Review: Buffalo LinkStation Mini - Page 2

By Aaron Weiss | Posted June 26, 2008

User Management

Sharing your files is one thing ‑ sharing them with everyone and anyone, is another. You can create users and groups through the Mini administration page, and then assign varying privileges (read, write, delete) to users or groups for each shared folder.

Alternatively, the Mini can join an NT Domain or Active Directory, in which case it will authenticate users in that domain. For non-Windows networks, you can delegate authentication to an alternative SMB server rather than the Mini itself.

More Storage or Printing

You can plug a USB hard disk into the LinkStation Mini, and it shows up as a connected USB device in the Mini administration page. The Mini also shares the external disk on the network under a share name you specify.

The Mini can format and create shares on an additional hard disk, but it supports only FAT32, EXT3, or XFS file systems (the internal drives are shipped in XFS format). When I connected a USB drive formatted with NTFS, the Mini would let me read from it, but not write to it.

Rather than add more storage, you can share a USB printer using the Mini, which includes a built-in print server. You will need to install the printer vendor's drivers on each PC printing to the LAN.

Backup and Alerts

If you have more than one Mini, your Mini-cluster can automatically backup shared folders. Select which shares to backup, choose a destination Mini and define a schedule for automated goodness.

In fact, you can backup with just one Mini, but you will have to backup the data from one share to a separate share.

You can also receive messages from your Mini. Configured with the addresses of up to five recipients, the Mini can trigger automatic e-mail alerts for conditions including disk failure and backup completion, plus status reports on disk usage. Mail notifications would be even more useful if a wider variety of trigger events were available, such as downloads of marked files, or access by particular users.

Big but Slow

Some of the LinkStation Mini strengths can also be liabilities, if you have a need for speed. The small, quiet 2.5 inch hard drives run at 5,400 RPM, whereas many 3.5 inch drives now spin at 7,200 RPM.

Network connections are not the fastest way to move data between hard disk and PC, particularly compared to USB 2.0 and Firewire. The LS Mini does sport a gigabit Ethernet jack, but you'll only see gigabit network speeds on a network with gigabit switches and gigabit clients, which is not yet common. Real work gigabit network performance is also impacted by computing speed, and the Mini is not exactly powered by a supercomputer.

So what does it all mean? To put performance in perspective, some numbers.

On my test system, the internal SATA hard drive writes data at about 32MB/s (megabytes per second) and reads at 40MB/s. Testing a SATA USB 2.0 external drive reveals nearly identical read and write speeds.

Using a 100mbps network connection (the most common kind), writing the same test file to the LinkStation Mini clocks in at just 0.5MB/s, while reading the test file rates 6MB/s. When I re-tested the Mini on a gigabit network connection, write and read speeds nearly doubled. Note that network speed ratings are in megabits per second, and when the math is said and done, the Mini is pushing data at about 80 percent of the theoretical maximum for a 100mbps network.

Of course, any other NAS would be similarly limited by network speeds. A NAS with a faster processor would probably put up stronger numbers on a gigabit network.

The bottom line is not that the LinkStation Mini is a slow NAS, but that NAS storage besides enterprise products is inherently slow relative to direct-connect hard drives.

Does Size Matter?

Does portability matter when you are dealing with a NAS?

If the Mini could be easily moved between locations and directly connected to a PC via USB 2.0 as an alternative to the network connection, its impressively miniature size would make a more compelling argument. You can connect the Mini directly to a single PC using only the network connection, but to do so requires using a crossover cable and manual configuration of TCP/IP settings. That's not exactly convenient.

Still, the ($600 street) Mini presents a distinctive offer, packing a terabyte into such a tiny footprint. Its NAS feature set is thorough, particularly two-click support for running a media server. And with its miserly power consumption of just 10 watts makes it easy to justify running 24/7.

Aaron Weiss a technology writer, screenwriter and Web development consultant who spends his free time stacking wood for the winter in Upstate New York. His Web site is: bordella.com

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