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Editors' note: CNET tested the 1TB model in the LinkStation Mini series.
The Buffalo LinkStation Mini is the tiniest dual-drive NAS device you'll find. While it's impressively small, portability probably isn't high up on the list for something you'll have hard-wired to your network. More beneficial to NAS drive shoppers is that fact that its use of 2.5-inch hard drives and well-ventilated enclosure means it's fanless and, thus, nearly silent during operation. And you need not sacrifice performance to gain its small size and silence; its pair of notebook drives kept up with the 3.5-inch competition. The LinkStation Mini features DLNA and print servers along with a Web access feature, which took a little finagling in our case to enable. At $699 for the 1TB model, you are paying a premium for its small size and operational silence over larger NAS drives such as the Synology Disk Station DS-107+ or Buffalo's LinkStation Live. Given that you can purchase a 500GB 3.5-inch internal drive for less than $100 these days, the empty D-Link DNS-323 two-bay enclosure presents an even more affordable route to network attached storage if desk or shelf space isn't at a premium.
Setup and design
The Buffalo LinkStation Mini is smaller than many single-drive NAS solutions. It measures 3.2 inches wide by 5.3 inches long by 1.6 inches high. Vents run along the sides and back of the black, plastic shell. On the front, a LinkStation logo glows blue next to a green LED light, which tells you that the drive is working powered on and connected to your network, respectively. On the back resides a Gigabit Ethernet port, the power connector and power switch, and a USB port. The power switch can be set to on, off, or auto. Auto means the drive will power down when your last networked PC with the bundled Navigator application does so and power back on when such a PC is turned on.
A mysterious Function button sits on the right side of the drive. It serves no purpose currently; Buffalo tells us it's for feature additions to be delivered via firmware update.
Setup has you connect the drive to a power outlet (the power brick is tiny), to your router with the included Ethernet cable, and then install Buffalo's NAS Navigator app. We installed the bundled NAS Navigator application on both Macs and PCs on our network (the LinkStation Mini using the Linux-based XFS file system), and each was able to read and write to the LinkStation Mini. The application lets you see the shared network volume and basic network information including remaining drive space. By default, the drive is configured in RAID 0, but with just a few clicks on the LinkStation Mini's straightforward Web application you can mirror the two volumes in a RAID 1 configuration. With RAID 1, the 1TB LinkStation Mini serves up 458.1GB of drive space.
The Web application--accessed by right-clicking on the drive icon in the NAS Navigator application--also lets you set access restrictions, granting read/write access to groups or individual users. You can also enable the media and print servers as well as set up Web access and scheduled backups of your LinkStation to a USB drive.
The only bit of software on the installation CD other than the NAS Navigator application is a 30-day trial of Memeo's backup software.
The LinkStation Mini packs two 500GB laptop drives inside its tiny case. They're currently the largest capacity 2.5-inch drives on the market and were introduced only a few months ago. Hence, they aren't cheap--$200 and higher for each.
The LinkStation Mini has a USB port, which lets you connect another drive or share a printer. The LinkStation Mini is also DLNA compliant, should you have networked media devices in your home such as a PlayStation 3 that you'd like to steam files to. We didn't have any DLNA devices to test this feature, but we were able to share music files via iTunes. You'll need to add folders to your iTunes library before you're able to play music stored on the LinkStation, but it is a quick step and one that only needs to be done once.
We accessed nothing but frustration, however, with the Buffalo's Web access feature before eventually getting it to work. We were repeatedly stymied with the error message that said "Error accessing BuffaloNas.com, check Internet settings" when we tried to name the drive to enable remote access. Turns out we needed to reconfigure port forwarding on our supposed UPnP Netgear router to get Web access up and running. It's likely specific to our testing scenario; a Buffalo product manager said the Web access feature can be enabled without entering router configuration screens with routers from other manufacturers. Once set up properly, remote users were able to access the drive via the Buffalonas.com site.
The LinkStation Mini more than held its own on CNET Labs' throughput tests. It features two 5,400rpm 2.5-inch drives, which spin slower than your typical 7,200rpm 3.5-inch desktop hard drive. We tested the drives in their default RAID 0 configuration, which stripes data across the drives and can improve performance. Its write speed of 46.9Mbps placed the drive in the top half of NAS drives we've tested in recent memory. Most drives finished our read test near the 40Mbps mark, and the LinkStation Mini was no different at 40.2Mbps.
Even after being left on for long stretches--days at a time--the LinkStation Mini stays cool. Occasionally you'll hear the faint hum of the drives spinning, but for the most part it's completely silent--a huge bonus if you plan to make the drive a permanent fixture on your desk.
Service and support
Buffalo backs the LinkStation Mini with a one-year warranty. Toll-free tech support is available 24-7. We also found the pop-up help windows in the Web client surprisingly useful, though they didn't help us get the Web access feature up and running. Only after speaking with a Buffalo product manager were we able to enable Web access to the LinkStation Mini.