How do I hook up a USB external hard drive to my wireless network?
November 16, 2008 7:51 PM   Subscribe

What's the best and cheapest way to connect a USB external hard drive to my wireless network for use as an iTunes jukebox?

Last week, I went out and bought a Black Armor 320 GB external hard drive. I just spent most of this last weekend emptying out the iTunes libraries from my work laptop and home laptop in order to create One Big Library to Rule Them All. *grin*

Here's my question -- what's the best and cheapest way to make this new huge library accessible to my laptops?

I don't want to schlep the hard drive with me every where I go. It's USB 2.0-based, so I was thinking of connecting it to the wireless network I run at home (simple basic Linksys WRT54G). The problem is that the router is all Ethernet, but I figured I could just go out and buy an Ethernet --> USB adapter and plug it into one of the unused Ethernet ports on the router.

Is this convoluted? Is there an easy (and cheap) way to do this?

Basically, my wife and I are going to share the one big Library and then connect each of our iPods to it. I'd like to make this as easy and painless as possible.
posted by zooropa to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a matter of "converting" between Ethernet and USB -- the component between the drive and the network has to essentially be a file server. You can buy a standalone NAS (network-attached storage) device like this or this, or if you have a spare PC lying around, you can install any number of Linux or BSD distributions that can act as a server with minimal system requirements.

If you don't want to spend the money on a standalone device and aren't comfortable setting up a server, you can also just plug the drive into a desktop computer and share it over the network. The details of how to do this will depend on your operating system.
posted by teraflop at 8:02 PM on November 16, 2008

You generally can't just use a dumb 'ethernet socket one end, USB socket another' adapter to make the contents of an external drive available to the network. You need a NAS adapter, like the officially-discontinued NSLU2, or one of its heirs and successors. You can put Linux on them.
posted by holgate at 8:06 PM on November 16, 2008

Your idea won't work because there's nothing serving the files. You need a thin computer server of some kind to mount and serve out the files on the disk. You need a NAS, a Network Attached Server.

Now, an Apple Airport Extreme (a wireless router) has some extra firmware that lets you add hard disks that are then visible/shared over the network, but most third-party wireless routers don't do this. A few do: search for wifi routers "with NAS" to find which.

Since already have a wireless router, another one might seem a waste, but with Apple's model around $150, it might be the cleanest and easiest option (zero configuration) and almost certainly the lowest power one.
posted by rokusan at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2008

I have used an ASUS WL500g, running openWRT for this.. but it's not a simple thing to set up.

The 'best and cheapest' way is to already have a desktop on your network, and to plug it into that. Could you provide more details of the existing network?
posted by pompomtom at 8:13 PM on November 16, 2008

Non-Apple label option: Belkin wifi router with NAS.
posted by rokusan at 8:15 PM on November 16, 2008

Sure, no problem.

The existing network is very simple:

1 laptop running Vista (business)
1 laptop running XP (home)
1 Linksys WRT54G wireless router (Internet connectivity via Comcast)
1 netbook (actually arriving next month, for my wife's birthday)
1 external hard drive 320GB Maxtor Black Armor

(And to be complete, I also have a Tivo Series 2 connected via a simple Linksys wireless device attached. Next month, my project is to have this rigged up to display family photos in time for everyone coming over for the holidays.)

I have the two laptops setup to see each other when necessary, but otherwise everything is very standalone.

Based on what I've read here and elsewhere, it sounds like the cheapest and simplest option may be to just buy a cheap $100 standalone PC to act as a 'hub'of sorts. I would then hook up the external hard drive to it and share it to the laptops and netbook.

posted by zooropa at 8:20 PM on November 16, 2008

Yes, that's the cheapest option. I'd be a little worried about power consumption, though. If you can afford it, you might think about getting a Mac Mini and just leaving it on all the time, setting it up in your living space as a web browsing/email extra desktop computer. Mac Minis don't use much power and it would be available for any other servery needs you might have in the future.
posted by zixyer at 8:53 PM on November 16, 2008

I'd probably go with something like Rokusan has suggested.
posted by pompomtom at 9:01 PM on November 16, 2008

If you don't want to buy a dedicated PC or replace your router with a NAS built in, you can get a dedicated network USB hub; which also allows you to share printers and scanners as well - it does literally share a USB connection over a network, with software on the client.

It doesn't work quite as a NAS though; each USB device can only be connected to a single PC at a time, so a USB NAS, or PC acting as same would probably be the better option in this specific instance, so multiple computers can access your music at once.
posted by ArkhanJG at 9:23 PM on November 16, 2008

pompomtom, why is OpenWRT necessary to share out a USB drive from that router? It looks to me like it's a feature of the included firmware.
posted by Good Brain at 11:28 PM on November 16, 2008

It isn't required, and it is a built in feature. It's just that dd-wrt and openwrt are simply better open-source firmwares with more features, more stable and with a better management console. They can also be a pain to install if you're not fairly technically minded.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:01 AM on November 17, 2008

If you buy an old PC off eBay (even an old PIII) and put a large hard drive in it, you wouldn't need the external drive. You could install Freenas on the PC, stick it in a closet somewhere and that would be your hub. I've just done it and the whole setup took about 20 minutes.
posted by gfrobe at 1:32 AM on November 17, 2008

If you're trying to put together an iTunes library server Firefly (formerly known as daapd) on one of the supported embedded devices (like an NSLU2) sounds like it's what you want.
posted by majick at 6:59 AM on November 17, 2008

Firefly (or any mere library/media server/streamer) will not do what zooropa wants: he wants to actually mount the shared volume on multiple computers and use the files (songs) on that volume that for iTunes synching to multiple PCs/iPods.

A shared iTunes library (as opposed to a shared volume with music files on it) is only for playing, not copying/synching.
posted by rokusan at 11:03 AM on November 17, 2008

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