Western Digital's place in the hard disk market isn't really arguable; it's a company that almost never fails to impress, whether it's inside or outside of your PC.
The MyBook and WorldBook have built it a solid reputation among external drive aficionados, and the Raptor and Velociraptor internal drives - running at 7200 and 10,000 rpm respectively - are some of the world's fastest.
Now the ShareSpace has been launched, neatly stating WD's claim for that third, ever more popular end of the market: Network Attached Storage.
This monstrous cube of hulking metal plumps for the 7,200rpm Caviar drive, one of the latest in WD's line. It uses four of them, in fact. Four terabytes worth of them. That's an absolutely massive amount of storage crammed into a cube with about the same footprint as your wireless router.
It costs just a shred more than half a decent PC when fully stocked with drives, as if its seriousness need reinforcing further. The fact that you can also access it -- and therefore all of your files -- from the Internet is merely dressing, especially considering the woeful upload speeds most of us in the UK are stuck with.
The stock drives are from the Green end of Western Digital's Caviar line, which means that they lack the extra oomph of the gamer-centric Black range, but it also means this unit draws a fairly low amount of power. That said, a 36W draw when idle isn't exactly miniscule for a device which will presumably be constantly swtiched on.
Thankfully the draw rarely goes above that level; even when formatting, we noticed a consistently low power trickle. The Sharespace is also reasonably quiet, although it does, sadly, include a fan. If you set it up in a living room it's easy to tune out the noise, but this may be better tucked away elsewhere.
Our 4-drive model came in RAID 5 configuration by default, which offers the best combination of storage space and data protection. We started with just over 2.5TB storage; when converted to Spanning mode we were able to claw back all of the drive space previously used for redundancy, giving us a slightly more reasonable 3.6TB at the expense of any chance of error recovery.
It's just a fact of PC life, though. If you want any guarantee of lasting data storage, you're going to need to buy approximately twice as many drives as you actually intend to use.
The Sharespace's built in web server software is simple and straightforward, and makes repartitioning and re-raiding easy, at least at the early stages - changing the configuration later on obviously erases all of your data, so it pays to be sure initially.
Ease of use
Swapping drives out is literally a case of loosening some thumbscrews, removing the outer case, and tugging the old drive out; a clever design means this is an entirely tool free process. As long as you've used the proper RAID configuration, you'll be able to shove in a new drive and let the box deal with re-RAIDing your disks.
Most important, of course, is the speed. Yes, it's quick. If you're lucky enough to have a Gigabit network at home, you can expect the full 1,000MB/s; we tested it on a standard Ethernet connection and maxed it out happily.
It's not quite as speedy as USB-attached storage might be, but that's not its aim. If you can't fit your wallet in your pocket thanks to all the loose twenties, we really can't see a more elegant solution out there right now for adding obscene amounts of storage to your network.