Review: Maxtor Central Axis Network Storage Server

Friday Sep 12th 2008 by Joseph Moran
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The Central Axis hits a couple of high notes on features, but more discordant ones when it comes to usability and ease of setup.

Maxtor’s latest network attached storage (NAS) device has a lot going for it – it's compact, spacious, reasonably priced and, best of all, it allows you to remotely access files stored on it without a lot of hassle. On the flip side, getting the Central Axis Network Storage Server configured can be a frustrating experience due to confusing software functions and an extremely slow administrative interface.

Hardware Features

The Central Axis uses the same compact upright metal-and-plastic chassis design that Maxtor uses on its OneTouch 4 external hard drives. The front of the Central Axis sports a strip of indicator lights at the base of the unit, and on the back there’s a power switch, Gigabit Ethernet port and a USB port that you can use to connect a printer or additional storage device. (Note: As of this writing, the Central Axis product page on Maxtor’s Web site states the unit has two USB ports, but the device in fact only has one port.)

The $319 Central Axis (MSRP, but selling for well under $300 online) comes in only one capacity ‑ 1 TB. But it’s a safe bet that larger versions will be forthcoming, including multi-drive units that support RAID for data redundancy. RAID isn’t available on the current model, however, since it houses a single internal hard drive (7,200 RPM; 16 MB buffer).

The Maxtor Central Axis Network Storage Server offers 1TB capacity and easy remote access, but folder setup and the admin interface are confusing and very slow.


Maxtor Central Axis Network Storage Server
The Maxtor Central Axis Network Storage Server offers 1TB capacity and easy remote access, but folder setup and the admin interface are confusing and very slow.

Setup and Administration

You manage most, but not all, configuration chores through the device’s browser-based administration console. Unfortunately it takes patience, because it suffers from extremely sluggish performance.

After selecting configuration options, we found it usually took six or seven seconds for pages to refresh, which can feel like an eternity as you’re trying to make your way through the menus. Things got even worse whenever we copied large amounts of data to the Central Axis. Two- or three-minute waits for page refreshes were typical.

The Central Axis comes with a Windows utility called Maxtor Manager, that you use to check the status of the device as well as to login to map a drive to a user’s shared folders. It also comes with a built-in backup utility and serves as a front-end to the browser interface for certain configuration options.

To setup accounts and folders and to access permissions on the Central Axis you can either go through the browser interface or Maxtor Manager. When you do it through Maxtor Manager, it automatically creates a series of folders for the account to store different categories of files, like movies, music, photos, etc.

If you specify that the account is for business rather than home use, the utility changes some of the folder names to reflect that ‑ instead of folders for movies and music you get ones for presentations and projects, for example.

But if you do account setup through the browser console, you don’t get the convenience of automatic folder creation. Rather, you must go to a separate menu and create folders manually.

We like the idea of not having to manually create a series of subfolders to organize data, so using Maxtor Manager for account creation would seem to be a no-brainer. But Maxtor Manager doesn’t make the task easy because the software automatically tries to map the folders for any new account you create to drive Z. This causes cryptic error messages if you try to create an account while already connected to one.

Data Backup and Streaming Media

The data backup application built into Maxtor Manager is pretty limited in scope. The “simple” backup option is a bit too simple ‑ it backs up only your My Documents folder, only at 10 PM, and you can't tweak those settings to suit your needs. To back up any other folders, or if you prefer to run the backup at any other time (as we think many will) you need to choose a Custom backup instead. We'd prefer to make at least minor tweaks to the canned backup routine. On the plus side, the backup utility retains up to 10 copies of files so you restore specific historical versions.

If you want to back up data on the Central Axis unit, you can do that from the browser interface, provided you have a storage device of sufficient capacity attached via the USB port. Speaking of that port, you don’t necessarily need to reformat external storage devices to connect them to the Central Axis, but the device recognizes FAT32 storage devices only. So if you have an NTFS-formatted drive with data you want to transfer to the Central Axis, you’ll need to do it over the network. 

The Central Axis can act as a media server so it will stream media to UPnP-compatible devices on the network or to iTunes. We were able to access files from a PlayStation 3 console without any problems.

Remote Access

If you need to access your files while on the road, you'll find that the Central Axis makes it pretty easy. You can designate your folders as Web-accessible and then remotely log into the Central Axis via a secure browser connection at Seagate’s Global Access Web site, which acts as the intermediary. Although this setup makes accessing your Central Axis dependent on the site being up and running, it eliminates the need to do any firewall configuration (i.e. port forwarding) on your router to get it working.

In the case of remote access, the browser interface is quite good. It’s responsive and lets you not only view and download files, but also upload them and set up new folders. The capability to view image thumbnails means you don’t have to identify photos solely by file name, and we also like the fact that you can conveniently download an entire folder as a ZIP file.

The Central Axis also lets you share folders with other people by sending them an access invitation via e-mail. You can only share folders, not individual files, and anyone that you invite must sign up for their own Global Access account. 

The Bottom Line

The Maxtor Central Axis does a lot a neat stuff, but usability suffers due to the unintuitive software and glacial admin interfaces. The Central Axis comes with no fewer than three manuals ‑ one for users, one for administrators, and one that covers remote access features ‑ totaling nearly 250 pages in all. Whether you’re technical or not, you’ll probably spend a lot of time reading them in order to get the Central Axis set up the way you want it.

We hope that future updates to the device firmware and included software will resolve many of the Central Axis usability ills. In the meantime, if you’re willing to devote the time and effort required to set it up, the Central Axis can be a good place to keep your data, particularly if you want to easily access it from the road.

  • Price: $319 (MSRP)
  • Pros: Compact; 1 TB capacity; easy-to-use remote access feature, streams media to UPnP devices and iTunes
  • Cons: Only one drive, so no RAID; confusing user account and folder setup; browser-based admin interface is extremely slow

Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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