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.