LinkStation Mini Review header

The Buffalo LinkStation Mini was first released in 2008, however, the 2010 version offers some significant benefits. The main interest for me was it’s complete lack of a fan for near silent running. Something of a rarity with Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices.

Having had a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo (review here) NAS device for some time I have always been frustrated with the noise the device makes, even after adding a quieter fan. The LinkStation Mini NAS (available in Black or White in sizes of 500GB or 1TB) uses laptop (2.5″ size) hard drives internally which means the unit itself is diminutive (only 82mm by 40mm). Besides size, smaller laptop drives produce less heat and use less power, meaning it’s possible to design a fanless enclosure, as employed by the new LinkStation Mini. It’s certainly very quiet. I would hesitate to say ‘silent’ as there is still some audible noise from the unit but it’s entirely different from something like the ReadyNAS Duo.

Setup is very simple. Attach the power and network cable, attach your printer to the USB port (if desired) and turn it on. After a few minutes the device stops blinking to indicate it’s ready for business. Run the enclosed CD on any systems you want to access the LinkStation Mini and it will install the NASNavigator utility. This should find the NAS and allow access to the web based configuration utility. Whilst it didn’t allow direct access for me, it provided the IP address of the device, allowing me to enter the address into my browser (e.g. http://192.168.1.15 – default user is ‘admin’ and password is ‘password’) to start the setup. The interface is clean, simple and mostly intuitive. I found it easier to get about and change settings than in the ReadyNAS interface for example but much of this will be preference (see the screenshot to view the interface). It’s also worth pointing out that whilst there are some inconsistencies, the PDF manual is good, providing the answers to most queries without the need to go searching the web/user forums.

The LinkStation Mini interface

RAID modes
The LinkStation Mini offers two ways of using the hard drive space. My 1GB model (LS-WSX1.0TLR1) is made up of two 500GB drives. These can be used as 500GB of space in ‘RAID1’ mode (RAID1 is ‘mirroring’, meaning that both drives have a mirror of the same information, offering some protection against data loss should a single drive fail) or 1GB of space in ‘RAID0’ mode (striping – this RAID method uses both disks as a single large volume). It’s easy to switch from one RAID mode to another although be warned; doing so will delete all information on the drives. It’s best to decide which way you want to use the device first, rather than have to copy the data twice. The default setup is RAID0. I opted for RAID1 as the device is used primarily as a file store (and I wanted any degree of protection it could offer). Users wanting to use the device primarily would probably prefer leaving it as RAID0 for streaming performance. Once a RAID setup is configured, it’s quite a long wait as the device re-formats the drives.

Much of the features of this NAS device just work so it makes little sense elaborating upon them. Besides Active Directory Support (ADS) and a built in BitTorrent client it’s also DLNA and UPnP compatible meaning it can stream your media about the home to devices like the PS3 or compatible TV’s etc. It also has a built in iTunes server and offers web access to your files. There’s a little bit of setup for this (creating login credentials for the service online), but once done, the files on the device can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection. Handy when a particular file is needed and you are 2000 miles away from the LinkStation Mini!

Powersave Timer and Auto Power on

The powersave timer allows the LinkStation Mini to be powered on or off throughout the day with pre-defined timers. For example, it’s possible to set the timer to wake the device at 7.30am and off at 2am the next day. The only slightly confusing aspect of this is rather than set off for ’02:00′ (as one might expect to for 2am), it must be set for ’26:00′ (24 hours plus 2!).

There is an alternative power saving option. An auto switch on the back of the LinkStation allows the device to work in an extended power saving mode, useful if the device is only used infrequently. With the unit in this mode, the device powers down as long as every device accessing the device a) has the NASNavigator2 utility running and b) is asleep. If any machine on the network turns on, so does the LinkStation Mini.

Troubleshooting TimeMachine in OSX

The TimeMachine setup for OSX users takes a couple more steps than something like the ReadyNAS Duo. However, it’s worth the work as once done it offers a significant benefit: the sparsebundle image it creates isn’t limited by a pre-defined size. This is the case with a ReadyNAS Duo (and plenty of other NAS drives) meaning that if you get your calculations wrong and don’t allocate enough space to TimeMachine, you can run out of space. The LinkStation Mini doesn’t suffer this limitation.

One undocumented problem I encountered with TimeMachine was that once set up, I kept receiving the following error: ‘The backup disk image could not be created (error 45)’. I found the answer in the Buffalo Tech Forums. My computer was names ‘Ben Frain’s MBP’ and the LinkStation didn’t like the non-standard characters. I changed my computer name to ‘Frain_MBP’ (no spaces or apostrophes) and TimeMachine backed up with no problem.

Troubleshooting network printing in OSX

According to the manual, it isn’t possible to use the print server feature of the Buffalo LinkStation Mini in OSX. Thankfully, this is incorrect, at least from my experience. I tried connecting a Canon MP610 multi function printer and whilst I was certain the scanning and full photo features wouldn’t be available, other NAS devices have happily worked with it in OSX using CUPS drivers. However, setting the IP address for the device in System Preferences > Print & Fax only ever resulted in a ‘Network host is busy’ error from the printer. Instead, I chose to search under Windows printers, and browsed the network until I found a printer called ‘lp’. I used the same CUPS drivers as before and the printer operated with no problems.

Firmware updates
The LinkStation Mini I received was loaded with firmware version 1.31 (Manufacture date was July 2010). More up to date Firmware version can be found at the Buffalo support site. It should be noted that it’s not possible to update the firmware directly through OSX. The LinkStation Mini updater only works on Windows.

Considerations

Whilst it’s mainly positives with the Buffalo LinkStation Mini LS-WSX, there is a serious limitations worth considering. The LinkStation Mini is not ‘user serviceable’, meaning that if you want to switch disks, replace a drive or try and recover information from a downed device, you can’t. At least not without voiding your warranty. This isn’t unheard of in NAS devices but it makes the inclusion of a RAID1 feature somewhat pyrrhic. What’s the point of a mirrored drive if you can’t add a new drive for it to mirror to if it all goes horribly wrong? Furthermore, this means there’s no way of easily expanding the drive size in future.

Conclusion

For the most part I have little reserve in recommending the LinkStation Mini to anyone looking for a dependable, easy to configure and quiet NAS device. It’s a cheaper alternative to (also fanless) the QNAP TS-119 and offers a print server feature which isn’t found on devices like the cheaper Western Digital World Book. The documentation is good, it has a thriving user forum to answer those ‘why the hell?’ questions and comes as standard with a 2 year warranty. The only slight concern for OSX users is the slightly convoluted manner in which network printing is achieved. However, if we all campaign the Buffalo tech team, there’s always a chance they may provide IP based printing in a future firmware release. And on that point, some method for updating the firmware through OSX wouldn’t go a miss either. These minor criticisms aside, the LinkStation Mini is an excellent all round NAS device. If size and operating volume are critical factors beyond benchmarked speed and expandability, the LinkStation Mini could be for you.

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