The Maxtor Central Axis carries a list price of $320, but can be found for as little as $270--a good deal for a network storage device with 1TB of storage. We liked the Central Axis' compact design, fast performance, and that its over-the-Internet access service was easy to set up and use. It also can work as a print server or you can connect a USB external hard drive as add-in storage. However, the device runs hot and has a confusing desktop application with a rigid and limited backup function. Its Web interface is not the best, either. If you are looking for a fast NAS device and have a cool, well-ventilated place for it, the Maxtor Central Axis is an attractive, affordable option. If you want to be able to replace the hard drive yourself, for about the same price, we'd recommend Synology DS-107+ .
Design and setup
The Maxtor Central Axis looks good and is compact--it's hardly any bigger than a standard 3.5-inch internal hard drive. On the front, the device has three white status lights for power, hard-drive activity, and network status. On the back, you will find a Gigabit Ethernet port, the power port, a power button, and a USB port that supports either a printer or an external hard drive. The Central Axis' adaptor is also compact, which is always a bonus.
The Central Axis features a single 3.5-inch, 7,200rpm hard drive with 1TB of storage capacity. The hard drive is not user replaceable and when in use, its drive creates a subtle vibration that you can feel when holding the device on your hand. Nonetheless, the Central Axis is very quiet during operation as it doesn't have a fan. Overall, the Central Axis is good looking, quiet, and compact enough to keep on your desk.
Out of the box, the Central Axis comes with a small Quick Start Guide, an Ethernet cable, a software CD, a power adapter, and the NAS device itself.
We installed the drive on our test router, and the included software, Maxtor Manager, detected the drive quickly on our Windows XP test system. However, it was rather confusing to set up the rest of the device's features. For example, the Maxtor Manager software said it required a user account to connect to the NAS, but didn't state whether it's the user account on the computer or a different one for the NAS. We found out later when mapping a network drive that it was the account on the computer. However, when setting up the access to the NAS over the Internet, it's the user account on the NAS device. It would be a lot easier if the text of the application's interface was more clearly written.
We also found that the easiest way to access the Central Axis is the same way you would access another computer in your LAN--with Windows Explorer. However, the Backup feature of the drive will only see the mapped drive that you created with the software, not the one you manually create using Windows explorer. On the other hand, using Windows Explorer seemed to be the only way we could access the USB external hard drive connected to the Central Axis' USB port, which would be shared as New_Volume_XXX, where XXX is the serial number of the USB drive.
The Maxtor Central Axis' backup application works very well and, unlike the network drive mapping process, is intuitive. However, it is very limited. You can back up only files stored in the My Documents and Desktop folders of your account's profile data. This means, unless you manually put the data files of certain applications (such as Outlook, which by default puts its e-mail archive at a very hard to find place inside Local Settings folder) inside My Documents, there's no way you can back up those. It would be a lot better if the Backup function allowed for backing up any folder or the entire hard drive.
The best feature of the Maxtor Central Axis is its Web Access and Sharing. Unlike other NAS devices such as the Synology DS107+ or HP Media Vault MV2120 where you need to fiddle with the confusing port forwarding, you don't have to do much with the Central Axis to have its content accessible over the Internet. You first need to register for a free account with Seagate, then enter that account information into the Central Axis. After that, you can access the content stored on the Central Axis from any PC connected to the Internet by logging into Seagate's Web site. We tried out the process, and it worked very well. We could download single files easily, and when we chose to download a whole folder, it was compress them into a ZIP file before it was downloaded. The only caveat of this feature would be that it depends on Seagate and it could be taken away or changed without you having any control over it. With the HP MediaVault or the Synology DS-107+, you are in total control of the access, which is completely independent from third-party vendors.
However, this easy way to access the NAS over the Internet is far from perfect when it comes to sharing. We noticed that you can only use the free Web access with one account on the Central Axis. There's no way you can allow others to access to Central Axis over the Internet without giving them your account information.