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Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station
Pros: four USB ports with support for both storage and printers; internal Wi-Fi N/G adapter;
Cons: limited media streaming configuration options; remote access requires payment after the first year
Almost everyone has at least a few USB hard or flash devices lying around to use as supplemental or portable storage, but they’re not that handy for sharing data unless you’re willing to carry them around and plug them into every computer you visit. With Iomega’s $100 iConnect Wireless Data Station, on the other hand, sundry USB devices can transform into Network Attached Storage, ensuring their contents are accessible from multiple computers.
The iConnect has no internal storage of its own; conceptually, it’s similar to the CloudEngines PogoPlug, but doesn’t have the PogoPlug’s emphasis on remote access and sharing. Instead, the iConnect focuses primarily on local network availability (though it does do remote access too) and adds features like integrated Wi-Fi and printer support.
The iConnect has a sleek, low-profile black plastic case (6.3W x 5.1D x 1H, in inches) with three USB ports on the front plus a fourth on the back alongside Gigabit Ethernet and AC power connectors. While the abundance of USB ports is a definite plus, having most of them up front can make for messy cable clutter when connecting hard drives rather than flash storage, so we think most users would have much preferred a slightly taller design with all but one of the ports in back. Irrespective of their location, all of the iConnect’s USB ports can accommodate either storage devices or printers, and up to two of the latter simultaneously.
Setup and Administration
Getting the iConnect functional on a basic level is quick and easy, particularly if you’re sticking to Ethernet as the connection method and don’t need to limit access to shared storage. After powering up the device, connecting the network cable, and attaching USB devices (we used a mixture of hard drives and flash storage) you can use the Iomega Storage Manager Windows/Mac utility to discover the device or head straight to its IP address in a browser and proceed through an extremely short setup wizard which names the device, sets the time, and collects e-mail contact info (if you want to receive problem alerts). To use the iConnect’s built-in Wi-Fi (n/g/b), you must first connect via wired to complete the aforementioned wizard and then reboot the device to continue configuration.
The iConnect’s browser-based interface is simple and well-organized with five tabs, including Home and Dashboard tabs which provide convenient access to frequently used tasks so you don’t have to delve too far into menus except for certain advanced configuration chores.
Speaking of advanced configuration, since the iConnect comes with security disabled, by default it provides unfettered public access to all attached storage (a configuration which is probably sufficient for many). Activating the iConnect’s security feature gives you the ability create user accounts, with an administrative option to provide access to the device’s settings as well as data. Once you have accounts set up, you can configure particular storage devices—though not individual folders-- to allow read/write or read only access for certain users.
Backups and Data Transfer
As with most NAS devices, you get backup software with the iConnect, though in this case you won’t actually find it in the box. Rather, you must download the Iomega Protection Suite (an iConnect serial number is required for access), which includes EMC Retrospect and Retrospect HD for Windows (only the former for the Mac), for whole-disk backup and Iomega’s QuikProtect utility (Windows & Mac) for simple file-level backups. (For Mac users, the iConnect is also Time Machine-compatible.) Note: The Windows version of QuikProtect currently works only with XP/Vista; Iomega says it’s working on updating it for Windows 7.
The iConnect provides a handy QuikTransfer feature which allows you to plug in a storage device, press a front panel button, and have the drive’s contents copied to a predefined folder on another attached drive. You can also define a series of copy jobs that replicate the data from any pair of attached devices, either when the QuickTransfer button is pressed, or according to a set schedule (which is useful for backing up data internally.) In addition, the iConnect can automate the transfer of photos from digital cameras that support PTP (Picture Transfer Protocol).
The iConnect is a DLNA-certified UPnP AV server, so it can stream video, audio, and photos to PCs, game consoles, and other compatible devices (including some TVs these days), and it can also stream via iTunes. There’s not a lot of configuration flexibility here, though; the two streaming methods can only be enabled or disabled together, you can’t designate specific devices or folders for streaming, or control how often the iConnect scans for new content other than to run the scan manually.
The iConnect boasts the ability to download torrents directly to its storage, and it can cap the amount of bandwidth used for the purpose-- though you’ll likely want to change the default settings of 250 kbps downstream and 50 up if you want to get large files sometime this decade. Although you can queue up multiple torrents, the iConnect only downloads them one at a time, which can lead to bottlenecks if a low-seeded file is at the top of the list (because the queue can’t be reordered).
These days, many NAS products offer remote access to your data via a vendor-operated portal Web site with a persistent link to the device. Iomega handles iConnect remote access a bit differently, however, providing a direct device connection with help from TZO’s Dynamic DNS service. There’s a choice of two configuration options available; the basic plan lets you create a device name prefix on either the myiomega.com or iomegalink.com domain (e.g. joesiconnect.iomegalink.com), is free for the first year, and costs $9.95 annually thereafter, while a $24.99/year Premium option lets you use your own custom domain instead. Setting up an iConnect for remote access is simple enough—port forwarding is handled automatically if you have a UPnP-compatible router; otherwise, you must manually forward port 443 for SSL (and in that case, you’ll also want to assign the iConnect a static IP, or at least a reserved DHCP address).
Using the TZO basic option can have an inconvenient side effect, because the device name you chose during initial setup may or may not be usable for remote access (names must be unique, so the one you picked may already be taken). Therefore, if you need to rename your device during the remote access configuration process, any links to shared folders/ mapped drives you’ve set up on a PC will become invalid and need to be recreated using the new device name.
With a remote link to the iConnect established, you get a basic interface with which to browse folders and download or upload files, though such file transfers must be done one at a time. Also, you can’t stream audio or video over the remote connection, but you can display a photo slideshow. If you’ve logged in with an administrator account, you get the same configuration control over the iConnect that you do when connected locally.
Although it could use some feature tweaks and a better physical design, if you'd like to conjure up decent network storage from ordinary USB devices, the Iomega iConnect Wireless Data Station provides a simple and inexpensive way to do it.