Maxtor Shared Storage Plus NAS box
An easy-to-use networked back-up drive for home or the office
Review With more and more data ending up on your PC, from your music collection to your photo library, not to mention work and applications, it's more important than ever to keep your computer backed up. Hard drives fail, they get dropped, they get nicked. Most of us would be made pretty miserable if our data went up the Swanee too...
All well and good, but is there an easy way of protecting all this valuable information? Size is an issue, of course - with ever increasing hard drives sizes, it can be hard to find a suitably capacious back-up archive, especially if you make changes on a daily basis.
This is where the Maxtor Shared Storage Plus (SSP) comes in. On the surface it seems just another network-attached-storage box, but thanks to some clever software and an easy-to-use interface, Maxtor has made its product much more accessible than most rival NAS boxes. It might not be the most secure solution out there - it's only using a single hard drive - but that makes it affordable and ideal for home or SOHO use. You can set up multiple user accounts, so it can be used by several users, each with his or her own private folders.
The unit looks like many of Maxtor's older OneTouch external hard drives, but the case is much longer. The chassis is made out of aluminium and it feels very solid. It's supplied with a plastic stand for space-saving vertical mounting. Around the back is a 10/100Mbps Ethernet connector and two USB ports.
Alas, the USB connectors can't be used for PC connectivity. They're for attaching printers or USB storage devices. I hooked up my Canon i865 printer, and the two computers I have at home could both use it perfectly. But make sure you check the Maxtor website for printer compatibility as not all USB printers are guaranteed to work with the SSP, and printer sharing only works under Windows.
You can also use the SSP for streaming music, photos and video over your network to compatible devices, but the player has to support the UPnP Digital Media Adapter specification or it won't work. The good news for Mac users is that the SSP is compatible with OS X, although as I don't own a Mac I can't vouch for how well it works.
Anyone purchasing the Shared Storage Plus as a back-up device will be glad to know that it allows you to make incremental back-ups as well as full-disk runs. You can specifiy the exact time and day of the week the back-up process will kick in. If you're using a laptop and a desktop you can also set the SSP to synchronise the data on the two machines so you always have the most up-to-date copies of files on both computers. You have to have both devices connected to the SSP at the same time.
It's fairly easy to set up the SSP, which grabs an IP address from your router or assign itself one. You run the setup utility on the CD on a networked computer which will then locate the drive on your network and allow you to set up shared folders. The same utility is used to launch the SimpleView back-up software and this gives you the ability to select what you want to backup. However, one annoying thing is that all the folders you've selected for back-up have their Windows icons embossed with a small circle and a tick mark. I don't mind the application telling me this, but I don't need to see it in Windows too.
A downside with the hardware is that the fan noise can be irritating if you're sitting close to the drive. It's not loud, but the whine is insistent. If the drive remains inactive for a period of time, it will power down to conserve energy.
I was also concerned by the fact that the SSP only comes with a one-year warranty. With most desktop drives now shipping with a three- or even a five-year warrany, you can't help but wonder about how safe your data really is on the SSP.
The SSP comes in three different sizes: 200, 300 and 500GB, with the 200GB model featuring an 8MB cache while the 300 and 500GB models having 16MB. Maxtor sent over a 500GB for review and this offers enough space for just about every hard drive out there bar the new 750GB job from Seagate
Performance is limited by the Ethernet port and hopefully Maxtor will add a Gigabit interface on the next model - which might carry the Seagate brand. If you're backing up large volumes of data, it's best to leave them running over night, but once you've done it once, you can use the incremental option to restrict the process to files that have been changed since the last back-up.
The Maxtor Shared Storage Plus is an excellent NAS box that has been designed for ease of use. It might not have as many features as other SOHO NAS boxes, like the Freecom FSG-3 Storage Gateway, but you can pick up the 500GB model for a fairly reasonable £250 if you shop around, which is half the price of Freecom's 500GB model.
As a simple network-friendly back-up drive, you'll have a hard time finding something that is cheaper and offers the same ease of use. It's not going to suit anyone needing a business-critical system as it lacks RAID protection - you'll lose your data if the drive fails. For the rest of us, it's nonetheless a better option than no back-up at all. ®