In this ever-growing digital world, where for entertainment we rely on digital cameras, MP3 files and movie downloads, the need for more and more storage space is a weekly, if not daily problem. For those of you who produce projects, such as home videos, the problem is even more evident. Add to this that the average household will have more than one computer, the value of some sort of shared centralised storage device is very valuable indeed.
Network Attached Storage devices (or NAS as they are often referred to) are growing in popularity. In their simplest form, they are hard drives that connect to your network via ethernet, rather than locally to your computer via USB. The fact that they are attached to your network means that you can make the content accessible to computers that are also attached to your network. This even extends to wireless use, whereby if your NAS is attached to a wireless router, then the content can also be accessed wirelessly.
Over the past week I have been testing the LinkStation Live from Buffalo Technologies. It is availble in sizes up to 750GB. The model on test is the 250GB HS-DH250GL. This compact box contains a SATA hard drive and sports a nice front panel with informative status LED's up front. Around the back of the unit you plug in your power cable (the power supply is in the unit itself, so no external brick). The back also sports the 10/100/1000 Mbps ethernet socket, so it is nice to see that Gigabit speeds are supported. When viewing the back you can also see a vent, behind this hides a tiny fan for cooling purposes. In use, you can definitely hear the fan, but is is very quiet, so not intrusive at all. There is also a USB 2.0 port, which is great. It allows you to plug in another hard drive, so you can expand the amount of storage capacity on your network with a standard external hard drive.
Setting up the drive is really easy. Everything is configured via a standard web browser interface. You can set up users and passwords, folder shares, maintenance of the drive etc. It is also possible to schedule backups, so that USB 2.0 port around the back has a second use. Rather than using it to add storage, you can assign the connected hard drive to act as a backup drive. Once scheduled the LinkStation will backup files to this second drive, even when your computer is switched off... this is a very useful feature.
The flexibility of the LinkStation Live is where the added value comes in. Rather than me trying to guess what your use would be, let me tell you a little of how it helped me. In just 30 minutes I was up and running and had set up folders and shares on the drive to tackle two organisational tasks that I wanted to do with my iMac. Firstly, I have a large iTunes library, probably around 100GB including the downloaded video content. Having moved this all over to the LinkStation (which took a lot less time than I had anticipated), it solved two problems. Not only had it freed up 100GB of space on my iMac, but it also allowed me to wirelessly access my iTunes content on my MacBook Pro too. My second task was to move all of my video content. Producing the videos for Geekanoids eats up a lot of space. So I moved all of the completed movies I had made, some 120GB. Although they are uploaded to various sites already, it is essential that I keep them locally too. Again, the LinkStation handled the transfer with no problems, and also allowed me to stream them to my computers easily. On the wired network (the iMac) the streamed content played back with no hitches. Over the wireless connection (the MacBook Pro) there were a few stutters, but these were very minimal and once some buffering was done things ran very smoothly.
So in my tests the LinkStation Live gave me back over 200GB of space on my iMac. It also allowed for a much more useful and versatile experience. The single fact that it opened up my iTunes library to my laptop too is worth the spend alone. It is a very solid unit, good build quality, easy to set-up and as such offers superb value for money.