Editors' note: This review was updated on March 8, 2010, to correct the rating and add information about backup and security software for the device, which Iomega provides via downloads.
First introduced at CES 2010, the Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station is the most compact yet full-featured NAS server ever made. With no storage included, the device has four USB ports to host external hard drives and printers. Supporting NTFS and FAT32 file systems, the server is a perfect solution when you want multiple users in a network to access data already stored on external hard drives. Moreover, the iConnect comes with a good amount of network storage features, making it well worth the $100 price.
On the downside, the NAS server's throughput performance, though comparable with most old NAS servers and faster than routers with built-in storage support, is significantly slower than new NAS servers. Its USB ports' locations could also use some rearrangement.
If you are looking to quickly turn your USB external hard drives into a robust network storage solution, the Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station is arguably the best deal on the market.
Design and setup
Measuring just 1.1 inches thick by 6.3 inches wide by 5.2 inches long and weighing less then 10 ounces, the Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station looks more like a compact external hard drive than a NAS server. The unit comes with four USB ports to host USB external storage devices and printers. You probably won't want to use too many USB devices with it, however, as only one of the USB ports is on the back; the other three are on the front, meaning you will likely have USB cables running all over the place if you plug a few devices to it. For this reason, the iConnect might be better suited under the desk rather than on top of it, despite its good looks. We wish the three USB ports were on the back of the device.
Also on the front is a Quick Copy button that allows for copying entire contents of a USB storage device, such as a thumb drive, onto another, such as a high-capacity external hard drive. To use this feature, you will first need to designate one device to be the destination of the backup. This can be done rather easily via the device's Web interface.
It's worth noting that all of the USB ports are based on the USB 2.0 standard. Now that USB 3.0-based external storage devices are available, we wish that the iConnect supported this new and much faster standard, too. Nonetheless, we tried multiple bus-powered USB 2.0 devices with the NAS server and found that its USB ports were able to power all of them.
On the back of the device, apart from the fourth USB port, is a Gigabit Ethernet port to connect the server to the local network. The server can also be hooked to the network wirelessly, as it has a built-in Wireless-N adapter. However, its network port is a preferable way if you want to get the best data transfer rate.
We had no problem setting up the new iConnect. The setup process involves the installation of the Iomega Storage Manager software, which helps map connected USB external hard drives to a network computer and launches the Web-based interface, which allows you to further customize other settings. Other than using the Iomega Storage Manager software, you can also access the iConnect using Windows Explorer the way you would access another computer in a local network. Mac computers will automatically see the new NAS server in the Finder.
The Web interface, which can be launched from any network computer by pointing a Web browser to the iConnect's IP address, is intuitive and easy to use; however, we found it rather sluggish at times, especially when changes are being applied. Still, it's organized and we think most users can figure things out by themselves.
Out of the box, the iConnect offers a straightforward and simple way for network users to access the storage it hosts. Each external hard drive connected to the NAS will be available as a share folder that everybody has the same full access to. This can be done using the Iomega Storage Manager software as mentioned above or manually via a network browser, such as Windows Explorer.
Savvy users, however, can further customize this by enabling the "Security" feature of the NAS server via its Web interface. Once enabled, this allows for restricting access to each share folder via users account. An admin user can create more user accounts and assign access privileges (including read, write, and no access) for each user account to each external storage device. This restriction can be applied at the device level, however, meaning you won't be able to apply it to each folder on a connected external hard drive, only the entire hard drive itself.
The security feature also allows for another important feature of the iConnect: remote access. The device uses the TZO Dynamic DNS service for its remote over-the-Internet access. You'll get the first year for free, but you'll have to pay $10 for each subsequent year.
If your router supports UPnP (which most new routers do), the setup process for the remote connection is entirely transparent to you, via a few mouse clicks. Otherwise, you'll need to manually forward the port number 443 to the IP address of the server. At the end of the setup process you will be given a URL that links to the iConnect from any computer that's connected to the Internet. You then can access the server as though you were on a computer in the same local network.