The Iomega StorCenter Wireless NAS drive a big, solid piece of hardware. With its blocky shape and silver-and-black enclosure, it screams "computer equipment that sits in the corner." The drive is heavy, and the whole unit feels well constructed. The front of the drive houses only three LEDs and a black plastic grid through which you can see the drives inside. Unlike the Buffalo TeraStation, you can't open the enclosure to swap out drives, a feature that comes in handy should one of the four drives fail. The team at Iomega felt there was too much risk of user error when trying to swap out hard drives, especially among the inexperienced. (Should one of the drives fail, you can send the unit back to Iomega for repair.) The back of the drive sports a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports for connecting additional hard drives or printers, a small power button, and two screw-on antennas. The back is also where the noisy fan lives. The supplied ports and connections are sufficient, though the Buffalo TeraStation provides two additional USB ports on the front of the drive for maximum flexibility and expandability.
Setting up the Iomega StorCenter Wireless NAS drive is fairly straightforward. You have three options for connecting the drive: to your network via Ethernet cable, to your network wirelessly, or directly to a PC via Ethernet cable. If you want to connect it wirelessly, you'll still need to install the drive and configure it over a hardwired connection first. Simply connect the drive to your router with an Ethernet cable, plug the drive in, and power up. Once the blue LED on the front remains steadily lit, you can install the Iomega Discovery Tool and the Iomega Backup Pro software onto your PC from the included CD.
The Discovery Tool is supposed to scan your network and identify the StorCenter drives on your network, as well as assign a drive letter. It also lets you configure the RAID settings for your drive. With our test unit, we were unable to use the Discovery Tool successfully, even with the help of an Iomega support technician. The drive did show up in Windows' Network Places directory, however, so we were able to ping the drive to get its IP address, access the Iomega drive configuration utility directly via a Web browser, and map the network drive using Windows XP. If the tool works for you, you should be able to take the CD to each PC on your network and install the Discovery Tool in order to map the drive on that computer. The Discovery Tool also lets you set up a RAID array on the drive (the default setting is RAID 0). The helpful support technician couldn't figure out the problem, and Iomega's representative told us he hadn't heard reports of problems with the Discovery Tool.
Once we were in the drive-configuration tool, there were a number of settings we could change. You can arrange the four drives into a number of RAID arrays, which can help increase write speeds or provide safeguards for your data: RAID 0 (striping); RAID 5 (striping with parity; this reduces the drive's capacity by 25 percent); and RAID 0+1 (mirroring striped disks; this will reduce capacity by half). For comparison, the Buffalo TeraStation Home Server doesn't offer RAID 0 or RAID 0+1 modes. You can also manage user permissions, shared folder settings, and disk management.
If you like, you can configure the drive to operate wirelessly as a client or an access point. The configuration utility walks you through all the necessary steps, including identifying a network (or naming one, if using the Iomega drive as an 802.11g access point), choosing a static or dynamic network mode, and entering a security key (the drive supports WEP and WPA-PSK wireless security). Most people won't find the wireless capability necessary; you can simply hard wire the NAS to your router for access over the network, but the wireless capability doesn't add much to the final cost of the drive, so no harm there.
The drive has other features as well, including backup via Iomega's proprietary Iomega Automatic Backup Pro (IAB Pro) software, a built-in print server, and a media server that will work with a UPnP media adapter. With IAB Pro, you can set up scheduled backups of the PCs on your network, ranging from incremental backups of selected folders and files to full system backups, which you can use to restore a PC in case of data disaster. (Incidentally, through the configuration utility, you can also set backups for the StorCenter NAS drive itself, either to USB-attached hard drives or to another NAS drive on your network.) Unfortunately, the IAB Pro software works with Windows 2000 and XP machines only. The media server capability lets you use the StorCenter Wireless as a central repository for your high-definition video, music, and photos. You'll need a third-party UPnP media adapter, such as the D-Link MediaLounge, for your TV to interpret the signal.
Performance-wise, the Iomega StorCenter Wireless NAS is the fastest such drive we've tested, though we have to qualify that finding. On the CNET Labs' test bench, over an Ethernet connection, the Iomega wrote our 5GB test folder of mixed file types in a hair over 19 minutes. It read back the same folder in 17 minutes, 32 seconds. While the Iomega's write performance was faster than that of the Buffalo TeraStation Home Server, it's worth noting that we tested both drives at their default setting, which for the Buffalo drive was RAID 5 and for the Iomega drive was RAID 0. The RAID 5 setting normally slows down write speeds a bit, so if you configure the Iomega drive in a RAID 5 array, expect to see slower performance.
Iomega backs the StorCenter Wireless NAS drive with a one-year warranty. Toll-free phone support (while it's under warranty) is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. If you opt for Iomega's additional service plan, you can access tech support 24/7. You can also conduct an online chat with tech support via Iomega's site or fill out an e-mail form. Iomega's site has a user forum, FAQs, how-to videos, and downloadable manuals, drivers, and software.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|5GB read test||5GB write test|
**Tested in RAID 5 mode