Mirra Personal Server 120GB
When we took our first look at Mirra, a so-called personal server aimed at making backups and file sharing as simple as plug and play--and even doing it remotely--we were unimpressed. Since then, the company has updated its software to version 2.0 and added a 250GB product to its lineup. The update adds remote access and sharing features to the Mirra, so you can invite friends to access your Mirra via the Internet, but the improvement isn't enough for us to recommend Mirra over less expensive and more capable network-storage solutions, such as the Buffalo LinkStation.
The Mirra personal server is available in 80GB ($400), 120GB ($500), and 250GB ($700) models. Unfortunately, the Mirra is not designed to accept hardware upgrades, so if you find yourself running out of space in the future, plan on shelling out all over again for a separate, pricey Mirra. In contrast, the Linksys EFG120 has an extra drive bay that lets you expand its storage capacity, not to mention a print server and other features that you won't find in the Mirra.
With the help of clear directions from the Mirra's concise quick-start guide and a "30-minute" user guide, we had the hardware connected, the software installed, and our two PCs backed up in less than two hours. The software automatically configured itself for our test home network and found the Mirra personal server connected to our four-port wireless router. Once the unit is up and running, you simply select the folders on each PC to archive. According to Mirra, the personal server will automatically and continuously synchronize two to five PCs comfortably, tracking and logging up to eight versions of any single file on any of your PCs, conveniently performing all this in the background. Not all backup solutions let you archive multiple versions of a file, so this will be a plus for some. For others, it will simply be a waste of disk space. Though the device itself uses Linux, it works only with PCs running Windows XP or 2000, and it requires a broadband connection and a router with an available Ethernet port.
Our test network included several gigabytes of important work and personal files (invoices, years of tax returns, homework projects, and a treasure trove of photos dating back to 2000) sitting on two networked Windows XP PCs. In no time at all, we were able to tag a number of folders across the two PCs for automatic backup. Combined with a Web-based service hosted by Mirra's maker, the software also lets you remotely access archived files and even share them with family and friends. The free service is password-protected, and files are encrypted during transit. This service helps set the Mirra personal server apart from the competition.
The Mirra Personal Server is housed in a repurposed PC tower, presumably to keep the manufacturing costs low; the empty drive bay with the false door is a dead giveaway. While it's small and stylish enough to sit in a living room, where we tested ours, its aggravatingly loud cooling fan may banish it to the den or the basement.
If the Mirra Personal Server delights by keeping things simple, it also disappoints for the same reason. It was a letdown to learn that we couldn't store photos or music files directly to the Mirra itself; the personal server is for keeping archived copies only, so you'll still have versions of those bulky files eating up your PC's disk space. What's more, if you want to access files remotely, you can't just select a batch of them. You have to designate one at a time, hitting the Download button in the Mirra software for each, then selecting the next, and so on--tricky with poorly named photo files such as P1010111.
Mirra offers a one-year warranty on its Personal Server line, which is on a par with that of similar products. You also get toll-free phone support weekdays between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT. Unfortunately, when we called during those hours, we were shuffled off to an answering machine. Worse yet, our call wasn't returned.