The key word in the model name of the Buffalo LinkStation Mini is the final one: Mini. Most NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices pack a handful of 3.5-inch desktop hard drives into an appropriate case that sits out of the way on a convenient shelf. Desktop drives are the obvious choice as they offer colossal capacity at a low price, as you can see when you consider that a 1TB drive costs £45 and a single 2TB drive can be had for £90.
In that context, Buffalo has taken a bold and novel approach to NAS by using 2.5-inch laptop drives that offer a number of advantages as they are cooler, quieter and much smaller than their desktop counterparts. On the downside a laptop drive generally offers lower performance thanks to its chosen spin speed. Typically it will cost about four times as much as a desktop drive, as you can expect to pay £45 for a 250GB laptop drive.
These inherent disadvantages of laptop technology have led Buffalo to stripe a pair of 250GB laptop drives together in RAID 0. This raises the capacity to a reasonable 500GB and also increases performance. On the downside, it increases the risk of failure as your data will be destroyed if either drive or the RAID controller fails.
The upshot of this engineering give-and-take is that the dimensions of the LinkStation Mini are a palm-sized 135 x 81 x 41mm with a weight of 0.5kg. The tiny 15W external power adapter is the sort of thing you might associate with a digital camera when you consider that most NAS devices we have seen come with a 60W power supply.
Although the case is tiny and contains two hard drives, Buffalo has not found it necessary to install a cooling fan. This use of passive cooling means that the LinkStation Mini is virtually silent in operation.
The first step in setting up the LinkStation Mini is to connect it directly to a client PC, whereupon the supplied NAS Navigator2 software will detect the Buffalo hardware.
After that you can open your browser to configure the Buffalo in much the same way that you deal with a router. The first job was checking for a firmware update which weighed in at a massive 182MB in a zipped file. This level of bloat was only partially explained when we realised that the software includes a Torrent client. Once the update was complete we unplugged the Buffalo from the client PC and connected it to our router so it could be seen across the network.
On the rear of the Linkstation Mini there is the usual Gigabit Ethernet port and above the power switch there is a single USB 2.0 port that can be used to connect a printer or some additional storage.
As you would expect, the NAS Navigator2 utility allows client PCs to identify any Buffalo NAS devices on the network, but there is another aspect to the way it works. On the back of the LinkStation Mini there is a three-position power switch. On and Off are easy enough to understand but the Auto position is altogether more interesting. In Auto mode the LinkStation Mini will spin down the drives when the network goes quiet but if a client running NAS Navigator2 appears on the network, the drives will make themselves ready for action.
It seems that Buffalo has plans to add more features to the LinkStation Mini at some point, as there is an anonymous button on the top of the casing which has no obvious function.
Overall the Buffalo has decent performance and its tiny size and quiet operation are very positive points.
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