Review of the Buffalo LinkStation LS-Q4.0TL/R5
As a professional photographer, I generate a lot of very large image files – images which are essential to my business, and also images which have deep personal value. So my needs for both data storage as well as backup/redundancy are perhaps greater than the average consumer who simply uses their PC primarily for web browsing and email. For about the past year I’ve been considering adding an NAS (network-attached storage) device to my home office network to help meet my ever growing data storage needs.
My main work station at home was upgraded about a year and half ago, and the most resource intensive application I run is Photoshop CS5. I have a solid state C: and D: which house my operating system and applications, and I have two 1TB Seagate drives (set up in a redundant Raid (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) configuration – anything written to the E: drive is redundantly copied to the second Seagate drive) for my data. And I’m just about out of space on my E: drive.
NAS drives are becoming increasingly popular for both business and consumer use for much the same reasons I outlined above – everyone needs more storage, and everyone needs storage solutions which ensure a level of redundancy in the event of disaster. But there’s a lot to learn and understand when NAS shopping. I’m far from a networking/PC guru, but I determined these are some of the important questions you’ll want to ask yourself when you go NAS shopping:
1. How much raw storage am I looking to add?
2. How much redundancy or how “bulletproof” do I want my storage solution to be?
3. How will the NAS be accessed? A single user? Multiple users on the same network? Remotely?
My home office workstation may be a little different than most – it’s in the basement of our home, and is not the location of the primary access pipe from our ISP. The router is actually upstairs. So from my workstation PC, I connect via WiFi to the router upstairs. So for my purposes, I imagined the best was to use a NAS would be to plug it into an empty port on the router upstairs so that it could be accessed by everyone in the home.
In terms of redundancy, because of the importance of the data, I decided I wanted to try to be as “bullet proof” as possible. And I wanted at least 2TB of usable storage available – with one full TB being used for backup, and a 2nd for added capacity. NAS units usually come in either 2 drive or 4 drive configurations. A 4 drive configuration will allow for level 5 Raid configuration (Raid 5), which is extremely safe as for data storage, yet still delivers a surprising amount of usable storage. Again, I’m not a networking expert, but here’s the gist of how Raid 5 works. When you store data to the NAS, parts of that data are spread across the available drives in a predictive algorithm – that way, if any one of the drives in the NAS failes, the other drives can continue to function until the failed drive is replaced. In the case of the drive I purchased, it has four, 1TB drives, but I actually have about 2.7 TB of usable storage!
So which model did I choose? I read a lot of reviews on several different models. In many cases I read statements like “works great, but those with limited networking knowledge need not apply” which kept me away from many units which otherwise looked like great candidates, and subsequently it took me a long time to “pull the trigger” on a device which felt I had reasonably good chances on setting up on my own. Finally, I settled on the Buffalo LinkStation LS-Q4.0TL/R5, primarily because I read so many testimonials that it was easy to set up. Price was also a strong consideration – I got mine for $488.00 off of Amazon. Here’s some photos I took of the LS-Q4:
The front circle labeled “Disk Information” gives you status lights (green good, red bad) on the four drives inside. Also note the USB port in the front – a handy feature as you can direct access of data to and from this dive by simply plugging a USB device into the port on the LS-Q4. The front cover pulls right off to expose the drive bays inside:
The LS-Q4 drive bays are “hot swappable” meaning if one drive fails, you don’t have to shut down the device to replace the failed drive. I was curious as to what drives were installed into the LS-Q4, so I pulled one out to examine – I discovered this NAS unit was equipped with Seagate drives which I believe are identical to the drives I chose in my work station:
Installation of the device could not have been simpler. I simply plugged in the power, and connected the NAS unit to my router via an included Ethernet cable. The drive does some self-configuring for a few minutes, then you’re able to run the included installation wizard software. Right off the bat, my work station PC could “see” the LS-Q4 on our network, and was able to assign it a drive letter – the whole process took maybe 10 minutes. As stated above, I was able to get about 2.7TB of available storage. That means I could back up both my C: and E: drives, and STILL have over 1 TB of storage to play with. I would have LOVED to purchase the 8TB version of this produce (2TB drives in each of the 4 bays) but it’s currently just under $1000.00 and I was really hoping to stay under the $500.00 price point. But an additional 1 TB of usable space should last me two years at a minimum, so that really is plenty.
Once the LS-Q4 was up and running, I ran the included back up software (NovaBACKUP v.11). It too was very simple and intuitive to use. I quickly configured it to back up the entire contents of both my C: and E: drive – just over 1TB of data. Here’s a screen shot:
As you can see, I was initially getting a transfer speed of about 1.4MB per second over my Wi-Fi network. The transfer rate tends to increase as it goes along, but capped out at about 1.8 MB per second. I did some quick math, and it would have taken about a week to back up the almost 1.2 TB of data I had selected. On one hand, this really didn’t bug me too badly that it would take this long. But on the other hand, I was curious what sort of transfer speeds I would get if the LS-Q4 was direct-connected to my work station PC via the Ethernet cable. So I stopped the back up, powered down the LS-Q4, and brought it downstairs to set up. I simply plugged it in to the Ethernet port on my PC, and powered the unit back up. My PC instantly saw the drive and could access it, so I re-ran the NovaBACKUP software:
It started off with a transfer speed of about 6mb/second, and continued to slowly and steadily climb. As you can see in the screenshot above, by the 1hr. and 43 minute mark, I was up to 7.57mb/second. This transfer rate continued to climb to a high of about 8.8 mb per second – about what you’d expect with a standard 10/100 megabit card in my PC. I could probably see 4-5 times this speed with a $20.00ish gigabit card installed – an upgrade I’m considering. Still, this was a dramatic improvement over doing the back up over WiFi. The full 1.138 TB back up took about 40 hours to complete. At this point I’m not sure if I’ll leave the LS-Q4 installed directly on my workstation, or if I’ll take it back upstairs and plug into the router. The device has considerable functionality when plugged into the router (including the ability to remotely access files on the NAS via the web) but this may not overcome the speed convenience of have the unit plugged into directly.
Based on the features, price, and particularly the ease of setup, I highly recommend the Buffalo LinkStation LS-Q4.0TL/R5 for your NAS needs. Hopefully I’ll never have to use it’s Raid 5 disaster recovery capabilities, but it provides considerable peace of mind know it’s there when I need it.
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.