If you have a home network with multiple computers and other connected devices (smartphones, tablets, game consoles, media players, etc.), you probably also have files you’d like to easily share between them. From music, video and photos to plain old data files like Word and Excel documents, data sharing can be an incredibly convenient tool.
Most home users access files between systems by sharing a drive or folder on one computer, then connecting to that shared location from another. And for light data sharing this is absolutely fine. But if you’re a more demanding shareoholic with gigabyte upon gigabyte of files to share across multiple systems, there’s a much better way:
Network Attached Storage, or NAS.
A Network Attached Storage drive is a hard drive like any other, except instead of connecting to computer via USB or SATA, a NAS connects directly to your network hub (usually a wireless router) via Ethernet cable. Once connected, this drive is accessible over the wired or wireless network by any computer or supported device on that network.
Say, for example, you have a large iTunes library spread across multiple PCs and/or Macs. Using a compatible NAS, you can forget trying to keep each computer’s individual iTunes library up-to-date with your latest downloads and CD rips; NAS allows you to centralize the data files so that each computer always has access to the complete library, and new additions are instantly updated and accessible for every computer on the network.
There are many NAS solutions available, ranging from the very basic to the feature-rich (read: expensive). Network Attached Storage can be a computer (like an HP Windows Home Server), offering many configuration and third-party software add-ons, or a self-contained external hard drive running NAS software.
If you can afford a Windows Home Server, you’ll certainly enjoy its many features, but most users will be just as happy with the latter option.
Western Digital My Book Live
For most users, I recommend Western Digital’s My Book Live series of network attached hard drives. These NAS drives are much more affordable than a home server (as little as $166 for 2TB of storage) and offer an array of features to suit most users’ needs.
The WD My Book Live offers 100MBps (that’s megabytes per second, or about 800 megabits per second, Mbps) throughput for fast, easy access, iTunes server support for centralized iTunes libraries, and out of the box compatibility with Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS 10.5+ (the drive is accessible like any other network drive in Explorer for Finder). Built-in DLNA support means you can also stream video, music and photos to other DLNA devices like a PS3, XBox 360, and supported Blu-ray players. There are even iOS and Android apps for viewing photos on compatible mobile devices. In addition, you can use the My Book LIve to backup your PCs and Macs (its Time Machine compatible) over the network to protect against data loss.
Western Digital also provides secure remote access, should you wish to use it, so that you can access your files even when you’re off the network – at the office, a friend’s home, or on the road.
Buffalo LinkStation Pro
If you’re a heavy iPhone and/or iPad user, or need the ability to add additional storage, I recommend the Buffalo LinkStation Pro.
Available in 1TB and 2TB models, the LinkStation Pro has a USB host port which you can use to connect a standard printer or even an external hard drive for easy storage upgrades. Its data transfer speeds are a bit slower than the My Book Live (76MBps v 100MBps), but that’s still much faster than an 802.11n wireless network.
The LinkStation Pro is more expensive at $229 at Amazon.com for 2TB of storage, but offers additional functionality like computer-independent BitTorrent downloads (you can download from BitTorrent even if your computers are all powered off), iPad and iPhone remote access from anywhere there’s an internet connection, direct file copy from USB flash drives, and more.
You also get many of the features offered by the WD My Book Live like Windows and Mac native compatibility, iTunes server, DLNA, remote access, and over-network backup.
If you want to use a NAS, I strongly suggest that you have an 802.11n wireless router, as its data speeds are far superior to 802.11b/g. You’ll also want to be sure that your computers on the network are outfitted with 802.11n Wi-Fi adapters to avoid bottlenecks. Check out my tips for faster home networks and have a look at my favorite 802.11n router.
A NAS will change the way you access and manage data in your home, particularly if you’re a heavy user. You should really give one a try.
If you have any questions about NAS – or suggestions for better solutions – please share them in the comments section or email me.