Considering its expertise in hard disk manufacturing it’s no surprise that Western Digital (WD) has taken its high capacity IDE drives and created a low-cost NAS solution for the home user and small business. The Essential NetCenter family consists of three members with the latest model on review delivering a tasty 320GB of networked storage at a price to suit most pockets. At first glance, Freecom’s Classic SL Network Drive looks much better value but it only delivers half as much storage capacity and the NDAS technology it employs can be cumbersome to install. Along with an easier installation, the NetCenter also offers a number of other features that make it more versatile.
The NetCenter product is well designed and built with a solid plastic chassis although weighing in at 1.4kg it’s by no means easily portable. Designed to look good on your desk the NetCenter comes with a couple of plastic clip-on feet allowing it to stand on its side. It should be mounted in this position as all ventilation is provided by grilles at the side making for silent running. A Fast Ethernet port is located at the rear and partnered by a couple of USB 2.0 ports. The latter adds some diversity to the NetCenter as you can connect other external storage devices or USB printers and share them all over the network.
With a simple three step process, WD’s bundled EasyLink utility makes light work of installation as this background task keeps an eye out for all NetCenter devices. It can be accessed from the System Tray where it searches the network and displays all discovered devices ready for selection. This provides quick access to the web browser management interface but also allows you to create shared folders for immediate use and change the unit’s name as it appears on the network. The NetCenter is set to receive an IP address via DHCP and we encountered no problems with it connected directly to a ZyXEL Prestige 2602HW router.