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Friday, 20 June 2014

Rejuvenating the DLINK DNS323 NAS with alt f

I've purchased three of the DLINK DNS323 over the years.  I retired the units a number of years ago because of the issues discussed below.

Problematic support for 4k sector sizes

The user needs to format drives that use 4k sector sizes in a firmwae image that supports it (which is the last, 1.10), but the community of users have pointed out various bugs and issues with 1.10, suggesting users not use this firmware on an ongoing basis.  Therefore, for the purposes of formating (and properly aligning the sectors on these drives), it is recommended the user ugprade their firmware to 1.10 and immediately downgrade to 1.08 after formatting.  You just need to setup the drives on a supported firmware -- you don't have to actually persist using that firmware.

No support for EXT4

No sense staying with EXT3 when journaling is significantly better in EXT4.

No support for hard drives > 2.2TB (such as 3TB drives)

With the official firmware updates retired, no new hard drives will ever be supported officially.

No GPT partition tables (only MBR)

Along the reasons of not supporting newer, larger hard drives.

Formatting the wrong drive bug

Although DLINK recognized the problem in earlier firmware images and says they corrected it, I personally encountered the issue when a pre-existing drive was formatted by the firmware instead of the selected new drive, despite both drives having different sizes, different manufacturers and different models -- therefore, not a mistaking the identify of the correct drive to format.

Last year I came across alt f, a free alternative firmware for these NAS units.  I flashed it on one of the NAS units and never looked back.  It really breaths life into these old units.  I've been making use of my obsolete and retired NAS units.

The primary features that stand out for me are:

  • Support for EXT4
  • Support for GPT
  • Support for larger/newer hard drives (3TB, 4TB, etc)
  • Use pre-existing hard drives without reformatting or modifying the partition tables
  • Support for NTFS drives in the left and right bay (in addition to USB)
  • RAID that includes support for drives over the USB port
  • ffp package support builtin

I've put together a video walkthrough below of alt f firmware.