The Buffalo LinkStation Pro LS-VL is a single-disk NAS (network-attached storage) unit, available with either a 1, 2 or 3TB disk inside. It lets you store, backup and share files over a network. It can also stream media files to your entertainment devices.
The Buffalo LinkStation Pro includes a setup and utilities disc for Windows and Mac OS. Also in the box are a quick setup guide, warranty documentation and a flat plain white ethernet cable. Power us from an external mains adaptor.
As a one-disk model, the Buffalo is about the same size as a typical external 3.5in hard drive, and is designed to stand on its side upright.
The shapely black case is glossy plastic, with just a small blue LED to indicate power. A thin silver line runs down the front with small 'V Buffalo' logos and function button at the bottom. We think the unit is stylish enough to blend into the home as a entertainment device.
Air vent perforations on the back and top assist airflow from a small fan on the back. We found it quiet for everyday office and home uses. But when using it as a music server for our hi-fi, the fan noise was a little distracting. Thanks to its compact size we were able to hide it away on a shelf behind books to help isolate the noise.
The back of the unit has a power connector, RJ45 ethernet, one USB 2.0 port (for external hard drive or USB thumbdrive) and a power on/off/auto switch.
A single drive means there’s no option to create a RAID system. However the USB connection allows for extra storage to be attached and used as backup of the internal disk.
Buffalo LinkStation Pro LS-VL: Setup
We connected the LinkStation to our router and powered it up. The device takes about a minute to startup and was easy to find on the network in OS X thanks to its Bonjour broadcasting. At this point we could just leave it as is and use the NAS as simple network storage. However, this device has many more functions.
To set these up we used the supplied utilities disc to install Buffalo’s Link Navigator software. Alternatively you can just use a web browser and setup through the unit’s admin page. The configuration options are for the most part straightforward, although we found it useful to follow the manual. If you're not familiar with such network devices, you’ll need these instructions as the settings can be a little tricky.
Configuration options let you the ability to setup file sharing, multiple users and workgroups, backups as well as web access. Printer, FTP and media servers are also available. For home use, iTunes and BitTorrent servers are included.
Our 1TB LinkStation Pro sample came with an older version of the firmware, which we upgraded after a downloadfrom Buffalo’s website. More recent firmware versions have an automatic update feature which should update the firmware for you. The update gave us additional features, like the ability to use the LinkStation Pro to serve music files to our Logitech Squeezebox.
Using the Buffalo LinkStation Pro
Using the web admin configuration we changed the time and date of the device. Set up a 'go to sleep' command for a certain time of the day (to preserver energy when the device is not in use).
Buffalo provides NovaBackup software for Windows users. As we were using a Mac for our tests, we took advantage of the Time Machine backup option. This required a few steps, and some reading of the manual, to setup but worked fine afterwards.
If you choose to install the LinkNavigator software on your computer, you have the option to have the Buffalo shutdown when you shut down your computer. All you need to do is set the unit’s power button to Auto.
This worked just fine in our test, however we found that in order to use the LinkStation as a media server or access it with Buffalo’s iPad app we needed to keep the unit in the On position. This is not a big deal as the unit only uses about 12 watt in operation and around 0.1 watt in sleep mode.
Buffalo has created free apps for both the Apple iPad and iPhone to use with the Buffalo LinkStation Pro. With the help of the online manual, we managed to set up web access and our iPad was able to login and see the folders and files that we made accessible.
Photos can be displayed at full screen and as slideshows. Audio files such as MP3 can be streamed to the iPad and the app has simple navigation to play entire albums.
We also managed to stream 1080p video to our iPad. The app's option menu allows you to change the quality of video, to ease the wifi load. Unfortunately since not all file formats are supported by Apple devices, we were unable to play FLAC or MKV files.
As well as accessing files on the Buffalo LinkStation, we were able to easily create new folders and backup/copy photos and video files from the iPad to the Buffalo LinkStation Pro.
Another great little feature of the Buffalo LinkStation Pro is the auto backup of files that you might have on a USB pen drive or digital camera. We plugged in our Canon 7D to the USB port on the back of the LinkStation and held the front function button for 3 seconds. The button lit up until all of the digital photo files were copied onto the LinkStation. After a few minutes the function button went off and all of our photos were now backed up in an automatically created pictures folder.
The only minus with this feature is that you need to trust that all of your files have transferred successfully. You can then fire up your computer or iPad to make sure the files are actaully there, before you delete them off your camera.
Buffalo LinkStation Pro LS-VL: Performance
The LinkStation Pro has a 1.6GHz processor and gigabit ethernet, a combination that bodes well for usable performance.
Buffalo claims a data transfer rate of up to 76MBps. We used QuickBench to test transfer speeds. Using AFP networking, we saw sequential read speeds reach a maximum of 63MBps, and sequential writes up to 51MBps, this using test data from 10MB to 100MB.
At the small file level, these figures plummeted to 5MBps random 4kB reads and just 0.1MBps random 4kB writes.
Using SMB/CIFS networking, the Buffalo had maximum sequential read speed of 52MBps, from most files from 256kB size and up. Write speeds never exceeded 37MBps with this Windows networking protocol; yet at the small file level, 4kB random reads measured a good 9.6MBps and random writes were at 3.2MBps.
Using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, we saw transfer rates of 55MBps write and 57MBps read over AFP.