Buffalo LinkStation Mini: Almost Perfect

The fast-increasing number of storage drives on my desk jump-started a quest for a networked storage device that could: replace three drives (in other words, have 1 terabyte of disk storage), be quiet, be fast for easy backups and recovery, act as a repository for my iTunes library and, of course, be setup easily. Oh, and it had to work out of the box with both Mac and Windows machines.

There are many drives that would fit the bill. Apple’s Time Capsule or Drobo, using the excellent Drobo Share attachment, seemed to be good candidates, but I ruled them out quickly: Drobo is excellent for backing up information, but its not as nimble when it comes to acting as a digital media server. Time Capsule is temperamental and a resource hog — sort of like an Alfa Romeo.

My pick is LinkStation Mini: it is fanless, quiet, tiny, and comes in two flavors: 500 GB and 1 Terabyte. It uses 2.5-inch hard drives, measures only 1.57 x 3.22 x 5.31 inches and weighs 1.1 pounds. It has two ports: an Ethernet port to connect to your network and a USB port to attach an additional drive (which I did, adding another G-Technology Mini drive.) It is relatively inexpensive: $500 a pop, give or take. The 500 GB version is less than half that price.

Setting it up was relatively easy: The accompanying CD has a software called NASnavigator that allows you to discover the drive and set it up. The setup on Mac proved to be much easier than for a PC. I have not used the software since the install: the drive automatically shows up in my Mac’s Finder and ThinkPad’s Network Drives. It also comes with Memeo software to backup your computers, but frankly it isn’t worth the trouble — it slowed down the computer drastically. I much prefer Apple’s Backup software.

The drive also allows you to access files remotely using a special web site, but I haven’t really bothered, because frankly all I wanted to do was backup my computer and playback music. I should try it out though. On Monday, the company will also announce that its LinkStation Mini’s Web Access is now¬†available even using¬†iPhone’s browser and allows you to remote access to any content stored on the drive. You can stream music and call up photos and files.

The drive has a built-in media server that allows you to stream any digital content — music, videos or photos — to any other DLNA player or a PC. It showed up on my iTunes as a “shared music” folder. On a ThinkPad X300 running Windows XP, the drive showed up automatically (thanks to the wonders of UPnP) and asked me if I wanted to stream music using Windows Media Player.

Bottom line: I’ve used it for nearly two weeks and not encountered any problems. I have to say, this just works. If you are in the market for a network drive, you might want to seriously consider this one.

Open question: Why network attached storage device do you like and why?