Holiday Gift Ideas: Storage

Network storage, hard drives, memory cards and everything in between.

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Media Hub Home Entertainment Storage, by Linksys by Cisco


This is a network-attached storage device that is aimed at keeping your home entertainment files (music, videos, photos) centralized in one location so you can share and access them from multiple computers within the home. The system also supports remote access and even has an FTP server, but the main gist is to centralize the multimedia files.

The box comes with either 500GB or 1TB of storage, two USB ports and an extra SATA bya slot for adding additional external storage, and a media card reader that lets you import photos directly to the drive from a memory card. The unit connects to a home router, and software installs for each PC in which you'd like to access the media hub.

After installation, you can run the Media Importer tool, which scans your PC and copies over all of the music, photos and videos stored on the system. This took a LONG time (about 7 hours) with my first computer, which allegedly had 20GB of multimedia files on it. The initial process of finding and importing could take a while if you choose the "import all" check box. If you want to cut down on time, weed out any photos, music or videos that you might not want to have imported to the Media Hub. Another complaint: the system's browser software to view photos and play the music and videos needs some improvements. A lot of albums that I transferred over (especially show music or compilations with various artists) showed up as separate albums, not as one complete item.

The system also comes with NTI Shadow software that can automatically back up your system if you want, a good choice if you have the extra space on the unit. An LCD screen on the Media Hub unit can give information on its status, IP address, and its name (good for accessing it via the Web browser).

If you're looking to centralize your content, this is a good way to import your multimedia files into one central area. This is also a key ingredient in a home entertainment system if you're looking to use some of the Cisco entertainment devices for playing music (the company's Wireless Home Audio products).

Cool Yule rating: 4 stars

Price: $330 (500GB); $400 (1TB)

Product Web site

Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Aspire easyStore H340 by Acer


The easyStore H340 is a compact, powerful network-attached storage (NAS) box that runs Windows Home Server. The easyStore is roughly an 8-inch cube, with a sleek back covering and those eerie blue lights. It features Intel's Atom chip, 2GB of memory, five USB ports, and comes with 1TB of storage.

The idea is that you can load content from multiple PCs to this one box, which then allows family members to share pictures, videos, documents, etc. My home network is wireless, so I connected the easyStore to my wireless router via Ethernet cable. I don't have a "main computer" that's connected to the router, so I turned on my laptop, loaded the install disc and got started. The first task is to install Windows Home Server, which seemed to take forever. Luckily, there was a halfway interesting football game on television. Once Windows Home Server is installed, you can backup your files to the easyStore – again, a process that lasted way longer than it should have, although I was going over wireless between my laptop and the router.

You can also set up user accounts and enable remote access. Once this is done, you've accomplished a couple of things. First, your files are backed up and safe, in case something bad happens to your laptop. You can also set easyStore to do automatic backups, which is great for people who forget to do manual backups (and that's just about everybody). The second thing you've accomplished is that your stuff is now on a shared network drive. I didn't load Windows Home Server on additional computers, but it was pretty clear that once you did this, and backed up your hard drives to the NAS box, you could access music, videos, etc., via Windows Home Server's relatively user friendly interface.

The questions you need to ask yourself before plunking down $400 are:

1: Is the hard drive on my PC filling up, or is it likely to ever fill up? For me, the answer is probably 'no.' For my daughter, a freelance photographer who does everything digitally, the answer is definitely 'yes.' The easyStore comes with 1TB of storage, plus three open bays if you need to add storage. So, the simple requirement for extra storage is one reason to get the easyStore, and the need for safe backup is another.

2: Would you go through the trouble of going onto a "main" computer, access a second device, in order to watch video, listen to music or view photos? After all, there are lots of other ways to share data – e-mail, thumb drives, CDs, DVDs, etc. There's even: "Hey, come over here and look at this."

3: This won't help you share photos with grandma in Florida, unless she has Windows Home Server and wants to go through all the hassle (not to mention the passwords) required to log into your NAS box over the Internet.4. Finally, this is a Windows-only solution, so my photog daughter, who uses a Mac, is out of luck.

Cool Yule Rating: 4 stars

Price: $400

Product Web site.

Reviewed by Neal Weinberg

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