Why buy an external USB hard drive to use with just one PC when you can get a networked hard drive and share it with all the computers connected to your broadband router at home? That's the thinking behind HP's latest media-friendly network hard drive, the Media Vault Pro MV5020, which is available for around £200.
The Media Vault Pro is a networked hard drive, which means that instead of connecting it via USB or eSata to a PC or laptop, you connect it to the router on your home network. From here it can be shared with all the computers and devices on your network, so you can use it to store files centrally in one location or to backup all your network connected computers.
Although it's a little smaller than a Shuttle-style PC, the Vault still packs in two bays for holding Sata hard drives. A single 500GB Sata drive pre-installed leaves you with the option of adding another drive at a later date. You can also connect external hard drives to it via the front and rear USB ports.
HP has made the device very easy to setup. You just connect it to your router via an Ethernet cable (one is supplied in the box) and then load the software on one of your PCs. During the initial setup, the configuration software will automatically make sure the drive is assigned to the correct network workgroup and load the management tool on your PC so you can easily access the drive.
During installation the supplied NTI backup software is also installed. This is very straightforward to use and allows you to setup individual folders or files that should be backed up or alternatively to back up an entire drive over your network.
As its name implies, the Media Vault also has a number of media-friendly features. For starters, it has a built-in media server so it can be used to stream videos, photos and music to network media players such as the Netgear EVA800, even when your PC is turned off. It also has an iTunes server that lets you store your music files centrally and share the library among all your connected PCs. This can even be configured to update itself automatically every time you add new files to your library.
In terms of performance, the Vault is no slouch. In our tests with a Gigabit Ethernet-enabled PC, it returned a read speed of just over 17Mbps and a write speed of just a tad under 13Mbps. In this price range, it's one of the faster networked hard drives around.
The Media Vault allows you to share your media across the Internet, but for this to work it needs to configure your router so that it will allow external access to the drive. The Vault should be able to do this automatically, but despite a number of attempts it failed to work correctly with our Belkin router.
We had to get around the problem by manually setting up the port forwarding in the router's configuration menus. This process is quite technical and likely to trip up novices, so perhaps HP needs to do some more work on this auto-configuration process.
The Media Vault's power-management features are thin on the ground. The only power-management option is to have the device spin down the hard drive after a set amount of idle time. Network hard drives tend to be left on constantly so it'd be useful to see more advanced power-saving options on offer.
The Media Vault Pro is one of the best network hard drives around at the moment. It doesn't cost the Earth, it comes supplied with good backup software and it has a wealth of media-friendly features. If you're looking for a neat way to store your media files or backup your computers, it's a great option.
Edited by Marian Smith