The Linksys NAS200 is an affordable network-attached storage enclosure aimed primarily at home users. With its twin SATA hard-drive bays, pre-installed backup software, built-in media server and HTTP/FTP client capabilities, it certainly appears to have all major networking requirements covered. However, the absence of a Gigabit Ethernet connection hamstrings transfer speeds; an oversight that will deter many users. Furthermore, a range of design and interface flaws reduces its overall appeal.
The NAS200 has two Serial ATA hard drive bays that can be equipped with any SATA-compatible HDD. (The hard drives themselves will need to be sourced separately, however.) While this blows out the overall cost of the device, it also grants you the ability to upgrade your storage space as your memory requirements grow. Handily, two USB ports are also included, allowing you to add additional storage via an external HDD or flash drive. However, despite the presence of two USB ports, the NAS200 does not support printer-sharing over your network — a regrettable omission.
As mentioned above, the NAS200 only comes equipped with a single 100Mbit Ethernet port (10/100), for a maximum raw data rate of 12,500 Kbytes/sec. Consequently, it lacks the zippy transfer speeds offered by competing models with gigabit Ethernet connections. (For comparative purposes, check out our review of the TS-209Pro Turbo Station .) This has effectively dashed the NAS200's appeal to small businesses, and will require home users to have plenty of patience when it comes to media streaming and the like. In another blow to time-conscious users, the drives are not hot-swappable. This means that if you have a RAID 1 configuration and one drive bites the bullet, you're forced to rebuild your system from scratch.
In terms of design and build quality, the NAS200 is a bit of a mixed bag. With its squat, boxy shape and plastic black finish, it could almost pass for a home stereo sans speakers. It's an unconventional look, but pleasing nonetheless. Front-mounted LED indicators alert you to power and connectivity status; an engraved Linksys logo adds a small touch of class. Rounding out the features is a front-mounted backup button, which fires up the bundled NTI Shadow software when pressed.
With its flimsy weight of just 839g, the device feels decidedly cheap and insubstantial. It's a small quibble, but $250 is a lot to pay for something you could practically sneeze off the table. Another build issue we encountered was the lack of space between USB ports. This caused our medium-sized flash drive to block access to both ports when plugged in. One final design flaw is the noise that it generates — when used in quiet environments, its fan is distractingly loud.
Installing your drives into the NAS200 is a very straightforward procedure. To insert a drive, you simply line it up with one of the rear-mounted bays and slot it into place (no screws or brackets are required). However, we were left unimpressed by the ribbon-like tags that are used for HDD removal. In addition to looking cheap and tacky, they occasionally got in the way during installation. (We much prefer spring-loaded latches, as found on NetGear's Storage Central Turbo SC101T.)
We found the process of setting up our network to be relatively uncomplicated, if a little on the fiddly side. If you choose to add a second hard drive to your system, the setup wizard will offer a range of configuration options, including RAID 0, for maximum backup security, and RAID 1, for maximum speed and storage. Once a selection has been made, the device will begin formatting your drives, erasing any pre-existing data on them in the process.
You're then free to map the drive to your PC, with a second wizard taking novices through the initial steps. It was at this point that the ease-of-use took a bit of a nose dive. We found the administrative interface to be very unwieldy, with the majority of settings embedded within a sprawling maze of sub-menus. This can naturally make life difficult for the first-time user. Annoyingly, you're also required to retype your password and user name whenever you swap between windows.
Once everything is up and running, the NAS200 will meet most of the requirements expected from an entry-level NAS drive. In addition to being a networked backup and storage device, it can also act as a Web, FTP or media server. It supports individual user permissions on folders, but we couldn't find any options for groups. The in-built download manager can download files while your PC is off (unfortunately though, torrent files are not supported). There are also options available for a scheduled shutdown, though it may take some effort to actually find them.