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Sun 31 Jan 2010 04:00 AM

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Inspecting gadgets

ACN rounds up the latest and greatest in network storage, from Buffalo’s dual-drive LinkStation to HP’s media monster which comes complete with its own operating system.

Inspecting gadgets
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Inspecting gadgets
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ACN rounds up the latest and greatest in network storage, from Buffalo’s dual-drive LinkStation to HP’s media monster which comes complete with its own operating system.LinkStation

Network-attached-storage (NAS) boxes are all the rage right now and with good reason – they provide a cheap and easy means of storing huge amounts of data, while still being upgradeable to higher capacities of hard drive as and when they appear.

The only problem is, most NASs fail to live up to the hype. Most of the consumer models released so far have been about easy to configure as tying a windsor knot without the use of opposable thumbs. Up-and-coming storage vendor Buffalo has been on a charge (forgive the pun) to improve the user experience and make these drives as one-click simple as possible; their latest effort is this, the LinkStation Pro.

It’s certainly not much to look at, being merely a large metal box. But then, NAS drives aren’t meant to win beauty contests like an Apple Time Capsule box or a Western Digital Share Space. The serious ones are built to be chucked under an office desk and ignored until the day the user runs out of space.

To that end, the box is absolutely Spartan in its connectivity. Apart from a power and reset switch, the LinkStation only has a single USB port addition to its Gigabit Ethernet jack, although really, that’s all you’ll ever need. Buffalo’s proprietary NAS Navigator software is needed to talk to the LinkStation over the network and also performs some rudimentary power management duties, shutting down if the host PC is turned off.

With only two drives supported, the LinkStation is intrinsically limited in its RAID array options. You can either view the data as one big bucket, increasing performance but halving reliability. Or, you have one hard drive backed up to its brethren, halving your capacity but improving reliability and never leaving you looking sheepish if one of the drives breathes its last.Frankly, we’d skip the LinkStation and its limited two-drive options for a bigger model like the TerraStation. With greater speeds and room for four drives, it’s much better value.

The smart money

Yes, it’s a bit of a NAS special this month. But then with data growth the way it currently is, we suspect people won’t be happy for too long with a few external HDDs. Instead, they’ll be tempted by something like the catchily-titled HP MediaSmart EX495.

And with good reason; this black behemoth will carry out virtually every network storage task you can think of, from doing mundane automated backups to converting DVDs into different formats for your media players such as an iPhone. It’s able to do all these things because it’s got heaps more processing power than the LinkStation also featured this month, with a Dual Core Pentium processor under the hood matched to 2GB of RAM and Windows Home Server acting as the operating system to handle it all seamlessly.

This is clearly in a different league. With four available storage bays and available eSATA, Ethernet and USB ports, it has all the expandability you might conceivably desire.

Unfortunately, it also goes over the top in the complexity. Whereas the LinkStation is more or less plug-and-play, this requires some heavy-duty manual reading. Consider that even before you can plug any of your hard drives in, you have to install Windows Home Server to the included 1.5TB drive. And once you finish that, you’ll have a bewildering range of ways to configure the client, not to mention the web one.

But we have to admit that once you get everything set up just so, the MediaSmart is an amazing piece of kit. We simply suggest that you get someone else to do it for you.

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