Data has exploded in this digital home era, from music to video to games and just general computer stuff – we have ever increasingly large amounts of data and ever decreasing space upon which to store it.

The 100GB or so of hard drive storage on your desktop or laptop PC soon fills up, and before long anyone who is serious about their digital lifestyle starts looking to external drives.

These are readily available, fairly cheap, provide huge amounts of capacity, and precious little else. But there is certainly much more to the Thecus N299 than just being an external hard drive, just another data box.

The clue is in that Network Attached Storage tag, something that business users have known about for the longest time. The first real hint of this being something different for the home user, the first hint of additional functionality on offer is evident even before you get it up and running: not one, but two Ethernet ports; not one but three USB ports. Truth be told, the Thecus N299 puts most NAS boxes to shame when it comes to connectivity.

And connectivity is ultimately what NAS is all about. That’s where the N299 really shines, with a front mounted quick-copy button that links to the front mounted USB port, which allows you to dump data from a memory stick to the NAS box with a single press for example. But getting data onto the device is one thing, the ability to access it whenever, and wherever, you need it is quite another.

Again, the N299 does not disappoint, with internal software that operates as an easy to configure and use HTTP server. Business class stuff, but with a menu system that makes it easy for the average home user to add additional users, stream media including the ability to use it as an iTunes server to throw music at any PC with iTunes installed. This storage device even comes with an integrated download manager bringing scheduled BitTorrent transfers, sans PC, into the mix if so desired.

Additional functionality can also be found in the shape of those other USB ports which will happily work with USB printers or webcams to stretch the boundaries of this network attached device even further. So if you want to use it as a print server, no problem, and implementing a home CCTV security system is child’s play with a webcam or two.

In the configuration we played with, you get a couple of 500GB Samsung hard drives in a RAID configuration, and these proved speedy enough to cope with the biggest of file transfers around the network at a rate of 5Mbps and streamed high quality video content without hesitation.

It also worked happily enough with Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X and Linux, which was nice. It won’t win any prizes for looks, and is not the smallest box on the block at 8.5 x 20 x 16 cm but you can easily hide it away out of sight if you opt for a wireless connection via a USB adapter.

There is plenty of flexibility on offer with the N299, allowing the consumer to choose the right balance between cost and capacity for their own particular needs – and we like that. A lot. Although the entry level device may sound expensive at £100 when it comes with, well, no capacity at all it does mean you can source your own hard drives to populate it.

A good choice for the technically competent user on a budget. If your need for space beats wallet protection every time, then the range topping 2TB at around £600 will fit the bill nicely. For us though, this 1TB unit is pretty much the perfect "one size fits all" device with more than enough storage for most normal folk and without doing too much damage to the bank balance.

Verdict

Not only is this a truly business class storage device, but Thecus have managed to pull off the seemingly impossible: make it both affordable and usable for the average home user.