The Maxtor Central Axis carries a list price of $320, but can be found for as little as $270--a good deal for a network storage device with 1TB of storage. We liked the Central Axis' compact design, fast performance, and that its over-the-Internet access service was easy to set up and use. It also can work as a print server or you can connect a USB external hard drive as add-in storage. However, the device runs hot and has a confusing desktop application with a rigid and limited backup function. Its Web interface is not the best, either. If you are looking for a fast NAS device and have a cool, well-ventilated place for it, the Maxtor Central Axis is an attractive, affordable option. If you want to be able to replace the hard drive yourself, for about the same price, we'd recommend Synology DS-107+ .
Design and setup
The Maxtor Central Axis looks good and is compact--it's hardly any bigger than a standard 3.5-inch internal hard drive. On the front, the device has three white status lights for power, hard-drive activity, and network status. On the back, you will find a Gigabit Ethernet port, the power port, a power button, and a USB port that supports either a printer or an external hard drive. The Central Axis' adaptor is also compact, which is always a bonus.
The Central Axis features a single 3.5-inch, 7,200rpm hard drive with 1TB of storage capacity. The hard drive is not user replaceable and when in use, its drive creates a subtle vibration that you can feel when holding the device on your hand. Nonetheless, the Central Axis is very quiet during operation as it doesn't have a fan. Overall, the Central Axis is good looking, quiet, and compact enough to keep on your desk.
Out of the box, the Central Axis comes with a small Quick Start Guide, an Ethernet cable, a software CD, a power adapter, and the NAS device itself.
We installed the drive on our test router, and the included software, Maxtor Manager, detected the drive quickly on our Windows XP test system. However, it was rather confusing to set up the rest of the device's features. For example, the Maxtor Manager software said it required a user account to connect to the NAS, but didn't state whether it's the user account on the computer or a different one for the NAS. We found out later when mapping a network drive that it was the account on the computer. However, when setting up the access to the NAS over the Internet, it's the user account on the NAS device. It would be a lot easier if the text of the application's interface was more clearly written.
We also found that the easiest way to access the Central Axis is the same way you would access another computer in your LAN--with Windows Explorer. However, the Backup feature of the drive will only see the mapped drive that you created with the software, not the one you manually create using Windows explorer. On the other hand, using Windows Explorer seemed to be the only way we could access the USB external hard drive connected to the Central Axis' USB port, which would be shared as New_Volume_XXX, where XXX is the serial number of the USB drive.
The Maxtor Central Axis' backup application works very well and, unlike the network drive mapping process, is intuitive. However, it is very limited. You can back up only files stored in the My Documents and Desktop folders of your account's profile data. This means, unless you manually put the data files of certain applications (such as Outlook, which by default puts its e-mail archive at a very hard to find place inside Local Settings folder) inside My Documents, there's no way you can back up those. It would be a lot better if the Backup function allowed for backing up any folder or the entire hard drive.
The best feature of the Maxtor Central Axis is its Web Access and Sharing. Unlike other NAS devices such as the Synology DS107+ or HP Media Vault MV2120 where you need to fiddle with the confusing port forwarding, you don't have to do much with the Central Axis to have its content accessible over the Internet. You first need to register for a free account with Seagate, then enter that account information into the Central Axis. After that, you can access the content stored on the Central Axis from any PC connected to the Internet by logging into Seagate's Web site. We tried out the process, and it worked very well. We could download single files easily, and when we chose to download a whole folder, it was compress them into a ZIP file before it was downloaded. The only caveat of this feature would be that it depends on Seagate and it could be taken away or changed without you having any control over it. With the HP MediaVault or the Synology DS-107+, you are in total control of the access, which is completely independent from third-party vendors.
However, this easy way to access the NAS over the Internet is far from perfect when it comes to sharing. We noticed that you can only use the free Web access with one account on the Central Axis. There's no way you can allow others to access to Central Axis over the Internet without giving them your account information.
You can connect an external USB hard drive of any capacity to the Central Axis. We tried it with the OWC Mercury and it worked flawlessly. The USB external hard drive needs to be formatted in the FAT32 file system. Otherwise, the Central Axis gives you an option to format the drive for you. This is actually a good feature, because other NAS devices tend to require the external drive to be formatted in a Linux file system, which is then not accessible when plugged directly into a Windows or Mac computer. The Central Axis doesn't support external hard drives formatted in NTFS; this means you won't be able to connect any existing external hard drives in this format to it.
The desktop application only supports mapping the network drive, backup, and enabling Web access. For other features, you will need to use the Central Axis' Web interface, which is sluggish and not well designed. You have to dig though a few layers of menu to go to change a feature's setting. For example, it takes you through four different pages to set up the Media Server feature of the NAS.
Nonetheless, we tried out the Media Server feature with iTunes and it worked well. You can only pick one share folder to share music with iTunes at a time; you also have to manually refresh (which involves going through layers of menu again) to add newly added music to the iTunes share list.
We didn't get a chance to test the Central Axis with any other UPnP devices.
The Maxtor Central Axis performed well in CNET Labs' throughput tests, topping the read chart at 55.5Mbps. On our write test, it was slightly weaker at 54.6Mbps, trailing the D-Link DNS-323 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure by a tiny margin.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Central Axis ran hot during our testing, which raises concerns as the high heat output might affect its life span. We would recommend using the device in a cool environment. Other than that, we were very happy with the Central Axis' flawless performance throughout our testing period. It's one of the fastest drives in both our write and read tests, and it's one of the quietest performers we've come access among NAS devices.
Service and support
We were very happy to find out that Seagate backs the Maxtor Central Axis with a generous five-year warranty, especially considering the heat issue we mentioned earlier. The company's phone and online chat supports are available from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday. On its Web site, you'll find an array of support options including a knowledge base, software downloads, warranty services, and so on.