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I would like to set up a file server on my home network without buying an entire computer just for file storage. The idea is that anyone in my family would be able to drop photos, music, etc onto this "server" and anyone else would be able to access the files. Ideally, I would like to be able to simply connect a hard drive to the network somehow, and have it take up little space. Does something like this exist? If so, what is it called and how does it work? If not, what's a good workaround to what I'm trying to do?

Edit: To clarify, I don't necessarily need to hook up an existing drive; I would be fine with it if it came with its own hard drive. (In fact, that would probably save me from having to buy a separate HD.) The problem with using a computer is I don't really have room for a full-blown machine, so something more along the lines of a small box with a hard drive inside would be ideal. But if setting up a real server would be more cost effective than the alternatives, I would like to know that so I can weight my options. Also, I don't need any "advanced" features such as permissions or whatever else, I just need to be able to share files--that's it. Thanks.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

What you are probably looking for is a standard NAS enclosure such as this one from Western Digital (There are thousands of NAS devices!):

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If you want redundancy, take a look at a NAS device that supports RAID (Nearly all multi drive NAS's do this, but some a lot better than others):

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Or, if you have USB hard drives, you can get a device like this:

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That being said, I wanted to get two and when I plugged in a electricity monitor, I was shocked to see that 2x NAS boxes actually used more power than a low voltage standard machine - If you can afford an outlay, I would seriously just get a Celeron/Atom based machine and load up FreeNas as it gives you so much more flexibility and features.

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ok... Why -1? This sort of thing just annoys me... – William Hilsum Dec 20 '09 at 0:19
You forgot the freehand circles, maybe? – pavium Dec 20 '09 at 0:24
@Pavium +1 lol... Just wish downvoting had tighter controls or something. – William Hilsum Dec 20 '09 at 0:29
lol @Pav, +1 to that. – John T Dec 20 '09 at 0:33
Do these NAS Enclosure Devices generally come with their own hard drives? Or will I have to buy it separately? – Sasha Chedygov Dec 20 '09 at 3:14

Your looking for something like this. Linksys and other companies make items like this as well. Another example would be this from tiger.

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You're looking for a NAS. A NAS has it's own NIC card and will be seen as it's own device on the network. You can easily configure permissions on it so that users can read/write to only directories that you specify. They come with a wide range of features and of course, different prices depending on what you want. You can check out a bunch of them at newegg for a good idea on how much they cost.

If you want to simply plug in new drives and have them network accessible, you're probably looking for a NAS enclosure like Wil said.

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If you don't want to buy an "an entire computer just for file storage", you can get a WLAN Router with NAS capability, just slap on a USB hard disk, share it over the network and be done with it.

Here's an example:

The new Xtreme N Storage Router DIR-685 makes networking easier by combining the superior features of a wireless N router, a built-in Network Attached Storage (NAS) and a digital photo frame.

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