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Review: Addonics USB NAS adapter

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Addonics USB NAS adapter

We mentioned the Addonics USB NAS adapter in mid-December, and I’ve just finished playing with a review unit. As you can see from the photo, this thing is small! There’s a lot to say about this simple little device, so read on for the whole scoop!

It’s got a USB port, an RJ-45 port, and a small socket for the power cord. Along one side are two status LEDs, and a reset button. It would be great if this thing could be driven by Power-over-Ethernet, but I don’t suppose many home switches and routers include that feature yet. The power adapter itself isn’t too big, and is thankfully not a gigantic wall-wart.

Setup
In the box you get the NAS adapter, a power cable, a short Ethernet cable, a CD, and an instruction pamphlet. A complete user manual is on the CD, though chances are you’ll never need to read it. Using this device is extremely intuitive.

On the CD is also a little Java application, SDisk.jar that you use to locate your NAS adapter the first time. As a Linux user, I was glad to see a plain ol’ JAR file, rather than a Windows executable. I ran the application, and instantly it told me the IP address that had been assigned to my adapter.

Addonics NAS adapter locator

If you don’t have a DHCP server on your network, the NAS adapter will automatically start a built-in DHCP server, and assign itself an address.

Once you have the IP address of the device, simply key that into your web browser. You’ll be prompted for a login — the initial credentials are admin/admin — and then you’ll see the status overview page.

Addonics NAS status screen

Click the Identification link on the left, and you’ll be able to set some basic info for your configuration. You can give the device a friendly name, as well as define the Windows workgroup which will be used. Here, too, you can set a new admin password.

Addonics NAS identification screen

Visit the IP Config link to change the networking parameters. It’s probably best to assign this thing a static IP within your network.

Storage
The installation pamphlet says, somewhat cryptically

Any external USB storage device that you connect to the NAS adapter will initially be required to be formatted. This means, if you are connecting to an external USB drive with data on it, the hard drive will be formatted erasing all information.

That’s not entirely true. I was able to connect both a USB stick and a USB hard drive — both of which were already formatted and contained data. The catch is that none of the data on the media will be available to or through the NAS adapter. When you connect media to the adapter, it creates a PUBLIC directory, which is the default location for the data it presents to the world. If you create a PUBLIC directory first, and stick data in there, and then connect the media to the NAS adapter, it will detect and make available that data.

File Sharing
Click the SMB Server link to define what and how directories are shared to your local network. By default, the PUBLIC directory is made available for read and write operations to the whole world.

Addonics NAS SMB setup

Click the Add button to define a new user. You can assign the user a password, and then specify whether that user should have read-only or read/write access. When you add new users, a new directory is created for that user. Initially, this user only has access to their own directory (using their credentials: the default PUBLIC share should still be accessible to them as a guest user). You can specifically assign access to other directories, if they exist.

Addonics NAS SMB user setup

SMB speeds on my network weren’t stunning, but they were acceptable. I have the NAS adapter plugged directly into my Linksys WRT54G router, to which my laptop is connected via 802.11g.

Addonics NAS transfer status

FTP
The NAS adapter also includes an FTP server, so you can easily share files outside of your local network. You’ll need to set up port-forwarding on your router, but that shouldn’t be too great a hurdle.

Out of the box, the device allows anonymous read-only FTP access to the PUBLIC folder. It’s important to keep this in mind: if you use the PUBLIC share for your local network and then setup port forwarding, anyone in the world can access all of the files in your PUBLIC folder.

Addonics NAS FTP setup

Just like with the SMB server, you can create specific FTP accounts. It’s mildly annoying that SMB accounts don’t automatically become FTP accounts, and vice versa, but that’s not too big a deal. As with the SMB server, FTP accounts create a directory for that account, and by default the account only has access to that directory. If you want an FTP user to have access to the PUBLIC directory, for example, you’ll need to explicitly make that available to the new user.

Addonics NAS FTP account

FTP speeds were as fast as expected. The upload speed on my home DSL line is acceptable, but not wonderful. It took about 8 hours to transfer a 2.2 GB file from me to a friend who uses AT&T’s U-Verse.

Addonics NAS FTP access

Remember, though, that FTP is a plaintext protocol. So anyone who can watch your network packets will see your password as well as the files you’re downloading. If you’re planning to use the Addonics NAS adapter to engage in copyright violation, be aware that it’ll be trivially easy for a snoop at your ISP to identify what files you’re infringing.

Media Server
On the Media Server page you can define the location of directories to share with several external media applications. The page sub-title says “X-BOX360 Media Server”. I don’t have an X-BOX 360 so I couldn’t test this. Basically, you’d select a folder containing photos and make it available to your XBox for display on your television. The same for videos. Neat! The middle option, for a Music Folder, says underneath “Note: support iTunes”.

Addonics NAS media server setup

Unfortunately, I was never able to get iTunes or Rhythmbox to access my music. Both applications saw the Addonics NAS on my network, but neither ever allowed me to access music. iTunes just spun and spun and never connected. Rhythmbox spit out an error almost immediately.

Addonics NAS iTunes access

Addonics NAS iTunes access

Addonics NAS iTunes access with Rythmbox

BitTorrent
Perhaps one of the most interesting features packed into this little NAS adapter is a BitTorrent client. You can define which directory you want downloaded files to be stored — again, the default is PUBLIC — as well as the port to use. You can also specify an upload limit, if you want to throttle how much you share back with the world. The Mail Notification option allows you to receive an email when a torrent has finished downloading.

Addonics NAS BitTorrent screen

You can’t feed the NAS adapter a BitTorrent link, you need to upload an actual torrent file. You can upload more than one file in order to access multiple torrents at once. The lower portion of the screen will show the status of the torrent(s). This page will automatically refresh every couple of seconds to show you the current status of your downloads.

Addonics NAS BitTorrent client

Addonics NAS BitTorrent client

You can pause and resume, as well as stop and remove torrents. You can also get detailed info on the individual torrents you’re downloading by clicking the “Show” button.

Addonics NAS BitTorrent client details

In-progress torrents are stored in a BT directory which, by default, is not shared with any users. You can manually assign access to the BT directory to SMB and FTP users if you want, but there’s no real reason to do so. The torrent chunks are stored inside sub-directories of the BT directory, and when the full file has been downloaded it is moved to the target directory specified on the BitTorrent client page.

There’s one big caveat to know about the NAS adapter’s BitTorrent client: it terminates torrents as soon as it has finished downloading them. This is fine for leechers, but if you’re worried about maintaining a ratio, or just want to do your civic duty to share back the files you’ve snarfed, this is not the client for you. Hopefully a future firmware update might remedy this major shortcoming.

Other Stuff
You can elect to use the NAS adapter as a network print server by plugging in a USB printer. I didn’t try this, as I don’t think it’s the kind of feature for which most people will buy this gadget.

I also didn’t try plugging it into a USB hub. It might work, but I assumed that the NAS adapter wouldn’t know how to expose multiple USB drives connected to the hub. If you buy one of these and connect it to a USB hub, please share your experiences in the comments.

You can remove media from the NAS adapter without disconnecting power. If no media is present, the device will continue to function. This means you can juggle disks or memory sticks on the fly. For example, my Philips DVD player has a USB port and can play a variety of media files from USB media. I can put a USB stick into the Addonics NAS adapter, download some media, and then move the stick to my DVD player.

Bottom Line
For $55, this thing is a winner. It’s small, silent, draws little power and generates little heat. If you want some network storage but don’t want to fuss with a full desktop — or even something like a Linksys NSLU-2 — the Addonics NAS adapter is a great choice.

If you want to be able to access files remotely, or make files available to folks far away, the built in FTP server is super easy to use.

Hopefully future firmware updates will fix the problems I experienced with iTunes, as well as make the BitTorrent client a little more robust. But if those are the only complaints I can make against this $55 gadget, then Addonics is really on to something!

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