Iomega brought several media sharing goodies to CES 2011 this year. Here's a hands-on review of just one of them: the Home Media Network Hard Drive, Cloud Edition.
The set-up process isn't complicated, but it's time consuming. Initially, the first step is setting up the Hard Drive itself by connecting it to a power source and to a router via Ethernet. Obviously, that's easy. Afterwards, I installed the included Iomega Storage Manager software (compatible with Windows and Mac OS) on my laptop. That was simple enough as well.
It's customizing and configuring all the settings in the Storage Manager software that takes up the bulk of the time here. I renamed my hard drive as I didn't like some random numbers as the handle. Just didn't feel personal. I also set up my own personal cloud, which is what really separates this network hard drive from comparable products, even those made by Iomega.
Creating the cloud wasn't difficult either. All one has to do is click on "Cloud Services" under the big sidebar in the "Manage Storage Device" menu and configure it. One can give up to 250 users access to the cloud, but Iomega recommends only 12 if you want to keep things running as smoothly as possible. To invite people, I simply sent them encrypted e-mails with a link to the cloud. There are a lot of other tools and menu options in the Manage menu, so it would be wise just to browse through everything before you get started as well.
Next came the very lengthy if not tedious process of copying all of my files to the 2TB Home Media Network Hard Drive itself.
There are a couple of ways of going about a transfer. The most obvious and traditional way is to open up the folders on the Network Hard Drive and just start dragging and dropping files. The larger the file, the longer it's going to take. For example, when I dragged a 1GB movie over, it took about 10 minutes on average. Unfortunately, this is the easiest way to go about it.
I did try another process, which was using the "Quik Transfer" button on the Network Hard Drive itself. There are two USB ports on the drive, where one can hook up a thumb drive or even an external hard drive. I plugged in my 1TB external hard drive and hit the button. When I went back to my computer, I looked up "Copy Jobs" on the Manage menu under "Common." Here I could start or stop copy jobs. However, given that there was 400GB of data on my portable HDD, the screen just read "Processing" for hours. Okay, so that was a ridiculous amount of data to try to transfer at once. You can specify folders on the portable HDD that you want to transfer over within the Copy Jobs menu, but I found it far easier to just attach the external drive to my laptop and drag and drop files. I think the Quik Transfer option is far better for things like transferring photos from a digital camera, small files from a USB drive and even connecting an MP3 player.
Once my files were transferred successfully to the Network Hard Drive, they were viewable on the personal cloud as well as other computers on the same network. There is the option to password-protect the Network Hard Drive (same with the cloud) with AES 128-bit encryption if you're planning to use this for a small business or even if you have some sensitive data at home.
Apple users should listen up as this home media network drive also supports Time Machine running OS X 10.5 or later. I did try this function out, and in the end, everything ran smoothly. Again, a big concern here will be transfer speeds. This will vary depending on your home wireless network speed and how many devices are running on the network at one time. To back-up several dozen gigabytes of information on my laptop using Time Machine, it took literally a few days. To be fair, that's over the air and not via USB cable, so it's bound to take longer.
But one final note on the speeds without dragging out my argument too much, you have to be patient with this device. It's not the fastest network drive in the world, and even just accessing folders without even opening files can become a painfully annoying process. It could be partially due to my home network, or even my laptop (FYI, the spring 2010 13-inch MacBook Pro). Accessing and streaming video files using a PlayStation 3 (as this network drive is DLNA-certified), however, was not actually slow or difficult at all. Just not every video file type is supported on the PS3, so you might want to work on some conversions before making big file transfers if you plan to use this as a media hub for all your movies and TV shows.
Some of the other fun features include being able to upload directly to Facebook, Flickr and YouTube by dropping files in a folder, but that's not very exceptional these days as one can already do those things using Picasa or iPhoto.
However, one easily forgotten spec I'd like to focus on is the power consumption. Given that this is a network drive that also powers a personal cloud, it's going to be on almost all of the time, thus taking up power all the time. Fortunately, it only uses nine watts of power when in operation and then only three watts when idle. Furthermore, the home media network drive sports a fan-less design as it keeps cool on its own, and I can vouch that it is truly very quiet. I set up the unit in the living room, where the TV is on most of the time anyway. But even when the TV is turned off and it is late at night or early in the morning, I can only hear the Iomega drive if I try to listen for it.
The Home Media Network Hard Drive is available now with two capacity options: 1TB ($169.99) and 2TB ($229.99). Those MSRP tags are already a bit competitive, but you could find them even lower from larger retailers like Amazon.
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