NAS makes me happy

Chris asked me about my NAS solution following his blog post about them.

I have a neat little Freecom box – after over a year working for Cisco and talking about their storage solutions, I guess I wanted more than was otherwise available over my network, and, more critically, I’ve recently swapped rooms and my would-be-fileserver is no longer physically connected to my switch/router directly, but via a WLAN.

The problem, therefore, was remotely accessing files off my PC, via two wireless links (from wireless laptop –> switch –> PC and back). It was a latency-filled nightmare and I just couldn’t get the data throughput I needed, even with a 54MBps WLAN. So… the need for a NAS drive.

Of course, the choice of drive was based purely on price and user reviews; I have a pure Windows network so I wasn’t worried about compatibility issues, simply that it worked in the way I needed it to, and the user reviews on Ebuyer and elsewhere were promising.

And it worked well out of the box: following plugging in the 250GB behemoth and sticking some fairly cumbersome drivers on each client machine I wanted to access the drive, it appeared “as local” on each machine, with far less latency than I had had to deal with previously. Of course, transferring the 40GB of music onto it was just too slow over the WLAN — and so I used the USB2.0 socket it had available to get it over more rapidly. The device can only be registered on one protocol at a time, so it disconnected from other machine for the brief periods I was overriding the NDAS functionality and treating it as a USB2.0 external drive.

The net result? I’m pleased with it. My MP3s and video files reside on it and are easily accessible. I have had problems with lag when dealing with different media players, but I believe this is as much a feature of the fact that my music collection is 40GB big and the database functions of these media players are lacking, as much as with inherent delay over my network. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, latency wise, its only marginally worse than dealing with local files.

So; all good? No. The drivers are a beast – the LPX (“lean packet exchange”) protocol required by Windows is cumbersome and has caused instability in my desktop (although my laptop has had no issue). And wireless seems incapable of dealing with sustained data throughput in the same way that ethernet can, so there is occasional ‘clicking’ and lag, as well as brief periods of the drive disconnecting itself — although the software is good enough to deal with this reasonably seamlessly. And — a minor gripe — the box is quite big and slightly noisy. That said, with the switch in a separate room, I don’t really care, and my net storage situation is improved. I’d definitely recommend it…