You have some vacation pictures on your laptop. And then you have your music collection on your desktop. And then your wife has a bunch of videos on her computer too. The problem with this kind of configuration is that your library is completely disjointed. Wouldn't it be easier if you could access all your material from any computer, including your smartphone and your tablet?
That's the fundamental idea behind the Seagate Central 2TB Network Drive, which is also available in larger 3TB and 4TB capacities. After connecting it to your wireless router, you can back up all your content on one device and access it from anywhere. And yes, it works with both Macs and Windows PCs.
Network Drives Made Easy
You might remember when we first saw the Seagate Central at CES earlier this year. We were reminded that the vast majority of home users don't really know (or want to know) how to set up a conventional network-attached storage solution. These can be pricey and they can be complicated.
The idea behind the Seagate Central is to completely simplify this process, but still offer you a robust set of features. It comes loaded with the hard drives inside (2TB, 3TB or 4TB) and the interface couldn't be simpler. It's just one cable to your router, plus the one cable for power. After going through a really fast setup wizard, your Seagate Central becomes visible on the network for all your computers to see. This gives you a centralized media library, but there are also extra features like remote access and automatic backups.
Seagate has kept things simple. There are no buttons, the greyish black box offers clean lines, and there is just a single LED indicator light to let you know that it's up and running. That's it.
Configuration and Setup
I keep coming back to this, but the big deal here really is that the Seagate Central is really easy to use. The setup wizard, which you access through your web browser, helps you find the drive on your network. You can then rename it to whatever you'd like and set up your admin account. The drive is preconfigured to have a "public" folder, but each account also gets its own "private" folder too.
The file and folder structure is otherwise identical to what you'd get with a generic drive, so you can go ahead and set up whatever folder hierarchy that you'd like. It operates as a centralized storage point for your home, but those private folders mean that each user can have their own storage space too. From there, you can optionally go through the processes to set up an automatic backup for your PC or to automatically archive your Facebook videos and photos. They say that it's for "social media," but only Facebook is supported at this time.
Drag, Drop and Be Done
From any of the computers on your home network, you can go into Windows Explorer like how you normally would, go to the Network area, and Seagate Central will show up there. Double-click as usual and you can treat this network drive as if it were a local directory. What this means is that you can simply drag and drop files back and forth. This is primarily how I was using it.
I found this was fantastic when used in tandem with a network-connected media player like the Pivos AIOS HD Media Center. Instead of keeping my computer on or transfering the file to a USB drive, I could leave my video files on the Seagate Central and stream them over to the AIOS. While it may have been nice if the Seagate Central came with Wi-Fi for added flexibility, the latency and transfer speeds may have suffered. So, a regular wired connection is fine, especially since you never really have to touch the unit itself after initial configuration.
Accessing all of these files over your local network is pretty useful on its own, but the Seagate Central also allows for remote access through its secure web interface. In effect, you are getting a "personal cloud" storage solution. You can create folders, upload files, rename files and the rest of it from the web interface. I would have liked to see a Dropbox-like software solution too, though.
The Android App for Remote Access
Using the accompanying Seagate Media app on Android (there's also an iOS app for iPhone and iPad), I can access my music, photos and videos on the go, streaming them through the app itself. This goes back to the "personal cloud" idea mentioned above. It naturally works best when you're on the same Wi-Fi network, but you can access it all remotely too, whether you're using another Wi-Fi access point or 3G/4G mobile wireless.
That said, it does take some time for the app to repopulate your library when you're on the road and your performance will depend on the speed of both Internet connections, but it does work. It is a shame, though, that the app does not allow for a direct local download of the files. That would be very useful for later offline enjoyment.
MEGATechie Network Nirvana or MEGATechie Central Disaster?
If you were to look at even the simpler NAS enclosures on the market, you can expect to spend over $100 very easily and that's without any drives inside. And just a regular USB 2TB external hard drive is about $100. That has no network functionality and no centralized media library.
When you consider what you can do with the Seagate Central 2TB Network Drive (for as low as $130 street price, $160 MSRP), you're getting a pretty exceptional value. The 3TB and 4TB versions currently retail for about $180 and $230, respectively. It may not come with all kinds of complex bells and whistles, but the Seagate Central is by far one of the easiest ways to get a fully functional network drive and one that can be easily accessed remotely both via the web and through a mobile app. It really does just work.