The demand for Network Attached Storage (NAS) is about to boom. And this is because they offer both power savings and productivity benefits.

Using an NAS means you can access your data, without the need for a host computer or server. And setup of the best devices is straightforward, requiring no knowledge of networking. The Western Digital NetCenter is the answer to the storage needs of homes and small offices alike. The NetCenter comes in three different flavours: 160GB, 250GB and 320GB. The model we saw was the 320GB version.

Aesthetically, it’s pretty utilitarian. Grey plastic and a single blue power light. As well as the Ethernet connection and power connector, the NetCenter also sports two USB 2.0 ports for connecting extra drives or a printer.
If you run a firewall, there’s one thing to consider with the NetCenter: we were running ZoneAlarm and it refused to let the installation to go ahead. If this is the case, you may need to input the IP address of the drive into your firewall’s ‘Trusted Zones’ to get it to work. And thankfully, the drive outputs the IP address during setup.

Once configured, using the NetCenter was seamless. It’s quiet, with very little access noise. The WD software also sits in your system tray and tells you if there are any connection issues, which in our case there weren’t.

The NetCenter performed similarly to the Maxtor OneTouch II connected to the server on our office network. Uploading a 350MB to the NetCenter file took only 69.2 seconds, while downloading it back again took 123 seconds. In comparison, the Maxtor took 120 seconds to download the same file. The Western Digital drive is specified as a 7200RPM drive, with a cache of 8MB. The disparity in uploading and downloading is more dependant on your network, and the speed of your desktop machine – as the similarity in the two different drives illustrates.

Given that there is little difference in performance, the main differentiators, then, are price and features. And in this case, Maxtor has it. The new Shared Storage Plus – based on the OneTouch II – includes compatibility with UPnP media devices, making it more suitable for home entertainment networks. The Maxtor also features a beautiful magnesium alloy casing which also helps with heat dissipation. And its top of the range 500GB drive is only $650. Offering great value for money.

So, that said, the NetCenter is still a good unit. If aesthetics are immaterial, and extra features more so, the NetCenter offers no-nonsense, reliable storage. So, for office use it’s perfect. But for home use, and a marginally better price, you may want to consider Maxtor’s product instead. And if you want to save even more money, try Netgear’s SC101 Storage Central and fill it with whatever drives you want!

Western Digital NetCenter 160GB $369 250GB $449 320GB $599
For: Straightforward installation; seamless integration; reliable.
Against: Potential for firewall clashes; one of the more costly options
Verdict: A no-nonsense NAS which offers speed and performance at a semi-reasonable price

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