Tech Talk: Updating my home office network – Part 2

 

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(Image courtesy Amazon.com user Y. Chang)

Got a little sidetracked here lately with life so I didn’t get a chance to yap about setting up my new NAS (network-attached storage). Jump back a few posts to catch the details of how I arrived at this particular setup, and forge on to hear my thoughts on how it all worked out.

The drives and DNS-323 unit all showed up as scheduled and installation was just as easy as I had read about elsewhere on the net. For less than $350, I got a 2 TB network storage box! (Future buyers note that the prices of the drives & DNS-323 have since increased a bit since I ordered mine, which is why it pays to shop around and keep an eye on stuff.)

The biggest snafu with my setup is that I don’t have gigabit Ethernet. (Hit that link if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) There are basically three flavors of Ethernet: slow (10 Mbps), faster (100 Mbps) and fastest (1,000 Mbps). As you can probably guess, gigabit refers to the fastest type. I had upgraded to a newer Airport Extreme router when they were introduced in January, 2006, and those models didn’t have gigabit ports like the DNS-323. Not a huge problem, but it meant that my NAS was now going to transfer files slower than it was capable of.

How slow? I clocked about 3 MB per second, or roughly 25 minutes for a 4.4 GB DVD disc image. Not fantastic, but it was enough to stream a feature film to my home theatre downstairs with almost no hiccups. But I wanted to do this thing right, so grudgingly, I ponied up for the newer model of Airport Extreme, one that does feature gigabit Ethernet ports. Transferring the same DVD disc image now took more like 10 minutes, which is a pretty big improvement, and movies play with zero hiccups. (I’ve read reports on the D-Link user forums about folks getting like 23 MB per second transfer rates, so I think I need to investigate further.)

So what’s the purpose of a box like this? In my case, I can take discs from my DVD collection that get a lot of play, rip them to the server and have them available to watch anywhere in the house. (Imagine the complete SEINFELD TV series, every episode available to watch at the click of a button!) DVD VOB files are playable on my Archos 5 player (with the optional Cinema plug-in), the PlayStation 3 (although it won’t join multiple files seamlessly like the Archos will), the cheap HP PC I have jacked into my home theatre and even the Apple TV when hacked to use the open-source Boxee or XBMC. (More on that in my next post.)

From a more practical and business-minded standpoint, having 2 TB of storage hooked into my network means I can keep a lot of files in one place and access them from all of the computers in my home office. For instance, I have a 160 GB hard drive full of sound effects that I’ve collected over the years… instead of that drive being tied to my editing system, I can transfer those files over to the NAS and have them ready and available, 24 hours a day, to all of my computers. Of course, no NAS is going to be a capable system when it comes to video capture, but that wasn’t the purpose of this exercise to begin with. It’s plenty fast enough to render movie files to.

D-Link’s DNS-323 box has a few caveats, however. The UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) server doesn’t seem to be completely compatible with everything using the current 1.0.5 firmware. For instance, I have a few DiVX-formatted movie files on my NAS and they simply don’t show up at all via UPnP (no problems when the NAS is mounted as an SMB drive, though). My Archos 5 can see VIDEO_TS folders from ripped DVDs just fine, but throws up a “Cannot play video! File is damaged or incomplete!” error when I try to play them (they work fine using my MacBook Pro’s software UPnP server). The Playstation 3 recognizes the NAS just fine, but also won’t see all of the files, even though many of them are compatible. D-Link says that a 1.0.6 firmware is imminent, which is supposed to fix some of these problems as well as add XBox compatibility.

Mounting the NAS as an SMB share, however, has been a complete dream! The DNS-323 has a great web interface to tweak your settings, create disk shares (if you only want to access certain folders when browsing) and more. Turning on the iTunes Server mode, the NAS suddenly pops up under the Shared tab on my iTunes software, with all of the audio files right there and ready to play. (Best of all, it finds audio files on the server, no matter where you’ve put them.)

The DNS-323 also features a nice BitTorrent client, too. I’ve never been a big torrent fan because most bigger files take forever to download and who wants to leave their computer on day & night for that? With my new NAS box, I can copy & paste a torrent URL right into the web interface, click Add and let the box take care of the rest. Downloaded files are dropped into a new BT folder share, and you can also set up scheduled downloads from anywhere… something I’ve needed many times when doing freelance jobs under a deadline.

All in all, the DNS-323 has lived up to (and in some cases, exceeded) my expectations, especially considering the bargain price I paid for it! With the economy in the dumps, my own business on a continual slide and a new baby on the way, the wife and I will be spending much more time at home watching movies and TV shows instead of going out, so this NAS system will enable me to do more with my media and my work at the same time. If you’re in the market for a tricked-out home theatre system, give this one a look!

P.S.: I’ll be happy to answer any questions or give advice on this kind of setup in the user comments… I’ve skipped a lot of details on how to get it running so I’ll elaborate in future posts if interest warrants!

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 5th, 2008 at 4:44 pm and is filed under Apple Talk, Gadgets, Random Thoughts, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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