Network attached storage is an area of computing that is moving beyond being a solution just for large businesses and is becoming a lot more affordable for the average small business or home user.
What is network attached storage?, basically it is a box containing one or more hard drives that is connected to your wired network (like an external USB hard drive but connected directly to the network where all users can access it).
We were looking for a networked hard drive to use as an automated backup solution for our PCs and decided to test out the 120GB Buffalo Linkstation.
Did the Linkstation make the grade? keep reading to find out.
The Buffalo Linkstation creates a good impression with it’s packaging: A clear picture of the product, highlighting the storage capacity, and noting two editor’s choice awards.
The rear of the package lists all the features and functionality and has a nice diagram showing where the Linkstation fits into the home or small business network.
Inside the box is the Linkstation itself, in a little bag, with tape over the shiny front panel, and protected by a couple of pieces of cardboard.
But wait, there’s more: you also get a little plastic stand, a flat Ethernet cable, a power cord, a brief install guide, and a software CD.
Once you get the Linkstation out of the box, onto it’s stand and ready to setup it looks really good: solid, professional, with a little bit of hip Apple whiteness about it.
The front of the Linkstation has a recessed power button, a USB port, and 4 lights (power, link/activity, disk full, and diagnostic).
The rear of the Linkstation is equally simple: a fan exhaust, a power plug, a second USB port, an Ethernet (standard network cable) port, and a switch to choose regular or crossover Ethernet.
To setup the Linkstation you plug in the power cord (a good feature is that it is just a cord not another power box), plug in an Ethernet cable (ideally connected to your Ethernet hub, but you could also connect directly to a pc or to a wireless to Ethernet adapter), and press the power button.
You should now see both the power and link/activity lights lit (we did).
Now comes the software side of things: you need to install an IP setup utility on a PC and use that to search your network for the Linkstation. The utility allows you to assign an IP address to the Linkstation (most wired/wireless routers operate as a DHCP server so the Linkstation will probably not need an IP address as it will have got one automatically).
Once your Linkstation has an IP address (either automatically or manually assigned) you can access it’s configuration screens via a web browser interface:
The web interface lets you do a number of essential things to setup the Linkstation the way you want it such as giving it a name (something more descriptive than HD-HLAN1FF), setting the time correctly (ours thought it was 2002), give it a different workgroup name (so other computers on the same workgroup see it under “My Network Places”) etc.
You can also use the web interface to add or delete shared folders (like hard drive partitions but not of a set size), add security (usernames and passwords) to shared folders, configure and maintain peripherals (you can connect a printer and/or an external USB hard drive to the Linkstation), and to maintain the Linkstation (format, backup, scan etc).
The Linkstation has a client program that is supposed to be installed on every PC that needs to access the Linkstation but we didn’t need the program: once the workgroup name was set correctly all the shared folders showed up under “My Network Places” on all our PCs.
We got the Linkstation setup and running with no problems, it runs quietly (although you can hear the hard drive when you are backing up data), and seems to be stable and works well. It never crashed or rebooted in all the time we were testing it.
We had two main uses for the Linkstation: backup and media file server.
As a backup solution we wanted to be able to use the Linkstation to store an image of the system partition on our main PCs and to setup automated synchronization of documents between our main PCs and the Linkstation.
We tried using the “Easy Backup” software provided by Buffalo and were very disappointed, all it seemed to be able to do was copy a defined set of files to the Linkstation, creating a separate copy every time. It also didn’t look very professional.
Once we installed a different synchronization/backup program we had no problems with backups (we used Second Copy but there are lots of alternatives out there).
Backing up 3 PCs used up almost 60% of the space on the Linkstation. There are larger Linkstations available and the 300GB version may be the best option at around $450, 180GB more storage for an extra $200 over the cost of the 120GB Linkstation.
As a media server the Linkstation worked fine: we were able to stream HDTV from the Linkstation to any PC on the network with no problems. We were also able to setup a shared folder and map it to a drive letter on all the PCs.
If you are looking for a way to have a standalone storage solution on your home or small office network and don’t want to spend thousands the Linkstation is a great choice. It doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles of the big systems but it gives you a reliable place to store backups and media files that is accessible all the time by all your PCs.
The ability to add an external USB hard drive and a printer are big plusses, and the only complaint we had was with the poor quality and functionality of the included backup software.
Good web based configuration screen
2 USB ports
Backup software not good
120GB may not be enough storage, go for a larger Linkstation
Overall Rating: 9.5/10