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If you thought USB drives were only for attaching to desktop or laptop computers, think again. Various manufacturers provide ways to connect such drives to your network, so you can retrieve files stored on them from across your network, or even via the Internet.
We looked at USB storage sharing devices from Cirago, Cloud Engines, Ctera Networks, Iomega, and Seagate to see how they compare at turning an ordinary hard drive into a connected network hard drive.
Dedicated NAS boxes often have complex features and can be difficult to set up. The devices we looked at work with the USB (and in one case, eSATA) drives, flash drives, and hard drives you already own, making those drives available via the network.
Four of the five devices--all except the Cirago Network USB Storage Link--let you share files across the Internet, too. The Cirago box transforms up to four USB 2.0 drives into a local NAS system capable of serving iTunes and other media.
Iomega's iConnect Wireless Data Station can share four drives either wirelessly across your home network or across the Internet via FTP or the company's dedicated Web portal. Cloud Engines' easy-to-set-up Pogoplug offers four USB ports as well; Seagate's GoFlex Net incorporates the Pogoplug software and lets you use bare SATA drives and the company's own GoFlex drives as well as USB. Ctera Networks produces a similar, but more professional-oriented device called CloudPlug. Like Iomega's iConnect, these products use a Web portal for setup, registration, and file access. Fire up any Web browser on any PC (Windows, Linux, or Mac) from anywhere in the world, and you can access the files on the USB drives attached to these devices.
Our Top 5 chart
Whether you're looking for dead-simple setup or advanced NAS capabilities, you can find a suitable product. Here is PCWorld's list of the Top 5 USB Storage Sharing Devices:
Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station: Iomega's device isn't as simple as Pogoplug but offers local administration.
Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Net: Seagate's USB storage sharing device adds a SATA dock to the Pogoplug/USB mix.
Cloud Engines Pogoplug: Uncomplicated setup and a nice portal make this device an easy way to share files.
Ctera Networks CloudPlug: CloudPlug deploys the parent technology for Pogoplug in a less friendly form but with more features.
Cirago NUS1000 Network USB Storage Link: The Storage Link turns your USB drives into a local NAS box.