Computing - general &Nerd stuff 14 Nov 2006 08:39 pm

Netgear Storage Central — possibly the worst computer product I have ever owned!

After a rebuild of the UltraBox (my home PC), I had a couple of 200GB IDE drives ‘spare’. I decided to make some sort of NAS (Network Attached Storage) device to allow the household’s various PCs to undertake regular backups.

Despite some (ahem) mixed reviews on various sites, I invested $155 in a Netgear SC-101 Storage Central box (see here).

The SC-101 looks like a great concept — it’s small (smaller than a toaster), cheap, flexible (supports just about any IDE drives) and promises great operational flexibility.

Downsides include the fact that it ONLY works on PCs (not Macs – but that’s not a problem for me) and it uses a proprietary file format (not FAT or NTFS – but this shouldn’t be a showstopper for a backup device).

Sadly, in reality the SC-101 delivered so much less than promised. On my Core2Duo-based machine, it failed on so many levels. I’ve attached part of my support submission here:

Problem 1: SCM (the management and operating software for SC-101) cannot check for updated software when started. It just sits there saying ”Connecting to Netgear site…” and nothing happens. Eventually it says ”unable to locate version file”. Of course, it is possible to decline the update check, but working around a problem is not a fix.

Problem 2: After setting up the SC-101, drives are not visible on connected PC from next re-boot onwards.

Problem 3: When I check on the SC-101 using SCM to see why the drives have become invisible on the host PC, they both show up with their correct names on the list (in SCM), but one of them has lost its letter (Y: still shows as Y:, Z: has no letter any more).

Problem 4: If I use SCM to try to detach the invisible drive that still has a letter (Y:), nothing seems to happen. SCM says ”Detaching” but goes into a loop. If you try to go ”back” (after several minutes – not seconds) it says ”Operation in progress. Please try after it is complete.” So I can’t detach the drive and reattach it.

Problem 5: When you click exit on the SCM program to get out of the loop mentioned above, the app appears to close but leaves its process running in Task Manager, so you can’t start it up again without using Task Manager to terminate the process. But Task Manager can’t terminate the process!

Problem 6:
General system stability is greatly reduced when the Zetera Service is running. It often seems to cause apps (such as IE or Firefox of Outlook) to freeze. And when they freeze, Windows is unable to shut them down (just like SCM, above). (Note – there is no highCPU usage – just can’t close things.)

Problem 7: Even the Computer Management tool (from Control Panel) can’t shut down the Zetera service when it’s running.

Problem 8: When the Zetera service plays up, the PC is unable to even shut itself down. Needs a ”4-second reset” on the power button to inelegantly remove power.

Observation: When the SCM software is removed (uninstalled), the PC becomes fully stable once again. But of course the drives in the SC-101 cannot be reached!

Bottom line at this stage seems to be: everything seems OK when you first set up the SC-101 until the PC is rebooted. From that point on, the discs are invisible and the SCM/Zetera software is EXTREMELY unstable (and might even be described as toxic).

I spent several months working on this with the (very obliging) support folk from Netgear. Many hours were invested in running diagnostic tools and reporting to Netgear. No fix was forthcoming. (There is a promise of new software and firmware at the end of September. No sign of it yet…)

I sent the box back to Netgear and now have a sealed-in-plastic replacement that the store from which I purchased has agreed to take back.

POSTSCRIPT: I have now implemented a FreeNAS-based storage server using bits of old computers. So far, so good. All systems go!

3 Responses to “Netgear Storage Central — possibly the worst computer product I have ever owned!”

  1. on 15 Nov 2006 at 6:01 (Sydney) 1.NeilA said …

    Thanks for that Richard.
    I’m about to start looking at NAS solutions, and the Netgear was one on the list. However, I am looking for a small and compact solution, so FreeNAS doesn’t really fit the bill. Any other thoughts?

  2. on 15 Nov 2006 at 10:22 (Sydney) 2.Richard said …

    Small AND compact? Well, you could put FreeNAS onto a machine in a Shuttle case…

    Failing that, D-Link is bringing out a toaster (like SC-101, but SATA drives). I’d be wary about it until it’s a proven beastie. Looks to me like it may use the same dreadful Zetera software that blights the Netgear box.

    Some other options:

    Let us know what you eventually decide. I’ll write more about FreeNAS soon.

  3. on 17 Nov 2006 at 15:29 (Sydney) 3.The Flying Nerd » Blog Archive » FreeNAS said …

    […] After my bad experience with the Netgear SC-101 (here), I was (again) the owner of two unused 200GB IDE hard drives, and I still wanted to have a free-standing backup location for the family’s computers. […]