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When we took our first look at Buffalo's 120GB LinkStation earlier this year, we were so impressed that we awarded it an Editors' Choice. Now, Buffalo has added 160GB and 250GB versions and refined the LinkStation's firmware, and once again, Buffalo is setting the standard in low-cost network storage solutions. Buffalo's LinkStation adds the convenience of network-attached storage to homes and small businesses, giving you a central location for your data and letting you share that data across your network. In other words, the LinkStation gives you somewhere to save the 2,500 digital photos you've been cramming onto your hard drive, plus it offers a way to view or print them from any computer on your network. You can also use the LinkStation to back up important data to an external USB hard drive and use the device as a print server for your PostScript printer. The LinkStation lacks the high-end features you'd find in more capable but pricier network-attached storage devices, such as the Linksys EFG120. However, if you're looking for the basic conveniences of a print server and network-attached storage, Buffalo's LinkStation is a well-designed and reasonably priced solution. It takes only about 10 minutes to get the Buffalo LinkStation up and running. The printed eight-page quick-setup guide walks you through the installation process with many helpful illustrations and screenshots. Even if you lack networking experience, you'll be able to complete the basic setup process in less than 30 minutes.
A standard Ethernet cable connects the LinkStation to a router, a gateway, or a hub. A cable crossover switch on the back of the drive lets you link the LinkStation directly to a computer with the same standard Ethernet cable. The switch eliminates the need for a crossover cable and lets you connect the unit to either a computer or a hub, making the LinkStation an excellent choice even as a peripheral hard drive for a single computer. As such, it's tough competition for Maxtor's OneTouch drive.
You can connect to the LinkStation from any computer on your network via the IP Setup Utility on the accompanying CD. The utility lets you configure the drive to join your network, then opens the home page of the LinkStation's browser-based configuration tool.
The Buffalo LinkStation's browser-based configuration pages let you assign it a name, create new shared folders, and set up security. You can elect to share folders with both Mac and Windows operating systems. Should you encounter any problems with the setup, Buffalo lists a toll-free tech-support number in its quick-setup guide.We like the uncluttered, compact design of the white-and-silver Buffalo LinkStation Network Storage Center. Buffalo integrated the power supply into the LinkStation, so there's no additional power brick dangling from the unit's power cord. The front panel houses a power button, a USB 2.0 port, and four LEDs that let you monitor the network activity, any drive errors, and the power, plus check to see whether the drive is nearly full. The rear panel contains a 10/100 Ethernet port, a switch that toggles the Ethernet port between MDI and MDIX settings, a second USB 2.0 port, and a reset button. A vent for the LinkStation's quiet fan also graces the rear panel.
The Buffalo LinkStation's two USB 2.0 ports let you connect a printer and an external hard drive to your network. You can connect only one printer and one external drive to the device at any given time, but it doesn't matter which USB port you use.
If you attach an external USB drive, you can schedule daily or weekly backups of the LinkStation's shared folders to that drive. The LinkStation also lets you choose between full and incremental backups, either completely overwriting existing data or overwriting only data that has been changed since your last backup.
We think the LinkStation offers a good set of features for the price, but it's not an industrial-strength solution. The LinkStation doesn't offer any flavor of RAID, nor does it support the Internet Printing Protocol. For these features, consider pricier alternatives, such as the Linksys EFG120. Another weakness of the LinkStation is its awkward support of extended character sets. Files and folders with Asian character names can be difficult or impossible to save to the LinkStation, depending on the combination of extended character sets you use for your data.The Buffalo LinkStation Network Stortage Center's hard drive delivers data quickly to your networked test systems. There may be a slight delay, of the millisecond variety, but you probably won't detect a lag when you open files residing on the LinkStation. If you place the LinkStation on a network populated by multiple users who regularly stream media across it, you may experience an occasional hiccup in your media playback. This, however, has more to do with the way you set up your Ethernet network than it does with the Buffalo LinkStation. That said, the LinkStation is slower than an internal hard disk, so if you run drive-intensive database applications, you should consider either an internal drive or a network drive that supports Gigabit Ethernet, such as the Linksys EFG120.
If you're currently sharing a printer from one of the machines on your network, you can use the Buffalo LinkStation to recoup the resources required to maintain a printing queue by offloading the task to the LinkStation's print server. Printer sharing can be a very resource-intensive service, so transferring it from a workstation to the LinkStation can help pep up the computer you use to share your printer.The Buffalo LinkStation Network Storage Center comes with a respectable two-year warranty, the same length offered on the Linksys EFG120. Toll-free 24/7 phone support is also part of the support package for the Buffalo LinkStation and is good for the lifetime of the product. When we called to test the response time of the Buffalo support staff and the reps' knowledge of the product, we were greeted by a support technician in less than 10 minutes, and the person seemed very familiar with the features of the unit.