by Davis Freeberg
About four years ago, I made a conscience decision to digitize my life. At first it was extremely difficult to let go of my CD & VHS collection, but after experiencing the benefits of digitization, I could never go back. Digitization has been great to me. Whether it’s the ability to automatically record only the new episodes of The Family Guy or my being able to narrow down my music collection to records only produced in 1941, digitization has made exploring media fun and exciting again. This evolution has not come without a few bumps along the road. Ever since I bought my first 40 hour TiVo box, I’ve experienced storage anxiety in one form or another. Whether it was Jimmy Kimmel live being automatically deleted from my TiVo or yet another Maxtor External drive failing on me, I found that the more media I collected the bigger this problem seemed to be.
Initially I thought that I could buy external drives as my media needs grew, but I quickly learned that the problem with being an early adopter is that you don’t always know where the technology is going to head. When I finally ran out of ports on my USB hub, I knew that I had to come up with a better solution. In order to address my storage needs, I turned to the Buffalo HD-HTGL/R5 TeraStation.
The Buffalo TeraStation comes in three sizes, they have a 600 GB server, a 1 TB server and a 1.6 TB server. I decided to go with the 1 TB server for $999.99. Of course depending upon how you set up your server, you may not actually get to use the full terabyte. The server allows you to choose between Raid Spanning (no backup for your data), Raid Parity (25% backup of your data) or Raid Mirroring (100% backup of your data.) The more backup you choose, the less storage capacity you will receive. Because of the numerous drive failures I’ve seen, in retrospect, I think that I would have been better served by going with the 1.6 TB drive.
My initial impressions of the server was very positive. At the 2005 CES, the TeraStation won CNET’s Next Big Thing award. The irony of winning this award is that the server itself is remarkably small. It’s measurements are only 6.6″ x 8.7″ x 9.5″. This seems pretty impressive considering that it has the capability of storing 500 hours of television. The server comes with four USB ports and an ethernet connection for networking the server with the rest of your home. As I hooked up the server to my system, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how quiet the fans operated inside the unit. It was almost as if you didn’t even know that it was running. Once I finally had the unit hooked up to my system however, I soon discovered it’s fatal flaw.
Moving data on and off of the system was extremely slow. It took approximately one hour for each GB of data that I wanted to transfer onto my new server. If you included the countless I/O device errors that seem to plague the external drives, it took me nearly three weeks of continuous data transfer to move a little over 600 GBs onto the server. At first I thought that this was due to limitations from my computer, but after speaking with Buffalo Tech support, I was reluctantly told that this is a known issue and there is no solution available in the near future. When I asked if the server would work with a Media Center PC, I was told that it could not handle the speed at which the video files were written to the system. While I never verified that this was the case, it did seem strange to me that they would tell me that it wouldn’t work with a Media Center considering that they claim that the TeraStation is compatible with their own Buffalo HD Wireless Media player.
After searching through the internet, I was able to find an underground TeraStation site that focused on hacking into the machine, but in the end, I had no interest in voiding my warranty and I simply could not handle how slow the transfer speeds were. Had technical support stepped up to the plate and offered a timeline for when/if data transmission speeds would be improved or had they offered a work around, I probably would have kept the box, but the only encouragement that I received was to check the website in a couple of months and they might have a new driver.
While I see a huge market developing for personal media servers, without some serious improvements, Buffalo may soon find themselves facing extinction. Undoubtedly, this is one of the more attractive machines from a product design viewpoint, but with this critical flaw I would encourage anyone considering the product to think long and hard about how they need to access and write data before making a purchase.
*Update – Brian Verenkoff From Buffalo Tech responded to this article with an email disputing what I was told by their tech support. According to Brian, he felt that the speed and performance should be better then what I experienced. ZDNet also has a review on the product and they were able to acheive data speeds between 3.3 Mbps to 8 Mbps. He also made it clear that the TeraStation is “absolutely compatible with Windows MCE.”
“Our internal reports, as well as other editor’s findings rate the
TeraStation at about 7-8 MegaBYTES per second in 10/100 mode and about
11-12 MegaBYTES per second in Gigabit mode. Thus, in 10/100 mode it
shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to move 1 GB worth of data.”
In the email he goes on to explain that these connection issues are not unique to Buffalo Technology and provides some good background information as to the limitation of NAS devices in general.
Unlike USB or FireWire direct attached storage, NAS devices are mini-computers that have extensive overhead. To get full hard drive performance out of a NAS box, one would need to purchase a $5,000+ NAS that has at least a 2 GHz X86 processor in it. For these small embedded devices, processing power is limited. We use a 266 MHz processor, our competitors actually use slower processors (200 or 240 MHz). Some customers do complain about the performance because they compare it to direct attached storage which is not even the same
product or concept.