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Inside the NetDisk's silver-and-black plastic case is a 7,200rpm hard drive with an 8MB buffer. Our 120GB unit yielded 111GB of usable space after formatting. The kit comes with all you'll need to get connected, including a power adapter, USB and Ethernet cables, and a CD with software and a thorough electronic manual. The drive can sit flat or, as Ximeta recommends, on its side (for heat dissipation). The lack of a cooling fan means that the NetDisk is smaller than the Maxtor OneTouch or Buffalo's LinkStation, though a fan can be an important factor in a drive's longevity. Constructionwise, the NetDisk feels flimsy. The black-plastic side pieces shift around a little when jiggled, and the on/off switch doesn't seem sturdy enough to handle heavy use. LEDs on the top-rear edge indicate power and drive activity.
The NetDisk amalgamates an external hard drive for a single computer (via USB) and a network hard drive (via Ethernet). The setup is essentially the same for both scenarios. After you run the included installation CD on one or more connected computers and enter the hard drive's product code (printed on the bottom of the drive), the NetDisk appears in Windows under the computer's next available drive letter. By default, the drive will appear on every computer onto which you've loaded the NetDisk software. But by using the Administrator tool, you can manually map the drive to particular machines. You can also use the Administrator software to see a drive's status (such as how much disk space remains) and to view and change a client's read/write privileges. Happily, unlike Maxtor's OneTouch, the drive doesn't automatically reformat itself when you connect it for the first time. It comes preformatted with FAT32 but also supports NTSF.
With the help of Network Direct Attached Storage technology, the NetDisk moves data between the computer and the drive without the overhead of TCP/IP. To the user it appears as a local drive. The absence of an FTP server means that while you can use the NetDisk to optimize data transfer on a LAN, you won't be able to access it remotely--a feature that other networked drives offer. With a pair of NetDisks, you can create a cheap storage array that can mirror data (you set up mirroring through the included software). The drive works with computers running Windows, Red Hat Linux, or Mac OS X 10.2 or higher, but not all OSs get the same perks. For example, only Windows XP and 2000 clients can simultaneously read and write data. All the others can read simultaneously, but they have to write one at a time, waiting their turn using a software token arrangement.
In addition to the 120GB drive we tested, NetDisk is available in 80GB, 160GB, and 250GB capacities for between $150 and $400. Over the course of a week of hard use, the drive ran quietly and dependably, handling everything we threw at it from a variety of clients. In fact, the NetDisk was able to work simultaneously with four PCs, playing MP3 tunes on one, running Auran's resource-intensive Trainz simulation game on another, showing a video on the third--a wirelessly connected notebook--and moving files on the fourth. Everything went without a data hiccup.
In our informal tests using an IBM ThinkPad R50, the NetDisk read and wrote in USB mode at 96.8Mbps and 131.5Mbps, respectively, which puts it a half step behind Maxtor's OneTouch. In network mode, it moved a variety of files back and forth at 42.5Mbps, 30 percent faster than Buffalo's LinkStation.
In addition to the drivers on the included CD, the NetDisk comes with Symantec's V2i Protector backup software, Norton Internet Security 2004, and the JetAudio jukebox program. Unfortunately, it can't match the ease of OneTouch's automated backup.
Ximeta's one-year warranty is standard for an external hard drive, but you'll need to register the drive within 90 days for it to take effect. The company's Web site has FAQs, software downloads, and e-mail links for service, but its chat room wasn't operational, and some of the pages were in Italian. Phone support is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, and a human being came on the line with an answer to our question after just over three minutes.