Our review of the Seagate Wireless Plus portable hard drive began: “most of us have no problem creating and saving data. Movies, music, word processing, images, you name it – we probably have it stored somewhere. Increasingly one of our needs is how to share the data.” The Seagate Central shared storage device is a Network Attached Storage device (or NAS for short), essentially a hard drive attached to your network instead of your computer. NAS devices have been around for quite some time ranging from gigantic arrays used in business to a single hard drive such as the Seagate Central. Seagate created some of the earliest successful consumer NAS products so there is a history they can draw upon.
The Seagate Central is a NAS device built for home use whose goal is to assimilate and gather into one place data from a wide-variety of devices, social media sites, smart phones, and tablets, along with the ability to share both locally and globally. It sells for not much more than a traditional external hard drive, so the cost is a bargain considering the added features.
Seagate is no stranger to shared data. In the past, we have reviewed their products – including the original GoFlex Home with its integrated web services, and the GoFlex Net whose expertise is reflected in the Seagate Central. I thought back to the first time I used one of their media hubs, and it was clear back then that Seagate was reaching out to bridge the gap between network professionals and consumers. The same is true for the Central, but at this point the technology is mature. From my viewpoint, it shows in the attention to detail evident in the GUI and the user experience. Plug it in and in a few steps you have a sophisticated media server of your own.
The Central fills a variety of roles, including the ability to serve as a centralized backup device for both Mac and Windows machines. You can stream your content to just about anything including consoles, Samsung smart TVs, media players, and computers. It utilizes the same Seagate Media app used by the Wireless Plus, which we covered in our review of that product. Its feature set includes direct support for Samsung Smart TVs.
Importantly, the Central retains the same tried and true cloud access of its predecessors, which, for my money, is one of the important uses of the unit. It’s one thing to share data on a local network, but the ability to easily access that same data from anywhere around the globe helps realize the true potential of the device. It is also Apple® AirPlay-friendly, so Mac users can count on a realized experience. The unit is available in three models - 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB versions. Our recommendation is to stop being in denial about storage needs and go larger rather than smaller. Size matters, and with the advent of high-resolution audio about to go mainstream (if Sony has its way with its recent announcements) and higher resolution video sure to come soon, I’d recommend the 3TB or 4TB models if your budget allows.
The Central supports just about any platform or browser you can toss at it, from Windows Vista and XP through iOS 4.3 and higher, and Android 2.3 to current, plus OS X 10.6 and higher. Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer are all supported, so we can’t imagine too many users who fall outside those apps or OS versions. DNLA is supported, so stored data will work with most gaming consoles; Seagate includes the Xbox 360 and PS3 in their list of approved devices.
One feature we think will appeal to users can be accessed by clicking on the “Social” tab. Once you click, you’ll need to create a new account, so for a Facebook user, just enter your Facebook account info, and then make some decisions about where you want content to be downloaded. You might want to keep all the data private, or open to visitors - it’s your call, and easy to indicate. You can update this info at any time, so not a problem if you change your mind. As much as you might trust Facebook to take care of your data, having local control, especially when nearly automatic, isn’t something to overlook. We like this feature, and hope Seagate adds more options and social networking sites in the future.
There are a few areas we would like to see improved upon. The addition of a USB 3 port for data transfer would be useful as more and more home networks become completely wireless. Even desktop computers are often connected not with cabling but entirely through Wi-Fi, and as fast as the latest AC standard is, loading a lot of data onto the drive is limited by the speed of the Wi-Fi connection. Advanced users can easily connect a computer via Ethernet ports, but we think a fast USB connection would make uploading an entire media library much faster. The unit does have a USB port, but it is only to connect additional data sources like an external HD or flash drive. While you can transfer data to the Central’s HD, it also must go through the router.
These are always variables in any networking environment but initial transfer speeds could be improved. Once the data was loaded and setup completed, it worked splendidly. We found it important to visit the Seagate website in advance to read up on and better understand the setup process. As much as we like the svelte closed case design, it runs a bit warm so we would have been fine with either a small fan, or more direct venting to dispel heat, especially since the unit is most likely going to be left on all the time.
We found the Seagate Plus fast enough to stream content without latency issues. A fast Ethernet port will speed things up and is essential as well as CAT-5E or CAT-6 cabling to support the units Gigabit Ethernet port. It can be used wirelessly, but we think that Ethernet is the best approach to networking your data for the best performance, and seamless use is one of the design goals so speed matters here. I’ve used other NAS devices that ranged from one unit that even the manufacturer’s engineers couldn’t make work, to newer units that worked as long as you had tech support on speed dial for setup, so it’s a breath of fresh air to set up and use one that worked as promised, and doesn’t require a E.E. degree from MIT. The Seagate Central works as advertised, and that’s a good thing. Even better, it comes with a two-year warranty.
We think the Seagate Central is a powerful, competent, and easy-to-use shared storage device with the ability to interact with a wide-range of operating systems, browsers, consoles, and even Facebook. If your problem is data, data, everywhere, except where you need it, and if you need a centralized and organized digital footprint with easy sharing, the Seagate Central comes recommended.
Harris Fogel, with additional reporting by Nancy Burlan, posted 11/13/13
For more information on the Seagate Central visit: www.seagate.com