Buffalo LinkStation Live review: valiant attempt at home NAS networking
The Buffalo LinkStation Live is a designed to be an easy to set up NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive. Easy is a relative term in NAS drives, or indeed anything to do with networks at all. Setting up and running a NAS drive is typically a miserable affair of IP addresses, server connections, logins and passwords.
Read more: Best NAS for Mac
Buffalo goes a long way towards making this easier with its NAS Navigator 2 software for Mac OS X. This locates LinkStation drives on your network and mounts them for you. It's still a far shot from plugging in a USB or Thunderbolt drive, however, because you have to launch the NAS Navigator 2 to scan and mount the volume. However, this is one of the easiest NAS drive processes we've used (at least on Mac OS X).
By default you then get an extra drive under the Shared portion of the Finder sidebar, with a volume called 'share' that you can access like any other drive. Of course, the real advantage of a NAS drive is that it connects via Ethernet to your Wi-Fi router and can be accessed from any laptop on the network.
There are some downsides to using a NAS drive, the principle one being speed. We connected the Buffalo LinkStation Live directly to a Mac Pro and used Black Magic Design Disk Speed Test to benchmark it. The LinkStation Live delivered a measly 18.3 MB/s write speed and 31.5 MB/s read. This is well below the 50-100 MB/s an internal drive typically delivers, not to mention the 200-450 MB/s speeds that some of the newer SSDs and integrated MacBook flash drives are delivering. We copied a 1GB file to the drive and it took 48.4 secs to copy across.
But speed isn't really the issue with NAS drives. We found it perfectly capable of playing and streaming high definition video to our Mac, which is typically what you want to use the drive for. The great thing about a NAS drive is that it can be accessed by all Macs, and other devices such as PS3 and Xbox consoles, so you can use it to store and stream movies.
And Buffalo has gone a step further and created the SmartPhone Navigator and Web Access i HD app (available on the App Store). This enables you to access files from your Buffalo LinkStation Live on an iOS device: iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.) Again, it's not as easy as we'd like. We kept getting a "Port transfer configuration failed" error in the Easy Setup process, for example.
So on the whole we still think that NAS drives are a just too clunky for the average consumer. This is a real shame as Buffalo has clearly made real effort into making this as simple as possible. They've created a good NAS drive, with a single Ethernet connection, good Mac OS X software, iOS software and delivered it all for a reasonable price. The RRP is £135 but we've seen it on sale for almost half of that already, so if you want to set up a NAS drive in the home this is a price-effective way to do it. Even so, we'd suggest cloud solutions like Dropbox have taken much of the wind out the sails of NAS drives. Home networking is just a pain to work with.
As far as NAS drives go this is one of the more consumer friendly options we've seen. Getting it up and running in Mac OS X was pain-free, and sharing the movie files with a PS3 or Xbox 360 console. Connecting to an iOS device was less pain-free, however, and we'd see more sense in using a cloud service like Dropbox or iTunes Match to share media between Mac and iOS devices.