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With two laptop hard drives inside, the tiny LinkStation Mini fits almost anywhere.
Network-attached storage, or NAS, is one of the dullest—but most underrated—upgrades we can think of. If you’ve got a couple Macs on a network, a single drive can hold documents and stream media without having to leave one Mac on all the time. But the Buffalo LinkStation Mini marries a strong foundation (a choice of RAID 0 or RAID 1) with flirty extras (an online connection that gives access to your kick-ass Clapton collection from anywhere). Although the interface can be quite confusing, once it’s running, the LinkStation Mini adds significant value to a home network.
The NAS comes with a software utility, which essentially just pointed us to the browser-based configuration page. So after plugging the LinkStation Mini into our home network, we set it up in Firefox, as if it were a non-Apple router. The page gives access to the device’s deep features. We toggled between RAID 0, which combines the two 250GB drives for a total of 500GB, and RAID 1, which gives a total of 250GB but writes redundant information on each drive for backup. In one of the few interface highlights, an illustration helped explain the difference between the two.
Other parts of the interface caused confusion. We eventually set up a slick way to access the disk from outside our home network, even on a dynamic IP address. You log into a website provided by Buffalo, and the site contacts the drive without needing to know your home IP address. But the setup was full of ambiguity, making us think we had to register a name and password first, leading to dead ends. We picked our way through other features, such as automated backups, but beginners will likely get confused by some of the options.
Still, our Macs had no trouble finding the shared storage. We streamed music and movies directly through the connection without any problems, even to a wireless MacBook. It took about 15 minutes to transfer 1GB over the air, but with support for up to Gigabit Ethernet, wired transfers move much quicker.While we like the convenience of browser-based administration, the execution occasionally lacks clarity. But once configured, the LinkStation Mini’s usefulness can remind you why you set up a network in the first place.