I spotted this NAS (Network Attached Storage) box on sale, at a Belgian on-line shop's site more oriented towards laptops and of which I really only just was given the address by a friend. Even from simply reading the specifications given with the ad it really seemed to be a jack of all trades with some very surprising features, and sold at what seemed a very reasonable price, so I took the jump.
A guide here pointed out that we now are also expected to say how much money we paid, and I must admit I had already forgotten how much it really was. Checking back I now find it was a measly 70 euros, p & p included, which seems so dirt cheap I'm afraid no one will believe it. And that was on March, 23rd of this year. The GBP vs euro exchange rate has undergone some fluctuations since, so conversion into GBP is not that easy, say something between 45 to 65 GBP?
I can only guess that since the shop hasn't had any more of these on offer since, although it still seems to be in the Conceptronic products catalog, that it must have been a clearance sale for this model.
WHAT IS IT ?
Basically it is an external harddrive housing, sold without a harddisk installed, be it one with almost every possible means of connection. The CH3WNAS, seems to be the only device in Conceptronic's Grab 'n Go lineup of Network Attached Storage Devices, that offers so much. Obviously, like all of them it has an USB 2.0 connection but that just seems accessory here as it has much more than that, (although it even excels in that department, since it has not just the one but TWO of those USB connectors, see further down), the most distinguishing being WiFi, so wireless connexion capability. The purpose being that from anywhere on your network (Wifi or wired), or even through the internet for that matter, you can have access to your files without having to fire up a PC that would normally store them, or would pilot another basic type of external harddrive.
On this Wifi, I must say that the device really surprised me because the Wireless function, at a theoretical maximum speed of 54 Megabits/second (through the 802.11g-Wifi standard - but b is also supported) seems to be on as standard and the device, without my even knowing, because I was still busy exploring it through another type of connection, trying to set it all up, had already sneaked itself onto my wireless network, which I thought to be quite secure.
For its discovery Conceptronic delivers a special software tool called 'Easy Search Utililty' and it is exactly that, because it really helps you to quickly find the device on your network. This tool and an updated driver can be downloaded directly from the Conceptronic website, which is : http://www.conceptronic.net/
As for now it is installed quite near my desk, connecting to my home network through a small hub, I only use it through the standard (cable) network connexion, and for now disabled the Wifi (we wouldn't want want my neighbours or other innocent passers-by to go browsing through my files, now would we ?) and here I must underline that it really endorses the Gigabit feature, meaning that you can potentially transfer files/data at a speed of 1 Gigabit per second, which is blisteringly fast. Unfortunately that also means that to conserve this speed your whole network has to support it, which is of course still rarely the case, especially in today's SOHO (Small Office Home office) context. But I did do a speedtest by connecting the drive directly to the one computer I have which has Gigabit capability and the Gigabit feature was correctly identified and enabled by its operating system.
As already said on top of its Wifi and RJ45 network connector it has two USB 2.0 ports, one at the back and one at the front, allowing you to connect another two external harddrives, even harddisks that are only powered through the USB-bus, this because the Conceptronic does need its own powerplug to work, so it can share some of that juice with other devices, when needed.
Inside the box is a harddrive bay backed up by a small motherboard which contains the processor chip piloting the device. You really don't need to be a rocket scientist to install a harddrive in it, but you'd better not be hamfisted either as it does require some precision fixing the drive securily to the bay and in the box. The housing is cooled by a small fan installed at the rear so it isn't exactly inaudible although the fan noise is not intrusive either, I didn't measure but it is much more quiet than your average desktop PC. Do take extra care when reassembling the device and make sure nothing touches the fan blades to keep the noise down.
The housing itself is a mixture of plastic and aluminium and as you can see from the picture here it does look quite nice and classy.
The whole thing is run by a flavour of the Linux operating system, which also means that security is quite tight and you can give users exactly the access to various folders and subfolders they really need and nothing more. Setup is done through a web interface which is quite straightforward except for the user account creation part which is not really that intuitive I found. The whole of the setup is very similar to what you find on today's Modem/Routers, so people familiar with setting up internet connections on those won't feel alienated. The web interface is easily found on Windows' based computers as a shortcut to the configuration webpage is automatically created in the appropriate folder found under "My Network Places".
IDE only, not SATA!
I must admit to having lost a lot of time trying to have the device accept a SATA-drive, this because at the time the biggest harddrive I had on hand, and was really eager to use, was a 1 Terrabyte SATA (Serial ATA) device and for IDE (also so know as Parallel ATA or PATA) the biggest I had was only 400 Gigabytes. But after several unfruitful attemps, using not one but two different types of the small SATA-to-IDE converters that have become available these days, I had to give in and could only get it working with the said 400 gigabyte IDE-drive. The SATA-drive was never recognized although the LED control lights on the litle converter boards tried to have me believe that all was well but alas not so for the Conceptronic, which would have nothing to do with anything SATA.
Also beware, because for each new drive that you attempt to install in it, the Conceptronic management system insists on (re)formatting it first, so you had better backup any data you don't want to lose. But the Linux OS also means that the harddisk installed needs to be formatted in the Linux EXT2 filesystem. But this doesn't hamper exchanging files with Windows based computers one bit.
Beides its really spectacular connection capability the device also supports some filesharing protocols such as FTP out of the box. It can also serve as an Audio/Video streaming device to devices that support uPnP (universal Plug and Play), which besides the obvious computers on your network can also be a Playstation3 or any other type of digital mediaplayer that has network capability. Can't comment on this last feature yet because I still have to purchase such a device. However I did just order a DVD-player with both cable network and WiFi capability so I am eager to find out how good it will work together with the Conceptronic.
All announced features are present and accounted for and the device does work fine, although because of Linux'security file access permissions are not that easy to set up. Really too bad also it only takes IDE-drives and the manufacturer (and resellers for that matter) don't really go to all lenghts trying to make that absolutely clear to you, so beware.
Too bad for the IDE only limitation because I think Conceptronic really had a winner on its hands here, and why they haven't brought out a model for SATA drives yet is really inexplicable and a huge shame. And no surprise the webshop no longer has the Grab 'n Go on offer since finding the 3"5 inch IDE-drives that fit into it has become nearly impossible. I know because since the end of March I have unsuccessfully been trying to still buy a new IDE-drive bigger than the 400 gigabytes drive I currently use in it.