If you have loads of USB devices that you now want to share over your network, the Home Base is a simple and easy to use choice.
USB is the easiest and most common way to connect printers, portable hard drives and other devices to your PC. Unfortunately, USB devices can only be connected to one computer at a time, which isn’t very handy if you want to share devices between multiple computers on a network.
Belkin’s Home Base is a USB device server with a built-in 802.11b/g/n wireless adaptor and 10/100 Ethernet, so you can place it almost anywhere in your home and connect it to an existing network. The installation CD helps you assign your Home Base a fixed IP address and connect it to your network. If you want to use it wirelessly, you’ll have to either physically connect it to your router during configuration or use WiFi Protected Setup. The Home Base supports WEP, WPA and WPA2 wireless security.
Once the Home Base is connected to your network, you can attach any FAT16, FAT32 or NTFS formatted USB disk to it. Your disk will automatically be mounted as a Windows SMB network share, so all your networked PCs can read, write and execute content stored on it. UPnP sharing is also enabled by default, so you can use a streaming media receiver to play content stored on any attached drive.
To share other devices, like printers and scanners, you’ll have to install Belkin’s Control Centre on every PC you want to access them from. This handy utility sits in the background, alerts you when a USB device is connected to the Home Base and prompts you to install any necessary drivers. It works perfectly – we were even able to virtually disconnect our USB printer until after the driver had been installed, and then reconnect it with a mouse click.
The Control Centre also makes it easy to upload files to Flickr or Picasa or backup selected folders from your PC to a USB disk, although you can’t schedule regular backups. A web interface allows you to configure the Home Base’s network settings, monitor connected devices and manage the sharing of USB storage media.
Its wireless throughput is fairly good over near to medium range distances. It managed 29Mbit/s at 1m and 24.7Mbit/s at 10m. These speeds are fine for streaming audio or standard definition video, though you may encounter trouble with HD video. At 20m it managed a slow 4.9Mbit/s – good enough for printing a couple of pages or accessing files on a storage drive, but painfully slow for large file transfers.
It’s not cheap, but the Home Base is a great way of adding support for multiple USB devices on your home network. If you just need to add a single printer or disk then a new router with a USB port may be a cheaper and simpler option.