Buffalo LinkStation HD-H120LAN review
After the excellent but slightly quirky Asus WL-HDD 2.5 (see issue 123, p74) and flawed Linksys Network Storage Link (see issue 122, p80) comes Buffalo’s stab at affordable small-scale NAS (network-attached storage).
From the off, the LinkStation HD-H120LAN gives the impression of a well-designed product. The mirrored front panel hides status LEDs aplenty, including a Disk Full indicator that flashes when the internal 120GB hard disk is filled to 98 per cent of its capacity. The case, while plastic, feels rugged: a small fan at the rear compensates for the lack of natural thermal conduction that a metal case would provide. Thankfully, the fan is so quiet as to be inaudible above the whisper-quiet drive itself. The case includes an internal power supply plugging directly into the mains, giving you one less irritating black box on the floor.
Installation requires running a one-time setup utility direct from CD. This can be run over the network or with the LinkStation directly connected to a local PC. The back of the device allows you to switch the network port into crossover mode for this, and when directly connected the setup utility automatically maps the drive to a local drive letter. Although the setup CD includes a client software application, there’s no need to install this on clients. Once set up, the LinkStation appears network-wide as a machine on the local network, with two default network shares: the main partition and a smaller ‘info’ share containing the manual and replicated CD software.
The LinkStation can be controlled via a tidy, good-looking and comprehensive web interface. Options include the ability to schedule disk sleep and wake-up times, excellent for integrating with a backup schedule. It even comes with a simple backup utility for the purpose, but we really do mean ‘simple’ – there are few options, aside from setting source destination folders and a schedule, and it simply dumps the contents of the source folders to the LinkStation: basic but effective.
The web interface also allows you to set up and change the Microsoft networking settings, such as workgroup name, and add extra shared folders complete with access restrictions on a per-user basis, or via definable groups of users. It will even talk to the primary domain controller on a Windows domain network and take its user list from there.
But it doesn’t stop at network storage: the LinkStation also sports two USB ports, one at the front, one at the back. You can’t access the drive with these, but you can attach USB printers and extra external storage. Printers can then be accessed via the network, and extra external storage is mapped to a new network shared drive. A restriction with external USB storage is that it must be formatted by the LinkStation before it can be put to use. But this is offset by the fact that you can use the web interface to schedule automatic backups of the contents of the internal disk to the external one. The USB drive can also act as a recycle bin; when files are deleted from a shared folder, the file is moved to the USB drive under a hidden trash folder.
The speed of the unit is restricted by the network interface, rather than the disk itself: copying a 1GB file to the drive took two minutes, 57seconds, equating to just under 6MB/sec – fine for most purposes and faster than the Linksys device. Read speed was identical.
So, a stack of features, seamless and fuss-free operation and a reasonable price considering the capacity – there’s also a 250GB version for £232 inc VAT that offers even better value for money. The LinkStation is the best device yet for small-scale NAS applications.