• United States
by James Gaskin, Network World Global Test Alliance

Linksys debuts low-cost NAS server

Jan 20, 20034 mins

For small-office file sharing and added storage, this ‘turn on and forget’ box is tough to beat.

Fortune cookies say a man with two watches never really knows the time. Similarly, an office with two PCs is never sure where its files are until it shares storage space.

But moving up to a traditional file server running a network operating system means a big price tag and new management chores. An alternative is Linksys’ new EFG80 EtherFast Instant GigaDrive, a network-attached storage (NAS) device. This entry-level file server provides 80G bytes of shared storage, password-protected directories, a print server, and 10Base-T and 100Base-T support.

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Priced at about $500, the device costs more than adding a comparable hard disk to an existing PC. However, the EFG80 offers justifications for adding storage this way.

First, although sharing hard disks between Windows desktops is less expensive, the method offers weaker performance and security. The EFG80 runs an embedded Linux operating system so it can support more users than any Windows nonserver desktop system. Adding users, passwords and private directories forces better security than the Windows “share everything” mode often used by default. Moreover, leaving the EFG80 running and always available is no problem.

Second, the EFG80 is expandable, offering space for another hard disk up to 120G bytes. You also can replace the existing 80G-byte drive with a 120G-byte model, increasing the storage to 240G bytes.

Finally, the EFG80 includes a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server, so it can allocate IP addresses to all the PCs on your LAN. But your Internet router likely offers DHCP services, your DSL or broadband cable provider cannot reconfigure or crash the EFG80. Connections all revolve around Windows peer-to-peer network protocols, particularly the Workgroup networking used in small networks. Unlike some other NAS devices, the EFG80 doesn’t support Macintosh clients directly, but they can gain access to files through Web access or FTP. Linux systems can make connections using built-in Windows network tools.

Installation is quick and easy, and you can attach the EFG80 to a single PC for an external disk (an expensive disk-adding option, but faster with Ethernet than the USB 1.0 options) or put it on your LAN by linking it to a wiring hub, assuming you have a network with TCP/IP enabled on your computers. Linksys includes a CD-ROM disk with a setup wizard, and a well-illustrated manual that stresses the importance of backing up files beforehand to prevent data loss.

Administration is straightforward. You provide the system’s network name, set the time zone and decide whether to allow standard FTP access. Users can connect as “guest” users with full access to all defined disk shares, or you can add users and set aside private disk areas for each. Even the most technophobic user can set up this default level of sharing the entire disk, and setting up individual names and private directories takes only slightly more ability. Under the Advanced heading, you can set up and administer user groups.

There isn’t a way to query existing servers to gather user names because this product is geared to be the first shared server on a network. The EFG80 can be configured to send e-mail alerts to two addresses when there’s low disk space or drive failure. Though handy, the print server gives little control through the administration screens.

If you hang your EFG80 on the public Internet, users can connect via FTP or any Web browser. Using the browser, clients can download files but not upload. FTP allows both and also provides security by assigning FTP users to private directories.

Some improvements we’d like to see include Macintosh client support, control over the print queue to see and manage waiting print jobs, and utilities that help users automate a desktop back-up process to the NAS. Adding the print server and easy expansion makes this box stand out in a NAS field.

EFG80 EtherFast Instant GigaDrive


Company: Linksys, (800) 546-5797 Cost: $500 to $600. Pros: Easy installation, expandable, good small-office alternative to file server. Cons: Limited control over print server.  
Setup & installation 30%  3
Management flexibility 30%  3
Security control & management 30%  2
Documentation 10%  3


Individual category scores are based on a scale of 1 to 5. Percentages are the weight given each category in determining the total score. Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional showing in this category. Defines the standard of excellence; 4: Very good showing. Although there may be room for improvement, this product was much better than the average; 3: Average showing in this category. Product was neither especially good nor exceptionally bad; 2: Below average. Lacked some features or lower performance than other products or than expected; 1: Consistently subpar, or lacking features being reviewed.