Acer EasyStore H340-M home server reviewed

Product Acer EasyStore H340-M
Price £399.99 inc. VAT

Windows Home Server (WHS to its mates, and the OS that powers the Acer EasyStore H340) is the Marmite of NAS operating systems. Some swear by it, others are physically ill when it’s within smelling distance. We’re actually rather partial to it (WHS, that is), as it manages the neat trick of wrapping some industrial-strength backup and redundacy features into an almost idiot-proof package.

It does have several foibles, but these are common to all WHS products, rather than being the fault of the EasyStore.

EasyStore H340-M is powered by a 1.6GHz Atom CPU with 2GB of RAM - perfectly adequate for backup server duties - and is housed in a small but solid cube-shaped black enclosure, with a latched door that opens to reveal the four hot-swap drive bays (the system drive isn’t hot-swappable, though).

An extra front-mounted USB port below the left-mounted status panel is dedicated to the neat one-touch backup button, which automatically classifies the contents of a USB drive and copies them to the respective shared folders on the WHS system.

Inside there’s not much to report. A tiny motherboard houses a single DIMM slot, and there are no fans except for a humungous 120mm beast that covers one side of the drive cages. This runs very quietly, but it’s certainly not totally silent.

To get up and running is admirably straightforward. Plug it into the network via the Gigabit Ethernet port, power it on, stick the installation disc in any networked PC (as with all WHS systems, the Easystore doesn’t have an optical drive or video card - all management is done remotely) and follow the instructions. It all takes 30 minutes or so, depending on how many WHS updates need to be downloaded, and then you need to install the client connector software on any PC you want to be part of the WHS backup regime.

Any PC thus connected will be automatically backed up daily, with a three-day, three-week, three-month system of backup management (you can adjust this if you want).

It uses single-instance storage at the cluster level, which means that it’s not checking files but which disk clusters have changed when it decides what to backup. In practice, this means that it’s very efficient - for several PCs running Windows 7, for instance, any common files wouldn’t be duplicated in backups. Client PCs are restored either by mounting backup images from within the WHS Console application and dragging and dropping files, or doing a complete image restore by booting from the supplied restore CD.

As ever, the problem with this is the patchy support for network cards - if your isn’t supported you need to find drivers yourself and stick them on a USB key in order to perform a restore. Drive failure protection is handled in a similarly exotic way - it doesn’t use RAID, but uses Microsoft’s proprietary Drive Extender technology to provide protection against single-drive failure, including the drive containing the OS.

All drives are pooled into a single network storage resource, so there are no drive mappings to mess about with. Shared directories can be mirrored to offer a bit more protection, or an external drive used as a backup for these files. WHS locks down the underlying Windows Server 2003 SP2 OS, but supports customisation via console add-ins.

Acer offers a handful of these, including the Lights Out power management tool, a hardware monitoring utility, a DLNA-compatible Digital Media Server and an iTunes server. These sit on top of the standard WHS features of remote access and Windows media sharing, plus a handy plug-in for Windows Media Center.

Mac and Linux clients aren’t supported at all, although Macs can redirect backups to the shared directories. It’s a neat package at a decent price, especially as there aren’t that many four-bay models around - HP’s Mediasmart EX490 is its closest competitor at present.

Good
Four hot-swap drive bays; well-designed installation routine; simple to operate

Bad
Not completely silent; few compelling add-ins; PC restore can be fiddly; no Mac or Linux client support

Verdict
One of the few four-bay Windows Home Systems on the market, the EasyStore H340 does its job well. It’s decently priced, too, for a four-bay NAS system with 2TB of storage thrown in, but be prepared for the eccentricities of the OS. The even better news is that the price has just been cut by 50 quid. It’s also worth considering for small office use, where the built-in remote access and set-and-forget backups come into their own.

Specifications
Processor: Intel Atom N230, 512K Cache, 1.60 GHz, 533 MHz FSB
OS: Windows Home Server (Power Pack 3)
Memory: 2GB DDR2
Hard Drives: 2 x 1TB
Graphics: Integrated Intel GMA950
Dimensions 200x212x180mm
Weight: 5.7kg