With the Seagate BlackArmor NAS 440, Seagate not only repositions its BlackArmor brand, but also launches is first serious network-attached storage (NAS) device.

NAS devices can be ideal for small studios, as they offer a secure place to keep important project files that all team members can access without requiring set-up and maintenance by a IT support person like a traditional server -- which is great for companies that don't have anyone who fits that role (like most small studios). They usually also offer this at an affordable price.

Previously, the BlackArmor brand was tied to Maxtor; and, it was synonymous with Seagate's external full-disk encryption drive . Now, both the Maxtor brand and the full-disk encryption are gone -- and BlackArmor will be targeting small businesses as well as freelancers.

The new BlackArmor NAS 440, along with its lower-capacity sibling, the BlackArmor NAS 420, is a four-bay device. The NAS 420 comes with two drives pre-installed; the NAS 440 is packed with four drives, and will ship with up to 8TB of capacity -- which matches rival Western Digital's ShareSpace with 8TB.

These new NAS models pack many of the usual features, including user-accessible drives, backup, gigabit ethernet, software encryption, remote access, iTunes server, and four USB ports for attaching external USB drives or a USB printer.

The units also support a plethora of RAID options (RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5, RAID 10, and JBOD). More intriguing is how the NAS 440 and 420 can be custom-configured into subset 'volumes' using Seagate's Linux-based embedded software; these volumes can then be assigned to their own levels of redundancy using the aforementioned RAID options.

This advanced feature has some potential: It can be both liberating in its flexibility, and constraining. It's flexible if you don't want to treat all of the data stored on the drive equally, such that say 1TB of data gets treated to RAID 5, and another 500GB to RAID 0 or JBOD, for example; and still another 500GB could get software encryption. This approach allows you to use a single drive to serve all your data over the network, as opposed to having separate devices to accomplish the same task.

The catch: If you need to make capacity changes to your volumes, you'll need to start from scratch. Making a change will be like reformatting your C: drive--you'll have a clean slate, and no data (unless you backed it up elsewhere).

Seagate ships the NAS boxes configured by default in RAID 5 -- a solid choice for maximum data safety. I'll be interested to try out the volume and RAID pairings, to see how it behaves as compared with say a Data Robotics Drobo, which uses virtualization to distribute redundant content across four drives.

That last tidbit is perhaps the most notable thing about this product: It means that come May, Seagate will have its own 2TB hard drive available, to compete with Western Digital's already shipping 2TB hard drive.