First Look: Seagate BlackArmor NAS
Posted on Thursday February 2, 2012, 16:50 by Sebastian Williamson in Empire States
For those of you who, like us, have enough DVDs, Blu-rays and, yes, old VHS tapes to happily give Blockbuster a run for their money, the potential demise of physical media is a bitter pill to swallow indeed. Faster Internet connections, cheaper hard drives and the rapid influx of media players (portable and otherwise) have left DVDs in the dust and while Blu-rays still have a solid grip on the HD scene, even they may give way to entirely digital film libraries in the not so distant future.
The various formats – iTunes, Ultraviolet or something in-between – are currently something of a minefield and it’s far from clear which digital format or service will ultimately claim our collections. But even when the dust settles, it would be a film fan with deep pockets indeed who didn’t deeply resent having to re-purchase their entire library yet again. And the good news is that you don’t have to. For those willing to give the digital revolution a try but who already have extensive DVD collections, the answer may well be to invest in some serious storage and rip your collection* into its new, shackle-free digital form.
The biggest hurdle for those going digital isn’t how to rip discs (there’s a plethora of capable software out there) or even how to play them (media players are now a dime a dozen) but rather where to store it all. Enter Seagate’s range of BlackArmor Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. These come in several flavours, form the modest, BlackArmor 110 (which ranges from one to three terabytes in size), all the way up to the BlackArmor 440, the largest of which can hold a colossal 12 terabytes of data. It’s the latter that we had the opportunity to test and it’s safe to say that unless you have a DVD collection the size of a small township then this storage monster (and likely most of its lesser brethren) will happily contain your entire collection while leaving ample room for any other films you’re likely to add in the future.
As with all NAS devices, the BlackArmor is a low power consumption device that’s designed to remain powered up around the clock. After all, there’s little point in putting all your movies in one place if they’re not available when you need them. Plugged into your router, the BlackArmor sits happily on your home network, ready to stream your media to any device that asks at a moment’s notice. Filling it up is a matter of transferring your media across the network - a task made considerably quicker thanks to the presence of Gigabit Ethernet but which can take hours or days depending on the size of your collection.
How you stream the movies will depend on your media player but all comers are catered for. Some will simply need to map the BlackArmor as a shared drive, but for anyone flummoxed by that, the NAS comes with a built-in media server to make even that step entirely optional. Even Apple TV users will find the whole experience painless, thanks to the inclusion of iTunes streaming support. Transfer speeds with NAS devices can be something of a mixed bag so we were gratified to see that the BlackArmor performed well in this regard, coming in just shy of 10MBps and having absolutely no difficulty streaming media over our network, with even whopping 1080p files gliding along without so much as a jitter.
The handy web-based configuration utility is quick and painless to navigate, giving access to the unit’s more advanced features, such as RAID configurations for added file safety, backup scheduling, and online access so you can stream your movies even while away from home.
The BlackArmor is best situated close to your router but for those planning to stash it in their front room, noise is unlikely to be an issue. The unit is whisper quiet, and barely audible even in a quiet environment. It’s not likely to become an eyesore in your home cinema rack, either, being a svelte black box that’s barely larger then the rack of hard drives it holds.
Under the bonnet, the technical specs vary slightly from model to model but the 440 boasts four USB ports (for expanding the on-board storage still further if the need arises), a 1.2Ghz processor and 256MB of onboard RAM. For those looking to uses beyond the streaming of movie goodness, the device makes a solid backup choice, with Seagate’s BlackArmor Backup software making the safety of your files and folders a doddle. If we had to quibble at all it would be an initial lack of support for Mac users’ TimeMachine backups. However, a trip to the Seagate website and a firmware update later and that problem is easily rectified.
Picking a decent storage solution can leave you mired in tech specs and often spiraling price tags but Seagate’s BlackArmor units are easy to use, require minimal technical savvy and with the cheapest coming in at less than £150, are quite affordable. Regardless of which digital format ultimately emerges victorious from the media-less format wars, we’re all going to need to look at increasing our storage to accommodate growing movie libraries and Seagate’s range of versatile NAS units is a highly recommended place to start.
* The legality of ripping DVDs has been long debated – On the one hand, you’ve bought the film and as long as you’re ripping for personal use then it seems entirely reasonable. However, the presence of copy protection on many DVDs certainly implies that the studios think differently. Fair usage rights may yet win out, though, and recommendations from the Hargreaves Review certainly point towards fair use exceptions allowing people to rip for personal use will soon be enshrined in updated copyright law. Suffice it to say, though, that if you aim to rip discs and give them to friends/upload them to the Internet then the full force of the law, karma and the righteous wrath of vengeful film fans deserves to come crashing down upon your head.