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Discovering More Ways to Share on Your Windows Network

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Discover three must-have accessories for your network if you want to seriously share files, printers, and media. Find out how to improve the mundane file and printer sharing methods offered free by Windows, in order to make them more convenient and dependable. See how easy it is to share those digital photos you have stored away on your computer with everyone.
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In the previous part of this article series, we discovered how you could improve your network (and pocketbook) with VoIP and Wi-Fi phones, keep an eye on employees using network cameras, and display your digital photos and video in digital photo frames.

Now it’s time to uncover accessories you can use on your network to make sharing files, printers, and media easier—and more exciting!

Network Storage Drives

Network storage drives, technically called Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, provide a central place to store your files and gives you 24/7 access, rather than having to rely on computers to be up and running to access shared files. This is because they connect directly to your network via an ethernet or wireless connection. If you have multiple computers on your network, you’ll probably find these drives to be helpful. Save time in troubleshooting sharing issues between your computers, gain backup capabilities for all your PCs, and get the convenience of remotely accessing your files when away.

When looking through the shelves or browsing online, you’ll see two different types of NAS devices. The more common type is network storage enclosures, which typically come without drives or storage space. Figure 1 shows an example of this type. Depending upon the included features, you can insert your own (SATA or IDE) hard drives into the drive bays, connect USB drives, or slide in media cards such as SD and Memory Stick. Also available are network storage drives, which are basically the same type of device but are already loaded with a drive. These products can be useful for consumers, but occasionally are not as customizable or as easy to upgrade with more disk space than storage enclosures.

TRENDnet’s 2-Bay SATA I/II Network Storage Enclosure (TS-S402)

Similar to accessing shared folders on the computers of your network, the files and data contained on NAS devices are available on the Network or My Network Places window of Windows. However, most NAS devices offer two other ways to access your documents: through a web browser interface and via File Transfer Protocol (FTP) connections, either locally or over the Internet.

Another common feature among NAS devices is back-up capabilities. Either with software you install on your computers or via settings on the NAS drive, you can schedule periodic or real-time backups of your computers. That way, if a PC becomes infected or unusable, you still have your important files and documents.

Some NAS devices have a print server feature where you can plug a printer into its USB port and share it among all your computers. This type of functionally is built into Windows for printers that are attached to PCs; however, print servers don’t require any PC to be booted up in order to print. This is similar to the difference between sharing folders in Windows and using a NAS device. Standalone print servers cost between $50–$100, so you may want to keep your eye out for NAS devices with a built-in server.

When shopping around for NAS devices, you’ll find the simplest products around $50. You should find 1- and 2-bay enclosures (without drives) from $110–$170. NAS drives with 500GB storage run anywhere from $140–$200 and $270–$350 for 1TB drives. High-performance NAS devices for high user applications can run $500+, along with the Windows Home Server.

When you’re ready to look around, here are several NAS products to get you on a good start:

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