Posted in Technology

Networked USB: How do you share?

I have always enjoyed the idea of being able to use my USB harddrives as NAS storage.  The problem was, I have never really taken the time to learn how to create my own NAS. The technology to do such a thing has been around for quite a while, just build a box, drop your flavor of Linux (FreeNAS preferably) and hook everything up. Not too hard right? But the Über geek in me has tapered off for the last few years as I have tried to become a tech journalist of sorts. I haven’t built a computer in a long time and not really done anything hardcore geek style like coding a webpage or hacking a neighbor’s wifi either. So I have come to the point in my geek life where, the quicker and easier is better for me.

So let’s see, I have a few USB harddrives laying around, 60GB, 120GB, (2x)500GB, 1TB & (2x)2TB drives. What to do with all that storage? Why can I not add these to my network like fileshares and have a fileserver. This would go the way of my previous mentioned Linux box, or I could go the Windows route and try out the Windows Home Server. HP actually released some nice pre-built machines like the EX490 Media Smart Server, but the problem still lies, that I have to have a box that is on all of the time. I never really have liked the idea of having a box online all the time. I also wanted a low power device as well, that didn’t take up a lot of space. So let’s rewind to the idea beginning, when I first started getting the idea of a unique piece of equipment that could connect to the network and allow me to connect things to it via the USB interface.

The first device that I came across was very basic, just need some software installed on the client machine so that you could access the device only on that client machine. Not the best idea, but a good start. This device was circa 2007 and was the Belkin Network USB Hub. The problem was, this device to me was very expensive when it first came out. At least expensive for what it didn’t do. The device (I think) originally sold for $99, but just didn’t have exactly what I wanted, but it had the basic idea down. I could take a printer, a camera or a USB harddrive and plug it in to this device and would be available on the network. The problem was, the client device has to have the client software installed. Also, I cannot access the connected devices outside of the network, easily. This was great for sharing media and devices within my home network, but not when I wanted to share it outside of that. I bought one pretty late in the game, and right before they dropped the price down to like $69.

So then comes the PogoPlug by Cloud Engines. They were funded in 2007 as well, and I don’t know the original release date of their first device, but I also, came late to the game on this one, but GLAD that I found them. This does a lot better than the Belkin device. It allows me to access the USB hard drives on my entire network and the web! There still is a client software that needs to be installed since there isn’t really a “server” on the other end, but after installing it, it treats the drives as mapped Network drives that automatically reconnect every time that you log back in. The client software also turns the client into “device” on the network and you can chose which folders to share on the network. Awesome. Even better, they give you a web based access so that you can access the drive outside of your network, on the web from anywhere in the world!!! SWEET. Oh yeah, they also build in a XBOX compatible share so you can stream media to your XBOX. Doublely Awesome!

The success of this device led Cloud engines to come out with a 2.0 device earlier in 2010 (again, I think, google it). They even now have added a PogoPlug black and a new PogoPlug Business that adds auditing abilities. Earlier this year (2011), they added the PogoPlug Video, that was meant specifically for video processing and transcoding on the fly, so you could throw any file at it, and stream it to any device. This device was $300, but well worth the price, because that means I didn’t have encode videos to specific format to make it work on a specific device. The only problem, this GREAT processing came at a price. This past summer, PogoPlug had to recall the device. I was heartbroken. I stood by them though, and I bought a $49 PogoPlug on Amazon and just deal with not being able to watch every media file on every device.

Now, following in the footsteps and trying to pickup on the craze, is LaCie. They are known for their impeccable harddrives and simple designs. I recently just bought a 2TB Minimus USB 3.0 and I love it! Their device is called the LaPlug. It is basically the same exact device that the PogoPlug is. It has the same 4 USB ports and same style web interface so that you can share EVERYWHERE! It is pretty much a feature for feature match up against the PogoPlug. So it could be a total toss up to the popularity of this device. I think that PogoPlug has them beat in the time frame arena, since it has been out a while and has a very good community built around it. They even have forums that show you how to expand your PogoPlug beyond its stock features. So only time will tell on this, but good luck LaCie. You have a good bit to catch up on. In the mean time, I have some (The.Big.Bang.Theory.S05E02.HDTV.XviD-ASAP) to download and watch on my XBOX.

Check out some YouTube videos about the 3 devices:

BuyTV talks about the Belkin Network USB Hub

BuyTV talks about the PogoPlug

Official Product Video for LaPlug

-rusty g