Storage is a crucial part of the digital lifestyle: We all need a place to put our stuff, and we need a way to access those files easily. Linksys has tried a few storage products in the past, but the Media Hub is its most ambitious effort. While it’s not exactly a small business server that lets you set up user accounts – like the HP MediaSmart EX487 – and can’t compete with the robust RAID and back-up options on Netgear ReadyNAS devices or those by Buffalo Technology, it has one glowing attribute: it’s easy to use. Like most Apple products including the still viable Time Capsule, the Media Hub assumes you are not a certified Microsoft engineer or someone who carries USB key drives in your pocket 24×7. It’s a smart product that eases you into the deeper features, with only a few caveats.
Features and Design
Setting up the Media Hub takes all of about three minutes. Connect one Ethernet cord to your router, turn it on, and you’re done. Because the drive supports UPnP and works well with Windows, Apple iTunes, the Mac (thanks to Bonjour), and even Linux, you can expect to see the drive on your network without installing a driver or fussing with an IP address. Only when you do want to dive into the advanced features will you need the included setup CD or to access the drive’s IP.
This NAS matches the styling of the new Linksys Multi-Room Home Audio gear – which is to say, it’s gray and black and nothing too special compared to more elegantly designed network-attached storage devices. The difference between a media player you’d stick next to an HDTV, and this product, is that it will likely sit in a back closet somewhere. The Media Hub has two USB ports, one on the front and one on the back. There are very few buttons and lights. The NMH305 base model ships with one 500GB SATA drive and has one open bay. There’s a power light and drive activity light – Linksys plans to release two additional models with higher capacities and an LCD screen that reports on drive status.
Performance on the Linksys Media Hub is just ho-hum – it’s not going to set any speed records. About 6GB of MPEG-4 movie files took six minutes to transfer to the Media Hub, whereas the same transfer took 3 minutes to send to a home-built Windows Home Server and only 1 min 40 seconds to copy to the HP MediaSmart EX487 server. A 700MB collection of photos and documents took 50 seconds to write to the drive and 50 seconds to read, about 15 seconds longer than it took on the HP MediaSmart. The drive really showed some pokey behavior when we performed a full back-up of a desktop, which took about ten hours for about 200GB of data. The Media Hub has a gigabit Ethernet port, so it should be no slouch, but a real server adds some extra features to speed up disk copies.
Linksys by Cisco Media Hub NMH305
Okay, so the real story here is not about stellar performance, but ease of access. Linksys includes a Media Hub program that serves as a media player. It’s well-designed, because it dispenses with all the techie talk and just shows you your files in columns. For example, you can view photos (and even run a slideshow), search through your music collection (and play files), and browse through videos. It’s a smart media aggregator: add an MPEG file, and the Media Hub software will add a thumbnail preview image. Since the drive supports DLNA 1.5 and UPnP, we had no trouble streaming media to an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3, and had it working really smooth with the new Linksys Home Audio gear. File support is extensive, playing lesser known formats such as MP2 (for audio) and PNG (for images). The drive did not recognize RAW files, which is a shame since so many people are buying digital SLRs these days.
Setting up remote access is also a breeze. The HP MediaSmart tries too hard at times to give you a cornucopia of options. The Linksys Media Hub just prompts you for a login name and password. You then access the drive without any fuss, using the CiscoMediaHub.com site. It couldn’t be easier, but check with your ISP if they have opened ports for remote access to a server.
Linksys deserves a crown for the media interface, but we do have a few quibbles. If you attach an external hard disk to the Media Hub, it shows up looking like a USB key, which is confusing. When you add new files and want to browse them with the media software, you have to click the scan button to refresh — and the scan button is only available on one main screen. There’s a media importer program that adds files to media folders, but there’s no drag-and-drop capability like there is on some Western Digital drives. And, the fact that you can’t purchase new music means you will likely go back to iTunes and might never use the media software anyway, so it’s a bit superfluous.
Those are minor issues. Overall, the Linksys Media Hub is easy to use and performed well enough for home use. It’s not a serious NAS (network attached storage) appliance, and you probably won’t want to run your business with it. But as a place to put your files and play media, the Media Hub is one of the best choices around because it makes it all seem easy and straightforward.
- Well-designed media software
- Easy remote access
- Boring gray and black design
- Poor performance
- Some interface glitches