- Review Price: £229.00
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.
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.
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