All of the above external hard drives attach directly to your computer with a USB, FireWire or eSATA connection. Experts call these models direct-attached storage. If you run a home network or business network, you might consider a network-attached storage (NAS) drive. NAS units connect to your network with a gigabit Ethernet cable. Although the drive is then accessible to all devices on the network, data speeds are limited to the speed of your network, which is likely to be significantly slower than USB and FireWire -- and much slower than eSATA.
A few NAS devices are aimed at the consumer market. The Western Digital My Book Live Personal Cloud Storage Drive, the designated successor to Western Digital's My Book series, comes in 1 TB (*Est. $125) to 3 TB (*Est. $185) versions. The last-generation model of this NAS drive got poor reviews from owners. Complaints abounded, from frustrating setup to slow performance to dead drives.
CNET tester Dong Ngo finds the My Book Live just as easy to set up as the World Edition, with a more intuitive interface: "Home and novice users just can't go wrong with it," Ngo says. In CNET's read/write speed test, the My Book Live proves much faster than the previously tested World Edition. However, unlike the World Edition, the new My Book Live has no USB or any other peripheral ports -- so you can't add another hard drive for more storage or back up the content on your My Book Live to another drive.
The Apple Time Capsule (*Est. $295 for the 4th Generation, 2 TB version) streamlines your workspace: it's a wireless router plus NAS drive rolled into one small, sleek, glossy white box. It's an unusual product, and just about every major review source has tested it. They agree it's a great router -- but not the best NAS drive.
The Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg sums it up: "If you use Time Machine on a Mac laptop, then Time Capsule's $299 price is money well spent," he writes. "If you don't, there are cheaper or more versatile solutions to the backup problem."
New Macs come bundled with Apple's Time Machine backup software, but some external hard drives aren't compatible with it. Time Capsule is, and Mac owners report that it's easy to set up. After that, you never have to worry about backups -- they happen automatically and wirelessly for every computer in your house.
"The beauty of Time Capsule is that it just works, silently backing up your Mac over your network without your having to remember a thing," writes Macworld, which rates the Time Capsule higher than any other NAS drive.
But Macworld also says the Apple Time Capsule transfers files more slowly than other NAS drives. It also costs more than a good router and external hard drive, if bought separately. Although it's compatible with PCs, experts conclude that Time Capsule makes little sense for a purely PC household.
You can buy NAS boxes with no hard drives included -- just empty slots where you insert your own hard drives. Computer-savvy users often say that these work better than the cheaper plug-and-play NAS drives because you can choose exactly the drives and sizes you want and replace drives if they break.
However, these pricey units might be overkill for basic home users. Business-level models from QNAP and Synology get consistently good reviews from both experts and users, and these companies also offer smaller versions more suitable for the home, such as the QNAP TS-110 (*Est. $170) and Synology DS211j (*Est. $200). A cheaper option is the Thermaltake BlacX Duet Dual Hard Drive Docking Station (*Est. $50), a dock that holds two hard drives exposed in toaster-like slots; this also gets good reviews from users and top experts. Expect to pay another $60 to $100 for each 1 TB hard drive.
If you have the cash and want a more robust external hard drive solution on your network, reviewers say you can't go wrong with the more expensive line of NAS drive systems from Synology. Like the others, these typically ship without hard drives inside, so you'll be buying drives to plug into them as well as the units themselves. Prices start at an estimated $300 without disks for the well-reviewed Synology DiskStation DS411slim and rise to an estimated $820 (diskless) for the Synology DiskStation DS1511+, top rated across the board by NAS reviewers.
CloudEngines' Pogoplug (*Est. $70) is the easiest way for a home user to get NAS, experts say. It's a little gadget that turns any USB drive (external hard drive or flash drive) into a basic NAS (accessible over the Internet, however, rather than directly through your network). You don't need any software or special skills -- just plug this little 4-inch-by-2-inch box into your Internet router and you'll be able to access everything on your external drive over the Internet, from anywhere.
The CloudEngines Pogoplug works problem-free in professional tests, and experts say it's incredibly simple to use. "For $99, the ability to turn a random drive into not only a network-accessible device, but a remotely-accessible device is huge, and we plan on putting it into heavy rotation around here," Engadget.com says. The Pogoplug is an Editors' Choice at Laptop Magazine, although editors note that its speed is limited by your router and can be slow. Pogoplug works with Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
Seagate has licensed the Pogoplug capabilities for its Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Net Media Sharing Device (*Est. $70 for 1TB), which is basically a cradle-shaped Pogoplug that can dock two Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drives. You can also plug another drive into the USB port. However, user reviews suggest that while the device makes it easy to get to your drives over the Internet, it's incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to get to them directly over your own network, so if you are looking for a true NAS option, they advise, you're better off with other solutions.