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Promise's NS4600: Intel's Tolapai Enables Better Network Performance

Promise Updates Its NAS Platform

Last September, we had the opportunity to take a closer look at the Promise NS4300N. We were quite taken with the unit’s build quality, its wide-ranging support for various network protocols, and its clean and well-organized configuration interface. The unit's data transfer rates were a mixed bag, though.

While the NS4300N acquitted itself quite well in office productivity testing, its transfer rates were only average in our multimedia benchmarks. Luckily, Promise hasn’t just been sitting idle since then, and is presenting the successor to the NS4300N, the NS4600.

More RAM, New CPU

On the outside, the NS4600 appears to be virtually identical to its predecessor, but Promise has made a lot of changes under the hood. For example, the new model sports 256MB of RAM, twice as much as its predecessor. Promise also replaces the 400 MHz MPC 8343 Freescale CPU with Intel’s first x86-based System-on-a-Chip (SoC) since 1994, the EP80579 (code named Tolapai), running at 600 MHz.

This second improvement gives us a couple of points to look at when assessing Promise’s new NAS. First, how does it stack up against the Freescale architecture that came before, and second, how well does Intel’s latest SoC perform? Will it turn out that embedded solutions will remain the domain of vendors like Freescale (Motorola), AMD, and Marvell? Or does Intel have a chance here?

XOR Calculations on the CPU

The embedded solutions manufactured by the aforementioned companies all offer fairly high performance coupled with low power consumption. This is significant because a NAS appliance's data transfer rates are influenced to a large degree by the processor it employs, since most NAS devices use host-based RAID solutions that rely on the system’s CPU. 

Simply put, instead of using dedicated hardware to processor parity calculations (XOR bits) used in certain RAID configurations and to distribute the data across the various disks, these tasks have to be handled by the NAS server’s CPU. As a result, any NAS device’s performance greatly depends on the hardware architecture at its core.

Tolapai: Attacking AMD‘s Geode?

Intel designed its EP80579 SoC for use in telecommunications systems, VPN, firewall appliances, VoIP gateways, and storage solutions like the one we're looking at today. These are all areas which have traditionally been covered by companies catering to the embedded market and, increasingly, by AMD. One such NAS device that is powered by AMD’s Geode processor is the Thecus N4100 Pro. The introduction of the EP80679 means that together with its Atom, Core 2, Xeon, and Itanium processors, Intel now offers a product for almost any class of device.

Over the next few pages, we’ll take a look at the feature set and bundle of the Promise NS4600, in addition to analyzing how Intel’s embedded EP80579 performs.

  • The thing i REALY want to see on Tom's is NAS tests which can work as iSCSI targets. From some other tests\reviews i've seen sometimes tremendous perfomance increases, on NAS like QNap TS-439 Pro.

    TH people, please do some tests in iSCSI mode =)
    Reply
  • rievax
    TH says nothing about the network configuration. Raw Vista network config? It is probably the worse case scenario then... Samba awfully works with the basic config of Vista. Jumbo packets are enabled? If yes, what size? Same size on the NAS? How did you formatted the RAID --> what strip size / did you have a choice? Shadow_GriZZly is talking about iSCSI that could be faster: in fact, it could be the case if Vista's network configuration is not tweaked for Samba.

    Can you please be more specific in your configuration setup?
    Reply
  • rievax
    TH says nothing about the network configuration. Raw Vista network config? It is probably the worse case scenario then... Samba awfully works with the basic config of Vista. Jumbo packets are enabled? If yes, what size? Same size on the NAS? How did you formatted the RAID --> what strip size / did you have a choice? Shadow_GriZZly is talking about iSCSI that could be faster: in fact, it could be the case if Vista's network configuration is not tweaked for Samba.

    Can you please be more specific in your configuration setup?
    Reply
  • Ofcourse, the intel CPU is 600Mhz, VS the Geode which is 400Mhz...

    what's the price of this file server?
    Would it make more sense to buy an atom Dual core system as file server? Since 25MB/s transfer rates are nothing to boast about!
    At least the Atom processor may not be as low in power requirement, but runs Linux AND Windows, can playback 720p video, and get data transfer speeds far higher than the ones mentioned in the benchmark, probably in the likes of 150MB/s(as a wild guess), or perhaps even higher...
    For $300, one could basically get a singlecore Atom 270 + 2GB of RAM, and load the files into RAM for faster upload speeds, probably close to the maximum possible through a gigabit lan connection;
    (or am I understanding incorrectly why this NS4600 was made?
    Reply
  • I mean, it would make sense if this device is a sub $100 device (I'd probably wanna pay no more than $80 to have it, seeing the low specs and no sceen, or even mention of a harddrive)
    Reply
  • duzcizgi
    I'd also be very happy to see a review of iSCSI Targets.

    Depending on the filesystem employed and the client accessing the files, NAS devices show varying results. An iSCSI setup would be much more level, compared to higher level FS/NFS performance tests.
    Reply
  • warezme
    From 3 to 45 Watts, a nicely configured laptop runs around 3 to 45 Watts with infinitely more power..., what is the box for again????
    Reply
  • daft
    From 3 to 45 Watts, a nicely configured laptop runs around 3 to 45 Watts with infinitely more power..., what is the box for again????

    you do realize that most laptops cannot do 4 disk raid 5 right?
    Reply
  • Aragorn
    The 45Watts includes 4 3.5" hard drives flat out! You have those in that laptop?

    Were the hard drives in the 4100 and the 4300 the same? Why no iSCSI? Can the eSATA port be used to automatically back up the whole array to another disk (say having a pair and keeping one off site in case of a fire or other catastrophic event, obviously swapping ofsite adn local disks periodically).

    How does this system compare to some some of the home brew RAID boxes that THG has set up, both in price and preformance?

    TOO MANY UNANSWERED YET OBVIOUS QUESTIONS!!! Tom's used to be soo much better than this! What is going on over there? Where have all your good writers/reviewers gone (or are you being told to dumb things down by BOM)?
    Reply
  • Aragorn
    Needed an alert to feedback, sorry 'bout the useless post.
    Reply