LaCie Ethernet Disk mini Home Edition 500GB Review

LaCie Ethernet Disk mini Home Edition 500GB

“LaCie's new Ethernet Disk mini "Home Edition" is a great way of storing data on a wired or wireless network.”
  • Access data from anywhere in the world; easy to use and manage; browser based access
  • Lengthy setup process; no FireWire interface; slow data rates
MSRP $199.99

Summary

Network storage enthusiasts rejoice! LaCie recently announced a new hard drive – the Ethernet Disk mini "Home Edition". It’s a sleek little 500GB, gigabit-capable network drive with a special twist – it can be securely accessed from anywhere in the world via a high-speed Internet connection and a proper setup on your network. A potential windfall for world travelers and home network hobbyists, the Ethernet Disk mini could change the way you access and share files. Read on for more drive specs and to determine whether or not this $199 USD drive could solve your local and international data-access needs.

Features and Design

LaCie’s new 500GB Ethernet Disk mini "Home Edition" is a sweet little external drive. It has a single 500GB hard drive inside, and the external enclosure is made of the same textured aluminum common to LaCie’s top-of-the-line drives. The texture is like ultra fine sandpaper – smooth, but just grippy enough to create a compelling tactile sensation. Because the mini has a single drive inside, the overall size of the enclosure is smaller than most external drives. It measures about 44mm x 160mm x 173mm, or about 1.7" x 6.3" x 6.8". It weighs about 3.3 lbs, or 52.95 oz.

The front of the drive has the signature LaCie One-Touch button and status light. The sides have the LaCie logo stamped on them. The back of the drive has a fan grille, a 10/100/1000 (yes, gigabit) Ethernet port, a USB host port for external backups, a power plug and a Kensington-style lock port. It’s incredibly simple.

The Ethernet Disk mini can be stacked horizontally (laid on its side and stacked on other minis), kept upright with the included aluminum base, or even rack mounted with LaCie’s hard drive rack.

The internal drive is SATA and spins at 7200 RPM. It has 8MB cache in the current model, but this could change to drives with 16MB cache at any time. 

Because the mini relies on software to be located on your LAN (and accessible over the Internet), it will only work with Windows 2000, XP and Vista as well as Mac OS X 10.3 or higher – including Leopard. Browser access is pretty generous – Windows Explorer 6 or higher, Safari 1.3 or higher, Firefox 1.5 or higher. It may work with other browsers as well, but LaCie recommends the aforementioned holy trinity of ultra-compatible web browsers. 

LaCie Ethernet Disk mini
The back of the Ethernet Disk mini

World Wide Access

The Ethernet Disk mini has an incredibly useful feature – external access from anywhere in the world. The mini connects to your network by means of a LAN cable then when your router is properly configured to allow access, you can log in to homelacie.com with your special user name and password and access (and even upload) files on the mini hard drive as if they were local to your computer and/or network. This feature is highly unusual for hard drives and makes the Ethernet Disk mini a hot commodity for computer users who need to maintain access to files but don’t want to bring an external drive along with them. 

iTunes Server

The Ethernet Disk mini can be used as a storage place for your iTunes library. Optionally, it can hold more than one iTunes library, giving a family or office a shared entertainment server. Because the Ethernet Disk mini uses 10/100/1000 network connection, the streaming of music and video will never experience a hiccup due to low bandwidth on the LAN.

The mini will act as a media server for your TV when connected to a UPnP media player.

FamilyLibrary, MyLibrary, MyBackup, MyContacts, etc.

The Ethernet Disk mini comes with several pre-configured folders for your file-storing pleasure. These folders are FamilyLibrary, MyLibrary and MyBackup. Under each folder is a sub-set of folders, like FamilyDocuments, FamilyMusic, FamilyPhotos and FamilyVideos, etc. You can log into the administration manager in any web browser and change file names, add or delete folders, etc. The drive, in browser mode, acts very much like an FTP server. The mini also has a MyContacts folder so you can sync your contacts list on the drive – again, for local and external access.

The Ethernet Disk mini comes with optional backup software (called DesktopMirror) for use on both Mac and Windows-based computers. The software is easy to set up and can even run automatically or at the press of a single button. The HipServ Agent software grants access to the drive via LAN or Internet.

Included in the box: LaCie Ethernet Disk mini 500GB drive and stand, ethernet cable, power supply, software CD and setup guide.

Required for use: Ethernet router (one that supports UPnP, ideally), high speed Internet connection (cable, DSL, FIOS, etc.) with port 80 or 443 open, PC or Mac with anything greater than 500MHz, and Windows 2000, XP, Vista or OS X 10.3 and up, a little patience and about 30-40 minutes. 

Setup and Use

It’s pretty easy to set up the LaCie Ethernet Disk mini for basic operation. Pull the drive from the box, remove the aluminum base from the plastic wrap and, after loosening the hex screws a little with the included hex key, slide the base onto the bottom of the drive. Tighten the hex keys and set the drive enclosure upright on a desk.

Wondering which way is up or why the drive enclosure has two base slots (one on top and one on the bottom)? When using the Ethernet Disk mini in an upright manner, the blue light/button should be upright. The reason there are two slots is because LaCie sells a rack-mount system for holding multiple drives stacked 4-high. 

After the base is attached, plug the power cord into a surge-protected wall outlet and into the drive enclosure. The drive should power up. If it doesn’t, just press the blue button on the front of the drive and it’ll wake up.

Next, connect the included (and very ice quality, by the way) ethernet cable to your router, switch or hub. You’ll see the green light on the back of the drive light up. That means it’s got a live, successful connection to your network.

The previous steps should take no more than 2-3 minutes. The following steps could take 20-40 minutes. Grab a coffee, a glass of wine or something else to tide you over while you run though the rest of the configuration. 

Insert your Ethernet Disk mini CD into your computer (Mac and PC both supported). Depending on your operating system (Windows or OS X), the software setup steps will vary slightly, but they follow the same theme – 1) install the necessary network drivers for the Ethernet Disk mini, and 2) install the actual software program that you’ll use to manage the Ethernet Disk mini on your network.

When installing the "HipServ" software required to connect the drive to your computers, you’ll need to enter the Product Key (unique ID number for your drive) from the sticker on the back of the enclosure. You’ll also be asked to give the HipServ drive a name, like "LaCie-500GB-mini" or whatever suits your naming protocol. Be sure the name doesn’t include spaces or odd characters. Only letters, numbers and hyphens are allowed. Why? Because the Ethernet Disk mini will be connected to your network and needs to have a properly assigned name. Additionally, the mini is accessible by you, worldwide, through LaCie’s special website so the naming protocol needs to be right. 

Continuing beyond the naming of your LaCie mini drive for network/Internet use, you’ll need to set the time and date. We suggest using the "Set time and date from the Internet" option, which gives the most accurate time. Then select your country and the closest city in your time zone. For folks who are really bad at geography, we suggest hitting up Google for an assist. For west coasters, use the Los Angeles option.

Set up a HipServ account for use on the LaCie site. Enter user name, password and confirm the same password. You will be prompted to set up your router or cable modem to allow outside access to your drive. This is a necessary step if you’ll want to access your Ethernet Disk mini from wherever you may travel in the world. Follow the step-by-step instructions.

You may also notice that the HipServ software will automatically update itself whenever there’s a new, improved version.

To modify any settings on the Ethernet Disk mini, open a browser and type in the assigned IP address, like 192.168.1.123 or 10.2.2.36. Enter your user name and password and follow the steps for custom settings.

You can even enter your email address into one of the setup screens and the mini drive will inform you of any software updates, activity notices or error messages.

Finally, once all the configurations are done, you’ll get the following message: "Congratulations! You have now completed set up of your HipServ™. To access it, go to www.homelacie.com or install the applications available on the CD."

The Ethernet Disk mini can be used for scheduled backups of files and folders on your computer, or it can be used as a random repository of files for numerous users on your LAN. Additionally, the software included with the mini makes it possible to access and view media files directly from the mini in their own Java windows. The list of compatible file formats is huge and includes music and video files, among others.

Performance

In our tests, we saw transfer speeds – both read and write – of no less than 6MB/s (about 48mbps) on a local 10/100 network and around 8-10MB/s average (64-80mbps) on a gigabit network. These speeds are average for our test network. Your speeds may vary.

If you need to make a first-run sync of a large amount of data and you find that your router or switch is causing a slow-down, you can connect the Ethernet Disk mini directly to your computer using the LAN card. On Macs, it’s as easy as using an Ethernet cable and configuring your computer’s IP address. On PCs, you’ll need a crossover cable. The connection is much more direct and can really increase transfer speeds (though it’s not guaranteed to).

Over the Internet, upload and download speeds varied greatly – completely at the mercy of ISP upload speeds. No matter where the mini is based, if you’ve got a proper T1 connection, Comcast’s business level service (typically 768kbps or 96KB/s upload) or Verizon’s FIOS service (2mbps or higher upload), you should see pretty decent access speeds. Of course, if you’re in Marseilles trying to pull a 1GB file from Modesto, you may need to go out for a cafe au lait and a long walk while the transfer occurs. But the coolest thing is that the transfer will occur and you’ll have access to your data anywhere and everywhere.

When on your LAN, some admin features of the Ethernet Disk mini are zippy and quick, whereas other admin functions and browsing of files slowed down. For example, changing from dynamic to static IP in the setup/admin menus took about 90 seconds, with roughly 60-70 of those seconds spent waiting for pages to refresh. Again, your experiences may vary depending on your network setup.

Ease of Use

Without a doubt, the Ethernet Disk mini is easy to set up and use, especially when accessing the drive within Windows Explorer or Finder. The drag and drop action is just the same on this drive as it is on any other hard drive. Once you switch to browser mode, the experience changes dramatically and first-time users should be forewarned of this. It’s a culture shock, like moving to a new country. The basic philosophy is the same, but the rules and step-by-step actions are a little different. For high-level computer users, the adjustment period will be on the order of minutes. For less familiar users, it could take a few hours or days to adjust to the new way of accessing, uploading and managing files and folders. Despite the wee learning curve, once you get the hang of it, you’ll have the skill permanently.

LaCie Ethernet Disk mini
The backup button is not hard to find

Airport Extreme Users

For those who have Airport Extreme base stations, you’ve already got a USB port for sharing a drive on your wired & wireless network. If that’s all you’re looking for, you could use a plain-jane USB drive connected to the Airport Extreme. If you must have outside access, the LaCie Ethernet Disk mini is awesome and fills the need.

Downsides

There are only a couple mild downsides to the Ethernet Disk mini. First, there is limited access to the physical drive (no USB or FireWire ports for extra-speedy primary sync). This can be solved by connecting the drive directly to your computer’s LAN port (Mac users can connect with any LAN cable and PC users should connect with a cross-over cable. Second, access speeds are limited by LAN or Internet connection speeds. But when you get into NAS storage like this, it’s full understood that speeds are limited by LAN/Internet; the mini’s outer-world access more than makes up for any shortcomings.

Conclusion

LaCie’s new Ethernet Disk mini "Home Edition" is a great way of storing data on a wired or wireless network. Data can be shared between multiple users on a LAN, it’s easy to set up, easy to access and most functions are identical (or very similar) to standard USB or FireWire hard drives. The major benefit to the Ethernet Disk mini is that it can be accessed via LaCie’s special website from anywhere in the world. You can literally be kicking back in Moscow and access your files in Modesto. It’s beautiful in simplicity and accessibility; we just wish the data rates were faster.

Pros:

• Access data from anywhere in the world!
• Convenient LAN use for home & office
• Easy to use & manage
• File manager or browser based access

Cons:

• Somewhat lengthy setup process
• Data rates slower than USB 2.0 & FireWire

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