Asus WL-HDD 2.5 review
Devices that attach storage to the network aren’t new, but until now they’ve been either very expensive or limited in ability. The Linksys Network Storage Link, while cheap, needs software installing on each client PC and uses a proprietary disk format, while hardcore NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliances tend to cost several thousand pounds.
But this little marvel from Asus changes all that. The WL-HDD can put a hard disk on the network with no drivers or client software required, and it can do this wirelessly via 802.11g. It’s a small box and requires a 2.5in notebook hard disk. Installation of the disk is tricky and involves a screwdriver, but takes five minutes at most. You don’t need a clean disk either: the WL-HDD will read and write to FAT16, FAT32, EXT2 and EXT3 partitions. It will read NTFS, but won’t write to it. Up to four partitions are supported.
If you want to, you can simply pop a plug into the Ethernet port and leave it at that: the drive appears as a system in Windows networking and you can make it part of a Windows workgroup, just like a standard PC. Non-Windows PCs can make use of the integrated Samba protocol, or access the drive via its FTP server.
For most existing networks configuration is necessary, mostly setting the wireless adaptor to Client rather than AP mode and disabling the internal DHCP server. But the Ethernet port has automatic crossover sensing too, so for initial setup you can simply plug it straight into a PC or notebook.
A single USB 2 port accepts USB mass storage devices: popping a flash drive into the socket automatically copies its entire contents into a numbered folder on the drive.
The unit does have some flaws. Once wireless access is set up it’s no longer possible to access the hard disk via the wired network. In our tests, the wireless adaptor wasn’t the fastest either, achieving just 10Mb/sec with WPA encryption enabled.
Finally, although 2.5in hard disk capacities extend to 80GB, the WL-HDD’s specifications allow only up to 40GB. This is a shame, but the fact remains that it’s a groundbreaking piece of kit that enables real plug-and-play NAS for less than the cost of a decent wireless mouse and keyboard. It isn’t enterprise-level, but could find dozens of different uses in a home office or small-business environment.