iConnect brings NAS capabilities to USB-attached storage (March 16th, 2010)
Product Manufacturer: Iomega
- Easy to configure
- Cross-platform support
- 802.11n option
- Printer server
- Media server
- Easily upgradeable
- Lacks RAID mirroring -Remote access requires paid service after one year
As Iomega has continued to expand its range of network storage products, the company recently added an entry-level device, the iConnect, which works with USB-attached drives instead of integrated disks. The latest offering is geared for simplicity, while still supporting advanced NAS capabilities such as remote access, printer networking, torrents, and more.
The iConnect shares several specs with Iomega's ix2-200 system, including a 1GHz processor and 256MB of RAM. Both devices also utilize a similar web-based interface and management software available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers.
The lack of internal hard drives allows the iConnect to maintain a small form-factor bearing resemblance to a USB hub. Three USB ports and a single button are located on the front panel, while another USB port and a Gigabit Ethernet port are located on the back side. The compact housing and integrated Wi-Fi components allow the device to fit into many areas that might be prohibitive for a typical NAS system.
When a drive is not attached, the device runs without making any noticeable sound. In our review of Iomega's ix2-200, the integrated drives were loud enough to be distracting on the top of a desk. Most USB drives are relatively quiet, enabling the iConnect to be used in a work space without any noise problems. If users find the blue lights to be too bright, a dimming setting is available through the management interface.
Configuring the iConnect is simple and straightforward, with very few steps required by the included Storage Manager software. The 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi setup can be completed from the web-based interface, but only after first connecting the unit directly to a router via Ethernet.
The necessity for USB drives helps bring the price down while maintaining flexibility, although it does have a few drawbacks compared to many systems with two HDDs. Users cannot configure two drives for automatic RAID mirroring, although the QuikTransfer feature enables manual replication of important data. Keeping copies on external drives allows backups to be taken to a second location, however, for added protection against fires or other hazards. Another alternative is online backup, which can be configured to automatically work with the iConnect.
During testing, Time Machine backups transfered fairly quickly compared to many NAS systems. Transfer speeds appeared to be approximately 30 percent slower than the ix2-200, however, despite the similar specs between both devices.
The iConnect works as an iTunes or UPnP server for sharing media between computers or other devices such as game consoles. Setup is easy, with options available in the settings menu of the web-based interface. The system scans for new content at regular intervals, although users can also force an immediate scan if necessary. All of the server functions worked well during the review trials, without any frustrating interruptions or configuration issues.
Media can also be viewed directly from the interface after clicking on the desired file. Although the iConnect lacks video thumbnails, a feature offered with the Pogo Plug, it does provide Cooliris slideshows for photos. Cooliris presentations are more attractive than clicking through single files in the manager, especially if users want a slideshow without migrating folders or opening additional software on a computer. The iConnect also supports Picture Transfer Protocol, enabling automatic copying of images from many digital cameras.
Like the ix2-200, the iConnect can be used to download torrent files. The management utility is simple and intuitive, with settings for maximum download and upload speeds to help protect against hogging the available bandwidth. Although many users might be accustomed to using desktop or notebook computers for peer-to-peer downloads, keeping tasks on the iConnect eliminates the need to keep a computer running.
Attaching a printer via USB allows any computers on the home network to add print tasks. The iConnect's integrated Wi-Fi components add an even greater level of flexibility, as the printer and NAS can be placed a longer distance from the router.
Many of the latest NAS systems offer some form of remote access functionality. The iConnect works with personalized web addresses available through TZO. A one-year subscription is provided for free, while each following year costs an additional $10.
The management interface provides several features geared for remote access. Users can control permissions for particular users, preventing individuals from accessing personal data. Although the iConnect is easy to configure for remote access, it is not quite as simple as the Pogo Plug. The latter device is paired with unlimited web access, instead of requiring a subscription renewal from a separate company.
The iConnect appears to fill a gap in the current market for NAS systems. It is a great choice for users who already have enough storage capacity on their current collection of external drives. Using USB storage also allows the same easily-upgradeable HDDs to double as portable drives and NAS components. While the iConnect lacks just a few of the media-centric and web-sharing features of the Pogo Plug, it appears to offer a much wider set of NAS features and, at $99, a better overall value.