Easy, Low-Cost Network Storage for Everyday Use

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Dedicated to Storage

The easiest way to add NAS to your network is to buy a box designed for that task. I kicked the tires on two units: the $699 Maxtor Shared Storage II 1TB, and the $389 Iomega StorCenter 500.

Iomega's StorCenter 500 (left) and Maxtor's Shared Storage II offer 500GB and 1TB, respectively, of storage for your network's PCs to share.
The quoted prices average about 70 and 78 cents, respectively, per gigabyte, versus 50 to 60 cents per gigabyte for general-purpose external hard drives.

Nearly every PC under four years old supports gigabit-per-second ethernet. If yours doesn't, spending $20 or so for a gigabit ethernet adapter is a good idea (see Shopping area for more about these products). With gigabit ethernet, a movie streamed from a PC or NAS box looks as smooth as silk, large files transfer at blazing speed, and backups are far faster than with older 10/100 ethernet cards, which are limited to 100 megabits per second (note that these are theoretical speed limits; real-world speeds are slower). That said, my old reliable 10/100 500GB Maxtor Shared Storage Drive still manages the small-scale backups for my office network.

Gigabit ethernet is not a perfect solution, however. Router vendors have been focusing on boosting the speed and reliability of their wireless networking gear. Only a few pricier wireless routers--such as the $150 D-Link DGL-4300 I've used for the past year, D-Link's $180 DIR-655, Netgear's $160 WNR854T, and Buffalo's $250 WZRAG300NH--include a gigabit-capable ethernet switch. Some NAS boxes can connect wirelessly, but they transfer data at a considerably slower pace than a cabled connection does.

Linksys's WRT350N pre-N wireless router (about $170 online) has a quartet of gigabit-ethernet ports, as well as other features that make it an alternative to a dedicated NAS box. The WRT350N sports a USB 2.0 port to which you can attach a normal USB hard drive, effectively turning the router itself into a NAS controller.

Use your wireless router as a network storage device via its USB port, such as the one on the Linksys WRT350N.
USB 2.0's real-world transfer rate of about 200 megabits per second can't match gigabit-ethernet speeds, but it's faster than standard ethernet and most wireless connections.

The WRT350N, like the Iomega StorCenter and Maxtor Shared Storage II, also functions as a Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) server to stream photos, MP3 files, and movies to your PC, TV, stereo, portable player, or other playback device equipped with a UPnP media adapter. Like gigabit ethernet, UPnP is an important feature to have if you're planning a home multimedia network.

For even more flexibility, get a NAS box with USB ports for attaching a printer that you can share across the network or for expanding the network's storage capacity via standard USB hard drives. With a high-end NAS box, you can back up your network storage by attaching a backup device directly to the box, rather than having to go through your PC. Most people, however, will store the backup of their NAS box on DVDs, or on a hard drive or tape drive attached to their computer.

Another option: Buy a NAS enclosure that lets you plug in your own hard drive to build a NAS box with as little or as much storage as you can get on a drive (or two, for enclosures that support multiple drives). Tritton's $100 TRI-NSS001 NAS Enclosure works with any 3.5-inch ATA drive and supports up to 400GB.

At a Glance
  • Buffalo Technologies Wireless-N Nfiniti Dual Band Router (802.11b/g, draft 802.11n, 300 Mbps, 128 Bit WEP, WPA2)

  • Maxtor Shared Storage Drive II - NAS server

  • D-Link DGL-4300 802.11g Gaming Router

  • D-Link DI-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Router (802.11b/g/N, 300 Mbps, 128 Bit WEP, WPA)

  • Netgear WNR854T Wireless Router Gigabit Edition

  • Tritton Technologies TRI-NSS001 - Simple NAS Hard Drive Enclosure

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