Review: LaCie Ethernet Disk mini

Setting Up

My quick read of the setup instructions indicated that the mini would be able to acquire an Ethernet address from a DHCP server, so I just let it power up. As it came on, I subjectively judged the noise level to be about "medium" - not as quiet as my most silent units, but also not as noisy as others I have tested. The fan was about as audible as the hard drive noise itself.

The installation instructions indicated that configuration is accomplished via a web browser directed to http://EDmini under Windows. But under MacOS and Linux, the IP address is used instead, i.e., after discovering it via another mechanism. Since I was using my XP laptop, I used the EDmini name, connected to the device with my web browser, and was greeted with a configuration screen.

Basic configuration of the mini is fairly standard. Options are available for manually setting network information, changing the administration password, changing the work group name, setting the time, etc. But as I poked around in the menus, I noticed relatively few options as compared to other NAS devices I've reviewed. For example, although I could set the time, there was no option for setting the address of an NTP server that would make sure the time stayed correct. And for share management, there was only a single, predefined share, with no option for creating another (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Share management

For user management, you can create user accounts, set passwords, and assign read/write privileges, but there are no options for creating and assigning groups, or for assigning disk space quotas to users. I also usually like to see an option for setting the spin-down time for the drive so that it will power down if not in use, but there is no option for this either. There also doesn't seem to be any way to send email alerts for events such as when the disk was becoming full. In general, it appears that LaCie has decided to keep things pretty simple.

On the other hand, it's nice to see several different protocols supported for accessing the share. Standard Windows SMB protocol, Apple AFP shares as well as HTTP and FTP are all supported. All except for HTTP can be disabled altogether if desired.

Under the Status menu, which shows the number of current clients, there is a "System Log" button which shows a very detailed log from the mini (Figure 3). It may be more information than a normal user would want to see, but for me it confirmed the inner workings of the box, which I'll describe later. The log seemed to grow quite large after a few boots of the device, which resulted in a long load-time in the web page. If you were to make use of this log on a regular basis, you'd need to use the "clear log" button to keep it a manageable size.

Figure 3: System Log

For multi-platform use, the documentation had sections for Windows, Macintosh and Linux, which is a bonus for users like me who have a heterogeneous network.

One interesting option I noticed was the disk format menu (Figure 4). By default, the mini's internal disk is formatted in a least-common-denominator format of FAT32 so it can be directly accessed when USB-plugged into a Windows, Macintosh, or Linux system. But one downside to FAT32 is a file size limitation of 2GB.

Figure 4: Disk Formatting

To get around this limitation, the mini allows you to reformat the disk with a Linux ext3 filesystem that supports larger files, albeit with reduced portability. For example, if you format the drive with ext3, you will no longer be able to use the mini as a USB external drive under Windows or Macintosh. It will still be usable as a network drive under all systems, you just won't be able to directly plug it into the USB port of a Windows or Macintosh system. While this isn't ideal, it at least gives options to users who need support for files over 2 GB.