When the Dane-Elec myDitto NAS drive says it can provide seamless remote access, it's making a bold claim that no-one else has yet delivered. We test this intriguing two-bay network-attached storage system to see if it's remotely worth accessing
Network-attached storage can be a wonderful thing. But don’t believe the hype when a NAS unit maker tells you that you can easily access your files ‘wherever you are in the world’.
By this, they’re alluding to the possibility of remote access, over the internet, of your NAS drive that’s sat at home and connected to your router. Sometimes it does indeed work. Other times, not.
And when it does work, it's usually only after you've jumped through many hoops, tweaked a few router settings, and maybe subscribed to a dynamic DNS service.
Dane-Elec’s bold claim is that its myDitto NAS drive is the simplest storage device to configure for remote access. And in our tests, Dane-Elec was right.
Face the case
In essential form, the Dane-Elec myDitto is an unexceptional two-bay NAS drive.
In fact, it’s a repackaged version of the Edimax NS-2502 NAS Drive, which sells for about £100 without disks. The myDitto we reviewed sells for around £180 with a 1TB disk included – but besides the added hard disk, that price difference also includes the nifty remote-access feature.
The NAS is clad in a facetted white plastic case with a run of overly bright blue LEDs running up its front. These have a tendency to blink furiously when the unit’s active, but with light bleeding between LEDs, you have to look carefully to see what they’re indicating.
Two buttons on the front are labelled Release and Copy. On the original Edimax, these simply allow you to insert a USB drive and copy data to or from it, then release the drive before pulling out the stick.
On Dane-Elec’s modified myDitto NAS, these buttons are also required to copy the remote-access software on to a fresh stick, and to authenticate each stick for the same purpose.
At the back are the two bays for loading up either one or two 3.5in SATA hard disks. We tested a version with 1TB Samsung disk already inside; and also tried the Dane-Elec myDitto with a pair of WD Caviar Black 2TB drives, to try out the RAID options.
There’s also another USB 2.0 port here, a gigabit ethernet port, and power inlet for the external laptop-style mains adaptor.
To access this myDitto when at home, you need to check your PC's network shares, where it will appear as a Windows SMB server.
There is no built-in support for Mac or Linux networking protocols, but both these systems will recognise Windows servers without configuration.
But beyond the local access, more interesting is the remote access facility, allowing you to connect from the other side of the planet.
For this you’re required to provide two-factor authentication; namely, with a pre-configured USB stick that’s been previously paired with the drive, and a password.
Accessed remotely, the only way you can see files on the drive, or copy new files across, is with Dane-Elec’s software stored on the stick. Luckily, this holds three versions of the necessary app, written for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. So the beauty of this system is that you can pop your USB drive into almost any personal computer, fire up the relevant app, and access your myDitto drive that's sat at home or the workplace.
There’s also an iPhone app which provides remote file access from your Apple smartphone.
By a combination of clever network traversal routines, the drive always seems to create a data channel through whatever network address translation (NAT) and firewalls may be in place between the myDitto and a remote PC.
Two USB drives are included in the package, although you can use any USB key you like. The myDitto relies on a unique serial code embedded into all thumbdrives to act as indentifier.
USB drives must be authenticated by plugging into the front of the myDitto and pressing buttons; it's not an intuitive process, and involves inserting a key, holding buttons until beeps are heard, and waiting some more for two bleeps.
(This Dane-Elec myDitto would benefit enormously from a basic cribsheet that could be kept near the device, to save users having to route through the 91-page PDF manual to find such essential information.)
The authentication process also copies the trio of myDitto apps to the drive. Up to 30 USB drives can be prepared for access, and six people can be logged in together at any one time.
With two drive bays available, you can use either a single or two hard disks inside; with two drives you have the option of RAID 0, RAID 1, or JBOD configuration.
In the latter case, drives are concatenated together so that a single logical volume is presented to the user. We found RAID preparation to be a slow process, taking up to an hour.
myDitto access software
The user interface presented by the remote-access myDitto software is not especially elegant, looking like a Windows program on whichever platform, but it gets the job done.The app is built on some open-source modules, including media components from VideoLAN project, an apt choice given both Dane-Elec and the project's French origins.
It has a two-pane layout, with your local computer’s files listed in a right-hand column, and the myDitto’s in the left. To upload a file, for example, you navigate to the required directory on the right, then drag the file over to your chosen destination folder on the NAS on the left.
Bewarned though that the app's large window cannot be resized, and will not work with netbook-resolution display.
Crucially, though, we found it easy enough to ‘find’ our myDitto drive at home, without setting up any tedious dynamic DNS services or port-forwarding.
We ran some lab tests to get an idea of the unit’s file-serving performance on a local network.
In Windows 7, connecting the myDitto directly to an Acer laptop with gigabit ethernet, we saw transfer speeds in either direction of around 12 megabytes per second (MB/s).
Transfer speeds over SMB in Mac OS X were a little slower still, between 9 and 12 MB/s.
We also tried real-world tests over our 100Mbps ethernet network, where transfer speeds, both reads and writes, were pegged at around 5.5 MB/s.
So in network parlance, the peak performance we saw of 12 MB/s equals 96 Mb/s – effectively planting the unit in the older '100 Mb/s' networking speed category.
And that was using a pair of drives in the fastest RAID 0 stripped array.
When accessing remotely, this tardiness will rarely be an issue though, as the internet connection will be the principal bottleneck on performance.
While it’s not unusual to see home broadband subscriptions promising 20 Mb/s download speeds, upload access is typically closer to 1 Mb/s or less. Even the fastest nationally available service from Virgin Media, the 50 Mb/s XXL package, only lists 5 Mb/s upload speed.
So the 12 MB/s top speed we measured on the myDitto will be severely throttled back, even in this best-case Virgin XXL example by the 5 Mb/s (or 625 kilobyte per second) ceiling on broadband uploads.
In use, the myDitto was found to be too noisy for use in the living room. There is an option to power-down disks after a preset time of inactivity, but the built-in cooling fan still makes the unit uncomfortably loud.
And we’d even question this troublesome little fan's efficacy, as the WD drives were found to be unfeasibly hot when we swapped discs, despite little disk activity prior to removal.
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