Drive Enclosure Turned File Server
The average number of PCs in a household is on the rise. It is no longer uncommon for a family to have a PC for each kid, one for work and one in the living room acting as an HTPC. With so many different machines up and running in a household it makes sense to have the ability to share files between machines. Windows File/Print sharing is the old default, but unless everyone leaves their machines on all the time (with the price of power today, 5 machines on all the time is noticeable on the monthly bill) it's not a perfect solution.
The next option would be to go to a dedicated file server machine, but then there are extra power/noise/cost issues involved. Plus, let's face it, Joe AOL is lucky enough to make it through the Windows File and Print Sharing wizard, let alone figure out how to set up a dedicated file storage box.
With that in mind, today we will be looking at the NexStar LX from Vantec.
The NexStar LX lives a double life as a NAS or Network Attached Storage Device as well as a USB Hard Drive Enclosure.
NAS devices have been around for a very long time now, but it is only recently that prices have come down to consumer levels. In short, NAS devices are basically the same as a traditional file server, minus the bloated operating system software. NAS devices are designed to do one thing and to do it well, and that is to quickly and easily share data across a network.
The NexStar LX comes in both a black and a white flavor. The white version we'll be looking at today would look right at home next to an Apple machine.
On the front of the unit are three LED status light (all a nice warm blue), which indicate drive usage, device power and network connectivity.
The bundle included with the NexStar LX is complete and pretty much what you'd expect.
Along with the unit itself and its power adapter, included are both a CAT5 network cable and a USB connector cable. There is also a thorough manual and a Windows 98 USB driver CD.
The internals are pretty basic, with room for a single IDE drive (secured by screws from the underside), the necessary cabling, the controller board as well as a variable speed exhaust. fan. Installation of the Hard Drive is beyond simple and took a total of 15 seconds.
The only knock against the unit is here though with the IDE interface. I'm not sure why Vantec didn't decide to SATA as they already have SATA enclosures in their lineup so they have the technology. IDE apart from being slower is starting to be phased out and is not as easy to find at higher drive capacities compared to SATA drives.
Underneath the drive are aluminum heatsink fins, which are connected to an aluminum plate located underneath the installed drive.
This mini heatsink help draw heat outside of the enclosure, though admittedly there isn't a whole lot of airflow underneath the enclosure itself to help cool the fins.
Along with the power connector, the rear of the unit house both the 100mbps network connection and USB connection, as well as a power switch and reset button.
Something unique to the NexStar LX in terms of USB enclosures is the variable fan switches. There are options for Automatic, Manual High and Manual Low.
Most users will want to leave the setting on Automatic and allow the exhaust fan to spin up only if hard drive temperatures increase considerably. After running a 20GB Seagate drive for over a week I've never had the fan spin up beyond the "Low" level, which is almost noiseless. At High however noise level is comparable a standard 80mm ball berring fan at full speed and is noticable if placed anywhere but directly next to your computer.
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