|Introduction & Specs|
|There are a couple of inconveniences of modern connected living that Patriot Memory is trying to address with a product called the Gauntlet Node. One is the problem of storage; the only computer or mobile device we have--and you know that we have quite a few--that isn’t constantly running out of local storage is our big desktop system. Whether it’s due to our packrat-like tendencies (hey, we might need our college geology notes someday, and then who will be laughing at whom?), our prolific shutterbugging, our library of music and movies, or the need to maintain secure backups of all of it, file storage is a nagging problem.
Then of course there’s the issue of actually accessing files. Setting up a home media server has long been the solution to that problem, but configuration and management can be a pain, not to mention expensive if you put together a dedicated PC for the task.
The Gauntlet Node is a wireless hard drive enclosure that offers a possible solution to both problems; it’s a self-contained portable media server that supports bulk storage (hard drives and SSDs) and can stream via WiFi to up to 8 devices simultaneously.
You can use any 2.5-inch HDD or SSD of adequate thinness, and the maximum capacity the Gauntlet Node supports is 2TB for hard drives and 480GB for SSDs. The interior interface is SATA II, and the device features 802.11 b/g/n WiFi connectivity. Finally, you can expect maximum transfer rates of up to 150Mbps over this link.
No wireless device would be worth a damn without adequate security features, and the Gauntlet Node thankfully has a few built in. You can leave the Node unsecured if you like (Pro tip: don’t), or you can opt for WEP, WPA-PSK, or WPA2-PSK. Predictably, you can choose your preferred WPA encryption mode (TKIP, AES, or TKIPAES) and set a passphrase.
In the box, you’ll get the actual Gauntlet Node hard drive enclosure as well as a power adapter with a separate USB power cable, a USB 3.0-to-USB3.0 B cable, all the appropriate clips and screws, and a trio of installation and quick start guides.
|A Closer Look & Features|
|The Gauntlet Node boasts a simple exterior design with a few nice touches. The top, bottom, and front of the enclosure are matte black, while the sides and rear are slightly curvaceous (ideal for that no-slip grip) with a glossy black finish.
The top of the Node displays “Gauntlet” stamped into the plastic (with “Node” set off in white) as well as three LEDs that indicate power, battery status, and wireless status. One side of the unit has a WiFi reset button and its own indicator lights, and the front of the enclosure has the power button as well as ports for DC input and USB.
Any time you’re considering a device like the Gauntlet Node that promises the ability to stream to multiple devices, one of the first questions that comes up pertains to compatibility, particularly with mobile devices that can be a little more finicky than the typical desktop or notebook. Without an app, you have to rely on mobile devices’ Web browsers to connect, which isn’t always ideal.
iPad and Android devices, all of which are available for free in their respective app stores. The apps not only ensure compatibility with the Gauntlet Node and smooth performance, each one is tailor-made; the iOS and Android apps look completely different from one another, which indicates that Patriot took the time to develop these apps for each platform instead of just making one app and clumsily porting it.
The Gauntlet Node also has Internet pass through capabilities, so while you’re streaming content from the device, you can remain connected to the Internet and browse as you normally would.
When a device is wirelessly connected to the Gauntlet Node, being able to stream files is just part of the functionality. You can also create folders, upload files to the Node, and download files to your connected device.
We won’t assert an opinion on whether or not the lack of a built-in media player is a bad thing or not; on the one hand, it would be nice to have, and it seems like Patriot could have perhaps worked up something useful such as the VLC Player with a custom skin, but on the other hand, many users may prefer to use their own favorite media players instead. We’ll call that a matter of preference.
|Installation & Setup|
|Installing a drive in the Gauntlet Node is quick and easy. All you’ll need is a small Phillips head screwdriver; remove four screws from the back of the Node and slide the cover off. After you install four other screws and rubber spacers into the 2.5-inch drive you’re using, simply connect the SATA cable and lay the drive inside the chassis.
Once your drive is installed in the Node, you may need to connect the unit to your PC via USB and format your drive. Patriot instructs you to use the NTFS format, although we discovered that at least in one case a FAT32-formatted drive did the trick.
With a properly formatted drive, you can add whatever files you like, and when you’re done, unplug the USB cable and press the WiFi button on the side of the Gauntlet Node to create a hotspot.
Next, use your wireless device of choice to connect to the Gauntlet Node just as you would any hotspot. (Yes, this will kick you off of any other network you’re currently using.) Then, you can open the Node’s Web-based configuration GUI, called “Gauntlet Connect”, by entering “10.10.10.254” into a Web browser. Once logged in to the Node, you can adjust the device’s settings and enable the Internet pass through functionality by using the interface to locate and log in to your existing wireless network.
Gauntlet Connect has four sections: Status, Setup, Network, and Security. The Status area is the default page, and it shows you system information such as the server host name, the Gauntlet Node’s current firmware version, the time and date, and network information. Under the Setup area, you can adjust most of the aforementioned features, including upgrading the firmware, and you can click “Network Connection” and then select your preferred wireless network to reconnect your device or computer to the Internet.
You can adjust the Gauntlet Node’s SSID and account username and password under Network, and all the wireless security settings are available in the Security area.
After you’ve made your choices in Gauntlet Connect, you may still not be ready to access files on the Node. In some cases, you’ll have to manually mount the Node to your network. In Windows, you have to click the Windows button and enter “\\10.10.10.254” in the Search Programs and Files text area and then enter the Gautlet Node’s username and password (both of which are “admin” by default). You can also of course just use Windows Map Network drive functionality. In OS X, you have to click Go from the file menu in Finder, click Connect to Server, and enter “smb://10.10.10.254” when prompted. After you enter the username and password (“admin” again), you should see the Node appear as a drive on your desktop.
Example of the iOS interface
The iPad app, it should be noted, was especially snappy and responsive.
|Battery Life & Performance|
A Note on Battery Life:The Gauntlet Node is rated for up to 5.5 hours of continuous streaming on its Lithium-ion battery power, and we put that number to the test.
After streaming HD video for 2 hours and 23 minutes, the Node conked out; that’s less than half of what the Gauntlet can purportedly manage. We fully recharged the battery and ran it back down again using an audio stream, which is a little less demanding than video. This time, the battery hung on for 3 hours and 38 minutes. Of course, battery life will vary depending on usage; you can expect much better battery performance if you're not constantly streaming and perhaps get closer to that 5.5-hour mark.
It’s also worth noting that once everything is set up and configured, the Node responds fairly quickly to navigational commands and the like, although it’s slow enough that you won’t forget that you’re working over a WiFi connection. However, we sometimes experienced annoying wait times while trying to connect devices to the Gauntlet Node server, and navigating to and updating the firmware from Gauntlet Connect was such a laggy experience that we weren’t sure anything was happening at all for long stretches of time.
That said, configuring or changing important settings such as security encryption and passwords is very easy to do from the Gauntlet Connect interface, and you shouldn't have to do it very ofter, so that’s a plus.
Although disk performance isn't as crucial with the Gauntlet Node as it is with most hard drive enclosures--mostly, you're going to be concerned about streaming performance over WiFi (with a max speed of 150Mbps) as opposed to the speed of the HDD or SSD inside--we wanted to give you an idea of how the Gauntlet Node impacts a drive's performance.
We ran a pair of drives through a couple of benchmarks while connected directly to a PC, while inside the Gauntlet Node and connected to a PC via USB, and then inside the Node while connected via WiFi. One is an SSD (128GB OCZ Vertex 4), and one is a typical 5400 RPM drive (320GB WD Scorpio). ATTO is a "quick and dirty" type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds across a specific volume length. It measures transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart. We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB. ATTO's workloads are sequential in nature and measure bandwidth, rather than I/O response time, access latency, etc.
As you can see, the Gauntlet Node has little impact on the WD Scorpio drive either way. However, the device appears to substantially hamper the performance of the OCZ Vertex 4, particularly as it pertains to write speeds at least. Regardless, with an SSD under the hood of the Node, you could realize sizable performance gains versus an HDD.
WD Scorpio HDD connected via WiFi (left) and OCZ Vertex 4 SSD connected via WiFi (right)
When we ran ATTO with the Node connected via WiFi, we found some strange scores; the WD Scorpio hard drive actually posted much better scores than the OCZ Vertex 4 SSD, which doesn't make much sense. We of course retested multiple times, and sure enough, we got essentially identical scores. We don't have a clear explanation for the abnormal scores, but in any case, you can see how being connected via WiFi versus USB significantly impacts both drives.
CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests both sequential and random small and mid-sized file transfers using incompressible data. It provides a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to performance, best case being larger sequential transfers and worse case being small, random transfers.
WD Scorpio HDD running inside the Gauntlet Node (left) and connected directly to a PC (right)
OCZ Vertex 4 SSD running inside the Gauntlet Node (left) and connected directly to a PC (right)
The numbers in CrystalDiskMark bear out the same story as with ATTO; the WD drive isn't impacted much at all by the Node, while the OCZ SSD sees a significant performance limitation, though the total solution offers much better performance when configured with an SSD.
WD Scorpio HDD connected via WiFi (left) and OCZ Vertex 4 SSD connected via WiFi (right)
Just as with our ATTO test, CrystalDiskMark shows for some reason that the HDD outperforms the SSD when connected via WiFi. Again, in both cases, the thing to focus on is that performance is much slower than when connected via USB.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: While the performance of Patriot Memory’s Gauntlet Node didn’t blow us away, the occasional laggy video and sometimes slow Web interface also didn’t ruin the overall experience. Most files streamed just fine, even when there were multiple devices competing for bandwidth, and once the Node and any connected devices were set up and configured, the user experience was fairly straightforward and simple.
On the other hand, if you view it as an extension of your mobile device’s storage, you can truly see the Gauntlet Node’s usefulness evince itself. Remember, the thing has a battery and also creates its own hotspot, so you can take it with you anywhere and view content on your tablet or phone. If you’re feeling generous, you can also share files with anyone you trust enough with your network login information.
You can find a Gauntlet Node right now for $99, which is a reasonable price tag for what you get. True, you also need a hard drive to put in it, but this is exactly the sort of situation that’s ideal for re-purposing your old laptop drive that’s just been sitting around for ages.
We’d like to see a smoother setup experience and perhaps a built-in media player, but it’s clear that Patriot Memory has put a lot of good work into the Gauntlet Node, from developing their own smooth-performing mobile apps, to a simple yet classy chassis design, glitch-free security and network configuration, and mostly smooth streaming performance.