Saturday, March 9, 2013

PogoPlug Series 4 (ArchLinux) review

If you've been reading my blog, you will know by now that I am a big fan of the PogoPlug. For $15-20, you can get yourself a hackable NAS. I've basically re-purpose these little ARM computers to run ArchLinux; providing a variety of network services from proxy, file, rsync, to full LAMP web application servers. They're amazing devices at $15. With an ArchLinux USB stick, I can pretty much do a lot of cool things and replace slow and aging Intel servers.

Well today, I am going to give you my impressions of the newer, PogoPlug Series 4 (v4) running the non-stock firmware, ArchLinux. You can't quite get them on the electronic bargain bin of $15 quite yet. They go for $60-90 and I was able to snag one when my discount notification announced it was $40 shipped.

First of all, the older E02 model is still a better unit for most purposes. It has a faster processor and more  RAM. E02 sports a 1.2 GHZ Kirkwood CPU with 256MB RAM. The Series 4 comes with an 800 MHZ processor and 128 MB of RAM. I would say the new Series 4 is similar to the Pink B02.

Now what makes the new Series 4 unique is the USM SATA dock and USB 3.0 support. This is why I got the device. I have a bunch of USM and 2.5" drives I want to use. Furthermore, I could not get more than 20-30 MB/sec read and writes through the network with an existing USB 2.0 attached PogoPlug. I figure, I'd take the risk and see if the newer V4 justified the premium.

For hacking and re-purposing purposes, the Series 4 is close to the Mele A1000 Android Mini PC TV device.
The Mele A1000 made a big impression because you can hack it to run Linux. It also has a USM Sata dock on the top and unlike the PogoPlug V4, it has video output via component, VGA, and HDMI. It can be made into a desktop workstation. I declined to go that route for three reasons. The Ethernet on the Mele is not gigabit and it has serious performance issues with the GPU under Linux. Since I use my Pogos as headless servers, the Mele A1000 was not even a consideration. Last and most importantly, the ArchLinux community is much more entrenched with the Pogo devices.

My impressions.

The box has a nice small form factor. I totally dig the size difference compared to the older Pogos (pictured to the left). The top comes off to reveal the USB 2 and SATA port. For ArchLinux, only these two ports will be bootable. Apparently, the SATA connector has port multiplication. In theory, this means you can connect the PogoPlug Series 4 to an external 4,5,8 Bay eSATA RAID enclosure that requires port multiplication. I did not test this feature.

I tried the PogoPlug Series 4 with a brand new 1TB Seagate Backup Plus USM drive. I also attached a 1TB USB 3.0 Western Digital Passport drive. In addition, I tried the SATA connector with a bare SSD and 7200 rpm Seagate XT Momentus hybrid drive. The only problem I have with the USM dock is that it is not wide enough to fit the older Seagete Go-Flex (pre-USM) drives. The newer USM classified Seagate Backup Plus drives fit perfectly fine.

Pogoplug E02 vs PogoPlug Series 4

As you know by now, my posts about Pogos usually involves them being hacked to run ArchLinux. I do not run them stock and these blog posts are tailored for those interested in them running Arch.

In my testing, the V4 provided mixed results. I formatted all my drives Linux  EXT3 for the best results. All the drives were empty and freshly formatted at the time of this testing.

First, I tested the disk read and writes from the terminal console to see how fast the device would read and write internally.

The USB 3.0 did surprisingly OK. In some results, it was better than using the USM docked Seagate. 

The SATA connection was a letdown. I thought it would produce better results. The first results is typical of people who plan to use it with a USM device. The results may be attributed to the fact the Seagate portable 2.5" backup plus drive spins at 5400 rpm.

I then proceeded to test with a brand new 7200 rpm, SATA III 6Gb/s Seagate XT Momentus hybrid drive with a 8MB SSD cache. I have this particular drive as data drives on my laptops. On both my Mac and Thinkpad running Linux with EXT3, this drive consistently breaks the 100 MB/sec barrier when connected to a SATA III channel.

There wasn't much of an improvement.

I went one step further and tested with a Samsung 830 SSD. Again, my suspicions were correct, the SATA channel is probably running at SATA I speeds.

Compared to a USB 2.0 E02, the Series 4's numbers are way, way better.  Here is an E02 connected via USB 2.0 for comparison.

Still, I was disappointed I couldn't get better speeds. I was hoping for at least 80 MB/sec.

Now, the speed I/O isn't a big issue if network access was good. After repeated tries, I could not get the  V4 to perform better than the older E02. The previous E02 could easily hit Gigabit's limits. No matter how much tweaking I could do to the V4, I could not get more than 70 MB/sec network throughput.

Samba performed poorly to my surprise. The first two screenshots below are the V4 with a USM drive and an SSD connected to the SATA port. Connecting to the USB 3.0 port provided similar results.

Now compare it to the older E02. The older E02 has a USB 2.0 connected external drive and it performed consistently better.

This translated in the real world with real copies. Even with the SATA drive advantage, copies were much slower.

PogoPlug V4
PogoPlug E02

In the end, it did not matter that the newer model has SATA, sd card slot nor USB 3.0. It simply perform slower than the previous E02 Classic Pogoplugs running as a server. In some use cases, running directly off the SATA and running applications like MySQL, you'll benefit from the faster local reads on the newer v4. However, the majority of people will be using the Pogoplugs with network file access. As a SAMBA file serving NAS, the E02 is still a better buy. It really boils down the hardware. The Classic E02 has a faster processor and more RAM. That is why it performs better.

There is one saving grace, the V4 is a good looking piece of kit. You don't have dangling wires everywhere when you use only the USM SATA dock.


  1. I love your pogoplug articles. I'm a big fan myself.

    Regarding the PogoPlug V4 versus the E02, like you, I was very disappointed in V4 overall performance (both SATA and USD). It's nice to see some benchmarks though to confirm.

    What makes the E02 perform so much better? What's the bottleneck on the V4, the memory or cpu clock speed? Thanks

    1. I believe it is the clock speed of the CPU that makes them better. The B01/B02 perform the same as the V4. I have those too.

  2. That's what I believe too. What do you say to someone that argues its the memory?

    1. Hard to say. Argument can go either way. Samba is notorious for eating memory to improve performance. On average, each process takes up 2MB. The more open connections, the more ram it takes up.

      However, that does not explain why NFS is better on the EO2. Or SFTP. Nor does it explain why the lower CPU always get stressed more.

      2 reasons why I say CPU: When you run TOP, during file copies, CPU utilization under CIFS jumps up to 70-80% for me on the v4. It barely registers on the E02.
      This is easy to prove. Install webmin on both. Copy files to both at the same time. The E02 uses 9% cpu for Samba (/usr/sbin/smbd -D). The same process on the v4, under Top or monitoring system processes under webmin, it is 40-60% of the cpu. My kernel is always pegging at 80% cpu utilization under the v4.
      My E02 at home is also running a lot of other services (netatalk, a full lamp stack) whereas the V4 only runs samba.

      Furthermore, people who have over-clocked Raspberry PIs (also low power ARM) have notice better speeds under Samba. The higher the clock on the CPU, the better the performance.

      My memory use is never that high unless I run a lot of different stuff all at the same time: webmin,netatalk, samba, apache,mysql,rsync.

      50 MB out of 240 on the E02. 33 out of 120 MB on the v4. I've never seen memory swapping or loads unless I'm running PHP,MySQL w/ ImageMagick and FFMPEG on a Pogo. Never try video encoding on these.

  3. Thanks for the comparison. I was thinking about getting one of these for a home media server, so I think I'll ask for the E02 for my birthday. I think I'll try installing Fedora on it so I can run Plex Media Server which feeds to my LG smart TV.

  4. is overclocking the v4 an option? Would that improve the performance? Maybe an OC to 1 or 1.2ghz?

  5. Just wanted to note a possible correction/clarification to your (otherwise excellent) article. At the begining you state:
    "the older E02 model is still a better unit for most purposes. It has a faster processor and more RAM. E02 sports a 1.2 GHZ Kirkwood CPU with 256MB RAM. The Series 4 comes with an 800 MHZ processor and 128 MB of RAM. I would say the new Series 4 is similar to the Pink B02."

    However, I have two pink PogoPlugs (addmittedly not my first color choice), and BOTH of them are E02, while your article implies all pink pogos are B02.

    Just thought you might want to know that color does not always indicate model number.


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. you are right. I confused the model numbers sometimes myself.

  6. Thanks for the detailed comparison.

    Is there something weird about the uboot on a Series 4 compared to an E02? After going through the standard arch install procedure, I can take the rootfs flash drive off the E02 and it'll still boot into some form of Linux. When I remove the flash drive from a Series 4 Pogoplug after installing Arch, there doesn't seem to be any operating system running. It doesn't DHCP or anything. Stick the flash drive back on power cycle and it will boot.

  7. Hi fortysomethinggeek.

    Excellent review on the v4! I wish I had seen this page before I bought one. :( I agree with you though that the looks of the v4 is definitely the winner over the classic version.

    Just want to share something I observed with v4. I plugged in a Behringer U-CONTROL UCA202 coz I want to use the v4 for Squeezelite. I noticed that the v4 would intermittently detect the USB DAC. I would power down the device, wait for 10 seconds, and power again. Then hope and pray that it would detect the USB DAC. Sometimes I get lucky the USB DAC is detected on the 2nd to 3rd power down cycles but most of the time, even at my 10th attempt, the USB DAC is still isn't detected!

    Long story short, I gave up and I ended up using the classic which I use for the LMS server, to be the player/SB client as well. The classic detects the USB DAC all of the time.

    1. The v4 does detect two different USB audio DACs I have. I am currently using my v4 as an Apple Airport Receiver. I just installed alsa-utils and that was it.

    2. May I know which DACs you're using? I may give the v4 a second chance. :)

    3. I am using a cheap Syba C-media chipset DAC. The other is a Sabrent, also C-Media chipset. These are not high end DACs.

  8. Thanks for the recommendations on the USB DACs.

    I'm sure I've installed alsa-utils as it's included in Qui's guide and I can confirm since I can run both aplay and alsamixer commands. However, even with alsa-utils installed, my v4 intermittently detects the Behringer UCA202. Not sure if the issue is with my setup or the unit I got. Nonetheless, I'll try the Sabrent.

    Are you using the 2.1 or the 7.1 Sabrent? It's interesting that the 2.1 costs more than the 7.1. And with this size and cheap price, I'm planning on modding the v4 and add a small USB hub inside as pass through leaving one external USB port still functional. Then make a hole in the housing to get the 3.5 jack accessible.

    Would you know if the v4 would allow use of an external USB hub?

  9. One little question, have you tried to use your USB ports as Raid drives? Two USB 3 even with USB 2 flash drives, or with 2 usb 3 drives? I have seen it written up for Linux, can it be done on this?

    If the v4 is so slow, maybe it can gain something. If the E02 is so fast, could it do even better?

    I'm new to this so I don't know the answers or how to do it to test it.


  10. Hi what kind of lan did you set up? Gigabit? What is your router's model?

  11. Hi All

    I heard that the Pogo Plug needs to be disconnected from the external hard disk everytime the power fails. Is this True?
    If i install archLinux, will USB 3.0 features will still work?.
    Will the existing Pogo Mobile and Desktop Apps can communicate with the Device after installing archLinux

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. i wonder what i am doing wrong. I don't get even close to the performances you measured and considered "low". The only difference is that i cannot use Ext2/Ext3 since i mainly want to use this device to copy data from my video cameras SD Card to a SATA drive which i later want to use on the mac. I've been experimenting with ExFAT which has a very high CPU overhead and HFSPlus, which seems to be OK, speedwise.

    If you got some time, check out the thread i started at arch linux arm forum, maybe you got some hints for me what to do.

    1. I think the SD card reader is inefficiently slow. I don't have numbers but the card reader was too slow for my liking.

  14. Its not Working i m doing it correctly but not working visit more info :- POGO support

  15. Based on reading this article I think there may be some scope for improving the filesystem performance

  16. Hi,
    I know that you are not running the original firmware. But I have just one question regarding the original firmware. Can i access the files/pictures etc on my own harddisk without any extra fee ?

    1. Yes you can thru their cloud service. However, if they ever go belly-up, you won't have access to them anymore.

  17. If i install another firmware, can i then get arround their systems, and access it from anywhere ?

  18. How do I go about hacking this pogoplug V4 and is it difficult?

  19. Thanks for share this article nice info.
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