Iomega's StorCenter is a rugged, low-end NAS box that can be attached directly to your PC's Ethernet port or your router. It's also a Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) media server that can stream multimedia files to a digital media adapter for playback on your home A/V system. Sadly, its write performance lagged well behind that of the rival Western Digital NetCenter and Maxtor Shared Storage Plus NAS drives.
The Iomega StorCenter won't be winning any awards for revolutionary design. Its boxy, charcoal-gray case looks just like the ones in Iomega's desktop hard drive line--a tad boring, but discreet. The drive's cooling fan emits a low but audible whir, which may annoy some but will also keep the StorCenter's hard disk running longer than the passive cooling found in many other low-priced NAS boxes. The StorCenter also has two USB 2.0 ports for daisy-chaining USB hard drives or connecting to network USB printers. The 250GB unit we tested (it's also available in a 160GB version) was easy to install, as most NAS units are. After we powered it up and attached it to our test router, it automatically popped up in Network Places. For easier access from within Windows Explorer, we assigned it a drive letter by right-clicking on the drive and selecting Map Network Drive.
For those unacquainted with Windows networking or who expect the drive to turn up automatically in Windows Explorer, Iomega provides a utility that will locate the drive and launch the StorCenter's HTML setup app. Once you're up to speed, you can access the setup app directly from a browser by typing in the unit's URL, which you'll find in your router's DHCP table. Iomega rounds out the software bundle with Automatic Backup Pro, the company's reliable, easy-to-configure utility that works in the background to automatically back up files to the StorCenter at intervals you specify.
As we mentioned up front, the StorCenter is also a UPnP media server that can stream audio, video, and photo files to a PC, or even better, to a digital media adapter such as D-Link's DSM-320, which will display them on your A/V equipment. If there's a home multimedia network in your future, this is a feature you should be looking for in a NAS box.
The StorCenter's performance was more than a little on the slow side for a Gigabit NAS box. Reading our 5GB folder of data back, the box was sprightly enough, taking only a couple of minutes longer than Western Digital's NetCenter and Maxtor's Shared Storage Plus. But writing the same 5GB folder to the StorCenter in the first place took nearly seven minutes longer. In terms of tasks, it's fine for serving files but a slowpoke for backing up.
Transfer speed tests (min:sec) (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Iomega provides a one-year warranty for the StorCenter, and telephone support is available 24/7, though you'll have to pay for the toll call. The included docs are helpful, and there's free online chat and e-mail support, which should obviate any need to pay a phone company for a tech-support conversation.