Is your computer's hard drive filled to the brim with digital music, videos, and free Web downloads? Ximeta's NetDisk can help. It's a USB/Ethernet external hard drive that you can attach to your network, allowing you to access data from multiple computers. On the downside, the device is expensive, and you'll need to load its client software on every machine on your network that needs to have access to the stored data. Also, unlike some other network-attached storage (NAS) devices that we've looked at, such as the Buffalo LinkStation and the Linksys EFG120, the NetDisk does not support additional USB drives, nor does it include a print server.
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 theor 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.