A Network attached storage device makes an ideal centralized storage hub for your huge video files. Even cooler, these wonder boxes can stream high-def video and audio to any compatible networked device within your home. You can download movies from the Internet and play them through a networked media player or directly to a wireless HDTV.
Setting up a network storage device to stream video is straightforward. In the case of D-Link’s ShareCenter 2-Bay Network Storage for Media Streaming, or DNS-325, all you have to do is fire up the device’s Web configuration screen, click on over to its “Advanced” tab, and enable the built-in UPnP AV server. That’s it. Any folders or files within the specified folder on the device show up as shared items within devices like Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Sony’s PlayStation 3, the Boxee Box by D-Link, and many more.
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You can store a bunch of space-hogging video files on your PC. But unless you plan never to watch a new movie or TV show again, you’re going to run out of space. We live in a high-def world. It’s great that an increasing number of devices is able to handle megapixels upon megapixels, but the downside to the resolution boom is a corresponding explosion in data storage requirements. Your computer isn’t really built for that purpose.
Sure, you can add an internal hard drive to your desktop PC — in theory. Depending on the make and model, you might have a few options for expansion. But the construction of desktop and laptop PCs can make this task anywhere from fairly easy to dang near impossible.
You know what’s not impossible to work with? A network storage device. Depending on its design, you might not even need a single tool to access its drive bays. Pop the cover, slide in a new drive (or drives!), and slap the cover back on — the built-in software on your network storage device initializes your drive for you. All you have to do is sit back and start finding movies to copy over.
Easy RAID support is another area where NAS devices deliver a smoother storage setup than, say, your desktop PC’s internal drive or external hard drives. Some desktop systems don’t support arranging hard drives in a RAID array. Laptops don’t even begin to support RAID. And even if your desktop supports it, you can’t create a new a RAID array out of your primary hard drive and a new drive without first wiping the data off both. Goodbye, Windows installation. Goodbye files. Hello annoyance.
Setting up a RAID array on a NAS device is a no-brainer. You’ll need to reformat (that is, erase) your NAS box’s drives, but you can always move files from the NAS device to your PC temporarily. There aren’t any files critical to the NAS device’s operation on the drives themselves. And if you desire, you can always remove a NAS device’s original hard drives and install two brand-new ones instead. You’ll have your RAID array up in minutes, which would be an impossible task if you pulled your primary hard drive out of your desktop PC.
NAS is the ultimate storage solution for a networked home. It has the capacity, scalability, and data security features you need, and every computer in the household can take advantage of it — even over the Internet. Give NAS a try before your PC’s hard disk is full to the brim.
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Q: What is a port?
A: Shakespeare once asked, "What's in a name?" If the name is port, the answer is "a ton of confusion." That's because there are two accurate definitions for this networking term. One is merely the connector you plug, say, an Ethernet cable into. The other is the digital conduit through which network devices process information from the Internet. If you don't understand how the latter type of port works, you may not be able to make network applications perform at their best.
Imagine your desktop PC as a giant slab of cheese, The ports are the holes that make it Swiss. Now, if your finger represents data traveling from your system to the Internet and back, sticking it through one of these holes represents the digital exchange. No hole, no transmission, no data.
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It’s a great feeling to have a state-of-the-art home network. But the minute you leave the house, all your connections are out of reach. You can’t use a network that you’re not in the middle of, right?
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Unless you’re just joining us, you know I’m a huge proponent of network attached storage, or NAS. If you’ve taken my advice or you’re just that smart and already own a NAS box, you make regular use of it to store your files, automate backups, stream media throughout your home, and log into your network remotely.
So why would you need a new one? Not long ago I would have asked myself the same question, but three critical factors persuaded me that it was time for an upgrade.
1. More storage. It’s often said that hard-drive capacity increases roughly 25 to 35 percent per year. But you don’t have to wait for the latest and greatest new drives to reap the benefit of more storage space. The thing that pushed me to upgrade from my older, single-bay NAS box to a dual-bay device is simple: In one quick switch, I instantly doubled my storage capacity.
Switching to a new NAS box also cured my headache — specifically, the throbbing in my skull that came from my annoyance at having to dig out my tools and disassemble my older NAS box whenever I needed to switch the hard drive. Newer models like D-Link’s DNS-320 and DNS-325 use hot-swappable bays to reduce drive installation time to mere seconds. Better still: No tools required!
2. Higher speed. Today’s technological stew has a lot of beefy chunks of data floating around in it. High-definition movies, disc images, and the pictures that come from everyone’s 85-megapixel cameras (OK, not really) take up a lot of space. And if you’re trying to clean up your PC by transferring these files to a NAS box, you’re in for a painful experience if you’re doing it over a fast Ethernet connection.
When I swapped my old NAS box for a brand-new, gigabit Ethernet-friendly one, it was a monumental transformation. No longer did I sit and watch the Windows copy pane for what felt like hours. My files now zipped along, limited only by the speed of my hard drives instead of a sluggish, 12.5-megabyte per second fast Ethernet connection. I used to wait a half-hour to transfer a 20GB Blu-ray movie. Now the same movie zooms through my Gigabit pipe in less than three minutes.
3. Software upgrades. Plants die. Pets die. NAS boxes die — but not because they’re faulty. At some point in every digital product’s lifecycle, the manufacturer terminates software and firmware updates. When that happens, what you have is as good as it’s going to get. If your old router doesn’t support DLNA or UPnP-based streaming, you won’t be able to watch movies using any number of living-room devices (including gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and perhaps your television itself). Don’t expect a software upgrade to come along and save the day!
By the same token, older NAS boxes tend to come with rigid internal software. You can’t usually pack any third-party add-ons into the mix. Not so with D-Link’s DNS-320 and DNS-325. These NAS devices allow you to go out to the Internet and grab additional software utilities that mix right in with the standard setup, including support for Yahoo widgets, software audio streaming, and Logitech’s SqueezeCenter line of network audio devices.
Why should you upgrade your NAS box? Because you’re missing out on great performance that would enhance your home networking experience. From more storage to faster speeds to awesome software that allows you to do even more with your NAS box, the latest generation of network storage can put legacy setups to shame — and make you a happier techie.
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Even if you’ve put together a solid network and set it up properly, you can still run into problems. Sometimes a complex, network-based application such as a multiplayer game just doesn’t work. You set up your router’s port forwarding feature to no avail. You need a DMZ.
A DMZ — named for the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea — is a separate network that bypasses your router. When you assign a system such as a PC to the DMZ, you remove all functions that usually monitor the traffic flowing in and out of that system.
Assuming your network is connected to the Internet, assigning a system to the DMZ is dangerous because instead of opening specific ports or a range of ports, you’re opening everything to the digital free-for-all. You’re potentially opening the floodgates that — up until that point — your router is designed to keep closed. And because the DMZ is associated with your LAN, a successful break-in could expose the rest of your network.
Therefore, the first rule of the DMZ is to exercise caution. This is an advanced feature; don’t use it if you aren’t familiar with the risks and precautions. Be sure to protect systems connected through this feature with some internal form of security, such as a software firewall. Please — puh-lease — don’t use your router’s DMZ as your default method for getting finicky network applications to work. It’s strictly a last-resort method for solving a particular connection problem. Be prepared before you enter the DMZ.
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A wireless router is the backbone of any solid home networking setup. From built-in security to traffic-routing settings, there’s a lot to think about when you’re hooking one up for the first time. Gathered from long experience, here are some recommendations for setting up a new wireless router.
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