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Introduction

BuffaloTech Fully Customizable NAS shell
Summary Fully customizable Linux/PPC server. You supply the IDE hard drive
- HG model also available with upgraded processor, memory and gigabit Ethernet
Update 28 Oct 2004 - Corrected "kuro" translation
Pros • Open source development platform with real manufacturer support
• Can use existing Linux / PowerPC development projects
• Uses internal 3.5 IDE drive
Cons • Development tools are pretty rough
• Small (but growing) developer community
• Supports only 1 internal drive

BuffaloTech Fully Customizable NAS shell

If you're interested in embedded Linux, there are a lot of little devices to experiment with these days. Everything from routers to access points to network storage appliances are available at your local electronics store. I've been spending a lot of time lately making Linksys' consumer Network Storage Device, the NSLU2 [reviewed here], do tricks it was never intended to do. [Ed. note: Read Jim's Hacking the Linksys NSLU2 series starting here.] This time, however, I'm going to look at a similar Linux-based device that the manufacturer built to be hacked.

The Kuro Box helps with breakfast
Figure 1: The Kuro Box helps with breakfast

The Kuro Box (KB) from Buffalo Technology (actually a new division called Revolution by Buffalo) is being marketed as a 100% open source based Network Storage Appliance that can be easily extended. The Kuro Box ("Kuro" is Japanese for "expert" or "specialist") is the the first in a line of products aimed at VARs, resellers and just plain folks who like to customize their own computer gear. First, let's do a little comparison between the NSLU2 and the Kuro Box.

Unlike the NSLU2 that uses external USB disk drives, the Kuro Box is designed to hold its 3.5 inch drive internally. Since the box contains the drive, it's bigger than the NSLU2, taking up about as much space as a typical toaster (Figure 1). So while the NSLU2 may be smaller, using an internal drive has its advantages.

First, transfer performance can be better with an internal drive compared to an external drive because we don't have to send data through the USB 2.0 subsystem. Second, for many users, using an internal drive also addresses a common complaint that NSLU2 users have - hard drive power control. While the NSLU2's external drive never spins down, Linux's hdparm command can easily set the spin-down time for an internal IDE drive.

In terms of cost, the NSLU2 is about half the cost of the Kuro Box, but the NSLU2's price does not include the cost of an external drive enclosure. This forces users to either buy an enclosure themselves for an existing spare IDE drive they'd like to use, or purchase a USB external drive product, either of which is more expensive than just a raw drive. But with USB 2.0 drive enclosures going for as low as $35, the NSLU2 can still beat the $160 Kuro Box on price. So BuffaloTech may have some work to do in this area to beat back the Linksys pricing juggernaut.

Buffalo and Linksys have also taken different paths with support of developers. Linksys has taken the approach of minimal involvement, while Buffalo has taken an approach of embracing and supporting open source developers and marketing a product made to be hacked. Buffalo's developer community support includes a web site with developers forums, contests, tools and source code, and the forums are frequented by Buffalo Tech employees.

But that's enough comparison, let's look at the Kuro Box itself.

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