So you have all this USB storage lying around and you wish you could just put it in some out of the way spot and access it across your home network. For a very reasonable $100, Iomega's iConnect will let you do that and more, with up to four drives.
Considering the price, I was expecting the iConnect to be a dumb USB 2.0-to-Ethernet converter. Instead, I found it's basically a NAS box without drive bays. It sports a DLNA-certified UPnP media server to stream music and video across the network, handles bit torrents, and even allows you to attach printers and cameras to any of its four USB ports. There's no RAID, but that's understandable on a device that relies on removable storage.
The iConnect offers wireless connectivity, but it's disabled by default so you must initially connect via the gigabit Ethernet port to enable it. You may connect to the unit and configure it via IP address and a browser, or by installing client software that will discover the box for you. Either way, you wind up at the same visually appealing and easy-to-navigate HTML configuration pages.
Configuring the iConnect was easy, though not entirely without incident. The unit would not connect to my Linksys WRT350N router using WPA personal security; however, switching the router to WPA2 fixed that problem. I also had to manually forward the 21 (FTP) and 443 (HTTP) ports to the iConnect to enable remote access.
Once configured, the iConnect worked perfectly, although reboots were often required after configuration changes. I attached several USB drives and it found them immediately. The client software will map the drives for you, or you may map them as network drives on your own if you forego the software as I did. My Samsung ML-1450 printer was found and installed, though this required having USB storage attached (presumably for print spooling) and a reboot after attaching said storage. Note: I found no power saving settings for the unit that would allow you to power down drives to save energy.
When connected to a MacBook Pro using Mac OS X, media files were detected through iTunes and they could be played without difficulty when the UPnP server was enabled. The security settings on the device before the iConnect's connected storage was detectable, however.
On a PC, I used Windows 7 and Media Player 11 to test the UPnP server, which worked perfectly. Streaming across my admittedly very fast gigabit network was perfect, even with 1080 video. The unit also automatically transferred files from my digital camera when I attached it to the unit. This behavior is optional and configured under the Media Services tab.
The Copy Jobs tab was also extremely useful for monitoring your copying tasks and the One-Touch copy button worked without difficulty. It was easy to copy the contents of a small flash drive to my larger LaCie Rikiki drive.
Enabling a Time Machine backup was a bit more problematic. Initially, none of the portable drives attached to the iConnect could be used for Time Machine backup; a single drive had to be enabled under the backups tab in the iConnect's browser. Some security troubleshooting was required, as well as ensuring "rsebundles" were created for the portable drive used for backups. Finally, you'll have to connect a network cable directly to your network port from your computer in order to do an initial Time Machine backup. While a rigorous process, the iConnect is in fact Time Machine compatible.
While the iConnect has all the features most home users will need, it might not have every little feature techier types might want. For instance, I was able to connect directly using port https port 443 and my preferred dyndns.org, but not FTP port 21. Iomega also offers easy access via its own relay server and TZO dynamic DNS. On the other hand you may define users, shared folder permissions, etc. just as with other NAS boxes.
The reset button on my test unit was non-functional. Check yours and return it if you don't feel a slight click when you press in on it. There is a reset function in the configuration pages that I used instead.
Macworld's buying advice
All in all, the iConnect is a neat little box. If you don't need remote FTP access, it's a great way to get started with network storage and media serving. Especially if you have unused USB storage you want to leverage.
[Jon L. Jacobi is a freelance writer. Macworld associate editor Chris Holt contributed to this review.]