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Review: Encore Electronics ENNUS1 Network Server

You probably think of USB as a standard interface for connecting peripherals to a single computer: You plug it in and use the resources, then unplug it when you're done. Typically, USB devices are non-shareable, short of purchasing a costly, space-hogging, power-hungry hardware USB switch. Encore Electronics offers a nifty alternative.

Ideal for small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) or home networks, the company's ENNUS1 USB-over-Network Server is a cool little device that lets networked users share access to USB devices. Do you have a USB all-in-one or multifunction printer (AIO/MFP) that you'd like to use across your network? How about a USB storage device such as an external hard drive, flash drive, or memory card reader? How about a USB scanner or webcam? You can simply attach the ENNUS1 device to your wired or wireless network, connect all the USB devices you want to share to the ENNUS1, and access those devices from anywhere in your environment.

Encore Electronics ENNUS1 Network Server
PROS: Simple to use; quick installation; wired and wireless functionality; offers SMBs cost-savings potential
CONS: Clunky UI; connect/disconnect limits one user at a time to networked USB resources; works only with Windows Vista/2003/XP/2000
RATING: 3 stars
PRICE: $79.95
RECOMMENDATION: Consider this a measured recommendation. Despite some limitations, the ENNUS1 offers some clear benefits to smaller offices and home networks, particularly in this tough economy.
CONTACT: Encore Electronics • 626-336-4567•

Installation of the ENNUS1 onto my network was a snap: After plugging the device into my wired/wireless router and attaching a USB hard drive and scanner to the ENNUS1, I ran the device's installation utility on two systems in my network: a primary server and a wireless client. On the first system, I opened up the ENNUS 1 Control Center, which let me quickly connect to the ENNUS1 device and use the attached USB devices as if they were attached to the local system. The process was extremely quick and seamless. I repeated the utility installation on the laptop, and that system also immediately recognized the networked USB hardware. However, to access the resources, I had to disconnect the device from the first system, then connect to it from the laptop. No two systems can access the same USB device simultaneously.

A technology called NetUSB—call it a "USB over IP" technology—transparently redirects USB packets to a TCP/IP network channel. The aforementioned "connect" and "disconnect" operations are merely software simulations. And although I had to manually connect and disconnect from the external USB hard drive, I found that the ENNUS1 provided automatic detection of my scanner, and offers the same automation for printers.

The ENNUS1 is very easy to use, installing quickly and easily out of the box, but its GUI is a bit clunky. The interface uses a strangely abrasive clicking sound for UI navigation. Particularly for cash-strapped smaller companies, the ENNUS1 holds the potential for some cost savings in today's financial environment: There's no need to buy separate, expensive NAS enclosures or print servers. Your users will just have to become accustomed to the one-user-at-a-time connect/disconnect limitation. Another limitation: The ENNUS1 works only with Windows Vista/2003/XP/2000.
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