Review: 3 NAS devices offer big-time storage for small networks

If your storage needs are heading into terabyte territory, you may want to check out these network-attached storage units.

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Iomega StorCenter ix2 Network Storage

Iomega was once known for its Bernoulli Box and Zip drive -- two devices that offered higher-storage capacities to those unwilling or unable to use tape drives. Today, the company offers the StorCenter ix2, an NAS box available in 1TB ($299) and 2TB ($479) versions.

Iomega's pricing is very competitive with Promise's. The difference is that while Promise offers a hollow NAS box with a "Bring Your Own Disk" feature to keep pricing low, Iomega's StorCenter is populated and ready to run when you unbox it. However, while this makes the StorCenter very simple for the technological newbie, it's a feature that may not appeal to everyone.

To begin with, the box is closed -- it doesn't have a pop-open faceplate as do Promise's SmartStor NS2300N and MicroNet's MaxNAS. It's not completely sealed -- there are four Phillips screws on the back panel -- but you'll have to do real work to get in there if you need to replace one of the disks.

3 NAS devices
Iomega StorCenter ix2

Then there's the upgrade issue. The ix2 supports RAID 1 mirroring (one drive is used for your data, the other "mirrors" its contents) or JBOD ("just a bunch of disks," formally known as spanning -- where the two disks are treated like one large one). In other words, if you're looking for data redundancy, a 1TB ix2 will leave you with 500GB available and a 2TB device with 1TB of free space. If you buy the 1TB unit and then later decide that you need more storage space, you'll have to either stop mirroring the drive or replace one of the disks.

Finally, Iomega's warranty only covers one year -- less than most hard drive warranties. For example, the two 1TB Seagate drives inside the StorCenter ix2 each carried a five-year warranty.

Iomega's software offers the easiest installation routine I've seen. The press release claims there are only four steps to getting the ix2 recognized by your computer -- and, by golly, this is one of the few times I've ever encountered software that lives up to the PR claims.

If you need to access the ix2's information or to change settings in the future, you just click on the "Iomega StorCenter Manager" icon in the Task Bar. Iomega has created an extremely user-friendly environment within the management software: all icon-based with rollover descriptions of what each function can accomplish. Even setting up a printer or a hard disk on the ix2's USB ports is relatively brainless.

As far as performance is concerned, the ix2 was the Momma Bear of the three NAS units tested. It was considerably slower than MicroNet's MaxNAS during writes but faster during reads. It was faster than Promise's SmartStor in both reads and writes, whether it was streaming video in the background or not.

I don't like Iomega's warranty, considering it's selling a basically sealed unit. However, considering the price and performance points of the ix2, it gets a recommendation for mainstream SOHO or bottom-tier SMB applications.

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