REVIEW: Freecom SilverStore 2-Drive NAS

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Freecom designs and manufacturers high quality external storage solutions that are extremely pleasing to the eye. Designed for individuals and small businesses wanting a storage device that’s robust and easy to use, the German company’s latest offering is a NAS featuring two separate, removable hard drives encased in a sleek yet robust aluminium enclosure.

Networking made sexy

Freecom

The design of the multi-configuration dual-drive SilverStore 2-Drive NAS (208 x 105 x 137mm, 2.4kg with two HDDs installed) is striking. Sporting a two-tone silver and black finish, the SilverStore’s outer casing (silver) is made from robust aluminium with the front and back of unit (black) being made from plastic.

The design is not without its shortcomings, however, and we were alarmed at the force needed to remove the hard drives from the unit. Freecom has mentioned it’s redesigning the drive release mechanism in the near future, so you might want to bear that in mind.

The biggest attraction of the SilverStore is being able to reliably store up to 6TB of data from a business network in one central location. Small enough to fit on a desk beside a laptop or even on a bookcase, the SilverStore features the latest Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 host interfaces as standard.

However, Wi-Fi is noticeably absent and Mac users may balk at the lack of Thunderbolt. Windows (CIFS/Samba), Linux (NFS) and Apple file sharing (AFP and Time Machine) are all supported.

Like most NAS devices on the market, the SilverStore 2-Drive NAS is available in a few configurations: unit only/no drives (£139), 2TB (£279), 4TB (£319) and 6TB (£569). Those opting for the bare unit will be able to install up to two 3.5-inch SATA drives for a maximum capacity of 6TB.

We received the 2TB model which shipped with two Samsung HD103SI 3Gb/s drives, each costing around £90 if bought separately and boasting a spin speed of 5,400rpm and 32MB cache. Of course, speed junkies might prefer to install their own 7,200rpm (6Gb/s) or faster drives for increased performance. Under the hood the unit is powered by a 1GHz Marvell 6283 processor and 128MB DDR/128MB flash memory.

Flexibility

The SilverStore connects directly to a network router or switch, and simple installation software makes it easy for any user to set up in minutes. Having said that, it doesn’t have quite the same plug-and-play simplicity as Apple’s Time Capsule. The SilverStore is DLNA-compliant to allow for video and audio streaming to playback devices such as the Xbox 360, PS3 and networked media players.

Apple Macs are supported by “Transmission backup” and there’s a built-in iTunes server. It also comes complete with a built-in FTP server and BitTorrent client so that users can download large multimedia files directly to the drives even while their computer is switched off.

Freecom supplies a short Ethernet cable with the drive, but frustratingly our review unit included a 2-pin EU power plug instead of a UK-compliant 3-pin plug. Hopefully you won’t have this inconvenience. A useful Quick Install Guide is provided and for further reading the manual is preloaded on the software CD.

The front of the SilverStore accommodates a dedicated power button and USB 3.0 port for additional storage and transferring data across to a USB drive. Four LEDs provide status updates on the drives, such as when they’re transferring data, as well as their availability and whether the unit is powered.

At the rear of the SilverStore is an Ethernet jack, USB 2.0 port, power connector, reset button and Kensington Security Slot. There’s also an auto temperature controlled ball bearing cooling fan, but thankfully it is whisper quiet once the machine has fully booted.

We rely on hard drives to store all kinds of information, but if our drive crashes these important files can be lost forever. As the SilverStore supports RAID 1 (in addition to RAID 0 and JBOD), it can protect data from this danger by configuring it so that one drive automatically makes an exact copy of the other, giving peace of mind from knowing all company data is safely backed up.

Technophobes needn’t worry too much about setting up the SilverStore. A piece of software called Network Storage Assistant locates the drive on the network and allows users to easily access the various folders on the drive. The Web browser-based interface allows users to dig deep and adjust settings such as user accounts and shared folders, RAID configuration and cloud options.

The SilverStore can also be configured so that the two drives can be used as one single volume to maximise the amount of storage space on the network. Alternatively, the drives can be used for separate purposes. For example, they could be assigned to different employees or departments so that data is kept segregated, or they could simply be used to store different types of files. Access to data can be further controlled assigning usernames and passwords to ensure that individual content remains secure.

This cloud has a silver lining

The SilverStore extends the functionality of a NAS device by supporting a secure private cloud option that enables users to access all data stored on the SilverStore remotely on smartphones and tablets while they are out of the office.

Supplied as standard with the SilverStore and without additional end-user fees (i.e. subscriptions), the embedded Tonido software can help a business to change the way it accesses data―that is, one which isn’t already storing data in the cloud already using software-as-a-service such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365.

Tonido is a software and service combination that once installed on any computer (Windows, Linux or Mac) can make files and media in that computer available anywhere through a Web browser or mobile device (iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone 7). Once a Tonido user account has been created, the account becomes part of the URL for a computer (http://username.tonidoid.com).

This URL is then used to remotely access or share music, photos, calendar, files. To share a file or folder, you simply select a folder or file and select “Share”. Tonido creates a URL to that folder, so you can send the link to others and they’ll be able to see and download the file.

Tonido is a great way to access and share files, media and other information with anyone around the world without having to upload to third-party sites first―unlike Dropbox, Mozy, BackPack, Live Mesh etc. It’s also a snap to setup as no network or router configuration is required.

More than good looks?

For many business users it’s not enough to be able to access files from networked computers―they also want to share information with colleagues and clients when they’re on the move. Freecom’s SilverStore makes it pretty straightforward and relatively affordable to share files on a private network in the office and/or over the Web securely using cloud technology. Flexibility is a key selling point behind of the SilverStore as it enables users to set up a system that works best for them.

There are faster NAS drives with more robust networking features―such as a status LCD―but for small businesses not wanting the complexities of managing network devices, the SilverStore is a decent choice for multiple users wanting to download large files, store and access documents, and share everything from videos and music to photos and presentations. Having great looks is an added benefit.

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