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It seems that most routers (2011) actually offer USB support and sharing media. However I've heard lots of horrors concerning firmware and all. I am looking for a networked hard disk of 2TB size, so I can use it for backups and watch my videos files (with a TV and all computers).

My questions are..

  1. Would you recommend a networked HDD or a router with USB support (where an HDD can be attached and shared over the network)? Would there be any disadvantages from choosing one over the other?

  2. If you recommend a networked HDD – since my 4 ports are used – does that mean I need a switch or hub?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The USB port on most routers are meant for printer or occasional file sharing. The CPU and memory in most of them are not nearly enough for any serious file transfer operations. You're probably looking at 5-6MB/s transfer speed which means for any large file you will probably save time by walking to the router, unplugging the drive and plugging it in to your own computer's USB.

You will need at least a 500MHz ARM-based CPU (Intel is much better), 256MB RAM and gigabit ethernet if you want performance and unfortunately, you can only find this kind of spec in "NAS grade" devices.

In conclusion, you'll probably need a NAS device (perhaps an entry level one, like the "network hd" kind you mentioned) and a gagabit ethernet switch.

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Could you please provide some examples as to what speed ranges we might expect with a device you listed compared to say an average 300 MHz/ 32 MiB of RAM ARM based device? – AndrejaKo Oct 7 '11 at 22:04
Thanks nice explanation. – Rushino Oct 8 '11 at 14:12
@AndrejaKo in your case, the bottleneck will be the RAM, but the actual value largely depends on what software is used to provide the file sharing functionality and how it is optimised. For SAMBA (Windows file sharing) you'll probably get less than 10MB/s which is even slower than what 100Mbps ethernet can do. You may get more performance through FTP which have less overhead. But 32MB is roughly the cache size of some high capacity disk drives, so it's really very small. – Oct 9 '11 at 0:26

As far as number 2 is concerned, get a switch. It may be marginally more expensive than a hub (assuming you can even get a hub), but it will provide higher performance as your network expands over time. There's a nice answer which describes why is that here.

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@Rushino This question of mine will give you some more details as to switch versus hub. As AndrejaKo said, I would recommend a switch over a hub, for a number of reasons. – studiohack Oct 7 '11 at 22:08

As far as strategy, neither of your solutions is a good fit. There are dedicated NAS (Network Attached Storage) boxes. Choose amongst those.

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