Holiday Buyer's Guide 2006, Part 2: Networking

Networked Storage

This has been quite a year for Networked Storage products, which are challenging wireless gear for the title of most desired product. The main driver has been the need to house our ever-increasing digital media collections which are being fed by digital cameras, iTunes and a host of other content acquisition options.

The good news is that the latest round of products has better performance, more user-friendly interfaces, and frequently include built-in media servers, backup features and SATA drives and interfaces. There are also more options in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Drive/Disk) category, which allow you to put that drive left over from your last system upgrade to good use. BYOD products also allow you to easily replace a failed drive, which can be quite painful with some diskful NASes.

More good news is that manufacturers are recognizing that it's impractical to regularly back up hundreds of gigabytes of data (or at least to expect most of us to actually do it) and are including automatic backup features and RAID capabilities. RAID automatically reads and writes data to multiple hard drives (you need at least two) in ways that allow data to remain intact when one drive eventually goes belly up.

If your budget is large along with your storage needs, then the Infrant ReadyNAS NV is the way to go. It can handle up to four 750 GB drives for a total storage capacity of almost 3 TB (that's Terabytes) in its petite, stylish enclosure and keep all that data safe with its flexible RAID features. The user interface is top-notch, although a bit daunting for newbies given all of its options. But Infrant's X-RAID (Expandable RAID) technology allows you to start with only one drive and automatically reconfigures itself without losing existing data as you add more drives. Multiple media servers are included, as is a client backup utility that doesn't require any software to be installed on clients. The newer NV+ adds an LCD front-panel display and bundles copies of EMC's Retrospect for another client backup alternative.

Infrant ReadyNAS NV NAS

If your budget is more modest, you may want to consider dual-drive products that support RAID 1 instead. Two products with good combinations of price and performance are HP's Media Vault and D-Link's DNS-323. Both are dual-SATA drive products with RAID 1 capability, built-in media serving and gigabit LAN interfaces.

HP mv2010 Media Vault

The DNS-323 is a full BYOD device and the mv2010 version of the HP product comes with one 300 GB drive and lets you add another via a handy slide-in tray. Both rate high in performance in our NAS Charts and will have full reviews coming up soon. The HP will set you back around $350 and the D-Link will be about $230 (sans drives) when it hits the stores shortly.

D-Link DNS-323 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure