Accessory Corner - Buffalo LinkStation Duo NAS

Network-attached storage (NAS) isn't one of the first things that would admittedly come to mind when discussing notebook accessories. Yet investing in a good NAS solution can bring much-useful benefits to your notebook, netbook, smartphone and slate, both at home and on the go.

I've been a big fan of Buffalo's products, having owned an external 3.5" USB drive for several years. The LinkStation Duo LS-WX6.0TL/R1 is a 2-drive NAS box offering 6TB of storage. Priced at a very affordable $379, what can this compact desktop solution do for your various mobile gadgets? Quite a lot, as I have come to find out.

PROS: Decent performance/storage for the price, compact desktop form-factor, tons of features, fully-customizable, runs cool/silent, easy drive upgrades.

CONS: power saving features could be improved, doesn't use NAS-specific drives.

DETAILS:

Users who already own a wireless router with a USB port will be familiar with the benefits introducing a hard drive into the network brings. The added functionality it offers for your devices combined with near-unlimited storage are just some of what you can enjoy. Fortunately, attaching a hard drive to your network can also be done directly over Ethernet for owners without a USB port on their router, hence the concept of NAS.

Buffalo's LinkStation Duo is one of many NAS products the company offers in it's lineup for home use, ranging from single drive models to four-drive units offering capacities from 1TB up to 12TB. The LS-WX6.0TL/R1 I have here today offers the following specs:

-2-drive enclosure
-6TB capacity
-0/1/Normal RAID modes
-41.5MB/s transfer performance
-USB2.0 port
-600MHz ARM CPU
-64MB DDR2 RAM

The CPU/RAM make it evident that the LinkStation Duo is more than just a hard drive enclosure, but a complete storage server, albeit an extremely compact one. Measuring in at 3.4x5x8.1 inches, it will take up little room on your desk - I actually keep my Touch Pro 2's cradle on top making the overall footprint hardly noticeable.

Out of the box, the NAS comes configured with the drives ready to go, formatted and set up as a RAID 0 array with a default network share folder already created. Managing the NAS involves installation of Buffalo's NasNavigator 2 software, which not only provides the WebAccess software for remote use, but provides full configuration ability, complete with a desktop icon for fast, one-click access to all shared folders on the drive.

Also included with the software is a full, working copy of NovaBackup Professional. I already have Acronis deployed across my hardware, but Novastore's solution works comparably for backing up systems, including creating all-important disaster recovery media for performing bare-metal restores.

The hard drives used in the LinkStation Duo are a pair of 3TB Western Digital Caviar Green WD30EZRX units. While not specifically designed for RAID use, Buffalo will stand by them as far as compatibility is concerned, although I'm fairly certain a pair of NAS-specific WD Red drives would also work in this enclosure. I'm guessing the reason why Buffalo did not use Red drives was because, firstly, Buffalo's models were introduced BEFORE WD released their Red line, and second, to keep the cost of their NAS low.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Buffalo has informed me (yes, they do read these reviews) that they may not always use the same model or even brand of hard drive in their NAS, depending on their production runs. That means buyers might just as easily receive a product with Samsung, Hitachi or Seagate drives installed.

PERFORMANCE:

Not bad for a budget NAS
Buffalo rates the LS-WX6.0TL/R1 transfer performance at 41.5MB/s, which can be verified in the image shown right. It's possible to further improve write speeds beyond 25MB/s by using 9K Jumbo Frames, approaching 34MB/s, but doing so then takes a hit on read speeds knocking those down to just 24MB/s. Do make sure you're on a gigabit Ethernet connection - if your router only supports 10/100 speeds, investing in an inexpensive quality switch such as the Netgear GS605 will let your NAS stretch it's legs nicely.

9K Jumbo Frames enabled
I would be inclined to set up the system using 9K frames if your main use of the NAS is for doing daily full-system backups across multiple PC's, as those backup jobs will complete faster thanks to the increased write speeds. But that's the only scenario I can advise for such. For file streaming, especially HD content, it's wiser to stick with default settings as you will enjoy better read performance, especially when multiple users in your household demand access to the NAS at the same time.

If those speeds are too slow for you, you have two options to go faster. The first is to replace the WD Green drives with a pair of livelier 7200RPM units. Even if the ARM CPU becomes a bottleneck, you would still be able to approach 41MB/s on both read and write a lot easier. Your second option is to shop for Buffalo's faster "diskless" LinkStation Duo Pro LS-WVL/E. It's the same size box, but with a beefed up CPU/RAM on board with rated transfer speeds of 72MB/s and priced at around $130 right now sans drives. If you already have a pair of identical hard drives sitting around doing nothing, or want to shop WD Red, Buffalo's diskless enclosure is worth a serious look.

Wireless speeds will depend entirely on your wireless router and the radio used in your notebooks and handhelds. My Netgear WGR614 supports only wireless-G speeds up to 54Mbps, making that the definitive bottleneck in my setup, as both my netbook and notebook can handle wireless-N at 150Mbps. While I wouldn't advise doing a 100GB+ backup job over 54Mbps, it's worth noting that it can stream VOB files and 720p H.264 MP4 video quite comfortably.

The Buffalo NAS also offers DLNA support standard, so connected gaming consoles such as the Xbox 360 and network media players will be able to view multimedia files stored on the NAS. For iTunes users, the NAS can be accessed as a content source from within the software. You even have the option to set up a BitTorrent client, and the LinkStation Duo will also work with Time Machine for backing up a Mac.

On the back of the LinkStation Duo you will find a USB port. This can be used to attach a USB storage device to expand storage on your network. Likewise, you could use it to connect a thumb drive for quickly sharing data you take with you. Alternatively, you could attach a printer for network printing, although with many newer printers now equipped with wifi and RJ-45 connectivity, I find it unnecessary. Finally, and probably most useful, you can attach a UPS USB lead to power-down your NAS in the event of a power failure, minimizing the risk of data loss/corruption.

WEB ACCESS:

Perhaps the most notable feature of Buffalo's product, however, has to be WebAccess. Using downloadable apps for both iOS and Android, smartphone and tablet users can enjoy remote access to files stored on the NAS, with the ability to stream audio/video as well as view photos. In addition, the app allows automatic uploading to the NAS, so any photos and videos you take with your handheld, for example, will be stored directly on your NAS, overcoming the limited on-board storage of your handheld. If your particular slate/smartphone has a killer camera, this feature will let you take literally millions of photos or shoot thousands of hours of video, and never have to worry about running out of storage space ever again.

720P streaming over NAS - smooth and sharp
On testing with a Google Nexus 7 slate (review coming shortly), I have found the Buffalo NAS an extremely capable device for remote streaming and file storage. It handles all the popular codecs and file formats (mp3, mp4, jpeg), allows me to upload/stream large files directly, and in doing so, keeps the flash storage on my handheld free to use for app downloads - important if your device doesn't accept removable storage cards! Given the tens of millions of Android and iOS handhelds in use, Buffalo has in essence placed a full-blown media server in people's pockets, with access to multiple TERABYTES of movies/music/photos. It's a shame my camera doesn't do justice to the image shown here, but 720P streaming over 54Mbps is very smooth and incredibly sharp - no buffering issues, pauses, skipping or out-of-sync audio/video. If you're one of those people who have been itching to find a way to make your collection of DVD's or Blu-Ray rips available to watch on your 7" slate or iPhone, alongside access to Hulu/Netflix streaming, this is how it's done!

Easily send links via email
WebAccess provides numerous options for managing files remotely on your NAS as well, allowing you to not only upload files stored on your handheld, but download files from the NAS to your smartphone/slate, rename and delete files remotely on the NAS. It even lets you distribute email links for files you wish to share. These email links are generated randomly by the NAS and are designed to be temporary, and can be set by the user to expire from 1 to 7 days. The use of temporary links preserves security for files stored on the NAS. Should you want to set up more permanent access, it's simply a matter of either adding users to a shared folder, or creating a unique share for said user(s).

THE BAD:

WD Green drives aren't exactly designed for RAID use, and I would hesitate to think these drives would hold out beyond a year at 24/7 operation. Buffalo's warranty for the LinkStation Duo is in fact only 12 months. I can understand Buffalo's choice to keep the price of the NAS down, but that's little comfort to those who end up with a dead drive requiring replacement, more so when you understand that RAID 0 offers no redundancy for data loss. Even if Buffalo fails to include WD Red drives as standard equipment, their testing and validation to place these NAS-specific drives on their hardware compatibility list would go a long way, never mind give end-users somewhat more peace-of-mind.

Another nit-pick of mine has to do with the power management options present in the NAS configuration. Buffalo allows you to set schedules for the NAS to power down at specific times of the day and days of the week. This is good only if you use your NAS on a what I like to call "banking hours". Typical home use scenarios, especially with multiple users up at varying hours of the morning/night, may entail demand of your system beyond the regular 9-5, expecting access when the NAS would otherwise be turned off. For example, I run all my daily backup jobs at 2:00AM. A more effective solution in place of fixed on/off times would be to include a sleep feature to power down the drives after an elapsed number of minutes on idle. Such a solution would permit 24/7 access without requiring the drives to stay on when not being used.

Some of you may be harping at the 34MB/s write speeds, but you have to keep in mind this is Buffalo's entry-level NAS, and $379 for 6TB of storage is still a pretty good deal. It won't cost you that much more to jump for Buffalo's faster diskless model and use a pair of 7200RPM drives. Gigabit Ethernet will limit you to around 100MB/s on a single cable, but it's possible to shop Buffalo's TeraStation line where you have the luxury of dual gigabit Ethernet with link-aggregation/load-balancing. This is the point where NAS becomes expensive, and even if your particular router supports link-aggregation, finding a notebook with dual Ethernet ports won't happen. If you really want to move data off your notebook at speeds beyond what gigabit Ethernet can deliver, you'll have to look to eSata or USB3.0, assuming your notebook has those ports.

Of course, you could build your own storage server as well if you're handy with Windows Server 2008 r2. All you really need is a 4-port RAID card, a handful of drives, cheap box, basic mobo, some RAM, power supply and a low-end Core i3 processor. Would it come out cheaper than a 4-drive desktop NAS? If you already have the components lying around that's very possible. Would it look as stylish and compact? Probably not.

Finally, for those wanting to store more sensitive data on their NAS and need redundancy in the event of a drive failure, you can easily set up the LinkStation Duo to run in RAID 1, although that would effectively halve your available capacity. You could purchase a 2nd LinkStation Duo and copy one NAS over to the other, but a more elegant solution may be a four-drive model running in RAID 5. Buffalo's more potent LinkStation Pro Quad lineup does exactly this. You can in fact grab a 8TB model now for around $650, set it up as a RAID 5, and enjoy faster speeds up to 72GB/s.

CONCLUSION:

To say that I'm impressed by network-attached storage is an understatement. I cannot emphasize enough the benefit having access to multiple terabytes of music/movies does to your smartphone and slate, more so when you are with your handheld away from the home. The ability to perform fast full-system backups over gigabit Ethernet for all the computers in your household, act as wireless storage for your handhelds, and keep everything in a central location means you no longer have to deal with thumb drives, memory cards, USB cables and slow external hard drives to move data. It's a great alternative to a traditional HTPC media server, and used with a DLNA-capable gaming console or network TV tuner, can turn your entire entertainment experience up in a big way.

For cloud storage users, investing in a NAS with remote access will be more than just a huge money saver. No longer will you be tied to exorbitant monthly/annual fees, be restricted to a limited storage quota, send your data out to a 3rd party, and tie up your internet bandwidth during PC backup and file access. Instead, you get to enjoy near-unlimited storage, keep your internet bandwidth free to use for surfing/downloading, know exactly where your files are kept and pay far less than you would usage fees over a three-year period. For power users in particular needing many terabytes of network-accessible storage, the decision is a no-brainer!

In my case, I love streaming VOB files with my netbook over wifi and have a central area set up where I can perform unattended backups for my notebook and netbook. Since the data I'm keeping on the NAS is merely a copy of what's already on DVD and on my devices, I'm not too worried about a RAID 0 failure at this stage. Upgrade to more capable wifi and I know I'll be enjoying an even better wireless streaming experience. And should I decide to get a slate in the near future, Buffalo's WebAccess app will have me covered for handheld storage and media server duties unlike no other.

Whichever way you look at it, investing in an inexpensive desktop NAS has far more benefits than negatives. Buffalo's LinkStation Duo LS-WX6.0TL/R1 absolutely rocks, with features and functionality at a price that make it a must-have accessory for the serious notebook/slate enthusiast. Once again, I am compelled to hand out the lgpOnTheMove Best Accessory Award.













DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED

"Unstoppable" Copyright (C) 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Dune Entertainment III LLC. Used for demonstration purposes only.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment