Iomega's iConnect managed to launch during the whirlwind that was CES 2010, so if you didn't quite catch it the first go 'round, here's hoping that you're paying attention today. In essence, the device is fairly simple. It's a small, port-filled slab that's designed to sit beneath or beside your current router or hub, and while we're certainly dumbing things down somewhat with this description, it's basically a variant of the Pogoplug. Equipped with four USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet jack and an internal 802.11b/g/n WiFi module, the iConnect is designed to put your existing thumb drives, external hard drives and / or printers online. We've had less-than-awesome experiences in the past with devices that turn localized storage into network accessible storage, so we went into this overview with fairly low expectations. Much to our surprise, we came away duly impressed with the package that Iomega has assembled, so be sure to read on if this one has been sitting on your maybe-must-have list.

Update: After a couple of months of use, we ran across some pretty intense issues with this device. Eventually, none of the PCs and Macs in our house would print to the networked printer, and our USB hard drives would only show up sporadically. Needless to say, our enthusiasm has been significantly tempered, and we wouldn't recommend this for homes where mixed platforms reside.

Iomega iConnect unboxing and hands-on

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iConnect

Pros

  • Small and compact
  • Supports wireless printing and HDDs
  • Integrated WiFi should you need it

Cons

  • Refuses to work well with mixed platforms
  • Troubleshooting nearly impossible
  • Bundled software is truly awful
Summary



We unboxed the iConnect with a few goals in mind. For starters, we wanted to get our ancient USB-based HP printer online, enabling us to send print commands from a variety of computers (Macs and PCs) and from a variety of locations (Earth and Mars). Secondly, we wanted to get a couple of My Book HDDs online, enabling us to send and retrieve files to hard drives that have thus far remained tethered to our primary desktop. Oh, and we wanted no reduction in reliability and no uptick in complexity. With that in mind, we should note that setup couldn't have been easier. We connected the iConnect to our WLAN router via the included Ethernet cord, plugged the USB connectors from our two hard drives and one printer into the device and then popped the installation CD into our Windows 7 desktop.


Performance

We followed the on-screen instructions, and five minutes later our box was online and our two My Book drives were accessible. The web-based management portal -- while simplistic -- is decently laid out, and we had no issues setting up security boundaries and managing torrent downloads. In fact, we were shocked at just how quickly we had the HDDs online, and we were even more shocked to find that the drives simply popped up within My Computer on Win7 and within Finder on OS X without any fancy networking setup inside of the OS. We tested transfers and uploads via 802.11n (using our existing router, though the iConnect does feature it's own wireless for those who need it), and while it was certainly slower than having a hard USB 2.0 connection, the speeds weren't too awful. Downloads and uploads ranged between 2.3MB/sec and 3.4MB/sec over our wireless network, while a wired Ethernet connection saw those speeds increase to around 8MB/sec. Make no mistake -- this setup isn't for you if you're consistently shuffling around 10GB files, but for the average consumer who just needs to pull down a picture here and there, it's plenty capable.

Stress testing

We should also mention that performance over the internet (read: remote access from outside the home) will depend on your broadband connection; if you're stuck with a provider that caps your uploads at 40Kbps, you can bet that showing your friends in Guam that 800MB video you shot will be a painful experience. If you're jacked into a T1, you'll be able to snag those files in no time flat. We also went through a great deal of trouble to tax the system and find its breaking point, and we've good and bad news to share here. We started a 6GB upload from our MacBook Pro to one of our connected My Book drives, and while that was going on, we were consistently dragging and dropping smaller files (100MB or so) from the same HDD on another machine. Around 10 minutes into the madness, the 6GB connection dropped entirely; we fired it back up and let it upload with no extra activity going on elsewhere, and it finished sans a hitch an hour or so later. If this were an enterprise-class device, we'd say that this situation was simply intolerable, but given that it's a sub-$100 consumer product, we have to confess that we didn't actually expect it to survive such a gauntlet. Not that we enjoyed the failure, mind you, but we can't say we were shocked to see it finally cave when stressed so heavily.


Wireless printing

So, onto that printer we mentioned. Our Windows 7 rig had no issues whatsoever recognizing and installing our newly-networked DeskJet, and our OS X 10.5.8 machine picked it up via Bonjour without any hesitation. 'Course, finding the right driver was a separate pain, but that's certainly no fault of Iomega's. Put simply, we were printing over our wireless network within 5 or so minutes, and the setup has been working flawlessly day after day. Cutting the cord to your printer may be a minor victory in the grand scheme of life, but darn if it doesn't feel like something far greater in importance.


Wrap-up

At just under $90 on the street, it's really hard to knock Iomega's iConnect. Setup is exceedingly simple, and while it definitely doesn't boast the rock-solid reliability that we would like, we can't truthfully say that we expected as much from something so (comparatively) inexpensive. Our only major gripe on the design is the location of the USB ports; three are in the "front," while one is in the rear; regardless of how you spin it, you'll have USB sockets sticking out, making it impossible to conceal within your existing networking setup. We would've much preferred the USB ports all across the rear, as we don't exactly intend to remove these external hard drives from their NAS configuration anytime soon. If you've been looking for a dead-simple way to get your printer(s) and external hard drive(s) online, and you're not looking to transfer huge files on a daily or hourly basis, the iConnect is hard to pass over -- and yes, we were serious when we said that wireless printing would change your life.

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Iomega iConnect review: getting your printers, HDDs online has never been simpler