Extending your SOHO setup : USB, Firewire or NAS?

Oct 20
Extending your SOHO setup : USB, Firewire or NAS?

A question came through on one of my many freelancing mailing lists the other day about expanding a home network and which way to go.

With the various replies and comments that came through, I thought I’d flesh something out in a blog post for others to read. Inevitably, every freelancer or SOHO worker will need to look to expand their network in terms of storage.

Understanding the options

Although there are different sub-criteria by which we could investigate, I’m only initially going to stick with the top 3. USB, Firewire and NAS (Network Attached Storage).


USB 1.1 was introduced into the market in September 1998 in a joint effort by Intel, Compaq, Microsoft, Digital, IBM, and Northern Telecom. In April 2000, USB 2.0 was released into the market with backward compatibility for 1.1 devices. USB transfers data at 480 Mbit/s

USB would typically be recommended if you have a single system (PC/Mac) and where you are using it for backup or storage purposes. Sharing Files would be kept to a minimum and only where the host PC/Mac is left on to allow for sharing.

Drives such as the Western Digital Elements Disk are one of the better devices and relatively cheap at £54.99


Firewire is Apple Inc’s name for the ‘IEEE 1394 High Speed Serial Bus’ created as a replacement for the SCSI bus and primarily for AV equipment. Firewire 400 can transfer data at up to 400Mbits/s

Firewire has the advantage that devices can be chained to provide continual extensibility. However, due to data transfer rates, if you plan to access/stream large files directly from the device, USB would be a better solution.

Also to be considered is futureproofing. Apple have recently announced/launched a new range of macbook products *without* Firewire onboard. This is due to the superiority of data transfer with USB2.0 


Nas, or Network Attached Storage is typically a self-contained unit of hard disks attached to a Network Controller. Initially used by Novell Networks NCP protocol in 1983. Depending on the device, NAS can transfer data at up to 1024Mbits/s (1Gbit/s)

The advantage of NAS is that the system is stand-alone and ideal for a multi-user environment. Sharing is achieved over a networkup to 1Gbps* and does not rely on any given system being online to allow access.

One of the additional advantages is that most NAS devices have built in redundancy in RAID configurations (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks). The most common configurations are RAID1 (could be described as a backup solution, using two [possibly more] disks that each store the same data so that data is not lost as long as one disk survives. Total capacity of the array is just the capacity of a single disk. The failure of one drive, in the event of a hardware or software malfunction, does not increase the chance of a failure nor decrease the reliability of the remaining drives) and RAID5 ([striped disks with parity] combines three or more disks in a way that protects data against loss of any one disk; the storage capacity of the array is reduced by one disk).

To achieve the maximum transfer rates, you would require network cards that support 1Gpbs and a Network Switch that also does the same. My recommendations for these are : 

Intel Pro 1000GT

3Com 5-Port Gb Switch

Both items are relatively cheap and will cost significantly less than £100.

As for NAS storage, you have multiple options. Look at devices with multiple disks to allow for redundancy options. Recommended Devices are :

Buffalo Terastation Live 1Tb

Iomega Storcenter Pro 1Tb

Both disks have 1Tb (1024Gb) of storage and Gigabit network controllers built-in. Administration of the devices is achieved through simple web-pages.

My personal set up is as follows.

1 Linksys ADSL x 8 port Router
1 Linksys Wireless Access Point (802.11b/g)
1 3Com Gigabit Switch (8 Port)
1 Main PC with Gigabit Network Card
1 Web/Database Server with Gigabit Network Card
1 PC Laptop with 802.11g Wireless or Gigabit PCMCIA Card for Wired Access
4 XBox Consoles with 100Mb/s Interfaces
1 XBox360 with 100Mb/s Interface
1 Buffalo TeraStation 1Tb with Gigabit Interface

All 100Mb/s devices are connected directly to the router, with one port on the router uplinked to the switch and all gigabit network devices connected to the switch to maximise data throughput.

So to summarise, I’m going to demonstrate real-life data transfer. My sample will be with 100Gb (gigabyte) of data.

Since there are 8 bits for each byte – we simply divide the megabit value of the data transfer by 8 to get the mbyte value.

USB (480 Megabits per sec / 8 = 60 Megabytes per sec)
Firewire (400 Megabits per sec / 8 = 50 Megabytes per sec)
NAS ( 1024 Megabits per sec / 8 = 125 Megabytes per sec)

we now need to convert the 100Gigabytes of data into megabytes by multiplying by 1024 (there are 1024 megabytes in a Gigabyte).

100Gb * 1024 = 102,400 Megabytes

Now we have common factors, we can do basic math on them :

USB : 102,400 / 60 = 1706.6666666666666666666666666667 Seconds
Firewire : 102,400 / 50 = 2048 seconds
NAS : 102,400 / 125 = 819.2 seconds

Now we’ll just divide them by 60 to get minutes

USB : 28.4 minutes
Firewire: 34.13 minutes
NAS: 13.53 minutes

Hopefully this has provided you with some insight and help in deciding where to go forward in the expanding of your network.

If there are any errors or omissions in this, please do comment and I will amend accordingly.

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2 Responses to “Extending your SOHO setup : USB, Firewire or NAS?”

  1. Coger says:

    Great blog

  2. Kovacs says:

    That was a great post..I love this site. Thanks

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