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Upgrade your home network with a media-streaming, backup-ready NAS box

Jon L. Jacobi | May 3, 2013
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)

Seagate developed a simple and easy user interface for the Central. Basic features include device setup, user accounts, and enabling or disabling remote access and the multimedia servers. One feature allows you to back up on the Central any pictures posted to your Facebook account--but that's it for frills. Though the Dashboard software backs up PCs to the box, it doesn't provide any means to back up the box itself. That's a major omission for a single-bay NAS box, given its lack of data redundancy.

The Central performed well in our tests, but it displayed some files in iTunes that wouldn't play (tracks encoded in Ogg and FLAC), and it failed to display some WAV files that iTunes is capable of playing. To its credit, the box streamed our large 40-mbps video file simultaneously to three PCs, without a hiccup; and it was the only entrant in the group that served up Ogg Theora video.

File-transfer performance was very good for a low-priced NAS box, registering 16.9 MBps while writing our 10GB mix of files and folders, and 20.1 MBps while reading them. It did even better with our large 10GB file, writing it at a roundup-best speed of 40.3 MBps and reading it at 75.2 MBps.

Easy setup and quiet streaming make the Seagate Central a particularly good fit for A/V systems. On the other hand, we wish that it had an on-board self-backup capability, BitTorrent support, and the ability to interface to more social sites than just Facebook.

Western Digital My Book Live (1TB)

WD's My Book Live isn't spectacular in any one particular area. But taken as a whole, it achieves the best balance of performance, features, and price ($140) in the roundup. It also delivers the easy remote access setup that the LaCie and Buffalo lack.

The My Book Live, like other NAS boxes, can be accessed over a local network without any configuration--just plug it into your router. But WD has created useful shares (publicly shared folders) that make life easier. There's a public share, with music, picture, and video subfolders; and there are shares dedicated to backups (including Time Machine Backup for Mac users and WD's own bundled SmartWare). For backing up the box itself, WD provides an on-board routine that creates "safepoints," which are much like Windows Restore Points, but constitute a full backup.

WD supports most video codecs--except for Ogg Theora--and the My Book Live's streaming performance was smooth as silk. We did encounter a minor glitch with the WD's iTunes server that created listings for unplayable WMA and WMA Lossless files. On the other hand, this was the only drive of the four that transcoded FLAC files for playback on a client PC running iTunes. If you're an audiophile, you probably have a player than can support those files natively. Other people in your household might not be as picky, or they might prefer the familiarity of Apple's player.


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