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.

Buffalo Claim Fastest USB 3 Drive

Buffalo LogoThe folks over at Buffalo Technology have announced a screamingly fast external drive, the DriveStation DDR. By adding a 1 GB DDR3 cache to a standard SATA drive, they’ve created a USB3 hard drive with SSD transfer rates. Write speeds are doubled from around 170 MB/s to over 400 MB/s, which is pretty nippy in anyone’s book, and read speeds are similarly improved.

DriveStationDDR

 

Obviously, the benefits of the cache aren’t so clear with large data transfers but the greatest use of external hard drives is storing photos or music files and these are typically MBs rather than GBs in size. Consequently, these kinds of files are ideal for the fast data transfer rate of the DriveStation DDR. Think about transferring your latest photos from your camera to the DriveStation DDR – it’s ideal.

Prices are on a par with standard external hard drives with MSRPs of £129 for the 2 TB version and £169 for 3 TB, which isn’t bad. Compatible with all OSes that support USB 3 and there’s no need for any special drivers. The full specs are here.

Geek News Central expects to get a review unit soon, so I’ll be putting the DriveStation DDR through its paces shortly.

Buffalo Launches Thunderbolt Portable SSD

Buffalo LogoFollowing on from GNC’s review of the MiniStation Air earlier this month, Buffalo have a launched the MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD. As you might guess from the name, it’s a portable SSD with a Thunderbolt connection so it’s ideal for connecting up with Apple Macs.

Combining the SSD with Thunderbolt, the MiniStation has a read performance of more than 370 MB/s and a write performance that exceeds 250 MB/s, which is pretty nippy in anyone’s book. And I think those are Bytes and not bits. PC users aren’t left out with a USB 3.0 connection too, though it’s not as fast as the Thunderbolt connections.

MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD

Paul Hudson, Sales Director for Northern Europe at Buffalo, said: “The MiniStation Thunderbolt SSD combines a highly robust and aesthetically pleasing design with exceptionally fast data transfer speed. We have seen how Thunderbolt hard drives have transformed the available speed for read and write to storage devices, but with the additional of SSD in the Buffalo range, the speed stakes are raised again providing astounding performance.

The drive is bus-powered and will be available in two storage sizes, at a recommended price of £229.99 for the 128 GB product and £349.99 for the 256 GB version. There’s a .pdf spec sheet here.

Hopefully GNC will be bringing you a review of the MiniStation Thunderbold SSD in the not-too-distant future.

Buffalo MiniStation Air Review

Buffalo LogoThe Buffalo MiniStation Air is “wireless streaming storage” for smartphones and tablets that provides 500 GB of extra space. Simply, it’s a 500 GB portable hard drive with wifi and complementary apps for Android and iOS. The idea is that the MiniStation Air connects to your PC or laptop via USB 3 and gets loaded up with stacks of music and video which can then be played via an app when out-and-about. It’s a great idea, but how does it stack up against “the cloud” and other solutions such as Pogoplug? Let’s find out.

Buffalo MiniStation Air Box

The MiniStation Air itself is a small black and grey unit, 130 x 84 x 23 mm. The top is a polished black surface with four pinprick status LEDs embedded in it and the sides and bottom are a silvery-grey with buttons and connectors on two of the sides.

Buffalo MiniStation Air

This is a USB 3.0 device which is immediately apparently from the shape of the connector. (Apologies for using stock photos but my own photos were all rubbish).

Buffalo MiniStation Air USB3

Connecting the MiniStation Air to the PC was simply a case of plugging it in with the device appearing as a removable drive. Copying media files took no time at all thanks to the USB 3 connection. It works with USB 2 as well, things just take a bit longer.

Once the Air is loaded up, it can be disconnected from the PC and then powered up on its own. At this point, the MiniStation Air is broadcasting a wifi signal (802.11n/g/b) and it’s easy to connect to it using the SSID and passkey details provided on the bottom of the Air.

Browsing the MiniStation Air

To get the MiniStation Air to work fully with smartphones and tablets, Buffalo provide an app for both Android and iOS which can be downloaded from the application app store. I was only able to test out the Android version, but once installed, it’s easy to browse the files and folders on the Air.

Music PlayerPlaying music or watching videos is just a case of tapping on the file. Photos and music are handled within the app, but videos are handed over to the default video player on the device. Movies started up within a couple of seconds (if that) and music started almost instantly. The music player is basic and as with many of these devices, doesn’t correctly pick up track tags, so albums are arranged alphabetically rather than in track order.

There isn’t a full “HD” app for the tablets, but there is some differentiation between tablets and smartphones. For example, on a tablet, pictures are previewed alongside the folder but this doesn’t happen on a smartphone, even when rotated to landscape. However, the four expanding arrows in the toolbar at the bottom shows that this isn’t a native tablet app.

Tablet Preview

The Edit part of the app allows files to be up- and downloaded from the MiniStation Air. It’s the usual check-box / select operation affair but for the small numbers of files that are likely to be transferred this way, it’s fine.

The Settings area provides access to the SSID and passkey plus other details such as hostname and workgroup. Nothing particularly unexpected here but the MiniStation Air has one last trick up its sleeve. The Air can be connected to another wifi network, preferably one that has a connection to the Internet. This means that although the smartphone is connected to the Air’s wifi, an onward connection to the Internet is provided for other queries or web surfing while listening to music. It’s pretty slick and very handy. It’s also something Buffalo should make a bit more obvious.

Performance-wise, it says that the Air can support eight simultaneous connections with three HD streams. I tested two HD simultaneous streams and it worked flawlessly. Battery life is claimed to be “up to 4 hours” and I wouldn’t disagree – I saw over three hours with a mix of video and music. The Air is powered and recharged via USB so it’s easy enough to hook it up for extended operation.

Any problems? Not really. A couple of wishes, though. First, a Windows / Mac app to use the MiniStation Air wirelessly would be good. Second, some kind of security on the device would be handy as being portable, it’s going to be awfully easy to lose. Finally, an SSD version with longer battery life but perhaps less storage would be interesting but probably too expensive to be considered.

Overall, the MiniStation Air is a good product that will appeal to those smartphone and tablet users who need more-than-average storage…much more than average. The Air is available now from all good retailers with a street price of £100-£120.

The MiniStation Air app was tested on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and a Motorola Xoom 2 ME tablet.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the MiniStation Air.

 

Buffalo MiniStation Air

Buffalo LogoStoring data in the cloud for access anywhere is certainly popular, but there are times when it’s better to have the your own data in your own sticky paws. Buffalo‘s new 500GB MiniStation Air gives the best of both worlds, with wireless 11n access from smartphones and tablets in a pocketable form-factor; it’s only 84 x 23 x 130 mm.

The 500 GB drive has plenty of storage for films and music which can be quickly uploaded to the unit thanks to the USB 3.0 connection. Up to three clients can connect to the MiniStation Air at the same time and each is able to stream their own media selection. The internal battery gives around 4 hours use and it can be charged via USB or a mains adaptor. Looks pretty cool too.

Buffalo MiniStation Air

Paul Hudson, Sales Director Northern Europe at Buffalo, said, “In 2011 the global smartphone and tablet market surpassed the PC market for the first time, with 448 million smartphone sales and tablet sales compared to 415 million PC sales. Despite this, there remains a very limited storage capacity for these devices compared to that for PCs. Users who want to watch movies or listen to music that is stored on their PC can now access it wirelessly on the go by syncing their mobile or tablet device up to the MiniStation Air.

Smartphone and tablet clients are available for both iOS and Android. Although I don’t have a MiniStation Air to hand, I downloaded the Android app and had a look. At first glance, the app seems a great deal better than some of Buffalo’s earlier efforts.

The Buffalo MiniStation Air will be on sale shortly in the UK for £119.99.

 

Upgrading My NAS…Yawn

Hard DriveLast weekend, I upgraded my NAS from 2 TB to 4 TB and it was all too easy. The NAS is a Buffalo LinkStation Duo but as the drives are mirrored, I only get half the total 2 TB capacity, i.e. 1 TB. I was getting pretty close to having the full terabyte of data on the unit, so I decided it was time for a storage upgrade. However, the last time I upgraded another model of NAS, it involved much chicanery and re-installing of firmwire via USB, so I proceed with trepidation.

Not so this time. It was mostly lots of waiting interspersed with a few minutes of activity, followed by first time success. Disappointingly little geekery was required.

Step 1. Buy a pair of SATA 2 TB hard-drive. The LinkStation already had Seagate drives installed, so I played it safe and bought some Seagate Barracuda drives. Wait a couple of days for drives to arrive in post…

Step 2. Backup the data from the NAS to an external USB drive. My favourite tool for this is rsync because it simply copies files (no archives or zip files) and you can stop and start the backup as you like. You can even keep using the NAS up until the last minute before running one final rsync to copy the latest changes over. Leave the backup to run overnight…

Step 3. Shutdown the LinkStation via the web interface.

Step 4. Remove hard drives, insert new ones.

Step 5. Power up the Linkstation and log on via the web interface.

Step 6. Format drives in turn. Configure as RAID 1. Wait for best part of a day while array synchronises….

Step 7. Restore data from external USB hard drive. Leave to run overnight….

Step 8. Job done!

It was pleasantly straightforward to upgrade the NAS and a big change from the last occasion I had to swap a disk. For sure it takes a couple of days to do the swap, but the time is spent shuffling data around, not actually working on the unit. Definitely a recommended upgrade.

[Disclosure: this is my personal NAS and not a review unit.]

Buffalo TeraStation at The Gadget Show

Earlier in the week at Gadget Show Live, I spoke with Fabian Rousseau, Buffalo‘s Director of Product Marketing about the TeraStation network storage units. The TeraStation range is being revamped with a new numbering scheme to make it easier to understand the different models and the number of drives in each one. On display was the TeraStation 5800, which has eight drives, making it a fairly substantial unit as you’ll see in the picture below. The 5600 will have six drives, 5400 four drives, 5200 two drives. R will indicate rackmount.

Buffalo TeraStation

The TeraStations are generally aimed at the small business market: the full feature set and redundant / failover components mean that they’re more expensive than the consumer products. However, some prosumers are purchasing the two and four drive units for home servers. The new TeraStations are expected on the market in a few months and will be priced competitively.

[Disclosure – Buffalo gave me a free Lego Buffalo which will appear in a future post.]

Buffalo AirStation N450 USB Adapter

The Buffalo AirStation N450 USB adapter (aka WLI-UC-G450) is a 2.4 GHz 11n wireless adapter capable of a theoretical 450 Mb/s using a 3×3 antenna array. Sweet.

Buffalo N450 USB adaptor

If you are used to small wireless adaptors and tiny memory sticks, then the N450 will be a bit of surprise. It’s a pretty chunky number at a little under 9.5 cm long, including the USB jack. The otherwise plain, but shiny, exterior has a single blue LED to advertise activity.

Buffalo N450 USB Adapter

Setting up the N450 was a doddle. Insert CD, follow the prompts, reboot, insert N450, job done. On my laptop, the adaptor appeared as Wireless Network Connection 2. In order to use the N450, I found that it was necessary to disable the internal wireless card otherwise it seemed to take priority over the N450. (On my laptop there’s a switch for that, otherwise right-click on the icon and choose Disable.)

Network Adapters

Initially, the laptop couldn’t see my 11n wireless network, but it could see a different 11g network. I’d had this problem before so I knew what was up. The 11n network uses channel 13 as the frequencies there are clear from interference in my neighbourhood, whereas I have the 11g network down on channel 1. Unfortunately, some Wi-fi devices only recognise channels 1-11 as these are the channels allowed in the US, and it appears that the N450 is one of them.

Once I’d pushed my 11n network down into channel 11, everything went swimmingly. Regrettably I wasn’t able to test out the full 450 Mb/s connection as my access point only supported 300 Mb/s, but it was pretty quick regardless. Even then you never get the full 300 Mb/s but I regularly saw data transfer figures around 80 Mb/s, which I think is about right. Your mileage may vary, of course, and you’d probably get over 100 Mb/s data transfers connecting at 450 Mb/s.

The high data transfer rates will make the N450 of interest to those wanting to stream HD movies over a LAN to a laptop for viewing, but the adaptor needs to be paired with a suitably fast router or access point to get the maximum speed.

Available on-line for around £30. Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the adaptor.

Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti Router with DD-WRT

On review here is Buffalo’s AirStation Nfiniti HighPower dual band wireless-n router and access point with DD-WRT pre-installed, aka WZR-HP-AG300H. I’ve had the AirStation on loan from Buffalo for a couple of months and it’s really rather good.

Buffalo Nfiniti Router

As you can see from the pictures, it’s black and about 18 cm tall, excluding the antennae which swivel and tilt to give the best Wi-fi coverage. The unit can support two 300 Mb/s networks, one in the 2.4 GHz band, the other in the 5 GHz range.

Buffalo Nfiniti Router - rear

Round the back, there a four Gigabit Ethernet ports and as this a router, there’s the extra WAN port (the blue one) for connecting to an Ethernet modem (or hotel network port). There’s a single USB socket too that can used either by a storage device or by a 3G modem. In a nice touch, a USB extension lead is supplied, presumably to get the 3G modem positioned away from the high power antennas.

The supplied AirStation Navigator CD gets the AirStation router up-and-running with the minimum of fuss via a straightforward setup wizard. However, it’s largely superfluous as all the configuration of the AirStation can be done through the web interface. A handy tool on the CD that will find the AirStation on your network and provide the IP address. Once you’ve got that pasted into your web browser, you can access a whole plethora of settings.

DD-WRT Interface

Seriously, there are an awful lot of settings in here, from the usual IP setup through to setting up an advert supported Wi-Fi hotspot. I counted no less than 41 pages of settings and frankly, some of the stuff I had to look up to find out what it was about. Fortunately, you can leave the vast majority of the settings at their defaults and there is a setup assistant to start you off. All the usual features of a wireless router are here and then some. If you do find it all too intimidating, it is possible to flash the firmware back to more typical Buffalo wireless router software.

In use, the AirStation was fire-and-forget. I setup the router a few weeks before Christmas and since then I’ve only had power-cycle the device once, which in my experience is very good. Performance was also good with no problems streaming HD media from a network NAS and QoS settings can prioritise video and gaming traffic over other packets. I had a wide range of devices connected to the AirStation including laptops, Android smartphones, an HP TouchPad and a Nintendo Wii, with no lock-ups or unexpected drops apart from the one mentioned previously.

Using the Android app Wifi Analyzer, the AirStation’s range was a few metres better than my other 11n wireless access point, but whether that was attributable to the “HighPower” or the directional antennas is hard to tell. Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as the extra distance is there.

Overall, this is an excellent wireless router that should be seriously considered by anyone who wants to tweak performance to the max.

The Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti Router is available from the usual retailers for around £80. Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the WZR-HP-AG300H.

Buffalo CloudStation Duo Hands-On Review

On test here is the 2 TB version of Buffalo‘s CloudStation Duo, a RAID-capable NAS with built-in Pogoplug, giving the user their own personal cloud.

Buffalo CloudStation Duo with PogoPlug

The CloudStation Duo is squarely aimed at the prosumer market, both in terms of the hardware and the software on-board. For the hardware, it is equipped with two 1 TB drives and the unit can either be setup as JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) or else RAID 1 in which each disk mirrors the other. Obviously, in RAID configuration, the NAS has only 1 TB of storage available for use.

For the built-in software, there’s a BitTorrent client, Time Machine support and DLNA multimedia server

Buffalo CloudStation Duo with Pogoplug

Those familiar with Buffalo’s LinkStation range will spot that the Buffalo CloudStation (CS-WX) looks identical the LinkStation Duo (LS-WX), albeit with a new CloudStation sticker on the top left of the front panel. Removing the front panel reveals nothing different on the inside either. Two swappable SATA drives, allowing for replacement in the event of failure or upgrade to a larger capacity.

Buffalo CloudStation Duo with Pogoplug Buffalo CloudStation Duo with Pogoplug Rear

Round the back, it’s the same layout as well. The USB port can be used to add additional storage or as a print server (which is also available as part of the “cloud”.)

All of the CloudStation’s functions are controlled by a built-in webserver, so it’s not essential to install any software on a PC. I found the IP address of the CloudStation via my DHCP server’s status table and after I had the IP, it was simply http://…. in a web browser. Setting up the CoudStation is straightforward. On first login, it recognises that the device is uninitialised and asks how the drive is to be setup. I went for RAID 1 which then meant it spent the next few hours building the array. This has to be completed before any new shares can be setup.

The shares (or folders) appear in Windows as any normal folder does, so copying files to the CloudStation is just a case of drag’n’drop.

Anyone who has setup a NAS before will find it all straightforward. The interesting part is the addition of Pogoplug’s personal cloud. To get started with this, simply open http://cloudstation.pogoplug.com/activate/ in any web browser. The website asks what type of CloudStation is connected and then walks through five basic steps to connect the device up, finally checking connectivity at the end.

As you might expect, the website prompts for an email address and password for secure access to the CloudStation via Pogoplug. A confirmatory link is sent via email and once that’s all checked, you’re logged into the CloudStation remotely and you can start using your personal cloud.

Buffalo CloudStation Duo with Pogoplug

And it’s brilliant. I was also able to play music and videos directly in the browser. Here’s a screenshot of it playing a video.

Buffalo CloudStation Duo with Pogoplug Video

And playing a music. You’ll just have to hear the tune in your head.

Buffalo CloudStation with Pogoplug music

The web interface is very comprehensive and you can do more from the internet that you can actually do on the local NAS. For instance, it’s easy to share files and folders with friends and family, which is very handy for photos. You can also share to Facebook, if you are into the social networking scene.

If you have a printer connected to the CloudStation, you can print to it to by sending emails with attachments to a Pogoplug email address. Not a perfect solution, but not bad for the odd occasion. There’s a similar feature that lets you upload files to the CloudStation via email which could be handy at times.

I was also able to gain access from my HP Pre 3 using the Pogoplug app. Similar clients are available for iOS and Android.

There are loads of other features such as the transcoding of video, use of HTML5, bulk downloading of folders and backup from the CloudStation to Pogoplug’s cloud. In fact, there’s too many to mention them all but suffice to say that everything I tried worked well.

To close this review, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the “personal cloud”. I mean, how different can it really be from an ftp site with all your files on it? The revelation for me was the media aspect. Showing photos to friends and family is easy, listening to music from your entire collection is simple and videos can be streamed from home to wherever you are. I love what the the Buffalo CloudStation can offer when combined with Pogoplug.

The Buffalo CloudStation Duo comes in 2 TB and 4 TB variants and is available from all good retailers. Prices on-line suggest typical prices of around £250 and £310 respectively, which is only a small premium over the LinkStation Duo’s prices.

Psst….Buffalo…any chance you’ll offer a firmware upgrade for the LinkStation Duo to convert it to CloudStation Duo? I’d even pay for the upgrade.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the CloudStation.