Hands On: RipNAS Home Server
Manufacturer: Illustrate Model: RipNAS Home Server
Price: From £740/$1365 Web: RipNAS


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As Windows Home Server continues to evolve its strengths in digital media storage and streaming, we’re starting to see the emergence of home servers which are positioned for music and video enthusiasts.

The RipNAS, from Illustrate is a great example of one of these units, along with Tranquil PC’s AVA Media RS3 line – they can be used as general purpose home servers, but come bundled with a raft of digital media add-ins to please audiophiles everywhere (and tend to come with a price tag to match).

As many of you will know, Illustrate first came to our attention this year by releasing RipNAS Essentials, a CD Ripping add-in for Windows Home Server that met the bar for audio quality and data tagging, whilst missing the DVD ripping functionality of My Movies for Windows Home Server, which, despite its name, rips both CDs and DVDs. That said, the add-in appears to have won a strong and loyal following over at Illustrate’s forums.

Illustrate have been specialising in CD ripping and audio conversion software like dbPowerAmp for the last ten years, so it makes sense for them to enter the hardware market with the Windows Home Server powered RipNAS. Let’s take a look at what it’s got to offer.

What’s in the Box?

Whilst you won’t find any glossy, branded packaging with the RipNAS home server, it arrives well packaged with the following contents:

RipNAS Home Server

Power Cable

Ethernet Cable

Server Restore USB Key

Home Server Connector and PC Restore CDs

3 x Audio Encoder CDs (FLAC, Apple Lossless and FLAC + MP3)

Intel Motherboard and Bonus Software CD

RipNAS Operation Manual

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In all, it’s a pretty solid affair – good to see Illustrate do not scrimp on including an Ethernet cable (especially for a premium priced product) and the enclosed manual is a simple, 14 page manual which could do with being a little more comprehensive for a new user, but covers the basics of home server operation, audio ripping and streaming adequately.

First Looks

I’m impressed by the design of the RipNAS – in many ways it reminds me of a more compact version of the Hush HS1 we reviewed last summer, with its aluminium casing and side fins. The addition of the acrylic front and top (in black or white if you wish) sets off the aluminium nicely. It’s one of the nicer chassis we’ve seen in quite a while.

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Around the Back

The RipNAS is relatively well appointed when it comes to connectivity, although it misses out on full Windows Home Server logo compliance due to the fact that it’s not a headless unit. Along with the power button and socket, you’ll find 4 USB ports for external storage connection, and an Ethernet port along with audio input/output sockets (handy if you want to playback music directly from the home server to a hi-fi), PS2 Mouse and Keyboard sockets, VGA port for a monitor as well as those SVideo, serial and parallel ports that probably will never be used.

No eSATA ports are included, so you’re restricted to the USB ports if you wanted to attach additional storage.

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Up Front

The white acrylic front of the RipNAS is very smart indeed, with a minimalist slot loading Teac DVD/CD drive, plus power and drive access LEDs. Depending on the other kit you may have at home, the RipNAS’ minimalist lines won’t look out of place at all in your hi-fi rack or placed on your computer desk at home. It’s also available in white or black so you can match it you whatever hardware you have around the house. In look and feel, it’s well up there with the Hush HS2 home server – looks premium, feels premium and is well built.

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Under the Hood

Opening up the home server is pretty easy. Simply unscrew the screws on the backplate and slide off the RipNAS’ acrylic top.

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The small form factor means that that RipNAS’ internals have to be very tidy, and indeed that’s the case with two 2.5” Hitachi hard drives stacked on top of the motherboard. Storage options are available from 1 x 320GB, 640Gb (2 x 320Gb) or 1Tb (2 x 500Gb) – so the RipNAS is not the largest home server in the world out of the box, but 2 drives does give you full folder duplication for data security and the 2.5” hard drive format does lead to a small and neat form factor.

The RipNAS utilises Intel’s 1.6GHz Atom processor which is now becoming a very popular option for Windows Home Server. RAM options at 1 or 2Gb means that the RipNAS should handle pretty much whatever home server tasks you throw at it with ease.

With regard to networking, only the top of the range 1Tb model comes with Gigabit Ethernet on board – all other models ship with standard 10/100 Ethernet – you pays your money, you takes your choice as they say, but such a high priced unit should really offer Gigabit across the range.

Those aluminium fins on the side suggest a fanless operation, and that is indeed the case – the RipNAS extracts all heat through its chassis rather than utilising fans and as such, it’s basically silent in operation, so you can expect to listen to your music in peace without the noise of a hovercraft in the background.

All internal connections are glued in place – a practice I’m still not overly comfortable with – sure, it means that cable connections are fixed in place, but it also makes future upgrades more difficult.

Using the RipNAS

Focused predominately on the audiophile market, RipNAS comes kitted out with a number of audio-related applications that make the unit a music lover’s dream. Out of the box, the system will play nicely with households with Sonos or Squeezebox digital media receivers in place – you’ll find that Logitech’s Squeezecenter is pre-installed and configured, along with Firefly Media Server for full iTunes compatibility and Asset UPnP for full DLNA compliance. In short, the RipNAS is prepped and ready to serve up your music to pretty much whatever device you wish to stream to.

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As you’d expect from a company that specialises in CD Ripping, the RipNAS also comes pre-installed with full CD ripping capabilities. Music can be ripped to a host of formats, including MP3, FLAC, Apple Lossless, Wave, and WMA Lossless using the onboard dbPowerAmp RipNAS add-in which is fully configurable from within the Windows Home Server Console on any PC.

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Album, artist and track metadata plus album artwork is automatically pulled from multiple sources. Including AMG, GD3, MusicBrainz and freedb, so you can be sure that a very high percentage of your music will be tagged correctly as it is ripped.

Secure (error free) rippng is available on specific models for those audiophiles who demand the very best, using AccurateRip and c2 pointers – again, it’s there if you need it.

The ripping application works well and is very useful for those with large CD collections – however, you’re not able to edit metatags as you are in My Movies for Windows Home Server, and so there’s still room for improvement in RipNAS’ onboard CD ripper.

Summary

Without a doubt, the RipNAS is a great looking, well appointed home server which will serve the premium audiophile market well, and is packed in a smaller, cuter form factor than its primary competitor, the AVA Media RS3.

That said, at over £700 for the base model, it’s targeting a very premium niche, and you could certainly achieve a similar (if not as pretty) result utilising your own hardware and a copy of My Music for Windows Home Server, or indeed Illustrate’s own RipNAS Essentials software.

But, like the Hush HS2, if you’re looking to make a design statement with your choice of hardware, or if silent, fanless running is a must the RipNAS undoubtedly speaks volumes.

More Info: RipNAS

5 comments

  1. I totally agree! I think something else designboom needs to "call out" is other blogs simply posting press releases, instead of actually writing content.

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