Gadget speak

Storage is becoming more important in our home lives. This week, E&T compares the offerings from two networking specialists.

Networking specialists

Cisco Linksys Media Hub Vs ReadyNAS Duo

Most households own more than one computer. Therefore the centralised home server is now coming into its own - particularly as broadband is now capable of delivering a myriad of different types of multimedia content.

You could opt for a single external backup drive, but then you will only be able to connect it to one computer at any one time. Another option would be to invest in a Windows Home Server or a specialised media server. But these are essentially NAS drives with a few bells and whistles attached which you may not need.

Think of a NAS (network attached storage) drive as an external hard drive for your entire wired or wireless network - and there are now a few drives which are optimised for homes rather than businesses.

Ready, set, go...

Netgear's ReadyNAS Duo can hold from 500GB to 1.5 terabytes of music, movies, photos and even software to be shared around your home. This also includes media streaming devices such as Logitech's Squeezebox media player.

Additionally, the device will allow you to plug in a USB printer to allow any PC, wired or wireless, to print to it. The device also schedules simple backups to give your data a good level of automated protection.

But even IT professionals find networking an arduous task. Therefore the challenge for Netgear was to ensure that this device would be simple enough for the non-technically-minded consumer to operate, and they are almost there. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of our readers, the set-up process will be easy, with the ReadyNAS Duo up and running in 15 minutes.

But simplicity does not mean it's not powerful. There is an inbuilt BitTorrent client which will allow you to download torrents without keeping your main computer switched on. The device is also UPnP (universal plug 'n' play) compliant allowing it to be recognised by Windows Media Player as a device on your network to play multimedia content. For iTunes and Mac fans, the device also has a built-in iTunes server which allows you to centralise your iTunes content across your network.

The device itself has two bays which will allow the user to set up a simple Raid 1 configuration where the contents of the first drive will be backed up and mirrored on the second drive. However, you will not be able to combine the capacities of both drives into one - otherwise known as Raid 0. Therefore, be sure to buy more capacity than you think you need because there will be no spare expansion bays - although you could connect an external drive via the three USB slots.

Another plus point is the fact that the drives are hot- swappable, which means that you can take them out and exchange for another one without powering down the device - although I would always recommend that you power off if you are able to do so.

The Cisco kid

The Cisco Linksys Media Hub features a 1.8in colour LCD display which shows the device's status. This gives you the advantage of being able to monitor the device without logging into the browser-based interface with a computer.

The display will illustrate various connected devices and check the usage or remaining capacity of your drives with colour pie charts.

Like the ReadyNAS Duo, installation is simple. The installation DVD will walk you through the process and, in this sense, it is even simpler than the ReadyNAS.

The device comes with a handy backup program, NTI's Shadow Tool for Windows, that is setup to backup the contents of your computer's documents folder - you can set it up to backup other folders if you wish.

At the end of the initial installation, you are prompted to perform a scan to search for compatible media in any number of locations to add to the device's library. The browser-based media interface is very sophisticated and allows you to catalogue your multimedia content.

For example, you can arrange music according to album, artist, track etc. Like the ReadyNAS, it also features UPnP. However, your files still need to be played through a computer's media player, such as Quicktime or Windows Media Player.

The chassis features two bays which, unlike the ReadyNAS, are not hot swappable. However, it does feature an inbuilt media card slot which accepts CF, SD and micro-SD memory cards. The device is small and discrete, but not as sturdy as the ReadyNAS.

Overall, both devices performed admirably, but the ReadyNAS gets top marks with the Linksys device a very close second. The Linksys fails with its slightly less sturdy feel and the difficulty in swapping out the drives. However, it beats Cisco with the handy LCD display.

This issue

Tried and tested data recovery...

Several months ago, I moved house - and just like everyone who faces this upheaval, my usual routine was significantly disrupted - such as my fastidious rule of regularly backing up the data on my Maxtor Shared Storage II shared drive.

One issue in my new home was a dodgy consumer unit with an RCD switch that tripped several times a day. Initially, I undertook all the necessary steps to ensure that it wasn't one of my devices causing this. In the end, I had to call an electrician (NICEIC qualified and approved) who changed the switch and resolved the problem.

But the constant sudden loss of power already had dire consequences for my NAS device. One evening, I turned the power on after the RCD switch tripped and it started to emit a repetitious clicking noise. This is known in data storage circles (they do exist) as the click of death. Needless to say, it renders the data on the disc unreadable.

Is there a remedy? Not according to Seagate. But I was 'helpfully' referred to one of their data recovery partners who quoted approximately £700 to recover it. The data was not worth that much so I looked at other options.

There are stories of users in similar circumstances who have managed to temporarily restore the use of their hard drive using what you might call unconventional methods. One such method is to put the drive in a freezer compartment - I kid you not. Since I had written the data off, I decided to try it.

That evening, I removed the Seagate drive from the NAS enclosure, wrapped it in two carrier bags to prevent condensation, and placed it in the bottom compartment of my fridge freezer. The following morning, I took out the drive and placed it back into the NAS enclosure.

It worked, but not knowing how long it would continue to function, I already had my laptop connected to it with a category 6 Ethernet - the fastest cable you can get - and immediately identified my critical data and transferred it to my computer.

This took about ten minutes. Once the process finished, I decided to leave the device on. It lasted another 20 minutes before it started to click again. A quick test concluded that the data on it was not accessible again. But at least I had recovered my data.

Since then, I have added two layers of backup. I now have the Maxtor drive set to mirror data on one drive to another. Just in case I suffer any more power outages, I have it connected to an uninterruptible power supply which supplies enough backup power to allow the device to power down when it automatically detects that it is not receiving juice from the mains.

So I've got the belt and braces, but that still isn't enough for me. I have a third external drive which I connect and back up the data once a week. This drive is now stored in my secure fireproof safe upstairs. Some would say that I should really store this offsite. I won't comment on this advice - just in case I am tempting fate again.

Technology clinic

Ethernet transfer

In the Vol 4 #11 issue, you published a letter from Keith Bridges commenting that his 100Mb Ethernet only transferred data at 11Mbps at best. Your answer - to upgrade to gigabit Ethernet, which may well be the practical answer - seems like a brute-force-and-ignorance approach. I am from the older generation that was perfectly happy with RS232 serial communication, but Ethernet seems to belong to what I call the Microsoft era - where everything is a black art that only a privileged few understand.

Can you please explain why a 100Mb Ethernet can only transfer data at 11Mb? I understand that the user data is packetised to allow error-correction and multiplexing, and that this causes an overhead, but I would be very unimpressed if that were greater than 10 per cent. Yet it appears, from Keith's figures, that it takes 89 per cent of the capacity, which seem ludicrous! There was some excuse on the original thin-wire coax where many users could all talk at once, and so collisions occurred requiring re-transmission. But these days, everything seems to be point-to-point UTP, so is the inefficiency perhaps down to monstrously inefficient routers?

Peter Vince, West London

It is a problem with the wireless routers. But, then again, most of them are primarily designed to optimise home wireless networks rather than wired networks. What you rarely get on even modern 802.11n routers is gigabit ports, jumbo frames ability and the ability to set capacities or priorities on each individual switch.

Yes, they may have a few ports in the back, but the multimedia requirements of home users are growing with the transfer of multimedia files around the home. Routers are struggling to keep up. Until consumer networking devices do catchup, brute force solutions are the order of the day. 

3D TV

I understand that Channel 4 and Sky will be broadcasting shows in 3D soon. What types of lenses would we need to watch this? Would we need the red/green lenses of yesteryear or the modern ones you wear these days in the cinema?

David Cheeseman

Channel 4 is running a special season of 3D programming this autumn and you will need anaglyphic (red and green lenses) to watch these programmes.

However, Sky's system is an identical process to modern 3D cinema. Therefore, you will need the special polarised lenses. Additionally, you will need a compatible TV. Typically, this will be an HD television set with at least 100 Hertz on the PAL standard. The service is not expected to go live until early next year.

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