Over the past two years a rapid fall in the price of hard disks prices, combined with a big increase in their capacity, means that more tech enthusiasts are now adopting the kind of storage technologies that were once restricted to business.
NAS (Network Attached Storage) and servers are the two main contenders for those looking to store very large amounts of data on a home network that can be accessed locally or remotely, while offering a decent level of redundancy, in case things go slightly awry.
The two storage solutions address slightly different markets, however: NAS devices only appeared relatively recently, and are characterised by the fact that they are generally transportable and can be connected easily to any network.
It stands out from most NAS devices we've seen before for good reasons. Its front fascia is aesthetically pleasing, tastefully merging gray and white.
It comes by default with 2TB onboard storage, in the form of two 1TB hard disks, that can be configured either as RAID1, JBOD or RAID0. The drives are also ‘hot-swappable’.
LG has judiciously built in a DVD burner, card reader, LCD display and even a USB port.
The N2R1 is also accessible remotely via the web, thanks to a nifty web interface. It supports all major platforms, can act as a network print server, is certfied by the Digital Living Network Alliance, and comes with two-year warranty.
The latest firmware update (available here) adds access to the Microserver via Apple’s iOS, which means you can access the server using an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch. It also adds multi-printer support, improved SAMBA support, a BitTorrent client and much more.
As for servers, HP released a smaller-than-average model earlier this year as part of its Proliant range, aptly called the Microserver. The cheapest model on the market, the N36L can be had for as little as £172.07 (£222.07 from here followed by £50 cashback from there).
Unlike a NAS, the N36L is a ‘proper’ computer, including a processor and plenty of room for expansion. The N36L packs a dual-core AMD Athlon II processor, 1GB RAM, a 160GB hard disk drive, support for four non-’hot-swappable’ hard disks, as well as space for an optical drive. It also includes one gigabit Ethernet port and two expansion slots.
Most importantly, the N36L combines some high-end server features such as onboard RAID, error checking and correction (ECC) memory and a security lock with some decidedly home-friendly ones: it’s small size, quiet, and consumes much less power than a standard server.
In addition, you’ll be able to plug in a monitor, a USB keyboard and a USB mouse together with an additional external hard disk drive (it has an eSATA port), and still have four free USB ports.
If you want to get going quickly with your new storage device, there’s no contest. NAS devices are build to run out of the box, and the LG N2R1 is no exception. It comes with pretty much everything you might look for in a storage device, but you WILL need an external "master" PC to access it - although some of its features (such as being able to copy files from a memory card to the onboard storage) can be used without a PC.
For users with more demanding needs, a more powerful version of the LG NAS is available. The N2B1 comes with a faster processor and a Blu-ray writer that can archive up to 50GB worth of data per disc, all for just £194.99.
The HP Proliant Microserver is also an attractive option, but it does require a bit of tinkering in order to get it up and running. For a start, you’ll have to install an operating system before you can use it. It also comes with just one hard disk - and the lack of a hot-swapping option for the disks is something that some users will not be able to overlook (though we’ve seen reports that hot-swapping works with the appropriate driver support). Yet because it’s a fully working computer, it’s infinitely more flexible than the LG NAS.
The HP features AMD’s RS785E motherboard chipset, which includes a built-in Radeon HD4200 graphics module. It can therefore decode HD content and play 1080p without breaking a sweat or bringing the Athlon II processor to its knees.
Add a free operating system such as Ubuntu Linux, grab four 2TB hard disk drives for £302, and you can enjoy a garguantuan 8TB worth of storage for less than £500.