The units are neatly designed in the glossy black-and-silver that's currently flavour of the month for Linksys’ consumer products. It stands about 20cm high, 11.3cm wide and 16.3cm deep, so you can sit it on your desk or on a shelf without it taking up too much room. The internal fan makes a worryingly loud noise when you first turn the power on, but quickly calms down to an unobtrusive hum.
It's loud when it starts up, but it soon settles down
They also have a small LCD screen on the front that displays information such as the amount of space used by music, photos and video files. We found that we barely looked at the screen during our tests, so you can save some money by buying the 500GB NMH305 model, which omits the LCD display and comes in at a more affordable £300.
One handy feature is a button on the top of the Hub. This pops open the lid of the unit to reveal a spare drive bay so that you can quickly drop in a second hard disk to add some more storage. The Media Hub supports RAID 1 ‘mirroring’ mode to store identical copies of your files on each drive. That’s the only RAID configuration available, and the drives aren’t hot-swappable in the event of drive failure. But at least RAID 1 gives you the option of providing some extra protection for your important files.
The only real omission from the hardware is the lack of an HDMI interface that would allow you to play your files on an HD TV. This means that playback has to be done primarily through computers on your home network. The Media Hub does support both UPnP and DLNA networking, though, so you can also play your files through other devices which also support these standards, such as an Xbox 360, PS3 or Nokia N95.
Setting up the Media Hub is fairly straightforward for PC owners, as Linksys includes an installer program that guides you through the process one step at a time, sets up a password and then copies all your files onto the Hub. By default, the installer program simply copies the contents of the ‘My Documents’ folder on the Media Hub, but you can specify different folders if you want. After the initial transfer of files the Media Hub software continually monitors those folders and automatically updates the Media Hub whenever the content of the folders changes. It took us about two hours to copy 20GB of music and video files over Ethernet wiring. Linksys says that it's working on a Mac version of the installer for future release.
Pop the lid to add an extra HDD
Once you’ve gone through the initial installation, the Media Hub can then be used by anyone on your network – regardless of their computer or operating system – simply by opening their web browser and typing ‘mediahub’ in the browser’s address bar. As well as accessing files on your home network you can also connect to the Media Hub across the internet by logging into the Media Hub web site and using the password that you created during the initial set-up process.
Further proof, if any were needed ...
... that this device is too damned expensive, today I ordered:
- 1x IcyBox IB-NAS4200-B (£97 inc.VAT)
- 2x WD 'Green' 1Tb drives (£80 each inc.VAT) - could have had SeaCrates for slightly less, but after an interesting incident with a bricked Barracuda that was a road I wasn't prepared to travel.
Delivery costs came to about £15 as I used two different suppliers, so we're looking at £270-ish for a 1Tb NAS solution with gigabit ethernet and RAID capability that pulls around 27W at full load (see: http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/storage/2009/02/01/icy-box-ib-nas4220-b-network-storage/4) - not too shabby.
Certainly better than paying a £70-80 premium for the Cisco name and a pretty looking LCD-type display.
Additional - ICYBOX - Hint
Where as I'm a great fan of the ICYBOX, I would urge caution when 'hacking' it. If you leave it 'as is' (albeit with the supported downloads on the Raidsonic site), it works like a charm. For those that want to 'hack' it, make sure you know what you are doing (and have a good understanding of Linux [BusyBox]) - unlike this muppet typing this, I'm sure you'd get more out of it. For me, I'm crap at Linux and have since given up on adding extra things to it (shame really, but as a vanilla box, it's awesome!)
My experience with Cisco Linksys is similar.
I bought a WRT54G years ago, and it was great. The stock firmware was fine and there's numerous 3rd-party firmwares for it. (I have DD-WRT on mine.)
Bought one more recently (ver 5). Useless! The firmware was so buggy, it'd crash within hours, AND scramble the settings! It was nice, you'd power it back up and it STILL wouldn't come back up without hooking ethernet up and resetting the settings on it. Right after Cisco bought Linksys, they stripped the fully-functional Linux firmware, cut the RAM and ROM in half, and put in a barely-working version 1.00.00 firmware. Why they didn't at least get the hideous bugs out first, I don't know. I returned it!
I think they still sell them. I don't know how the stock firmware is, but there's a special extra-small DD-WRT version for it I guess. But, if you're running 3rd-party frimware anyway, the WRT is like twice as expensive as competitors (since Cisco cut RAM and ROM, but not the price.)
Cisco Linksys - we don't need no stinking customers!
I have a couple of Linksys Media Center Extenders (a DMA2100 and a DMA2200). The DMA2100 is a great little box at it's current "street price" of ~$100, but the only support from you'll get from Linksys is to have your posts on the Linksys forums deleted if you suggest that Cisco doesn't give a damn about supporting these products.
They have moderators that actually read the forums editing or deleting posts that they don't like, but in the 2 months that I checked the forums out on a regular basis, I never once saw any of these moderators actually answer any questions.
There are a couple of small firmware changes that these devices need (support for "magic packet" WOL, Divx fourcc tweaks, some aspect ratio consistency between differnt codecs) to make a good device better, and a couple of slightly more involved changes (support for multiple pairings, much shorter boot time - 90 seconds, wtf?). But good luck getting a response from Linskys/Cisco admitting that these flaws even exist, never mind that they'll do anything about them.
The bottom line is that Cisco/Linksys seems to still have some pretty good engineers creating their products, but the beancounters won't spend the money needed to make the products great. Those little niggely bits spoil the whole effect.
For a box that may be always on, it would be a good idea to include the power consumption in the review. And no, the Linksys product page does not include this in the specs either, which is not a good sign.