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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)

The My Book Live performed extremely well overall, though it struggled more than the other three drives when reading our 10GB mix of files and folders, delivering throughput of just 16.4 MBps. Conversely, it was considerably faster than any other box when writing those same files, clocking in at 26.9 MBps. Go figure. And the My Book Live excelled with the single 10GB file, writing it at 32.4 MBps and reading it at 77.1 MBps.

WD has the best app coverage of any of the four drives we tested, with versions of its WD2go media player for iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone 7. You can also establish remote access using a browser, via WD's slickly-rendered, Java-based www.wd2go.com.

My Book Live delivers the best overall experience

The Seagate Central's superquiet operation, speed, and USB port make it a particularly good fit for an AV setup, though Seagate might have made it even more appealing by adopting a more modern look. The LinkStation Live is a viable media streamer, but it lagged behind the rest of the field in file copy performance and ease of configuration. The LaCie CloudBox performs well, has a nice feature set, and is a strong product at a nice price. In the end, however, Western Digital's My Book Live delivered the best combination of low price, performance, features, and ease of setup and use. That earned it the extra half-point it needed to take the top spot.

How we tested

We measured each box's file-transfer performance by copying first a 10GB collection of small files and then a single 10GB file (a read test). Then we copied those files back to the NAS box (a write test). We repeated each task several times and then averaged the results.

We paid special attention to each box's ease of setup and use, media-streaming capabilities, and remote access. To evaluate media capabilities, we used the media server or servers (DLNA and/or iTunes) on each box to stream music and video encoded in various file formats to iTunes, Windows Media Player, and XBMC running on Windows clients. We also streamed 40-mbps, 1080p MKV files to three separate PCs simultaneously, to test each box's ability to serve multiple users at once.

Note: The file formats listed in the charts above indicates the box's ability to stream a format, not the client's ability to play it. XBMC and iTunes can play audio streams encoded in Apple Lossless, for instance, but Windows Media Player cannot. Windows Media Player, meanwhile, is one of the few media players that can handle WMA Lossless tracks.

 

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