When all else fails
14-Jan-06. Linksys used to have a good reputation. In the past, given a choice between comparable products by Linksys and a competitor, I used to chose the Linksys. No more. I will not buy any more Linksys products.
In recent years, I've had four Linksys products:
- BEFW11S4 — Wireless Access Point Router with 4-Port Switch
- Worked OK, but was limited to Wireless-B (802.11b).
- WRT54G — Wireless-G Broadband Router
- Wireless part died after a few months and I switched in disgust to Netgear. I gave the WRT54G to someone who needed only the wired router part, but even that died less than a month later.
- WVC54G — Wireless-G Internet Camera
- The camera works OK — just OK — but getting it set up so it was accessible from the internet took forever and was incredibly frustrating. Linksys was no help at all. Once I figured it out, dozens of people around the world have used my notes and help to to get their cameras going. Most say they tried to get help from Linksys but couldn't get anywhere with them.
- NSLU2 — Network Storage Link for USB 2.0 Disk Drives
- Stopped working after a couple of months and was replaced by Linksys. The replacement stopped working less than a year later. And there begins this tale.
The NSLU2 is a terrific idea: connect your big USB external drives to this little gadget and have them accessible from anywhere on your home LAN or even from the internet.
There's just one problem: The NSLU2 is, in reality, a piece o' crap.
I bought my NSLU2 in August 2004 and attached two external USB drives to it, one with a nominal capacity of 200Gb, the other 60Gb. It worked like a charm! Access to files on those disks was much faster than when they were attached to my desktop PC, and using the NSLU2 meant I didn't have to keep my desktop PC on all the time.
I was a little apprehensive about the NSLU2 because it came with a warning that disks attached to the NSLU2 were incompatible with Windows®, but since it seemed to work so well I soon forgot my reservations.
Then the troubles started. This was in the days before I bought an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and every time there was a momentary power outage the drive mappings would get screwed up because the NSLU2 would not power on again automatically. I soon learned that that was the least of my worries.
In February of 2005, just six months later, the NSLU2 simply stopped working. When I tried to access it through its web page I would get an error message "failed to find samba information," and nowhere could I find an explanation of what samba information is — not in the NSLU2 manual nor in the "knowledge base" on the Linksys website. Tech support didn't know what samba information was either, but they told me my NSLU2 had failed and would have to be replaced. OK, how do I do that? No one could give me an "RMA" number so I could get a replacement! After getting nowhere through the usual technical support channels (telephone and web chat), I kept "escalating" until I finally reached an engineer at Linksys headquarters who was aghast at the run-around I had been given and gave me the coveted RMA number. Within days, I had a new NSLU2 and returned the failed one to Linksys.
Fast forward to January 2006. Once again the NSLU2 stopped working. The "knowledge base" said I should update the firmware, which I tried to do, but the NSLU2 refused to accept the update and simply went dead.
By this time I had a great many files stored on those two drives and losing them was not something I was willing to accept. I started down the usual tech support pathways, beginning with online chat. It did not go well. The tech support person insisted I should try the NSLU2 with a different power adapter, even though the device came with only one power adapter. (Of course, if I had tried it with another power adapter, then they could have claimed that I had invalidated my warranty! Gotcha!) From there it was all downhill. I gave up in frustration and disgust when the tech support person insisted that the device was not covered by warranty even after I quoted verbatim from the warranty paragraph wherein the warranty was specified as three years.
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A subsequent telephone call to customer service (in the Philippines) foundered on the same issue. It made no sense to me that I should have to fax a copy of the warranty to Linksys in order to prove that it said three years when documents on the Linksys website said three years nor why Linksys couldn't just check with the NSLU2 product manager instead of making me jump through hoops.
When all else fails, use your head. I put the issue aside for a couple of days while I pondered where next to direct my flames. Suddenly it dawned on me that the reason the disks would be incompatible with Windows® was because the NSLU2 was probably really just a file-server appliance running some version of Linux, and that if I could just plug the drives into a Linux box the files would all be accessible. Hoping to verify my brainstorm, I searched the NSLU2 user guide for the word Linux, but without success. I searched the Linksys "knowledge base" for the word Linux, again without success.
I was determined to test my theory, but could not because I didn't have a computer running Linux.
Google to the rescue! A Google search uncovered a simple little software program that adds Linux file system drivers to Windows (www.fs-driver.org). You install it on your Windows NT/2000/XP system, plug in your Linux formatted USB drive, assign it a letter in the new IFS control panel, and voila! The whole directory structure on the Linux-formatted USB drive is now accessible to Windows!
Moral of the story: Screw Linksys!
The NSLU2 has now taken its rightful place:
NSLU2 where it belongs: in the trash!