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Hard Disk Storage The USB 2.0/IP way All about the newest way to boost your PC and network storage capacity

Hard Disk Storage The USB 2.0/IP way
All about the newest way to boost your PC and network storage capacity


Hard disks are getting larger and larger (an 80GB hard disk is now an entry-level device), but the process of installing a new internal hard disk hasnt changed much in the last couple of years. As I discuss in detail in Chapter 14 of my book, Upgrading and Repairing PCs, 15th Anniversary Edition, a desktop drive upgrade requires you to:

  • open up your system
  • locate an empty ATA or Serial ATA data connector jumper an ATA hard disk as master, slave or cable select (you don't need to do this for a Serial ATA drive)
  • install the drive into a drive bay
  • attach power and data cables to the drive
  • prepare the hard disk with the operating system

The process is a bit different for internal portable computer hard disks, as I discuss in detail in Chapter 9 of my new book Upgrading and Repairing Laptops, but it still requires you to open up the system as well as copy data from the old drive to the new drive before swapping drives.

These processes are still the most cost-effective ways to add storage needed in a single desktop or notebook computer system. However, if you need to add storage to your network or use portable storage you can move from system to system, an internal drive is not the best bet. Sharing an internal drive on the network can compromise the security of your system, and you cant move an internal drive easily to another system.

To meet the growing need for portable storage and network-ready storage, a new breed of external hard disks with network capabilities are now available. In this article, you will learn about the features, performance and limitations of these drives. This information will help you determine if this type of drive might be in your upgrade future.

Network Storage + Hi-Speed USB = More Versatility

Network attached storage (NAS) isnt a new idea. Workgroup and larger networks have had the capability for several years, using products such as Snap Appliances Snap Server line, HP StorageWorks NAS, and Iomega NAS. However, most of these solutions are designed for management by network professionals and have hefty prices that start at around $1,000.

Similarly, external drives which use Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0) interfaces are no longer exotic. Drive vendors such as Western Digital and Maxtor offer a variety of models, some of which also feature IEEE-1394a ports, and many third party vendors also offer such drives.

What is new is the notion of combining direct network connection with an external drive in a package designed and priced for home-office networks and users.

Some of the early products offering network storage and direct USB connection include Ximetas NetDisk and Iomegas Network Hard Drive.

Drive Capacities

Iomegas Network Hard Drive is available in two capacities:

  • 120GB (around $300)
  • 250GB (around $430)

Ximetas NetDisk is available in four capacities:

  • 80GB (around $150)
  • 120GB (around $200)
  • 160GB (around $250)
  • 250GB (around $400)

Both vendors use 7,200RPM 3.5-inch hard disks with around 9ms access time for all drive capacities listed. Ximeta also offers a 40GB NetDisk Mini version, based on 2.5-inch Seagate Momentus 5,400 RPM hard disk technology for a smaller, easier to carry form factor. It sells for around $250. Iomega has licensed Ximetas NetDisk software for its Network Hard Drive products, so Ximeta and Iomega drives work in an almost identical fashion.

Low-Priced, but Not Quite a True NAS Storage Device

NAS storage devices are pricy, but they allow all network users transparent read/write access to their drives. This is not true of the Ximeta NetDisk or Iomega Network Hard Disk drives when they are connected directly to a network switch. With these drives, you must install disk administration software on each computer. The software is used to access the drives, to determine the drives status and to switch the drive from read to read-write status. All users can access the drive when configured for read-only access, but only one user at a time can write to the drive. Color-coded indicators in the client software indicate the drives status and enable the user to request write access. Unfortunately, its possible that one user could tie up the drive and prevent other users from writing to the drive.

Although these drives are far less expensive than a true NAS, the extra effort required for read-write access is a major barrier to transparent use. Ximeta is currently developing a multi-write update to its client software. If you use a Pentium 4 processor with Hyper-Threading technology, you should download the latest version of NetDisk from the Ximeta website. Iomega has not announced plans for multi-write support, but this might be available after Ximeta develops their solution, because Iomega has licensed Ximeta technology.

Both Ximeta and Iomega drives support mirroring or aggregation (a single drive letter used to access multiple drives) with the included client software.

Both drives work in full read/write mode when connected to the Hi-Speed USB or USB 1.1 ports on desktop or portable computers. Thus, these drives are best characterized as portable hard disks with a secondary network storage capability.

Differences Between the Products

Although the basic functions of the Ximeta and Iomega drives are similar, there are differences in compatibility. Iomega does not support wireless access points or routers: it supports only 100MHz Ethernet or USB 1.1/2.0 port connections. Ximetas NetDisk can be used with most 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g wireless routers (it recommends 802.11a or 802.11g for best performance) as well as with 100MHz Ethernet and USB 1.1/2.0 port connections. NetDisk includes Windows and Mac OS software, while Network Hard Disk is for Windows only.

The software bundle is also different:

Iomegas Network Hard Drives include

  • Administrator software
  • Iomega Automatic Backup for network or USB-based backup (backups are cached until the network drive is set for write access)
  • Symantec Norton Ghost 2003 for drive imaging via USB
  • MusicMatch Jukebox for creating and managing MP3
  • Adobe PhotoShop SE for managing and sharing digital photos.

Ximetas NetDisk drives include

  • Administrator software
  • NetDisk automatic backup software (can be downloaded from Ximetas website if not included with drive)

Rivals and Alternatives

If youre less concerned about USB 2.0 connectivity than about low-cost network storage, you might want to consider these alternatives:

  • Buffalo LinkStation Network Storage Center: 120GB hard disk, built-in print server, support for additional Hi-Speed USB external hard disk, MAC OS and Windows compatible, 10/100 Ethernet (around $330; http://www.buffalotech.com)
  • Mirra Personal Server 1.1: 80GB or 120GB broadband and LAN file sharing, automatic backup and remote access service (around $400-80GB; $500-120GB; http://www.mirra.com)

If youre mainly concerned about USB 2.0 connectivity now with an upgrade to network connectivity in the future, consider the AcomData (http://www.acomdata.com) RocketPod product line. The DrivePod Hi-Speed USB hard disks are available in 120GB (around $200) and 160GB (around $230) capacities, and future DockPod (Spring 2004) and NASPod (Summer 2004) products are designed to create a multiple-drive configuration with network access.


Combining Hi-Speed USB and Ethernet interfacing is a great idea, but if you need multiple read/write access to network storage, youre not going to be satisfied with the current devices on the market. However, if Ximeta is successful in developing a driver update that supports that capability, the picture could change considerably.

The current products work acceptably well for light-duty networking, but you might want to consider using a conventional Hi-Speed USB drive and sharing it over the network if you want portable access to your data and read/write network capabilities.


Ximeta NetDisk


Hard Extreme

Toms Networking

BuffaloTech LinkStation Network Storage Center

NetworkWorld Fusion

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