If you already own an external hard disk, but considering buying a NAS box, then the USB Station 2 might save you some cash. It connects to an external hard disk and essentially turns it into a NAS box. It’s based on a Marvel 800MHz CPU, and comes equipped with 128MB of DDR2 memory; it also has the same excellent user interface with which Synology’s NAS boxes are equipped. The specification is roughly equivalent to the Synology DS210J but the USB Station 2 has no fan, meaning that it’s silent.
The small box has two USB ports so that you can connect printers or external storage devices to it, and you’re able to transfer files between two storage devices using Synology’s great DiskStation Manager 3.0 interface. In addition, the USB Station 2 supports WiFi dongles (a list of supported dongles can be found on Synology.com), so you don’t even need to have it near your router. The box draws less than 5W on its own, but it’s unable to power-down any external USB devices, so your hard disk will be powered on all the time unless it knows better.
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The software comes in the form of DiskStation Manager 3.0, which was extremely easy to use, although the USB Station 2 has fewer features than Synology NAS boxes – there’s no iSCSI or RAID support, or a resource monitor. However, there are backup facilities, an FTP server, DLNA/UPnP support for media streaming and an iTunes server. Download Station is perhaps the most interesting feature, though, as it’s able to download BitTorrent files and supports the eMule client, essentially turning your external hard drive into a torrent box in an instant.
To test how fast the USB Station 2 dealt with data, we used a Gigabit switch to mimic the connection to a home network, and transferred files from an external 3.5in hard disk connected to the USB Station 2. We also used a Corsair F100 SSD in the destination PC to eliminate any chance of the PC becoming a bottleneck. The USB Station 2 automatically made our hard disk accessible as a shared folder on the network, so we proceeded to copy 5GB of large video files, and then a similar-sized folder made up of thousands of music files, photos and text documents back and forth from the PC to the external hard disk.
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The USB Station 2 managed a 19MB/sec read speed in the large file test, and a write speed of 18MB/sec – this is pretty sluggish when compared with full-blown NAS boxes, and is probably a result of the USB 2 bottleneck. The USB Station 2 fared better in the small file test, although its performance was still only average, with a read speed of 15MB/sec and a write speed of 12MB/sec.
If you already own a large external hard disk, and having BitTorrent or media streaming capabilities is making you lean towards a NAS box, then the USB Station 2 is definitely worth considering.
It’s silent, not horrendously slow at file transfers and includes many of the useful features that you find with Synology’s NAS boxes. However, the Synology DS210J is more capable, while only costing £80 more – you could remove the disk from your external caddy and install it in the DS210J instead.