[Tech] Review: D-Link Sharecenter Pulse

The Sharecenter Pulse from D-Link

The Sharecenter Pulse from D-Link

For those of you unfamiliar with the function of a Network Attached Storage device, or NAS, think about this. How many computers are there in your home? Three? Four? Your desktop, the wife’s Macbook, the kids laptops? Wouldn’t it be great if they could access a shared pool of storage, without you having to leave one of those machines on permanently, or having to install a proper file server somewhere, with all the space, noise and power that would require? You, my friend, need a NAS.

Simply put a NAS is an external hard drive enclosure running some simple file and power management software off a limited CPU and motherboard, that plugs into your network. Once setup it offers file (and print) serving across your network, and a few other bells and whistle’s besides. Time was when a NAS was only really useful to a small business. Now though, with home users wanting ever more sophisticated networking options, and ever more storage space, they make perfect sense for the power user at home, too.

I needed a NAS to store my hundreds of gigabytes of ripped DVDs, my music, and to act as a central backup for important files like my photos. I didn’t need anything noisy, big, complicated of expensive. That last issue is a real kickers. A NAS can run into several hundred pounds, even without hard drives, if you plump for a top-end model, something most of us won’t need. No, I wanted a cheap device that I could install under the desk in my living room and leave running without worrying about noise, heat or excessive power drain. After looking around I plumped for the brand new Sharecenter Pulse from D-Link – a firm best known for producing wireless routers.

There wasn’t a single review online I could find at the time, so I figured I’d take the plunge. Part of that decision was prompted by the price. The Pulse retails at £89.99, but you’ll struggle to pay more than £65 if you shop around. A bit of a bargain compared to almost everything else on the market. For that you get a piano finished black plastic box about the size of a DVD box set. The build quality is fine, but not exceptional by any means. Things are pretty basic, but everything fits together well enough. It’s not going to fall apart, but I wouldn’t use this thing as a substitute ball in an impromptu game of touch rugby.

Slide open the top and the cavernous space inside is just right for two 3.5 inch SATA hard drives. There’s a full compatibility list over on the D-Link website, but I never bothered looking, and the two drives I slid straight in worked right off the bat. One was a brand new Seagate 2TB 5400RPM drive I picked up for a little over £50. The other was a 1TB drive I had going relatively spare in an external enclosure.

So, with the hardware installed I plugged the Pulse into a free ethernet port on my router, and to the mains, and switched her on. A few minutes later, and a quick run through of the bundled CD-ROM and I had access to the web interface used to manage the device. In truth the CD-ROM wasn’t necessary. All I needed to do was to point a web browser at the right IP address, but for the less experienced user it makes sense.

The Sharecenter Pulse's web interface

The Sharecenter Pulse's web interface

The interface itself is pretty straightforward, and will be familiar to anyone who’s ever used their router’s web interface to fiddle with their broadband or network settings. After guiding me through a format of the two disks (don’t expect to be able to bang in a full HD and keep the data) I had things up and running. I chose to use the full space on both drives, without configuring RAID, but the Pulse is happy to configure the two disks in either RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration, depending on your space or backup needs. In my case, as I was using a 2TB and a 1TB drive, I would have lost 1TB off the bigger drive had I used RAID, but for users with balanced disk sizes, it makes sense.

The setup then mapped the two drives to my laptop (a process that has to be repeated on each machine that will access the NAS, if you want mapping, otherwise it can be accessed through Windows normal Network browsing facilities), and I was off and running, copying files across (overnight, as we were dealing with hundreds of gigs). Once that was done I setup the UPnP server. This takes just a couple of clicks in the web interface, and is basically a case of pointing the server to the folders where your media is served. My NAS mainly feeds my laptops and the XBMC HTPC I sit under my TV, for which simple file sharing over a mapped-drive is fine, but I wanted the UPnP functionality to let me browse and watch media on my iPad and iPhone and my girlfriend’s HTC Desire – or even over the web if I ever get a static IP.

That done, I configured the music folder as an iTunes server. This shows up as a new item under the Library section on the left hand side of iTunes on any machine in range of the network. You can password protect it to stop unauthorised access if you like. Once clicked on in iTunes, the media can be streamed to any machine. It works. But not brilliantly. It takes iTunes a few minutes to catalogue the 130GB of data in my music folder, and then you can’t add the server-based music to local playlists, burn it to CD or sync it to an iPod. All of those, of course, are limitations of iTunes itself, not the Pulse.

In the two months I’ve been using the Pulse it has worked flawlessly. My laptop sits on the desk above it, and my TV is about three metres away, and the only time I hear it at all is when the drives first spin up when handed a file request for the first time in several minutes (they shut down to save power when not in use). It’s never warm to the touch, suggesting D-Link’s claims about its green credentials are true, and it does everything I could ever want. If you’re so inclined you can even get it to download BitTorrent files from the web while your other PCs are off. I tested it out, and it seemed to work fine, but I prefer the flexibility of using uTorrent on my laptop, which is on a lot of the time anyway.

For under £70, I really couldn’t have asked for a better product. Sure it’s not some 6 bay, water-cooled monster with features coming out of its exhaust port, but then that’s not what I, or most home users, want.  For the vast majority of us, the Pulse does the job perfectly.

Update: I’ve since had more of a play with the BitTorrent features. They work perfectly. Just enable P2P Downloads in the Applications page on the web front-end, then drop .torrent files into the new P2P/Torrent folder on your NAS. The downloads start instantly, and roar along, leaving your PC unencumbered. You can monitor the progress of the downloads, just as you would in a BitTorrent client, through the web-front end.

9/10

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