Storage

A Terabyte in the Palm of your Hand?

Size doesn't matter, or so the old adage goes. Yet obviously it does matter -- or else we wouldn't have both towering desktop PCs and petite portable netbooks. But how about something like a network-attached storage (NAS) device, which is basically a box that sits on a shelf or a desk and never travels, never moves -- does size matter there?

Buffalo Technology thinks so. It recently introduced its tiny LinkStation Mini, which is 1.6 by 3.2 by 5.3 inches and weighs in at a hair over 1 pound, easily meeting Buffalo's boast that it can put 1TB of storage in the palm of your hand. (It can also fit nicely on an overcrowded shelf.)

The dual-drive NAS box (two 250GB or two 500GB 2.5-in. drives in RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration) has a 10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN port so it can attach to a speedy router. Because Buffalo uses 2.5-in. 5400rpm drives, the unit is fanless -- but that also means you can't replace the existing drives with faster 7200rpm versions that would generate more heat. The drive sips lightly at your wall outlet to the tune of just 10 watts.

Managing the LinkStation Mini means installing the included Buffalo NAS Navigator software. It's a painless installation -- a prompted series of options guide you through the process. When it's done, the Mini is added to your desktop and migrated into your network lineup.

Buffalo includes Memeo backup software with the drive. Memeo is one of a seemingly endless lineup of manual/automated backup applications that ignore the fact that most of us simply don't care about backing up our data and just want more -- and shareable -- storage. If you're in that group, you'll find that Memeo is very intrusive if not downright annoying. It pops up and asks to be configured every time you boot until you do configure it. (Better idea: If backing up your data isn't why you bought the LinkStation Mini, uncheck Memeo from the list of automatically installed applications.) On the other hand, if you like backups, and you really should, you'll appreciate that Memeo has quite a comprehensive list of backup options.

There's also software in the box that allows you to access your files remotely over the Internet. Personally, I'm guided by two points of view: I don't want my data put at risk through external accessibility and, if I load up the LinkStation Mini with videos or music (it has a built-in DLNA certified media server for streaming audio and visual content to any DLNA player or PC), I can easily visualize the MPAA or RIAA breaking down my door waving subpoenas in their grubby hands.

The LinkStation is a little faster than Western Digital's ShareSpace but not by much and not always. For example, copying a collection of 4,661 files and folders (8.05GB) to the Mini took 11.4 minutes. That's two minutes quicker than the ShareSpace. However, both drives needed about 11 minutes to copy the same files back to the original system.

When I tried to copy two sets of files from two different PCs to the device, the ShareSpace took 33 minutes. The Mini, however, was unable to complete the test; I gave up after over after 45 minutes, when Windows onscreen timer indicated that five-plus hours still remained. This makes sense, sort of. Neither the ShareSpace nor the LinkStation Mini is meant to be anything more than consumer-grade NAS boxes. They're not meant to be in a transactional environment where data is written and read rapidly on a near continuous basis, and they behave badly if you attempt to use them as such.

On the other hand, when I streamed movies from the Mini onto four PCs while writing this review, there were no delays or hiccups.

As with the ShareSpace, Buffalo's LinkStation Mini is a great home appliance -- especially where space is a bit limited. Its 1TB of storage is phenomenal given its petite stature. You can get the 500GB version for about $210 less than the 1TB's (roughly) $480, but 1TB in the palm of your hand? How can you resist?

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer who has written a half-dozen books and more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology, including Apple computers, PCs, Linux and commentary on IT hardware decisions.

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