Buffalo LS-421 Diskless NAS Review

Buffalo LogoThe Buffalo LinkStation LS-421 Diskless NAS represents a small departure from the norm for Buffalo in that this is the first consumer-oriented unit to be offered as an enclosure without drives. While replacing drives in the previous generation of LinkStations was easy, it’s good to see this being offered as an option from the start. GNC has reviewed several Buffalo units in the past and many have been no slouch in the speed department. The LS-421 features the new generation Marvell ARMADA 370, 1.2GHz ARMv7 CPU core and DDR3 512MB RAM so let’s see if it stands up to the claims of “up to 80 MB/s” .

Buffalo LS-420 Box

From the outside, the LS-421 hasn’t significantly changed since the previous version with a slightly front rounded surface. The previous iteration of the product had blue LEDs on a black fascia; this time it’s white LEDs on silvery-grey which looks good when they’re flickering away. Overall, it’s not going to win any design awards, but it’s not going to offend either. There are two USB ports, a USB 3 one on the front and a USB 2 on the rear. These can be used for additional storage or printers.

Buffalo LS-420 NAS

 

Buffalo LS-421 rear

Installing the disks is straightforward, needing only a screwdriver to screen the hard drives into plastic frames which then guide the drives into place in the NAS. The front of the unit simply pops on and off. Once the two drives are in place, the network cable can be connected and the power plugged in. For those interested, it’s an external PSU.

Buffalo LS-421 with disks

On power-up for the first time, there’s about ten minutes of activity while the LS-421 sorts itself out. While that’s happening, the supplied Buffalo NAS Navigator 2 software can be installed on the PC or laptop. It’s much improved over the previous version, but it’s not essential software as the NAS is largely configured via a web client. However, it is useful for troubleshooting and finding the IP address of the LS-421 for the first time.

Linkstations

Those used to the old tabbed style of web interface will discover that Buffalo has gone all Metro with a tile-based UI, albeit without the Microsoft colours. All the usual configuration features are present and correct – disk format, share administration, users, groups, RAID 0 / 1 and so on. Buffalo also gets brownie points for prompting to change the administrator password whenever the web client starts.

Buffalo LS-421 Tile Interface

The LS-421 isn’t only a network NAS, as it has Bittorrent and DLNA services built-in. Having a NAS-based Bittorrent client is useful as you don’t need to leave your PC on for large downloads and once downloaded, the server with contribute back to others downloading the same file. The DLNA server worked fine too, letting me play mp3s via the Roku.

Apps are available for iOS and Android to access files on smartphones and tablets, and it’s possible to configure access to the NAS across the Internet so that you can upload and download files while out and about. Obviously the speed is going to be limited by the network or broadband connection but it’s a useful to have the facility in case you need it.

With all of that out the way, how fast is it? I tested using Totusoft’s LAN Speed Test from a fairly old laptop running Windows 8.1 and also with dd and bonnie++ from a newer SuSE 12.1 Linux desktop. All tests were run at least three times and both computers were connected into the same gigabit switch that the LS-421 was connected into.

From the laptop, LAN Speed Test gave an average over a couple of a runs around 33 MB/s for writes and 22.5 MB/s.
On the desktop, dd gave a write speed of 63 MB/s, and bonnie++ wrote at 45 MB/s and read at 68 MB/s. Remember these figures reflect the performance of the LS-421 in my environment and YMMV as they say. Certainly, the bonnie++ read of 68 MB/s isn’t very far away from Buffalo’s claims of 80 MB/s.

Overall, the LS-421 is a tidy NAS unit and with an online price of GB£85 (without drives), it’s definitely one of the cheaper NAS enclosures. It’s nippy and with a total capacity potential of 8 TB, it can grow as your needs require.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the review unit.

AVG Android Social Apps

AVG LogoToday’s Android apps from AVG are aimed at social media users rather than performance junkies whose needs were covered yesterday. AVG has two apps in this space, Image Shrink & Share, and Privacy Fix. Very different apps themselves but both are worth a look..

AVG Image Shrink & Share works on the premise that the average smartphone camera takes photographs which are unnecessarily large for social media purposes. Most people can’t be bothered to downsize the photos and risk incurring bandwidth charges by uploading the large photos anyway. Image Shrink & Share solves this problem by resizing photos on the fly before passing them onto the relevant social networking app. The original photo is not affected and stays on your phone or tablet.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to share a photo on Facebook. You review the photo in Gallery or Photos as normal. Hit the share icon and choose AVG Image Shrinker instead of the app you would normally use (it’s on the left in the screen shot which is from the new Photos app which has a different layout and background).

AVG Shrink & Share Apps Onward Sharing Apps

Then you are prompted for the final app that you want to use to post the photo, say, Facebook or Google+. Image Shrink & Share resizes the photo based on your default selection and then passes it on to the social media app (or other app) for comment and posting.

You can setup the default size for each application individually in the Settings menu. If you turn an app off, it doesn’t show in the second list presented by Shrink & Share, so it’s a useful way to declutter your sharing screen as well.

Social Media App wpid-Screenshot_2013-11-11-18-53-01.png

In practice, I found that it worked very well and solves the problem very neatly. Images resized correctly and looked good. If I had one suggestion, it would be to have a native resolution option on the resize settings so that photos can be passed through without alteration. I know that it’s not strictly necessary as I can simply choose to share directly to the app, but it makes the process consistent.

Overall, if you post lots of photographs to social media sites, this is a must-have app. Personally I’ve found it handy for uploading images to WordPress as it has a 2 MB limit on photos, so AVG’s tool gets round that problem for me.

Moving on, AVG PrivacyFix is less about sharing and more about controlling your exposure on Facebook and Google+. It’s a complementary app to the PrivacyFix website which covers LinkedIn too, but the app currently only looks at Facebook and Google+. It’s simply a case of giving the app access to your accounts after which PrivacyFix will make some comments and recommendations.

PrivacyFix Start

Here are the recommendations PrivacyFix gave me for Facebook and Google+.

PrivacyFix Facebook PrivacyFix Google+

You can tap through each and PrivacyFix will give you some information on the impact of changing the option and if you wish to proceed, show you what was done. Here’s some info on turning off Search History and then the output from opting out of ad tracking.

PrivacyFix Implications PrivacyFix Ad Tracking

AVG PrivacyFix is another great app. It’s certainly not one that you are going to use everyday, but it’s definitely worth running every month or so to check that your exposure on social media is at an acceptable level. Clearly you can use the PrivacyFix website to cover LinkedIn, but I hope AVG extend the Android app to cover LinkedIn and perhaps others such as Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, etc. I also think that this would be a great tool for parents to check the privacy settings on their children’s accounts and that’s a feature that AVG ought to promote directly within the app and website.

Both Shrink & Share and PrivacyFix are free apps, so go ahead, download them from Google Play and try them out.

Shared.com Gives 100 GB of Storage Space

shared-logoShared Media have announced a new service where you can share files with others instantly – up to 100 GB in the freemium model with 2 GB upload cap.

Shared.com has come out of the gate with a higher storage capacity to hopefully grab early adopters and get some of the Mega and Dropbox clientele. With Shared.com, you can share a file with the public or just have it ready at your fingertips between devices.

Shared.com Pro and Pro Plus models have also been added – For $9.95 a month you can upload 5 GB files with a 2 TB storage area and Pro Plus allows for up to 10 GB files with unlimited capacity.

Coming options will include mobile apps so you can access your files on the go.

There have been legitimate concerns to sites like this after what happened with MegaUpload in 2012. However, a shared file resource is a great way to distribute legal files to the masses. Shared.com says they will be following DMCA rules and resolve any disputes on their service.

In the meantime – its a great way to send photos of the family to loved ones, post a video of you doing something silly or a document that you need shared information on.

Pogoplug Mobile Review

Pogoplug LogoThe cloud is definitely where it’s at right now, but what if you don’t like the idea the idea of Google, Dropbox et al looking after your data? Then you might be interested in a Pogoplug, which allows you to create your own cloud storage that’s only limited by the size of the hard disk. A Pogoplug is a hardware gadget that connects USB storage devices to your local LAN and then makes the space available across the Internet, effectively creating a personal cloud. The data is stored in your control and if more storage is needed, plug-in a bigger hard drive.

On review here is the Pogoplug Mobile, the 3rd generation of Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines. It offers a single USB port plus an SD card slot along with the network port and power socket. Newer Pogoplugs come with USB3 ports, but as the maximum speed of the Pogoplug cloud is always going to be the speed of the Internet connection, the faster transfer speeds of USB3 are unlikely to be a significant benefit. For testing, I used a 64 GB memory stick, rather than a hard drive, which means that the unit will run silently with minimal power consumption.

Pogoplug Packaging

The Pogoplug website has downloads for Windows, Macs and Linux, and the relevant app stores have versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry and legendary WebOS. I was able to try the Windows, Linux, Android and WebOS versions. The Windows version connects to the Pogoplug and presents it as a drive letter, allowing most Windows applications to use the Pogoplug transparently. The Pogoplug software has additional backup functionality as well, which may be useful for some people. The Linux version is command line only but anyone familiar with Linux will have no trouble getting the Pogoplug mounted into the filesystem.

The Android app is simple and straightforward with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve. Broadly you can browse files in a directory fashion or you can view music, photos and movies in a tag or meta-data based fashion, As expected, there are viewers and players for the media, though movies get handed over to the default app rather than playing within the Pogoplug app. The music player is basic and has one really irritating flaw; it doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the track number from the mp3 files and consequently orders tracks alphabetically when playing albums. This really needs to be fixed.

Back viewPerformance-wise, the Pogoplug is always going to be limited by the upload (rather than download) speed of the broadband connection when outside of the home. This usually meant a little bit of buffering before playing music but once the playback got underway, there was rarely any stuttering. There were occasional times when folders refused to refresh but my suspicion is that any problems were down to the local data connection on my phone rather than a problem with the Pogoplug. YMMV. Inside my home, the performance was excellent.

In common with other social and cloud apps, the Pogoplug app has automatic uploading of pictures and video from the devices camera. It’s also possible to set the folder where the uploaded images are to go. Frankly, this is brilliant as my wife is hopeless at remembering to copy photos off her smartphone so by setting up the Pogoplug app on her phone, any photos she takes get automatically transferred. On occasion, a photo would sometimes fail to completely upload; again I suspect the loss of 3G connectivity than any fundamental problem, but the error checking could be improved. It’s also possible to upload any image from within the photo Gallery app.

As with most cloud solutions, you can also share with friends and family, using either the app or the web interface. It’s straightforward – select the folder you want to share, select who you want to share with and an email is sent to them with the relevant link. It’s an easy way to share photos of Junior with grandma and grandpa.

Any downsides? Only two that i can see….first, there’s no direct integration with any other apps that I could find. Quickoffice and other office apps typically allow access straight into Google Drive or Dropbox but none seemed to work with a Pogoplug. Effectively I had to download a Word doc to the phone, do my edits in QuickOffice and then upload the doc back to the Pogoplug. Not slick.

The second is that when I was at home and on the same subnet as the Pogoplug, Internet access to Pogoplug’s servers was still needed, presumably to check authorisation privileges. Normally, it’s not going to be an issue, but it would be handy to have a way to bypass this when working locally and the connection to the Internet goes down.

Overall, the Pogoplug is a handy device that gives you control over your data rather than entrusting it to a megacorp. A few glitches spoil what is otherwise a neat little solution that potentially gives as much data storage space as you need, without paying per GB per annum. For the low cost of the Pogoplug unit (about $50 / £35), it’s a bargain.

Disclaimer – this was a personally purchased device.

Dropbox Vs. Google Drive


Google recently released Google Drive. It is the newest cloud storage device. Dropbox is a cloud storage device that has been in use for quite some time. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two.

Price

Dropbox:
* Up to 18 GB is free. You can earn 2 GB + 500 MB per referral.
* Pro 50 Plan costs $9.99/month or $99.00/year. Gives +1 GB per referral, up to +32 GB
* Pro 100 Plan costs $19.99/month or $199.00/year. Gives +GB per referral, up to +32 GB
* Teams plans start at 1 TB. Costs $795/year for the first five users and $125/year for each additional user.

Google Drive:
* Store up to 5GB in Google Drive, 1GB in Picasa, and 10GB in Gmail for free
* There are several monthly plans to choose from. Yearly plans are not yet available.
* Plans include: 25 GB for $2.49/month, 100 GB for $4.99/month, 200 GB for $9.99/month, 400 GB for $19.99/month, 1 TB for $49.99/month, 2 TB for $99.99/month, 4 TB for 199.99/month, 8 TB for $399.99/month, 16 TB for $799.99/month.

Upload Limits

Dropbox:
* Files uploaded to Dropbox via the desktop application have no file size limit
* Files uploaded through the website have a 300 MB cap
* The files you upload to Dropbox must be smaller than your account’s storage limits.

Google Drive:
* An uploaded file or folder can be up to 10GB

Compatibility

Dropbox:
* Can be used with Windows, Mac, or Linux
* Can be used with iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android

Google Drive:
* Can be used with PC and Mac
* Can be used with Android
* Cannot be used with iPhone or iPad at this time (but is coming soon)

Are We All Thieves?

The history of advancing technology is long littered with accusations of copyright infringement along with charges of outright thievery.

The problem seems to stem from ever-changing definitions of what comprises a song, a performance, or a book. Back in the days when the player piano was invented, musicians themselves seemed to define a song as a live performance. Hence, the spreading invention of mechanical player pianos and reproduced sheet music would somehow destroy music itself.

Of course, what actually happened was that rather than being destroyed, music was promoted and ultimately became more popular.

Music is not the piano rolls, nor is it vinyl records, audiocassettes, or CD’s. These are simply physical transmission mediums. It could also be equally argued that MP3 or other digital file formats are not the actual music either, though they are heavily intertwined.

Can’t we as consumers be honest? How is it that so many of us can think nothing of illegally downloading media, yet wouldn’t think of stealing a physical object without paying for it?

Those who continue to rationalize that it’s “okay” to illegally download copyrighted music, movies and other copyrighted materials are thieves. Would you enjoy having your stuff stolen? Are excuses popping up in your mind why wrong is right and right is wrong? If so, you failed the test. If you have to make an excuse to yourself or anyone else to justify your behavior, you are wrong. If you find yourself the victim of a thief, how can you then turn around and complain? Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?

The solution to the problem is easy. Get what you want by legitimately paying for it. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t be a thief by stealing it.

On the other hand, if you don’t like the less-than-stellar behavior of certain media-production organizations, the solution is equally easy. Don’t consume their products. Turn them off. Pull the plug. The world won’t come to an end. You will survive. The age we live in is filled to the brim with alternative entertainment and information sources that make it possible to reduce or completely eliminate the need to consume copyrighted material, if that is your wish.

ACS Law Boss Fined By ICO

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office today announced that it was fining Andrew Crossley of the now defunct ACS Law £1,000 for failing to keep secure sensitive personal information about 6,000 people.

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, was particularly critical saying, “The security measures ACS Law had in place were barely fit for purpose in a person’s home environment, let alone a business handling such sensitive details.”

If ACS Law had still been trading, the fine could have been as high as £200,000. As Andrew Crossley was trading as a sole trader under the name ACS Law, it falls on him to pay as an individual.

Previously, ACS Law had been pursuing alleged copyright infringers on behalf copyright holders, including some from the adult entertainment industry. Its main tactic had been to send out letters to the alleged infringers, “encouraging” them to settle outside of court. Apparently over £1 million was raised through this tactic with 65% of the money going to ACS Law and only 35% going to the copyright holders (as reported by the BBC.)

Last year ACS Law’s IT systems were attacked by a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) which brought down their website. When the site was restored, for a short time a backup file was easily available for download by anyone. This file contained Excel spreadsheets with information on around 13,000 alleged file sharers, including those accused of downloading pornography.

More from the press release…The ICO’s investigation found serious flaws in ACS Law’s IT security system. Mr Crossley did not seek professional advice when setting up and developing the IT system which did not include basic elements such as a firewall and access control. In addition ACS Law’s web-hosting package was only intended for domestic use. Mr Crossley had received no assurances from the web-host that information would be kept secure. While the firm should have been aware of their obligations under the Data Protection Act, they continued to act negligently and failed to ensure that appropriate technical and organisational measures were in place to keep personal information secure.

Overall, a pretty damning report. However, even if ACS Law is no longer trading, one can’t help feel that Andrew Crossley’s £1,000 fine is too small given that around £650,000 was raised by ACS Law by threatening alleged copyright infringers with legal action. I wonder what the average cost to settle was in comparison?

The Limewire Shutdown Is Not The End Of the RIAA’s Problems

As you may have heard recently, Limewire has been ordered to finally shut its digital doors.  Yesterday, a federal judge granted the shutdown request from the RIAA after a ruling in their favor several months ago.  All searches, uploads and downloads through the client were ordered to stop.  It was, no doubt, quite a shock to users when they fired up their client and were greeted with the this message:

Legal Notice: This is an official notice that Limewire is under a court-ordered injunction to stop distributing and supporting its file-sharing software. Downloading or sharing copyrighted content without authorization is illegal.

So now the RIAA goes along its merry way without anymore worries, right?  Right?!  Not exactly.  In reality, the Limewire shutdown is a blip on the file-sharing radar.  Truth be told, the RIAA probably spent more on legal costs to pull this off than they lost from the users of the software.  And what do they have to show for it besides one program to point to as an example?  Not much, it would seem.

First, there were numerous articles popping up online today touting the alternatives to Limewire.  And of course there’s no shortage of those alternatives.  Then there’s Usenet which is almost untraceable.  And of course bittorrent which is now discovering better ways to hide users with tools like Anomos and Peerblock.  If anything, the RIAA may have made things harder on themselves by forcing pirates into more obscure places and making them harder to catch and sue.  What a kick in the butt if this shutdown makes the RIAA’s life the one that just became more difficult.

Second, there seems to be a study or survey popping up every few weeks that shows such things as “file sharers buy more music”.  I’m actually inclined to believe that too.  And not only because countless surveys have shown it, but because in a strange way it seems logical.  If you like an artist you feel as if you should support them.  They deserve to make a living off of their work, because, after all, if they can’t, then they will look for a 9-5 job and you won’t hear them again.  A lot of P2P users seems to be looking to discover new music that they can then support.  Obviously there will always be exceptions.  A percentage will always just be thieves.

So, the RIAA got their big example with Limewire.  They started down this course way back in the 90’s with Napster, so we can see how well it is working for them. They have succeeded only in alienating themselves from their customer base and probably forcing more people into piracy than would otherwise have been there.  And with each “example” they also further the technology used to thwart them.  Business models can either move ahead with the times or they can die – kicking and screaming in this case.

13,000 Named in Adult Film Downloads

The names of thousands for BT & Sky broadband customers who had allegedly illegally downloaded adult material have been leaked on-line.  The lists appear to have been obtained from servers of a law firm ACS:Law by the notorious 4chan group.

ACS:Law had obtained the lists from ISPs Sky and PlusNet (owned by BT) and had been using the information to send out letters to the alleged copyright infringers demanding money.  Many of those accused have denied downloading any adult material.

Both PlusNet & Sky had been forced to hand over the information by a court order and sent the data by email.  It now transpires that BT failed to encrypt the data files during transmission.  However, it is believed that data was stolen by 4chan members after they accessed ACS:Law’s server and then posted on-line at the Pirate Bay.

In addition to the lists of users, confidential messages regarding the cases, money made and personal correspondence were also posted.  Reports vary in the total number named as the leaks keep coming but it appears to be over 13,000 people so far.

The UK’s Information Commissioner is now investigating ACS:Law for possible breaches of the Data Protection Act.  If found guilty, the Commissioner can fine organisations up to £500,000 ($750,000).  Christopher Graham said, “The question we will be asking is how secure was this information and how it was so easily accessed from outside. We’ll be asking about the adequacy of encryption, the firewall, the training of staff and why that information was so public facing.”

ACS:Law was already under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for its role and tactics when sending out the letters to the alleged filesharers.  PlusNet has an FAQ explaining its role in the debacle.

This story has been running for a couple of days, but it just gets worse and worse.

Swiss Court Stops IP Gathering By Anti-Piracy Outfits

On September 8th Switzerland’s Federal Supreme Court handed down a ruling which could shake up copyright holders around the world and probably scared the heck out of such outfits as the RIAA and MPAA.

In a nutshell, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that IP addresses are personal information, and therefore, fall under the country’s strict privacy laws, and may not be used by anti-piracy companies.

The suit, brought by Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner (FDPIC), Hanspeter Thür, came about because Swiss-based Logistep has been collecting thousands of IP addresses and using them to file lawsuits.  Most cases were settled out-of-court for thousands of dollars.  The same strong-handed methods used by the RIAA and MPAA in the US.

In their press release, FDPIC states:

According to the Federal Supreme Court decision issued in Lausanne on the 8th September 2010, IP addresses are clearly personal data and are thus subject to the Data Protection Act.

In a majority decision, the Court considers it to be unlawful for private companies to covertly probe IP addresses. The decision by the Federal Supreme Court stated that there was insufficient justification for such practices.

Logistep has responded, of course, stating that their methods are perfectly legal in other countries and that they feel the ruling will make Switzerland as safe for pirates as it is for those hiding money in the (in)famous Swiss banks.  They also hinted at the possibility of leaving Switzerland and pursuing their business elsewhere.

What does this decision mean for other European countries, especially highly-privacy conscious ones such as Germany?  Will the ruling have any effect on countries elsewhere in the world?  Obviously I don’t speak for this website, but I think it’s safe to assume that none of us endorses piracy.  We all want right-holders to get their fair-share for the work they have done.  But the methods employed by some of these organizations are, to say the least, questionable and to say the most sometimes resemble extortion.  And in many countries they are difficult, if not impossible, to defend against.  So let’s hope this ruling reverberates far and wide.