Freecom FSG-3 Storage Gateway
More than your average NAS box
Review Network Attached Storage - NAS for short - has become immensely popular of the last couple of years, especially as hard drive sizes have increased and prices have come down. Consumer-oriented devices have been around for some time now, but most of them have been fairly basic units that you attach to an existing network. The Freecom FSG-3 Storage Gateway is so much more than just such a dumb NAS box...
Just by taking a look at the box you realise that the FSG-3 differs from other NAS products by having an integrated three-port Ethernet router - the fourth port is for the broadband connection. This is great for users of cable modems, but it isn't as useful for someone with ADSL that might already have a router - it's usually quite tricky to set up a router behind another router. The front and the rear of the FSG-3 have each been kitted out with two USB ports, while the rear also has an eSATA connector. This allows for extra storage to be connected as well as a supported USB printer - a full list of compatible units can be found on Freecom's website.
The hardware inside the FSG-3 is impressive. It's powered by a 266MHz Intel XScale ARM9 processor with 64MB of RAM. The 4MB of Flash memory is the home to the FSG-3's Linux operating system. Upgrades for the FSG-3 can be downloaded from a dedicated website which also has a support forum for users. The hard drive in the model on test was 160GB - the smallest version available - but Freecom offers models with up to 500GB of unformatted storage capacity.
The design of the FSG-3 is rather nice, at least in comparison with other NAS boxes. The grey metal casing has rounded corners and a large round power button with a blue backlight. There's a row of status lights on the front alongside a small button labelled unplug, which should be pressed before USB devices are removed. The bottom of the FSG-3 has two large rubber feet and the top has two cut-outs into which other Freecom drives of the FHD-3 series fit, for neat stacking.
Please note that the retail drives have an eSATA connector, not a standard SATA connector as on the picture
Two stands are also supplied in the box, one to stand the FSG-3 on its side and one for mounting it on a wall. You also get a power adaptor and a network cable.
Installing the FSG-3 starts off easy: plug in the power then connect the FSG-3 to the network by cable and you're pretty much done. However, from here on in things get a bit tricky - now you have to configure the FSG-3. Freecom supplies a utility on the CD which will find the FSG-3 on your network and this then allows for some basic parameters, such as IP address and DNS settings, and from there on in you have to access the FSG-3&'s web interface.
The layout of the web interface is good, but once you need to access the more advanced settings, it gets quite complicated all too quickly. The FSG-3 allows for user groups and user accounts to be created, and each user is given their own share on the hard drive. This share can be limited, but by default there is no limit to the amount of space allocated to each account.
In its shipping state, the FSG-3 has a built-in FTP server, Apache web server with SSL encryption, print server, file server and an SPI firewall. Download the latest beta firmware version and you also get a streaming media server which does both music and video, as well as an email server and an SQL server. There's also support for UPnP, VPN pass-through and dynamic DNS addresses to mention just some of the additional features.
Indeed, it's quite amazing how much Freecom has managed to squeeze into such a small box. The FTP server was a doodle to set up, although my ADSL router wouldn't let the traffic through and doesn't have a DMZ setting. I also got it working with my Canon i865 printer, the only problem here is that only computers connected to the FSG-3 in a network can access the printer. However, I couldn't get it to work with my external 2.5in hard drive, nor my Crucial Gizmo! USB key.
Freecom seems to be working hard on releasing new firmware for the FSG-3, and there are still features that aren't quite there yet, but considering that the SRP for the Freecom FSG-3 starts at £230 (you can find it cheaper online) it's not a bad piece of kit.
The Freecom FSG-3 is an affordable NAS box, particularly for users interested in the extra server functionality that the FSG-3 has on offer compared to similar devices. It's not a product for the non-technical, and it's certainly not the best option for consumers looking for a simple box for copying files back and forth between computers. But the FSG-3 is entirely suitable for the home or small office, especially if you have several people that need to have easy access to each others files, on site or off site. ®