Not Ready for Prime Time: The $250 NAS Device

On Thanksgiving Day, my 4-year-old laptop died. Its sudden death caused me to panic. "Do I have everything backed up?" I wondered. I'd just finished writing an article about having a good backup; losing my data would have been embarrassing!

Fortunately, I'd recently backed up my Microsoft Office and Intuit Quicken/QuickBooks documents to an HP USB storage device. So after I installed the applications on my new laptop, I restored the data files from the USB storage device and I was back in business.

I'd recently synchronized my Microsoft Outlook data (e.g., contacts, to-do list, tasks, memos, calendar) with my Treo 600 smartphone. I installed the Treo synchronization software on my laptop, then synchronized the Treo 600 with my new laptop, and within a few minutes all my Outlook data was restored to my new laptop. Another success.

My saved email was the one bugaboo in this scenario--I didn't have a recent backup. I'd intended to install Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) and back up everything to the server. But because of the holiday, I'd put off that chore. So, a few days after Thanksgiving, I took my laptop to Best Buy, where technicians used Roxio Retrieve to recover all the data on my laptop's hard disk and put it on a couple of DVDs. Best Buy charged me $100 for this service.

Determined not to have a repeat of this situation, I searched Best Buy's shelves for a device that could provide backup storage for all four of my home-office machines. Most of the storage options on the market are designed to back up one computer. However, for $249 I purchased XIMETA's NetDisk, a 160GB Network Direct Attached Storage (NDAS) device.

At first, NetDisk seemed like a bargain--no need for peer-to-peer (P2P) networking or a $1000 dedicated file server. Unfortunately, the device didn't work out as I had hoped.

XIMETA's Web site ( ) explains that NetDisk isn't a NAS device but an NDAS device. It isn't a dedicated server but relies instead on the computers attached to the network to handle file processing. To install NetDisk, I used a standard Ethernet cable to connect the device to my Microsoft Wi-Fi 802.11g router. Then, I loaded the NetDisk driver on each of my PCs and entered the unique NetDisk drive ID. After the driver installed, the desktop OS assigned NetDisk a drive letter and the device appeared as a 160GB NTFS volume in Windows XP.

Because NetDisk doesn't include its own server, I had to load a driver on each network computer that I wanted to be able to access the device. Standard NAS devices don't require this process or any client software other than the built-in Microsoft networking-client software. Another difference between NetDisk and a standard NAS device is the read/write control. All computers on the network can read or write to a NAS device at the same time, but only one user can write to NetDisk at any given time. The NetDisk driver has an option that lets users gain write control. If another PC already has write control, NetDisk prompts that PC with the message, "Release NetDisk write control?" and someone must physically be at the computer to answer the prompt. Because my other computer was upstairs, this requirement was a big hassle. XIMETA claims that it will update its driver in the future to include simultaneous write control from multiple PCs.

I ran into another problem when I tested the device with my new HP Centrino-based laptop, which includes a built-in 802.11b WiFi adapter. XIMETA recommends that your wireless connection be at least 802.11a or 802.11g; 802.11b is too slow for large file transfers, and such transfers to NetDisk will simply fail. I tried several times to transfer a directory with about 4GB of small files. Each time, the transfer ended abruptly and didn't offer a recovery option.

I also tested a PC that was directly attached to the Wi-Fi router. Theoretically, this transfer should take place at the full 100Mbps switched-router speed. A 2GB file copy took about 2 minutes and completed successfully. Feeling confident, I tried copying 40GB of video files from the same PC to the NetDisk device. The first attempt resulted in a blue screen. The second attempt hung the OS. After these two failures, I gave up on the 40GB file-transfer test.

I then tested a laptop configured with an 802.11g Wi-Fi card. I tried copying about 500MB of MP3 files to the NetDisk device. As with the 802.11b test, the copy process halted during the file transfer. However, after a prompt acknowledged that the NetDisk had disconnected from the local PC, the NetDisk automatically reconnected and the copy process continued and finished. This test wasn't perfect by any means, but it at least provided a better result than the 802.11b test did.

I applaud XIMETA for producing a low-cost NAS device for the small office/home office (SOHO) market. Unfortunately, this version of the product isn't ready for prime time, and I can't recommend it. As more people acquire multiple home PCs, the need for networked backup will increase. Today you can use several storage options, such as a dedicated server or Windows file sharing, to create a P2P environment and copy files from one networked PC to another. But a low-cost NAS device would be valuable for many users.

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