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The browser interface opens with a quick start routine that asks you to create an administrative username and password and set the time zone region, country and city. Next you move to the main home page which provides easy access to status summaries and device and share configuration. The system summary page gives a quick rundown on device status, connected printers, shared folders and volumes and you can move on to the general setup page where you can provide a static IP address, change the workgroup name and upgrade the firmware.
Once volumes have been created from the drive management page you can set up network shares and decide whether to make them public or private - security features for the latter are limited to basic password protection only.
If you plan on using external USB storage there are a few pointers you need to know. If a device with a preformatted FAT32 partition is connected then it can be mapped to a drive letter from the EasyLink utility and used in read/write mode. If the device has an NTFS partition it can be mapped and used in read mode only. For either file system the NetCenter will see it as a foreign drive and won’t allow volumes and public or private shares to be created on it. To do this it must be claimed first, which will automatically format it to make it compatible with the NetCenter. Volumes and shared folders can then be created but try removing the device and connecting it locally to a Windows PC and the proprietary volume format will not be recognised.
To test the NetCenter’s printer capabilities we connected an Epson Stylus Photo 950 USB printer to it where it was correctly recognised immediately. After assigning it a volume we were able to share the printer with all our network test clients. However, as is all too often the way with these basic printer sharing capabilities, the Epson Status Monitor utility was no longer able to gather information about printer ink supplies.
We tested the NetCenter with a variety of USB drives and flash disks including a Maxtor OneTouch and the latest FireStix from Buffalo Technology and saw them all correctly identified on insertion. We left the OneTouch as a foreign FAT32 disk which allowed us to share existing data publicly but not create any new shares on it via the NetCenter. Network access is over TCP/IP which introduces higher overheads so performance wasn’t as good as that delivered by Freecom but still very respectable. Using the open-source Iometer on the internal drive saw a raw throughput of 8MB/sec and running the same test on the OneTouch and FireStix USB drives returned 6.5MB/sec and 6.7MB/sec respectively. Copying a single 690MB video file from a workstation to the NetCenter took 129 seconds for an average speed of 5.4MB/sec.
As a simple plug-and-go network storage solution the NetCenter delivers the goods. The method of handling external USB storage devices can be a drawback and printing features are limited but otherwise it offers a good combination of capacity, performance and price.