Apple recently released their new “Airport Extreme Base Station“. It includes neat things like A/b/g/n support, 100+ foot range, 3 wired ethernet ports, and Apple-easy configuration. The neat thing, however, is that it has a USB port on it. Granted, there are other 802.11n routers out there with USB ports, but this is an Apple 802.11n router with a USB port. This allows for all sorts of useful things to be connected to your router; right now just external USB hard drives, and less importantly, USB printers.
But you can get a router as a NAS (Network Attached Storage) for less than $100, you point out. Well, yes, but does your router support bonjour, and allow you to mount the drive automatically and as a local drive? That’s where the beauty of this device comes to light. No other routers have this feature (yet) to my knowledge, and really makes it a gem. Using a piece of software apple calls Airport Disk Utility you can configure drives attached to the Base Station to mount automatically to your desktop as a local drive. This is a brilliant move, in my opinion, as it makes upgrading computers a cinch, just add the new computer to the list of allowed computers to connect, and instantly your new computer has access to all of your old files, same directory structure, and you’re good to go. I suspect you’ll probably be able to mount your iPod over the network too; though what good it’ll do you, I’m not entirely sure.
Between the 802.11n and the ability to (theroretically) support roughly 120 hard drives (assuming 8 hubs), this should easily support all your home or small buisness file server needs through the next decade, as long as you don’t run a DV editing shop. Macworld has a review where they report 90Mbps over the air – 10Mbps is 1000 kb/s in browser speak – which is fast enough to stream multiple HDTV channels in raw format simultaneously, and definitely stream a DVD .VOB file or Divx movie. The lowly b format is easily capable of streaming iTunes and I hosted a web server for a while using 802.11b as the last leg on a DSL connection.
While I only have .35TB of data currently, I am planning on
grabbing a .5TB drive in the near future, and would love to have access to all .85TB of data on my laptop regardless of where in the house I am. Chris Stone of O’Reilly networks points out that it might be possible to setup your own wide area file server using DNS-SD also called Wide-Area Bonjour. This would be fantastic, as I could access all my files at home from anywhere, without the hassle of running a full fledged Linux file server, all the while only sipping 20watts of power at peak usage. I am imagining 10 naked hard drives mounted to a rough hewn 2×4 framed… shelf, all connected to two hubs which are connected to the Base Station.
Only caveat is that it does not (currently!) support RAIDed drives like Lacie’s duo drives. Nor does it support gigabit eithernet for your wired macs. On the flip side, all the wonderful auto local drive mount features are also for windows machines, and windows and mac machines can see files on both NTFS and HFS formatted drives.