If your home network lacks a NAS box, you're missing out on two counts: First, network-attached storage (NAS) is the easiest way to back up connected PCs. Second--and more enjoyably--a NAS box can store your media libraries and stream files to any PC or networked audio device in your house (examples include devices in the AirPlay, NuVo, and Sonos product ecosystems). You can also stream your favorite movies and digital photos to your smart TV (or to your dumb TV, if you have a streaming box or home-theater PC connected to it). Better NAS boxes make remote access possible, so you can access your stuff from--and stream your media to--any device anywhere you have Internet access.
You needn't pay big bucks for an expensive multibay model designed for small businesses, either. Would you buy a Lamborghini strictly for driving to the corner store? Barring a spectacularly successful PowerBall encounter--probably not. Follow the same principle when shopping for a NAS box. One caveat: Though single-bay NAS boxes are cost effective, they provide no data redundancy. If you store anything on them that you can't afford to lose or can't re-create, back them up.
A call for simple, $200 NAS contenders
With frugality and practicality in in mind, we put out a call for reasonably priced ($200 or less) NAS boxes that provide at least 1TB of storage, support remote access via the Web (ideally with mobile app support), and can act as both iTunes and DLNA-certified media servers. Four vendors stepped up to the plate: Buffalo Technology with its LinkStation Live; LaCie with its CloudBox; Seagate with its Central; and Western Digital with its My Book Live.
The hardware configurations proved to be surprisingly similar: Each box uses a 3.5-inch mechanical hard drive, a gigabit ethernet interface, and an external AC adapter; and each is about the size of a medium-format trade paperback. However, each manufacturer added widely different features and amenities on top of the hardware. You'll find the nitty-gritty details at the end of this article.
Buffalo LinkStation Live
Buffalo's LinkStation Live ($140) is a capable media streamer with the strongest feature set of the four boxes we looked at. Unfortunately, it fell off the pace in copying files, its UI was rather slow to respond, and configuring many of its features--including remote access--proved to be less than intuitive.
The 2TB LinkStation Live delivers shared folders, user accounts, workgroup and domain support, AFP and FTP file sharing, and--of course--iTunes and DLNA-certified media servers. You also get BitTorrent downloading, integrated Eye-Fi service (so you can copy photos from your digital camera to your networked storage using Wi-Fi), Flickr integration (so you can automatically upload photos stored in a designated folder on the LinkStation to your Flickr account), NovaBackup (for backing up PCs to the box), an on-board routine to back up the LinkStation's files to other locations, and remote access via BuffaloNas.com (where you can manage and share files via the Internet).
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