Author: Pier-Luc Gendreau
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, March 4th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/patriot_valkyrie_nas/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
By now, it has become quite obvious there is a never ending need for storage. Specifically, more storage in a physically smaller space and always available, no matter where you currently are. The Googles and Microsofts of this world want to you be believe cloud computing is the next big thing, and they may just be right, the always-on culture is constantly gaining ground with no sign of slowing down. However, what if you don't feel like handing out your data to the big corporations, but still want a simple way to access your data no matter where you are located at that specific moment?
Not too long ago, the answer would have been building your own server, but that often comes with its fair share of problems, and who wants to deal with that? The alternative to that is network attached storage, or NAS for short. These units are specifically design to accomplish one task -- store data. When you only have one thing to focus on, it generally results in a better solution. The last barrier to bring these into your home was pricing and with units now available for well under $200, so that's pretty much a non-issue.
Which brings me to Patriot's latest entry, the Valkyrie. It is an affordable, two drive unit, which features pretty much everything you need for home storage, whether it's media streaming, downloading, file sharing or simply backing your precious data. This Patriot NAS supports a pair of SATA2 3.5" drives up to 2TB each. All that in a small form factor and powered by a minimalistic processor sipping barely any power.
Read on to find out if it is really as great as it sounds!
The Valkyrie ships in a pretty sleek silver box, which even has a neat handle so you can carry it around wherever you go! Other than that, the packing actually provides about every bit of pertinent information about the NAS, even what it is "desinged" [sic] to do.
Inside, Patriot has neatly packed the NAS with thick foam protecting both ends and the accessory box snuggly fit on one side. Speaking of which, you'll find a rather basic, but complete, bundle in there -- a manual telling you to use the electronic manual for more information, the disc containg said manual, an Ethernet cable and the power brick.
With the box and accessories out of the way, let's take a closer look at the NAS itself. The first thing I noticed when I took it out was how heavy it was. The unit feels totally solid and the mostly aluminum construction certainly has something to do with it. In fact, the front and back panels are made out of plastic, which doesn't feel cheap by any means, but everything else is good old metal. On one side, you can read "nas storage" which makes me wonder if anyone looked up what NAS stood for. Not that it really matters, but it is redundant. On the other side is the Valkyrie logo, which looks great. The unit is quite a looker, simple and effective.
On the front, there's a light indicator for just about everything: power, network activity, hard drive status and activity as well as USB device presence. You'll also find a power button and a backup button, which we will look into later on. Moving to the opposite side, there's the power input, a gigabit Ethernet port, USB port and a reset button just in case things go horribly wrong, but that not going to happen, right?
To get some drives in there, that's what it was built for after all, simply pull down the glossy front panel. You'll be welcomes by two aluminum drives bays, which are unlocked by pressing the button on the left. Then, the bay can be safely pulled out. The necessary screws to attach drives are the ones currently in use for the plastic piece at the back which keeps the rails straight, eliminating the risk of losing screws.
Once you've taken off the plastic holder, simply slide the drive in, align with the holes and tighten it. The screw-holes are even slightly recessed so screws sit flush with the rails -- neat little detail. With the drive in place, slide it back in, push the lever so it locks in, and that's it.
Installation is just as easy as it looks, plug in the Ethernet and power cables, press the power button and watch the magic happen. If everything went well, the power, LAN and hard drive indicators will light up green. If only one drive is installed, then the second set of hard drive indicators will be red and annoyingly flash on and off.
Now the fun part -- the software driving it all. First of all, you should pop in the bundled disc and manually run the Network Setup Utility. If the Valkyrie is properly hooked up and your network has DHCP enabled, the software will automatically detect it. Otherwise, run the setup wizard. It will prompt you for an account and password, the default name is admin and password is root.
Next, set up the timezone, date and time. Last up is the network setup. If you want your NAS to be reliably accessible from outside your home network, choose Static IP instead of DHCP. The Valkyrie should have gotten a valid IP address, subnet mask, gateway and DNS servers from your router. The only thing you want to change here is the last three digits of the IP address. This will vary form router to router, but mine is configured to dynamically assign anything between 192.168.1.100 to 192.168.1.120 so I chose something outside that range, 192.168.1.150.
When you hit next, the software might be flagged as not responding by Windows, but don't worry it'll come back to life in a few moments.
At this point, the NAS is in working condition, but there's still some work ahead!
Remember at the beginning I mentioned the Valkyrie could cover pretty all your storage needs? This is where the web configuration comes into play. To get there, simply enter the device's IP address, you know, the one you have chosen in the previous step, in the web browser of your choice. That will bring up the Valkyrie's home page.
Without any further ado, let's jump into the settings menu. First up, the device settings page lets you enter the device's name as it will appear under a Windows workgroup. If you haven't entered the correct time zone, this is also the place to change it. NTP, or network time protocol, should be left enabled as it will allow the NAS to automatically synchronize with a server's clock, Microsoft's in this case. Finally, unless you have some sort of special network configuration and know what you're doing, HTTP port should be left at 80. Network settings will reflect what you have set up earlier with one extra perk -- work group. This is your Windows workgroup name, which you can find out by right clicking on My Computer and then going into Properties.
Disk management displays information such as the file system, total size and free space about all the storage devices connected to your NAS, whether they are hard drives or USB drives. Patriot's Valkyrie does have some limitations on the file systems it can use. For example, it can read, but not write, to a NTFS partitioned drive. It can handle FAT32, but you cannot store any files over 4GB on this file system and you are limited to 2TB volumes. Until Patriot updates the firmware to support EXT3, the file system of choice is EXT2.
Basically, what this means is that, unless you've been running Linux, you'll need to format your drive before you can make use of the Valkyrie so if you're using drives with data already on them, make sure you backup everything first. Isn't that ironic?
The Valkyrie also supports user and group management. If you're familiar with server administration, this is a simple, basic version of what you can do with Linux or Windows. Basically, you create as many users as you want, then you can create groups and attach users to these groups. The major advantage is that if you have lots of users, giving per-user permissions can quickly get extremely tedious and errors are bound to happen. With groups, permissions apply to every user to that group so you cannot forget to update anyone's permissions.
Folder settings is the place where you can pre-create some folders to sort your data. I myself have a few folders, for example music, which is where the media streaming will happen. When you click onto a folder's icon, you'll be brought to a page where you can set user or group permissions. Since I don't want friends and family destroying my media files, I only give them read access and give myself full access.
That's it for network and user settings, I will now delve into the NAS' services, which is where it gets a whole lot more interesting!
If you have set up your workgroup earlier, the change should also reflect here. However, if you're running an Active Directory this is the place to enter your domain information. I assume that if you know what AD even is, you know what you're doing. Otherwise, I don't have a Windows Server box installed, but Patriot's manual is well detailed if you need help.
The first of the Valkyrie's lengthy list of supported features is DDNS, which lets you access the NAS by name instead of by IP address. This is offered as a free service by a few companies out there, I personally use DynDNS. Secondly, the NAS can also act as a FTP server. Just click the enable check box and the default port 21 is fine. For security reasons, you should not enable anonymous login and limit connections to something like 10. Lastly, you can leave the encoding at UTF8, that is unless your using a chinese operating system, in which case you probably wouldn't be reading this.
Please note: As of the writing of this review, the Valkyrie's DDNS configuration is broken in Firefox, although it works in every other modern browser. We imagine this will be fixed up soon, in a patch, seeing how popular Firefox is these days.
I briefly mentioned DynDNS in the last paragraph, now I'll give a quick overview of how to get this and FTP to work from the outside world. The process is quite simple, create an account over here, then hop into "My Services", select "Add Hostname" and you will be welcomed with the form below. All you have to do is choose an arbitrary subdomain name and then a domain from the drop-down list. Assuming you are home when you set this up, click "Use auto detected IP address ..." and select press Add to Cart. After that, go back to the DDNS setup in the NAS, enter your account info and the Valkyrie should automatically synchronize with DynDNS when your IP address changes. Unfortunately, it didnt.
Then, you'll have to allow your router to let incoming FTP connections in and forward them to the correct computer. This is usually labeled as port forwarding and is pretty much identical no matter what brand of router you happen to own. Enter an arbitrary name, then the FTP port (usually 21 unless you've changed it), choose TCP only and enter the local IP address of the Valkyrie which you have chosen earlier. Enable the new rule, apply changes.
Finally, in your FTP client of choice, it can be your browser of a dedicated client like FileZilla, enter the hostname you have chosen at DynDNS, port 21 and your username and password on the Valkyrie. If it all went well, it will connect and you'll have access to your data from anywhere. Neat, eh?
Back into the Patriot Valkyrie, the next feature down the list is UPnP, for Universal Plug and Play, which is used by many systems including Windows and your favorite console, whether that's a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360. Unfortunately, we were never able to get that feature to work on our unit. If you're a Mac, then chances are the iTunes server functionality will probably grab your attention. Settings up both of these settings is dead simple: click enable, set the rescan interval to 2 minutes for now, select the folder where your media files are stored and click apply. Check back in a couple minutes and your iTunes client should detect the Valkyrie right away and display files within a few seconds. Just to give you an idea, I have about 8000 files in that folder and it loads in about five seconds.
Another way to get data on the Valkyrie is to download it straight from the Internet. In fact, it supports the BitTorrent protocol so you can head over to your favorite torrent distributor (I'm referring to Linux distributions of course) and download that small torrent file on your hard drive. Then, head back to this section of the NAS, press "Add a New Job" and browse to the freshly downloaded torrent. The Valkyrie will pick it up and store it. You may not want this service to be hogging your network resources, so it's a good idea to hop into "Global Settings" and set limits.
Hold on tight, we're almost done! The Valkyrie can also act as a print server, I haven't done extensive testing since I only have a single printer (yeah, I know), but as long as the workgroup functionality of the NAS works, this part will also work. Add a printer from Windows and it should pick it up, but I had to choose the driver manually from a Microsoft-supplied list. Lastly, the Valkyrie can automatically perform local backups. Of course, if you install two hard drives in it, you might as well run them in RAID1, which mirrors data across both drives. The local backup function can come in somewhat handy if you want to synchronize data between a USB drive and the NAS. Sure, you could plug the USB drive in a computer and transfer from there, but, as you will soon find out, a decent USB drive is faster than the Valkyrie's network interface.
Actually, there's one last thing to look at before performance. In the tools menu, you can manually restart the device or, better yet, schedule automatic restarts. You can also backup and restore the Valkyrie's configuration, which is a good thing to do just in case anything goes wrong. Other than that, this is the place to restore to factory defaults, upgrade the firmware and change the administrator's password.
To test Patriot's Valkyrie NAS, I will be using a Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB hard drive formatted with the Ext2 file system, as recommended by Patriot until Ext3 support arrives. Additionally, it is connected to the local network through a gigabit switch, so any performance limitations will come from the unit itself and not the components surrounding it. My test file is the 700MB Ubuntu image the Valkyrie was downloading as I was writing this very article.
Quite obviously, the Valkyrie isn't a speed demon. Reading from and writing to the NAS reached 11 MB/s at best, thus leaving the extra bandwidth provided by the gigabit interface totally unused. Transfering files over two computers hovered well above 70 MB/s, showing the NAS is really the bottleneck and not the network or drives. Don't forget accessing files from the outside through FTP will also be limited by your internet connection's speed, which in my case is far under the Valkyrie's actual capabilities.
As a whole, Patriot marks some excellent points with the Valkyrie. First of all, lets put a price on this NAS. Patriot is targeting $140 after mail-in-rebate, which translates to a retail price of $160. The good news is that it's already available for slightly cheaper than that at the egg. This makes it the cheapest NAS of its class by a more than fair margin.
Where did they cut costs? Apparently not on build quality. Even without any installed hard drives, it's surprisingly heavy and the mostly metal enclosure has a durable feel to it. The limited use of plastic certainly has something to do with it too. The small 40mm fan at the back is relatively quiet, but definitely noticeable in a low noise environment and did a questionable job at keep the drives cool. They don't get scorching hot, but using low power drives would be a wise choice to minimize not only heat, but also power consumption.
With two drives installed, it idles at about 17W and barely climbed to 20W while copying files. Why such a small jump? The processor consumes very little power, but it's so slow the drives are basically idling. Which brings me to the Valkyrie's primary weakness: performance.
Of course, they need to cut corners somewhere to meet that price point and that's where they did. The cheap, low power, embedded Marvell processor simply can't handle much more than a 100 Mbps network connection. However, similarly priced NAS' are also affected by that same problem so while I would really have liked to see it perform better, at least it's not significantly worse than the competition. At about 10 MB/s, transferring a many-gigabyte file to or from the NAS was about 7 times slower than copying files from a computer to another.
While the Valkyrie can handle RAID0, there's really no point to using that as it would be putting data at risk without any performance advantage. There's also JBOD. This one basically merges drives into a single volume, which is more or less useful on such a device. If you have identical drives, the sensible choice really is RAID1 -- it duplicates data over both drives so if one fails, you don't lose anything. Otherwise, you might as well run treat the two drives as two separate entities.
The Valkyrie's appeal comes in its vast array of features. With FTP, DDNS, iTunes server, UPnP, BitTorrent and even a print server, it's a very flexible device. In fact, the Valkyrie is much more than simply network storage with FTP access, but I did run into a few snags. First of all, the DDNS didn't call home to update itself so whenever my external IP address changes, I have to manually log in to my DynDNS.org account. Manageable when you're at home, but if you're out, it's too bad but you're not getting any access to the NAS. Secondly, we are still working on this one, but we never got UPnP to work on my end. It apparently works, but for some reason mine does not.
Other than that, FTP worked as expected, the unit was able to download large torrents without issues and the print server is a really neat addition too. Then comes the media streaming part which is really cool. It was quite satisfying to watch the Valkyrie simultaneously stream two 1080p movies, a DVD movie and music flawlessly over four different computers. Patriot may not have the fastest chips on board, but thanks to bandwidth efficient codecs, media streaming is a walk in the park for the device. I had been eying one of these media players for a while, but this NAS does that and so much more. There are pros and cons to both solutions and while I have no doubt lots of people prefer the cleaner and simpler players, I certainly enjoy the flexibility this NAS provides.
Overall, the Patriot Valkyrie NAS is a great entry level unit -- affordable, well built and packed with higher than entry-level features. The unit has a few minor annoyances, including the non-stop blinking red light when no drive is installed, the scheduled restart should delay itself if there is network activity and it only supports FAT32 and Ext2. However, a firmware update is supposed to be released in the coming weeks, which will bring support for Ext3 and possibly improved performance among other fixes. Once Patriot works out the Valkyrie's few rough edges, it'll be hard to resist the attractive $140 price tag. While it's certainly not anything near fast, if you're looking for an affordable, flexible, centralized data storage solution for your home, look no further!
Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.