ZyXEL NSA310 NAS Review

As we are going through the process of buying a new house, I took the decision to away with my nicely built Gaming PC setup and switch to something smaller (laptop).  Some considerations we had are that I’d like to continue streaming media to our media players and I’d like to fit an SSD to my new system – setting up a NAS in the house seemed like a smart idea as it would fit our needs perfectly.

I looked at different NAS products on the market and read various reviews, my experience of hard drives failing has been fairly low so I decided to buy a single bay NAS enclosure.  The ZyXEL NSA310 was on my radar and after reading a number of positive reviews I decided to go ahead and buy it.

I got an email from eBuyer on my birthday offering free next-day delivery so I bought the unit from eBuyer at a cost of £34.95.  Around the same time I sold my Gaming PC and picked up a 15″ Unibody MacBook Pro.

On 04-Jan I went ahead and set up the NAS, I dropped in a 750GB SATA2 HDD that was given to me by my father – hooked it up to the network and started the setup.  You can see an unboxing video of the NAS below.

The unit is described as ZyXEL NSA 310 1 Bay NAS Media Server, as my media streamers work off network shared the Media Server/DNLA functionality of the device wasn’t really relevant to me – so long as it worked as a NAS I was happy.

The unit when powered on isn’t loud at all – I did head some clunk/knock noises I immediately assumed came from the hard drive, but some reviews suggested this was the fan in the unit… I removed the drive and powered it on and the noises continued… so thats confirmed.

When it came to setting the unit up I was a little confused, the instruction manual suggests using Microsoft Windows and the setup CD that comes with it.  I knew this before I bought it and given the nature of the device I assumed that using a web interface on ANY device (Windows, Mac, Linux or Tablet) would be OK … this is confirmed also.  Infact, the CD didn’t stay out the box for long.

The web interface of the NSA310 is very easy to use, with little or even no knowledge of similar interfaces I’m sure you’d manage fine.  I quickly created a volume on the 750GB drive and done a little bit of experimenting.  If you drop in a standard NTFS drive with data on it, the device will format it to it’s own filesystem – as I was putting in a new blank unpartitioned HDD this was OK.

The next discovery is that you don’t access the drive itself from your local machine, you set shares within the web interface that’ll create a directory structure for access.  Some may see this as a restriction, but it allows for good security and control.  I don’t have any need for this, so set up a single share and a couple of user accounts to access the content.  I think if you want to use the built in Media Centre, you may have to use the pre-defined shares (Photo, Video, Music, Etc).

With the shares in place I looked at copying my data over, the device suggests connecting an external drive to the front and using the copy feature – unfortunately this takes all data from the source drive and puts it all in a single folder on the NAS.  The options around it are not flexible… as my external drive had a lot of content stored that I didn’t want on the NAS – I didn’t use this feature.

This left to transferring content via FTP – what I originally expected to do.  With the drive and my MacBook Pro connected to a gigabit router, transfer speeds sat between 12-15MB/s, one thing that you must bear in mind is that although the NAS has a gigabit connection the data transfer speeds of the drive itself are much lower than this.  As read speeds of a hard drive are higher than write speeds, the transfer of data FROM the NAS is much higher.

Although the NSA310 is a single bay unit, it does have a USB 2.0 an eSATA connection on the rear for addition of a second drive – a multi-drive array can be set up using this.  I didn’t go down this route, but may consider it in the future.

One of the reasons I wanted a NAS in the first place is that once set up I’ll not need to touch it.  I had samba shares created on my Gaming PC that we used to serve our WD TV Live – the only requirement to access the data is that the PC had to be on.  I wanted to have the NAS hidden away in our new home, up the loft or in a cupboard so we wouldn’t hear the fan etc – but then there is the power and drive wear to consider… or not.  The NSA310 supports Wake-on-LAN (WOL) and HDD Spin Down … I can confirm both work fine.

The drive spin down isn’t obvious though… after the defined period of inactivity the drive stops spinning but the fan continues at a low speed.  The fan on the device sounds like HDD activity – what I did was kept my ear to the device and accessed it from our media player and I could hear the drive spinning up again.  An additional point is that the NAS indexes the file structure just like an operating system… this allows you to browse files on the NAS without the HDD running- but it kicks in once a file is accessed.  The delay for a 1080p MKV on our WD TV Live was about 8-10 seconds.

Wake-on-LAN works great.  The NSA310 has support for a Dynamic DNS package which makes it easier, quick setup there (Free with No-IP) an a firewall exception it worked great.  I recorded the demo below!

The drive firmware on my unit was outdated, this was updated with ease from the web interface.  The unit sources the firmware file and prompts when it is ready to reboot – the LED’s on the front of the unit change to flag what is going on.

Once I got settled with my Mac I enabled the iTunes Server.  The HDD LED on the unit blinked for a minute and I launched iTunes (11.0.1 on OS X 10.8.2 Mountain Lion) and selected the NAS from Media Libraries … all content was displayed and perfectly organised.  No album art, but I’ll work on this.

There are a lot of features I’ve not mentioned like built in torrent client, the media players, power schedules – maybe another time – I think this is enough for now.  All in all, I think the device is great – I’m typing this whilst listening to music from the NAS and my partner is streaming HD Video to the WD TV Live from it with zero issues.

If you have any questions, pop a comment below or contact me.

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2 Comments

  1. Mihai

    27th November 2013 - 22:26
    Reply

    Chris,

    Can you look at the pictures stored on NAS from iPad ? Is it fluid enough to browse the pictures (let's say 16Mpix, 3MB jpegs) ?

    Thanks for a down to earth review

  2. taprokh

    21st May 2014 - 20:53
    Reply

    hi,

    i was looking into setting up a mixed mac-windows network, and came across your post. we are looking into getting a zyxel nsa325v2. our ultimate goal is to have a shared storage for pictures and music. we have 3 computers, a win7, a win8, and a macbook (and a dune player, so overall setup similar to yours). have you tried to create a share into which you can write from both macbook and the windows computer? does it work?

    thanks so much for writing this post, it has already been helpful 🙂

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