If you need a large amount of shared storage for your home or small-business network, there are few easier or cheaper ways to add it than with Buffalo's TeraStation network-attached storage box. Starting at around $800 for a 600GB (0.6TB) unit, it also comes in a 1TB version for around $1,000 and a 1.6TB model for about $1,850, which is less expensive than LaCie's terabyte drive, the Biggest F800 (check back soon for a review of the F800). In addition, the TeraStation also provides four USB 2.0 ports for attaching more drives to increase the gigabyte count or serve as backup devices. You can also use one of the USB ports to connect a USB printer, allowing the TeraStation to double as the Windows or Apple print server for your network.
The silver-hued TeraStation resembles a PC subwoofer or the center unit from a compact stereo. It stands 8.7 inches tall, 9.5 inches deep, and 6.6 inches wide. The front panel houses a small power switch and two USB ports on the left side and a large, circular drive-status display in the center, with three additional power, diagnostic, and network-link status LEDs providing feedback on the device's current state. The back of the unit is dominated by a large fan outlet. Also on the back are a standard three-prong power-cord jack, two more USB 2.0 ports, the RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port, and a serial port for monitoring an uninterruptible power supply. There's a chassis hook for cabling the unit in place to prevent theft.
All TeraStations employ four 7,200rpm ATA100 hard drives that can be configured in a variety of ways: Standard, or non-RAID mode, where each drive operates independently; Spanning mode, where the four drives are combined into a single striped unit for increased performance; RAID 1 mode, where you'll see two 250GB drives, each of which is mirrored for data redundancy and safety; and RAID 5, where three drives are combined into a single 750GB unit, and the fourth functions as a parity drive for data protection, which you can use to restore your data should one of the drives fail (capacities refer to the 1TB version we tested). All configuration and management is done via a Web browser using Buffalo's well-designed and intuitive HTML application. Type in the assigned URL, enter your username and password, and you're off and running. In all modes, you access the TeraStation over the network, not as a local drive. Though the four drives are hot-swappable, getting to them can be a trial. Unlike LaCie's Biggest F800, which has a door on the front for each drive for quick and easy access, you'll have to dismantle the TeraStation's casing, starting with the rubber feet and screws on its bottom.
TeraStations now ship with Tanagra's Memeo Windows software for backing up your PC. (The TeraStation has its own backup utility for backing itself up to external USB disks.) The software works well and is easy to use, but requires extra disk space for installing Microsoft's .Net. We didn't like the forced reboot of the Memeo install routine (there should be a Reboot Later option) or the numerous GUI glitches, such as truncated text in Windows Large Font/120dpi display mode. If you bought a TeraStation before Buffalo started shipping it with Memeo, you can download the software for free from Buffalo Technologies' Web site.
Buffalo provides a utility--the TeraNavigator Client Utility--that you may have to use to tweak the default settings, depending on what type of network you install the TeraStation on. That brings us to our gripes about the product. The TeraStation doesn't default to using DHCP to automatically grab an IP address. We had to use the included utility to enable DHCP before we could access the unit. Secondly, the utility always launches Internet Explorer instead of your default Web browser--in this case, Mozilla Firefox. Those are relatively picky complaints, considering the product's overall ease of use and setup. Basically you plug in the unit's power cord, run an Ethernet cable from your PC or router to the TeraStation, and you're good to go.
The TeraStation's speed is of course limited by your network's transmission rate. Most home or small-business networks transmit at 100Mbps, though the TeraStation itself supports Gigabit Ethernet. In our informal tests, the TeraStation managed to write our 400MB mixed folder of files at 3.31MB per second and our 1.9GB image file at 4.26MB per second, which is perfectly acceptable for backup and light office usage. Copying the data back was even faster: 4.76MB per second and 7.98MB per second for the 400MB folder and the 1.9GB image file, respectively. That's plenty fast enough to stream DVDs or other multimedia content.
At this price, it's not surprising, but a little disappointing, that Buffalo Technologies backs the TeraStation with only a one-year warranty. A three- or five-year warranty is what most users would like on at least the enclosure, if not the drives as well. Toll-free phone support is available 24/7, and the online docs are useful, if not copious. Online support is decent, although the TeraStation is called "Terabyte Network Attached Storage" in the Downloads section, making resources for the unit hard to find. But after poking around a little, we found free firmware downloads for the unit on Buffalo's support site.