Firewire or USB NAS

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I just picked up an external Seagate 160GB hard drive with the intention of using it as a primary backup device for my home office. I can easily plug it into any machine via USB or Firewire and back the computer up.

While I was setting up the backup scheduling for my laptop, however, I realized that I can’t really create a schedule. My laptop is very mobile—it moves from room to room and place to place with me. I can’t expect to have the drive’s USB connection plugged into my laptop at any given time. If I schedule the backup to run at 1am, I would need to make sure I have the laptop on my desk and connected in order for the backup to succeed.

What would be great is a small IP addressable gadget that I could plug this drive into so that it could become a simple Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. That way my laptop could be backed up over my wireless net from anywhere in the house.

Something like this might exist already but I didn’t turn anything up in a few moments of research.

Adam Kalsey
August 5, 2004 9:44 AM

Brilliant! It's not $400 for 100GB and you can expand it. Let me know how loud it is when it runs. One thing I like about this Seagate drive is that it is silent and I can leave it running all the time.

August 5, 2004 12:53 PM

Linksys has a product that just came out that seems promising. I haven't tried it but it sounds good if you already have a USB drive. Eugene's post above about the Buffalo LinkStation sounds pretty good.

Adam Kalsey
August 5, 2004 2:05 PM

The Linksys is a solid state device and no moving parts means no noise, so that part's good. It sells for about $80 at Amazon, and that's a reasonable price: But it's not getting very good reviews on Amazon. Specifically people can't get it working with the Seagate drive I have. And it seems that you need to use Linksys's proprietary Linux-like disk format on your drives. So with this my Seagate would have to be dedicated to the NAS, not portable like it is now. Backing up over the wireless network will be slow, so for full backups I'd want to attach it directly to the computer. The wireless backup would be mainly useful for overnight incremental updates.

Kevan Emmott
August 5, 2004 8:42 PM

Tom's Hardware has a pretty good review ( ) of the Linksys. Granted, it does format the drive in ext3, but I'm pretty sure you can get drivers for the Mac for that, and probably Windows as well.

Adam Kalsey
August 5, 2004 10:15 PM

There are a number of open source ext3 drivers for Windows NT/2000/XP. That might be the way I end up going, but I'll have to try these drivers our with another drive first. I've already run a full backup to the Seagate, so I don't want to format it to ext3 unless I'm sure it will work.

Eugene Chan
August 6, 2004 12:13 AM

So I ended up having some free time tonight (after CSI) and I set up the Buffalo Linkstation. It worked like a charm. It grabbed an IP from my DHCP router quickly and I mapped the drive. Regarding the noise factor, it's very, very quiet, but not silent. There is a small fan on the back about the size of those found in a typical laptop. It's no louder than my desktop fan, but it is slightly noiser than a maxtor ext harddrive that I have. One other thing: to attach another external harddrive to this baby it does require it to be formatted (or reformatted) by the LinkStation into ext3. That wasn't clear in any of the reviews that I read about this thing. :-( Since I have a bunch of stuff on my Maxtor already, I'll probably just leave it attached to my PC rather than hooking it up to the Buffalo as was my first thought. It also has a FTP server, but I've left it disabled. I haven't tested the printserver, but that was a pretty strong plus for my purchasing decision. Good luck with your decision. All in all I would recommend the Buffalo Linkstation. There's also a wireless NetGear Router that has a USB 2.0 port. FWIW, the review of the Netgear at Cnet was not as high as for the Buffalo.

Adam Kalsey
August 6, 2004 12:26 AM

The more I work on this problem, the more I think I'll end up intalling a fresh copy of Windows on my old laptop, adding a firewire card, and connecting the drive to that. I thought about formatting the drive to ext3 and using Linux (perhaps the NASLite mentioned earlier) on the laptop. The laptop's running Fedora core now. I also thought about installing a Linux NTFS driver and leaving the drive formatted how it is. But if I go with Windows on the laptop I can install Retrospect on it and the client on all the machines on the network. Then the old laptop becomes a backup control station. The only real problem with this (besides the fact I can't find my Win2K disk) is that the old laptop's drive is very noisy. It has a high-pitched whine. I think I can dampen the sound with a padded sleeve and still leave the cooling fan and vents clear. I'll have to see how hot the machine gets if I do that.

Adam Kalsey
August 6, 2004 12:27 AM

Arrgh! I can't add a firewire card to the laptop. The Xircom network card I have fills both of the card slots. I could always hook this all up on an old desktop system, but I want the setup to be silent.

August 6, 2004 6:33 PM

NASLite will run headless without a keyboard or monitor, plus you can use a low-powered PC without a fan if you prefer. I have an old p133 that's been sitting under my desk for 1 month now. I can hear the drives, but not much more than that. Personally, i prefer to stay away from serverside USB or Firewire, but if that's your goal, then go for it...

Adam Kalsey
August 6, 2004 6:46 PM

For now I'm trying a my old laptop with Windows 2000 and automated backups courtesy of Retrospect. I've managed to quiet the drive by simply setting the power management software to turn the drive off after a few minutes of inactivity. Since the machine is only active in the middle of the night, I don't care about the noise.

August 9, 2004 11:09 PM

I would recommend plugging your new drive into a Linux machine running BackupPC: I've been using it for a few days now, and it just works great. It does full and incremental backups of all my desktops and laptops. The backup scheduling is very flexible, and works with Mac, Windows, and Linux machines. Anyway, it works for me, so I thought I'd suggest it.

September 1, 2004 4:15 PM

Does anybody know of a NAS device that will accept firewire peripherals? I already have 2 external firewire drives, and do not wish to abandon the technology.

September 4, 2004 11:45 PM

With regard to the comments about the Linksys NSLU2's file format. As I understand it, Linksys anticipates you'll put a USB drive on it, and it will then format the drive to ext3. I believe they anticipate that your drive will remain there on the linksys network storage link. Once on the network, windows accesses the files from the link using standard file sharing (smb). Since there are standard smb clients for Linux and Macs, all machines on the network can access and write files on the USB drives via the NSLU2. The only reason you'd need the ext3 drivers is if you decided to pull a drive off the linksys NSLu2, and try to read directly off it. And since the NSLU2 allows you to set up security, I'm not certain whether you'd be able to acces the files directly anyway, without changing the ownership, since the file permissions may have been set up by the embedded linux system on the device, and that would then eliminate the ability to connect it back to the link. That's my hunch anyway.

Marc Stress
December 18, 2004 2:35 PM

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned these devices I've got a couple of these little gems on my Mac only network at the office. I'm pushing backups to them daily, and they quietly just do their thing. Their not expensive, their small, silent. My only gripe about them is the Mac software/drivers are a little less robust than their Windows counterparts, you Windows folks should just love these things. They've got great tech support, too. Plus, if you've got a hack.mentality, I'm sure it wouldn't be to hard to put a fatter drive into them.
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