With many of the latest Blu-ray players, TVs and AV receivers boasting network media streaming, the importance of NAS drives and media servers to home cinema fans is greater than ever. They allow you to keep hordes of movies, music and photos stored in a single place, rather than hogging space on your laptop hard drive, and because they’re attached to a network you can access your files from any networked device. The beauty is that you’re not constantly moving content from device to device on USB sticks or external HDDs – it’s always sitting there on the server.
There are plenty of these on the market, but here we’re looking at the latest model from Taiwanese company ZyXEL. It’s a remarkably compact unit, measuring just 108(w) x 147(h) x 205(d)mm, which is great news if you want to tuck it away next to your TV or router where space might be tight. Though if size is a particular concern you may want to consider the Synology DiskStation ds411 slim, which uses smaller 2.5in drives.
It comes in a fashionable gloss black casing with wavy ridges on the front panel and a row of LED indicators down the right hand side. You’ll also find buttons for one-touch copying/synching and power. Overall build quality is slightly disappointing – the front door, which opens to reveal bays for two hard-disk drives, feels plasticky and the overall casing isn’t as rigid as we’d hoped.
Connections include a USB 3.0 port on the front for super-speedy transfer of media files, while on the back are two USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port and a socket for the DC power adapter. Dominating the rear panel is an outlet for the Smart Fan, which features speed control, a high temperature buzzer alert and auto shutdown.
It’s a shame that the NSA325 isn’t supplied with any 3.5in SATA II/III hard disks as it’ll add a hefty chunk to the overall cost, but it does support a capacity of up to 6TB. These are slightly fiddly to install – the process involves fitting some plastic brackets, and it’s not immediately clear which way round they go – but there’s a plastic tool stored on the back of the front panel that makes it easier to get them out (although with 6TB fitted we doubt you’ll need to).
The NSA325 packs some decent processing grunt, running a 1.6GHz CPU with 512MB of memory, which provides fast streaming to multiple devices on a network. Not only can it be used as a DLNA/UPnP, iTunes, photo album server and SqueezeCenter, but also as a web FTP/eMule/BitTorrent server. There's also a one-click hosting sites manager that makes it easy to directly download large files from sites like Rapidshare and Megaupload.
You can even auto-upload photos and videos to YouTube or Flickr, and there’s also a wealth of data management and backup functions – all of which makes the NSA325 a convenient and versatile proposition.
Furthermore, with the new zMedia app installed on your smartphone, you can play content from the NSA325 on your device at home, browse files, check the status of uploads or downloads and configure the system. It also works with DropBox, allowing you to remotely back up files from smartphones and other portable devices wherever you are.