, and it failed to copy 6 files. Unfortunately, the Vista message was useless, since the filename in the dialog was truncated, and the only option I had was SKIP or CANCEL. It failed to copy 6 files, and this message showed 6 times, but only after all the other files were copied. So, I have no idea what files were not copied, and quite frankly, I could not see the difference between SKIP or CANCEL.. sounds like they would both do the same thing. Yeah, I know this is a Vista problem, but nonetheless, annoying.

Further annoying is the fact that the transfer is extremely slow.. took about 12 hours to copy 125 GB of music files.

And, as mentioned, I am paranoid about the proprietary file system on the SC101.. it the SC101 (not the discs) every fails, I cannot remove the drives and read them from my PC.

And one last complaint about the SC101: a Mac on my network cannot access the SC101 - there are no drivers for the Mac!

Definitely going to unload this device asap!

Been looking at Iomega's 1 TB StorCenter Network Hard Drive - seems it supports both PC and Mac, and uses faster SATA drives. Anyone have info on this?

Pleduc@gmail.com

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Anonymous said...

I just purchased a Netgear sc101 on november,1,2008. and so far it has been great. ON BIG THING IS TO ALLOW IT TO UPGRADE THE FIRMWARE AND SOFTWARE BEFORE CREATING DRIVES TO AVOID LOST DATA AND HEADACHES. I am running two ancient maxtor hard drives one at 10GB and the other at 40GB which is all the space I needed. if you are running on a high performance wireless N (dual bandwidth 2.4Ghz, 5.0Ghz/draft)network like I am it makes up for the devices speed downfalls, in otherwords if you use a low speed network or a basic network this device will not perform fast at all, you can still save files with ease but you need a high speed network to stream music and video from the device to you omputer. If you compair this with other NAS devices of the same price range you have found the best, so dont think twice about buying this. NOT MAC COMPATIBLE, ITS COMPATIBLE WITH WINDOWS 2000, AND VERSION OF XP, AND ANY VERSION OF VISTA-(with all the updates). enjoy.

Anonymous said...

ANY version of Vista except for the 64 bit ones, at least for the SATA version.

My experience so far:

Ships with non-Vista drivers and firmware. My notebook is Vista Only.

A half hour with Netgear's VERY GOOD tech support remote controlling the notebook and all the firmware updates and the newest Vista Drivers are installed.

Great! Let's do a backup. Notebook goes into power saving mode during backup. SC101 disapears and cannot be brought back short of a reboot.

Darn. Let's try this again. Hmm: the backup looks like it is stuck. Re-boot again.

Let's just copy some files. Explorer and My Computer freeze. Hmm.

Let's do it again. Yup. ZSAN Servce is running and utilizing a WHOPPING 3% to 6% of the Wireless network bandwidth. Surprisingly it seems to be working VERY slowly and My computer and Explorer report themselves as "not responding" even though the transfer is continuing... slowly... in the background.

Hmm. Maybe it is the wireless. Let's fire up and connect the desktop. Ops: NO VISTA 64 BIT drivers. SORRY. NO desktop.

WTF!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have had a SC101 for nearly 2 years and it is basically a piece of junk. It started out great. then over time gets worse and worse. I use it to back up my small office computers. Now, it dismounts and remounts itself 30+ times a day on three computers. When you have the problem of your computers freezing and you are not even transfering files, see if the SC101 red light is on (drive running). Yep, there be the problem. Unplug it and your computers will work again after a minute or so. I have uninstalled, re-installed, reformatted, updated firmware, you name it. The manual says it performs its own defragmentation when it wants. Don't know if this is the problem or not, but it has a mind of its own and runs when it wants too. Running XP Professional. Piece of junk.

Anonymous said...

SC101 Fixed.

My SC101 died today. Unit would not recognize either 500GB drive. Pretty unlikely both drives should die on the same day right? After trying a few things I hooked up my lab power supply and it worked. Whenever I used the Netgear Power supply the SC101 would turn on but no boot up. Whenever I used my lab supply it would boot. I suppose some electrolytic capacitors in the Netgear supply have dried out. I found another 12V 5A supply I had hanging around and I'm back in business. My testing showed that 5A is a minimum required to run both drives, should really be 6A or more....

Jim do little said...

This thing had a lot of promise and seemed like a smart buy. But the more I used it and relied on it, the worse things got. I mirrored my data, thinking that's the best thing to do and ended up losing all my pictures! I do admit that I bought this when it first came out and should have waited and watched the reviews but I didn't.

Anonymous said...

SC101 & SC101T

(This procedure was not used with Windows 7)

Do not despair, the equipment works and the problems encountered by us all, is nothing but, unfortunately, amazingly, a huge coincidence.

If there are culprits, they are the hackers and crackers, therefore, MICROSOFT to protect your OS (Windows XP and VISTA) inadvertently, without any guilt, eventually cripple the functioning of these products.

Therefore, in order to end the dilemma, I recommend the following do whatever your version of SCM and the FIRMWARE:

1° Disable the user control. Preferably use the administrator mode allowing software installation reach all users of the machine;

2° Be assured that there is no longer any trace of SCM in the Windows registry, use a tool that makes this maintenance;

3° Install the latest version of SCM, however, change the installation destination directory.
I used this - C: \ Program Files \ SC101 \;

4° Make your RESET SC101 SC101T or;

5° Using the SCM newly installed, if possible, enable sharing of the unit and remove any password of units installed therein;

6° Turn on the firewall of Windows and create an exception for UDP port 1289;

7° Go to your network settings and see if a checkbox is enabled the netgear in the same place where the TCP-IP.

Restart the machine and enjoy the equipment.

I apologize to colleagues for the way I approached this tutorial, but how can I translate it into English, could not be as technical expressions and commands.

I have no doubt that this solves any problems with their storage arrays, since there is no hardware compatibility issues, like the HD listed on the site of NETGEAR.

My intention was not in any way, to defend its brand, since I have no connection with it.

I am a lawyer in the insurance here in Brazil, with IT training and got a SC101 in order to more safely store the photos of my daughters.

Sincerely,
Paulo Andre Minhoto
Brazil

mahasiswa teladan said...

hi..Im student from Informatics engineering, this article is very informative, thanks for sharing :)

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