Buffalo's LinkStation Quad is not just a box with up to 8TB (8,192 gigabytes) of hard disk space for every networked computer in your humble abode to use. It's also a fully functioning Time Machine backup device for your Mac.
We've been testing one at home for a few weeks now, having OS X backing up to it. The 2TB model can be picked up for less than Apple's 2TB Time Capsule if you shop around, too. Let's take a look.
On the inside
In our 2TB model, four 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Blue hard disks sit inside the Quad. Using one of a number of RAID configurations (WTF is RAID?), these four disks can show up as either one giant 2TB hard drive on your network, a pair of 1TB drives, four 500GB drives, or perhaps a 1TB disk backed up and mirrored to an invisible 1TB disk -- this means if one or two of your hard disks break, your data is still safe and accessible.
It's reasonably quiet for a box containing four whirring hard disks, too. It's no bedside companion, but sitting in a living room it functioned roughly a billion times quieter than the inexcusably noisy Xbox 360.
The killer features
Of course, we're assuming you actually know what a NAS is (it's essentially a massive hard drive connected to your network). But this model offers some useful extra features.
First, it'll host your iTunes library and its content, so space on your PC or Mac needn't be taken up by an enormous library of music and video files. It's got a built-in BitTorrent client, so media files can be torrented without your computer needing to be left on. Legal ones, y'know? Like Linux ISOs or whatever.
And, because the Quad is intended to be switched on 24/7, you can also log into it from any computer in the world via a Web browser to download any files from it you need. This was something we found ourselves using frequently. Well, twice. But we really needed that porn Linux ISO.
But the biggest win for us was for use as a Time Machine backup disk on a Mac. It's a piece of cake to set up, as every part of the Quad's configuration takes place using a simple Web-based control panel (pictures of which are in this gallery later on). Once configured, OS X saw the network drive as a Time Capsule and backed up our entire hard drive to it over our home network.
Plus, by using four separate hard disks instead of the single one in Apple's own Time Capsule, your data is double-protected against hard disk failure. Do bear in mind that a real Time Capsule is also a very powerful router and 802.11n base station, with native wireless networking and seamless integration with OS X -- we've just been comparing backup functionality once the LinkStation was set up.
The epic conclusion
For us, the 2TB LinkStation Quad delivers a smart backup experience for Mac users who like Time Machine's functionality. And its other features make it an equally solid choice for PC and Mac users alike. It comes in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 6TB and 8TB configurations, starting at around £260 online. At the time of writing, the 2TB model on Play.com is £10 cheaper than Apple sells its 2TB Time Capsule for.
Note: Our network configuration went:
LinkStation > Ethernet cable > 802.11n via Apple AirPort Express > MacBook
This gave us draft-n wireless connectivity like the Time Capsule offers. If you want speedy wireless backups (instead of using an Ethernet cable to patch into the Quad), get yourself either a draft-n router or one of Apple's AirPort Express gizmos.
Each of the four 3.5-inch hard disks can be swapped within seconds should something happen to one of them.
A USB 2.0 socket lives on the front. Connect up an external hard disk and media can be copied to and from the Quad via the Web-based interface.
The built-in cooling system is quiet, but keep your eye out for buildups of dust in the vent.
The compact LinkStation Quad next to a 13-inch MacBook.
The Web-based control panel for the Quad. In this shot you can see us turning on Time Machine, which requires you stick in the name of your Mac and its Ethernet ID.