Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Wi-Fi Router USB Port Explained: How to Turn One into a NAS Server

When it comes to network storage, I’d recommend a NAS server. But a good server can be expensive; plus, not everyone wants or has time to configure all the features. So the second-best option is to make use of what you likely already have: the Wi-Fi router USB port.

Indeed, there are many routers on the market that can simultaneously deliver both Wi-Fi and storage space for your entire home.

This post, among other things, talks about the storage-related use of a USB-ready Wi-Fi router. You’ll also find the link to my list of recommended routers and tips on how to best set up one as a NAS server.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 24, 2019, and updated it on August 12, 2020, to add more relevant information.

Wi-Fi Router USB Port: Here's that of the Asus RT AX89X USB
Router USB port: These little ports can bring about extra values.

What’s the use of a Wi-Fi router USB port?

Not every Wi-Fi router has a USB port, but if yours happens to have one, chances are you can use it for (at least one of) the followings:

Host that (old) printer

Print serving is the original function of a router USB port. Connect a USB printer to this port, and it’s now available to the entire network. There’s no need to buy a printer for each person anymore.

Five or six years ago, this feature was a big deal since printers at the time were mostly USB-only. Nowadays, those with a built-in network port or Wi-Fi are commonplace. With that, some new Wi-Fi routers don’t offer the print serving feature anymore, though many still do.

Cellular connection

This feature allows the router to host a cellular USB modem and share the mobile Internet to the entire network. A cellular connection is a great way to have a backup Internet when your broadband service, like DSL or cable, is down.

Note that a router with this feature only supports specific cellular modems. Make sure you check the manual to know which one to get.

Wi Fi Router USB NAS
Picking the right external storage device is the first step to turn a Wi-Fi router USB port into a mini NAS server.

Network-attached storage (NAS) server

This feature is, by far, the most common and useful. Similar to the case of printing, plugging an external hard drive into the router USB port can also make its storage available to the entire network.

On top of that, you can use that public storage space for other applications, such as a backup destination (including Time Machine backup, in some cases,) PC-less downloading, or even a personal cloud.

READ  How to Turn your USB-enabled Wi-Fi Router into a Time Capsule


How to best turn a Wi-Fi router USB port into a NAS server

There are a couple of things to keep in mind about using a router as a NAS server.

Get expectations straight

The first and most important thing to remember is a router’s primary function is to host your network. For this reason, even a high-end router tends to have limited processing power for non-networking tasks.

It’s a router you’re using!

Naturally, a router is not as capable as a dedicated NAS server when hosting storage space.

Also, just because the router USB port or ports support a few functions — like NAS, printing, or cellular modem, and so on — doesn’t mean you should expect to use all of them at the same time, nor should you expect the top performance of each when you use them all together.

(For the same reason, you can’t, either, expect to have the same storage performance via Wi-Fi as via a wired connection. In the former, the router has to use its power to broadcast the Wi-Fi signals at the same time.)

By the way, if a router has multiple USB ports, chances are they all share a single USB hub. So, you can’t use more than one bus-powered devices with it, and each port only has its share of the hub’s total bandwidth.

Again, it’s a router you’re looking at. Just because there are ports doesn’t mean you can use them all at your expected performance.

Security

Security can also be a concern. For example, some routers still use SMBv1, which is the original and ancient version of the popular Server Message Block protocol used in the Windows environment for network file and printer sharing.

SMBv1 required
Router USB port: Some routers still require the old and vulnerable SMBv1 protocol for the USB-based file sharing.

Due to security holes, for about a decade now, SMBv1 has been replaced by SMBv2 and newer versions and recently even disabled by default in most modern operating systems. That doesn’t mean using SMBv1 will get you in trouble immediately, but it sure is not ideal.

(Note, though, that many Asus routers might have the warning about enabling SMBv1, but they don’t require it to work. In my experience, all Asus Wi-Fi 6 routers can work with newer SMB versions.)

Another security concern is when you use the NAS feature via the Internet. In this case, make sure you create an account for each user access. But if you’re not sure, just don’t turn on any “cloud” feature or FTP access. Use those only when you know what you’re doing.

The bottom line is, if you want to do a lot of things with your network storage, it’s a good idea to get a real dedicated NAS server. But if you only wish to use some casual network storage, it’s quite fun and sensible to get even more use out of our router.

Get a good external drive

Any good external storage device, namely desktop or laptop (portable) USB drives, will work. You don’t need to get a NAS-specific drive.

So, if you want the fastest possible speed, get a fast SSD-based portable drive, such as one of those on this list. However, keep in mind that the performance depends on the network connection or the router’s processing power.

That said, a fast external storage device doesn’t always translate into better performance. In most cases, an affordable hard-drive-based portable drive, like the WD My Passport or the G-Tech Mobile, will do.

Generally, a router USB port has enough juice to power one bus-powered drive. But you can also use desktop external drives that have a power adapter of their own. In this case, you can use one with each of a router’s USB ports.

READ  Best Portable Drives of 2020: It's Backup Time!

When it comes to storage space, the more, the better, so get the drive with the most capacity you can afford. If you’re serious about your data, you can also choose an external drive with redundancy, such as a dual-drive RAID 1 external storage device, like the WD My Book Duo.

Note: You will need to configure the hardware RAID setup before plugging it into the router. So do that on a computer first.

Get the right router

Not all routers are equal, especially when it comes to raw power. That said, get a router that has a lot of processing power. Generally, the higher the specs, the better.

READ  Device Connections Explained: It's All about USB-C

Also, make sure you get a router that supports USB 3.2 Gen 1, a.k.a USB 3.0, or faster. Some router also has an eSATA or USB-C port. So, find one that suits your needs. And finally, get the router that includes the storage features you want, such as the support for Time Machine backup.

Asus RT AX88U USB mode
Router USB port: Steps to make an Asus Wi-Fi router USB port work in USB 3.0 (a.k.a USB 3.2 Gen 1) mode.

Use the correct settings

By default, many routers — especially those from Asus and Synology — automatically set the connected drive to work in USB 2.0 mode. This mode won’t affect the router’s NAS functionality but has a theoretical cap speed of just 480 Mbps (60 MB/s) — the real-world rate will be just about half of that.

The USB 3.2 Gen 1 (formerly USB 3.0) mode, which the cap of 5 Gbps (625 MB/s), unfortunately, can adversely affect the router’s 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. That said, if you want to get the most out of the router’s storage feature, you’ll need to enable the faster USB mode manually — we use mostly the 5GHz band these days anyway.

Also, make sure you use the external drive with the right setting. For one, use it in the correct file system that the router supports. Most, if not all routers, support NTFS.

READ  File System and Partition Explained: Take Control of Your Storage

By the way, it’s worth noting that you only need to use the file system that the router supports, and not the one your computer supports. That’s because the file system used by the server has nothing to do with the client.

So, for example, if you use an NTFS (Windows) external drive with your router and share its storage, over the network, your Mac will be able to read, write to the shared folder, and use the space for Time Machine backup (if supported) just fine.

Finally, don’t turn on the external storage device’s security feature if it has one. A router has no mechanism to unlock it.

How to access your router-based NAS server

Once you’ve connected a storage device to a router and turned on the data sharing feature — often referred to as Windows-based, or SAMBA (SMB), file sharing — it’s easy to access that share space from any computer within the network.

Asus RT AX92U USB Features
The USB-related features of an Asus router. For NAS, the Samba option is in the second (Servers Center) from top.

A couple of things to note here:

  • Depending on the router, there might be more features than just data sharing. Another popular option is the media server — where the router shares video and audio files stored on the connected drive via media streaming protocol. In this case, just follow the instruction to turn the desired feature on.
  • Here I assume you know how to set up a router, access its web interface, etc — enabling the NAS feature is part of working with the router’s interface. If not, this post on how to build a network from scratch will help you with that.

But data sharing is the most useful and popular, and I’ll cover it here. It’s fairly easy. To make it work, the only next thing you need is the router’s IP address, which is the same one you’ve used to access its interface.

Alternatively, you can also use the router’s network name. But the IP is always the sure way.

For this post, let’s say the IP address in question is 192.168.1.1. (Chances are yours is a different one. If you don’t what it is, this post on IP addresses includes detailed steps on how to figure that out.)

Once you’ve got the IP address, the steps below are the standard ways to access your newly-minted NAS server from a Windows or Mac computer within your local network hosted by the router.

Accessing your NAS server on a Windows computer

Access Server Windows
You can access the shared folder via the router’s IP address.

1. Open Explorer.

2. On the address bar type in this command then press Enter:

\\192.168.1.1

(Alternatively, you can also use \\RouterName and the Windows search field under the Start Menu instead of Explorer. Don’t forget the \\ (not //) and remember there’s no space in the command.)

3. Enter the username and password if prompted. If you haven’t set up an account for the data sharing, or if the router doesn’t support that, you can just use the admin username and password of the router‘s web interface.

Accessing your NAS server on a Mac

Access Server Mac

1. Click on an empty spot on the desktop then press Command + K, and the “Connect to Server” window will appear.

2. Under Server address type in

smb://192.168.1.1 

(Again, you can also substitute the IP address with the router’s network name.)

3. Click on Connect and enter username and password (of the account you’ve created or the router’s admin account) if prompted.


And that’s it. Happy data sharing!

Best USB-enabled routers that can work as a NAS server

Now that you know how to turn a USB-enabled router into a NAS server, you probably wonder which router or routers you should get for the job.

I addressed that big question in this separate, frequently updated post on the best Wi-Fi routers for NAS features. Check it out!

READ  Best 10 Router NAS Options: Add Some Cool Storage to Your Wi-Fi Today!

By the way, again, many routers can also work as a Time Machine backup destination. For more, check out this post on how to turn a router into a Time Capsule.

63 thoughts on “Wi-Fi Router USB Port Explained: How to Turn One into a NAS Server”

  1. Hi there, great article.
    I have a big issue with my RT-AX92U.
    With a disk connected (usb3.0 port), the 2.4ghz wifi stop being stable. It goes up, it disappear, goes up randomly.

    In you article you say something about this issue, but I can’t relate to that because 2.4ghz is VERY relevant to me with domotics and IoT.

    Now, do you have some advice to solve this? I really can’t find a good solution.

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
  2. Hello Dong.
    Thank you for all the great information you provide.
    I just got a USB drive connected to my ASUS RT-AC86U router to work as a NAS. Robocopy makes it easy to use the NAS drive for backups, and it works great.
    However, one issue that I have is that whenever I run a backup to the NAS drive, all the folders become read only. Not the files, but just the folders. I have myself defined in the router’s SAMBA settings with my Windows OS username and password, and am designated with R/W rights.
    What am I missing???
    Thanks.
    Mark

    Reply
  3. Thanks for your great article 🙂
    I have the ASUS RT-AC85P WIFI Router with 1 USB 3.0 port.
    I would like to ask if you have any idea if I can connect a 2 drive docking station (the docking station have its own power supply to that port?
    I currently have a 2TB Toshiba USB3.0 SAS drive connected to the Routers USB port and it is working perfectly, but I am dreaming of connecting a docking station with two drives to the Router for more storage space instead 🙂

    Kind regards and thanks in advance 🙂

    Reply
    • I mentioned that in the post, Dennis. I’d not do that, though it will work technically. A docking station is more for temporary use. Also, it’s a router you’re using.

      Reply
  4. Hi Dong,

    I have an TP link Archer C9 with a connected usb hard drive I use as a “media server” and use kodi on a laptop, also my Roku’s. I am looking to go to Fios which would use a Verizon G3100. It has a usb port but only for 5v power. I was thinking of connecting the C9 as an “Access Point” (which is more involved then clicking a drop down menu) and shut off the wifi. Do you see any problems I can run into with this setup? Any suggestions?

    Reply
  5. Hello Dong, wish you all the best for 2021 🙂

    I would like to ask you, what to check (which specs) when finding good router with fast(!) USB sharing port for USB drive?

    I now have older TP-Link WR1043ND with USB 2.0 port. I have enabled USB sharing, all works OK (with simple USB drive and also 1,5TB WD external 3.5″ drive).

    What is “pain” are the transfer speeds… No matter if I copy files through WiFi or LAN connected PC, I cant read more than cca 7MB/s and write cca 1.5MB/s.

    So I am considering new Router (as cheap as possible) with USB port sharing capability and write speeds at least 15-20MB/s as minimal 🙂

    I know that if the router has 3.0 USB port for drive-sharing it does not automatically means it will support fast read/write speeds, so I would like to ask you WHAT to check before buy to be sure of that (al least) required R/W speeds? If that parameter even does exist…

    BIG thanks for your help in advance, Daniel

    Reply
      • Thank you Dong, I am already in that article reading it 🙂
        Yes, I agree – I know 2021 will be better for all people-of-goodwill!

        I need just simple “home NAS”, so router + USB shared external drive is enough for me.

        I see (if I am correct) you tested only speeds with WIRED connections – I think you plugged PC with LAN connection to the router – right?

        Did you test also WiFi R/W speeds to USB shared drives please?

        Reply
        • That’s correct. And no, there’s too many variants to have a consistent results if tested via Wi-Fi. Read this article again on expectations. The numbers on the charts are for reference only so you have an idea.

          Reply
  6. Thanks for the great article,Dong! To replace an aging Apple Time Capsule, I’m planning to add an external drive to an Asus RT-AC68U router. I’ve already tried it with a spare portable drive (using Samba on Asus) and it connected just fine. My main use right now will be Time Machine backups for our 3 MacBooks and possibly some shared file storage. Is it okay to leave a portable drive such as the WD My Passport connected to the router full time? I’d rather use a small portable drive vs. a larger external desktop drive, but want to make sure it’s okay to use a portable drive in this type of role. Any feedback is appreciated!

    Reply
  7. Hi Dong
    Your article gave me an idea – I have an old router which has a USB port for file/print/ftp serving. I’m now on fiber so this device is redundant – could I re-use as a “dumb” device just acting as a file server? My concern is that I think I’ll have to connect it to my existing network via its WAN port, in which case it won’t be happy serving to what it thinks is the “internet”. I’m not sure what will happen if I connect to my network via one of its LAN ports?
    Any thoughts?
    Thanks
    Andy

    Reply
    • Use your old router as an Access Point, Andy. If it doesn’t have an AP mode (most routers do), you can connect its LAN port to your existing router and it will work like one. You’ll have to figure out its IP manually before you can setup its USB port etc.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the speedy reply Dong! The router doesn’t have an AP mode, but I did what you suggested and after a bit of hassle with Samba I’ve got it working fine. In case this applies to anyone else, the old router only runs smb v1 so on my linux client I had to add
        “client min protocol = CORE” into the [global] section of /etc/samba/smb.conf

        Thanks for all your help
        Andy

        Reply
  8. I was curious how you access a 2nd USB3 port on my router? I have a RT-AX89X. I was able to access the 1st USB 3 drive using \\192.168.0.1, but unsure (unable) how to access the 2nd storage device that is on the 2nd USB 3 port. The router has 2 USB3 ports. Can you please help? Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Hi, thanks for the article. A related question: I have a NAS (Lacie 2Big) with ethernet port and router with a USB port as you have described (two ethernet ports are used). Is it possible to connect the NAS and router with a network adapter (an adapter similar to one like this: D-Link DUB-1312 Network adapter 1 GBit/s USB 3.2 Gen 1 (USB 3.0), LAN (10/100/1000 MBit/s)).

    These are often described as connecting a pc or storage drive (USB) to a router (ehternet). In other words I am unable to find information that discusses the scenario I am attempting to resolve. Is there a directional signal issue? Can this adapter be used in this scenario?

    If not, that would then exclude this as connection option, leaving me with using an ehternet switch.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Based on your article I purchased the two Synology 2200 mesh wifi routers and the WD My Book Duo to use as a NAS, replacing my old router and Buffalo NAS. I’ve hooked everything up and mapped the drive, but have one issue. I tried installing the Discovery for Windows software that’s on the Duo, but it won’t install. I even tried copying the installer to my computer and running from there, same result. I assume this is the software to manage the drive so you can do backups, etc. I’ve searched online for quite a while and haven’t found any info on this subject.

    Reply
    • @Dong Ngo, thanks for the quick reply, I checked out the link, but didn’t see anything pertinent to my issue. I’m not quite sure I understand your answer. Once I hook up the duo to my computer and install the software can I then hook it to back to the router and use the software and if not how can I use the duo raid capabilities and any utilities when it’s hooked to the router as a NAS. If there’s no way to do that then the duo wasn’t of much use. I’m sure I may not be understanding correctly

      Reply
      • That’s not how things work, Serhad. I think you need to understand the concept of NAS vs. DAS. Just because you assume how things work doesn’t make that so. You need to set up the Duo via hardware RAID first. Format it as a single NTFS volume, and only then plug it into the router. Or maybe then you can use the router to format it into ext3 or so.

        Reply
      • @Dong Ngo, Thanks again, I’m not a tech expert, but I understand DAS and NAS. Your article recommended the Duo for the larger storage and Raid capabilities as a NAS. I assumed, incorrectly that it wasn’t too difficult for someone like me. The Duo came formatted as a single NTFS volume and I can see the volume and the folders I’ve created through the router when I set it up. Previously I asked if I should connect the duo to my computer and then use the utilities to set it up. Can you clarify or provide a link to instructions. I already tried WD support and they have no info on setting up this configuration. They suggested contacting Synology which is my next step.

        Reply
        • If that’s the case, Serhad, you’re all set or very close. You just need to share the folders and learn how to access those from your local computer. A bit of networking know-how is required but you can follow the later part of the post on how to access the shared folder via the router’s IP. The software comes with the drive is of no use in this case.

          Reply
  11. Hi Dong,

    Excellent articles, you post. Thank you!
    Question- can plug in a usb hub ( maybe a powered one) and connect multiple hard drives to it? Maybe taking a step further, can I build a RAID with those two drives and get some redundancy?

    Maybe I am pushing the limits!

    Reply
  12. Hi Dong,

    We want to back up our phone pictures/videos wirelessly to a external sdd. Will this solution work?

    I do know that there are wireless SSDs around but that would cost too much. So was wondering will this be possible without having to first back up our phone to a PC and then to the SSD.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Not really, JT, though it’s possible if you’re REALLY savvy. You’re better off with a Synology NAS server. I’d recommend the DS22+ and then you can use DS Photo app.

      Reply
  13. Thank you for your article, Dong. I’d like to use a router as a NAS server, but it’s not clear to me if a router will serve something with multiple drives (e.g. Mediasonic Raid USB 3.1 Type C 4 Bay 3.5” SATA Hard Drive Enclosure). I’m considering using an ASUS AC2900 WiFi Dual-band Gigabit Wireless Router.

    The idea is to run a simple home ‘media server’ with Kodi installed on terminal devices. I’m doing this now with an old, noisy, power hungry, re-purposed Dell tower packed with HDDs connected to a failing router.

    I would appreciate your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Yes, the router will be able to serve multiple devices, William, and Asus routers have the most NAS-related features. But remember that it’s still a router and therefore can’t do things at a certain level. You might want to consider a real NAS server, instead. I’d recommend the DS220+.

      Reply
  14. Hi Dong
    thank you for writing this post. However, I don’t trust my understanding of what you’ve written to go out and buy the gear to solve our dilemma. Would you mind helping a bit further please?

    We have only mobile devices (mix of iphone, android, drone, and laptops (mac/windows) and the mobile phones we use as our internet connections (we don’t have any other option available where we are located). We would like to have one external networked storage system (but don’t want to go to a server – it would be overkill). If I’ve understood your article correctly, our devices should all be able to talk to a router via Wi-Fi, and the router can be cabled to an external storage device. On top of that, the router is the bottleneck in terms of speed of file transfer from the devices through router to storage, correct? We have documents, photos, and videos we want to store – because Wi-Fi is slow we don’t want to transfer from our mobile devices direct to the external storage (and the drone has a microSD card), which is why we thought a hybrid (ie Wi-Fi to router, router cabled to storage) solution would work best.

    Can you recommend a) the pieces of gear we need to set this up, b) which brand works best for laptop backup as well as storage of videos etc coming from IoS Mojave V 10.14 and Android / Windows 10; and if this is really the best set up for us?

    I hope you can help us please.

    Reply
    • Hi Gin Gin. You can try this mobile hotspot and a USB-C external drive (a desktop one that has its own power adapter). Note though, that you can only expect to back up the laptop’s data, the Wi-Fi connection is a bit too slow to back up the entire computer. Alternatively, you can also get a portable drive and backup your computer directly. More here.

      Reply
  15. Hi ! Thank you so much for your write-up!
    I’ve been trying to avoid buying a NAS server by using my Dlink 890L Router but I am only able to see the files from my Storage Device via Dlink’s SharePoint App/Website.
    How can I make it show as SMB? Is this even possible with my router model? It’s got a USB 3.0 and 2.0 port in the back and the user’s manual is no help. Thanks!

    Reply
  16. First, many thanks for the detailed explanations. Great piece of writing, good even for a newbie like me.

    Would you recommend a Synology MR2200ac Wi-Fi Router together with a SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable External SSD as solution for a home media server (for someone with a low budget)?

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Rictus.

      Yes, that drive will work very well. But it’s overkill since the router’s NAS speed is much slower than any portable SSD. You can get a much cheaper hard-drive-based portable drive, like this one, and it will work fine, too.

      Reply
  17. Great article! Can you confirm that USB-connected harddrives on the Asus RT-AX92U can be accessed with SMB v2/3?

    Reply
  18. I wish I’d seen your article before I bought what I bought, even with research. I relatively recently got an Orbi RBR50 + satellite, hoping to get better reach/5GHz to my Roku, which despite switching to fiber and getting a Roku that could do 5GHz, still occasionally buffered.
    And, hoping to use one of the USB ports to replace the TP-Link W8980 that I was using to access two USB hard drives, not knowing that not all USB ports can handle that. The TP-Link is older, and when I got a 4Gb drive, I didn’t realize it can only handle up to 2Gb. The Orbi in AP mode is connected to an (ATT) ARRIS BGW210-700.

    What would be the best thing to do?

    Reply
  19. Hi, good article. Maybe you can help with a problem I’m having. I have a HP Microserver running Xpenology (Synology Diskstation) and I’ve just bought an Asus RT-AX88U router. On my previous TP-Link router I had a WD My Passport connected via USB which I mounted through Diskstation’s File Manager as a CIFS mounted shared folder. This worked flawlessly. Since getting the AX88U and plugging my USB drive into it, I cannot get Diskstation to mount the USB drive over the network. Diskstation simply tells me “Failed to connect to the remote server. Please make sure the remote server is accessible via CIFS”. I’m at a loss as to what the problem is. If I use AI CloudSync in the Asus software I can add the Diskstation and the router will then proceed to sync files from the USB drive to a folder on the Synology but this isn’t really what I’m looking to do. Any ideas? Thanks

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried that, Danny. My guess is maybe you need to enable anonymous access on the Asus router. By default, it requires a login (the router’s admin account) and maybe your Xpenology server doesn’t have a way to do that. In any case, I’d recommend a real Synology Server.

      Reply
  20. I can’t imagine focusing long enough to research; much less write this kind of article. You’ve outdone yourself with this material. This is great content giving some interesting information. I will try this idea for sure.

    Reply
  21. I wanted to add one (1) comment and one (1) correction to where I misspoke in previous post about the 2nd drive I had tested.

    1st – I’ve just been looking for sooooo long, for a good replacement for the Apple Airport Extreme / Time Capsules, ever since Apple announced the end of their production.

    I always knew there were other Routers out there that would allow a Time Machine External Drive to be hooked to them…BUT, it’s just I never wanted to have some ugly thing that looked like a dead antler rack or set of “bat wings” in my nice clean interior decorating. ha ha 🙂

    2nd – I noticed I misspoke in my last post (wish I could edit it, so I’ll post it in both of your great articles, as to not confuse people) My 2nd Test Drive was a 2TB Samsung T5, not a Samsung X5 (which I do own one of those, as well (but obviously a Samsung X5 is Thunderbolt 3 only). Oops 🙂

    Thanks again for all you do Dong!

    Reply
  22. The Linksys Velop MX5 (Model MX5300) / MX10 (Model MX10600) does work fantastic for Time Machine and/or Network File Sharing (SMB) with an External Drive over WiFi.

    I went ahead and purchased two (2) Linksys MX5s from Costco for $299 each. Again, I LOVE these!!! The first thing that comes to my mind after days of testing is…FINALLY, a WiFi and Time Machine solution that is as close as a person will come to an “Apple Like Experience”! It is like an Airport Extreme on steroids with AX WiFi 6! 😉 It actually works even better, and is a worthy replacement system to my beloved Apple Time Capsule. I’ll expound below about some of the HUGE features and benefits that are not as obvious on the surface (or some that Dong has already pointed out).

    Three (3) Different External Drives Tested –
    I connected three (3) different external drives (freshly formatted as HFS+) to the Linksys MX5 for Time Machine and they all worked fantastic that way! However, it is important to only connect a freshly formatted drive (I will explain a single caveat I found further below).

    Read and Write Drive Speeds / Comparison to the Old Apple Time Capsule –
    For all three (3) drives (2 – SSD and 1 – 7,200 RPM “Spinner”)
    – Wirelessly – I averaged 50-60 MB/s Read & Write speeds over WiFI from about 30ft.
    – Cat6A Ethernet Wire – Averaged 105-108 MB/s Read & Write speeds over Cat6A Ethernet Wire (so I would suppose, a person’s mileage may vary).
    – In comparison, to an Apple Time Capsule with a HGST Server Grade 6TB 7,200 RPM drive installed inside.
    – Time Capsule Wirelessly – Averaged 23-25 MB/s Read & Write.
    – Time Capsule Cat6A – Averaged 42-47 MB/s Read & Write
    So the Linksys MX5 is over twice (2X) as fast for either wireless WiFI or Cat6A Ethernet Wire Time Machine Backups.

    External Drives Tested for Days –
    – 1st, I tried an older Samsung 850 Pro 1TB (I had sitting around). I formatted it as a HFS+, and connected it using a Plugable USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB-C to SATA Adapter Cable, along with a Type-C to Type-A Adapter.
    – 2nd, I tried a Samsung X5 2TB. Again, I formatted it as HFS+.
    – 3rd, I tried a G-Drive Mobile USB-C 4TB 7,200 RPM “Spinner”, which had been connected directly to the 16” MacBook Pro as 1 of my 3 rotating backup drives. This drive displayed a caveat…which I figured out and will explain in the next paragraph.

    When a person physically connects an external drive to their Mac for use as a Time Machine Backup. Time Machine does NOT create or use a ‘Sparse Disk Image Bundle’ file like Time Machine does or did on an Apple Time Capsule, Apple Airport Extreme w/External Drive, or now with the Linksys MX5 with an External Drive using Network File Sharing (SMB). So bottomline, DO NOT expect to be able to just plug in the same old External Backup Drive a person has been using into the Linksys…that will NOT work as a person might think. There is no easy way to “transfer” or “inherit” a person’s past history from an existing Time Machine Backup Drive. So, when I plugged in that one (1) G-Drive into the Linksys MX5, it actually read the drive just fine (it also read my other “loose” files that I had put on it, that I did not care about but wanted off my main Macintosh HD). However, when I ejected that drive from the Linksys MX5 (after playing with it) and plugged it back into the Mac…the Mac had a hard time reading it. So instead, I reformatted it as a fresh HFS+…and then let Time Machine backup over the Network…and after it did that…it let me move the drive back and forth, being physically plugged into either the MX5 or the Mac with ease.

    So, why is the ability to “Eject” and move a drive from the Linksys and plug it directly into the Mac so cool? –
    Well, I hope others will not miss or underestimate this…because not only is it handy for copying or moving potentially really large file transfers outside of Time Machine through the Finder. BUT also when I plugged the External Drive into the Mac, Time Machine saw it and allowed me to ‘Enter Time Machine’ and recover files (without having to do it over a slower WiFi connection like an old Apple Time Capsule would require). Plus, drumroll please, the same procedure also worked when entering into Recovery Mode (Command + R) to do a Full Restoration of a Mac (like if the Mac was stollen or got hit by a bus). So, this is really the best of both worlds, flexible easy WiFI backup, AND the ability to connect directly with much faster speeds if disaster was to occur.

    How to Setup Time Machine Over Network File Sharing (SMB) –
    With each drive I tested…I could use either the Linksys App or the Linksys Web Interface to setup the SMB Authentication User and Password. Then, on the Mac I went to Finder > Go > Connect to Server… > smb://192.168.1.1 OR, whatever IP Linksys assigns, as at one point, I did have two (2) drives hooked up one (1) to each of the two (2) Linksys MX5s. Then I logged in using the SMB User Name and Password, while also checking the ‘Remember this password in my keychain’. Then I went to Apple Menu > System Preferences… > Time Machine > Add or Remove Backup Disk… > Select the External Drive, and that was it…from then on Time Machine would backup to that drive if it was mounted on the Desktop or Not. And, yes, I tested this for days…Shutting Down…starting up…once it was set it just worked…and a person could Verify the Backup, as well.

    Is there anything I would change or might consider to be a negative? –
    I guess if I was to nitpick, it would be nice if a person was not forced to use the Linksys App to do the initial setup. Once a person does this, then a person can use a Web Browser after that. Other than that, these Linksys MX5s are simply fantastic, and I’m so glad to finally have a wireless WiFI mesh Time Machine solution that is a worthy replacement to the aging Apple Time Capsule.

    So there’s my novel…I LOVE these, and hope this is helpful to others! 🙂

    Reply
  23. Hi Dong…well I contacted Linksys…and they said that the MX5 does support HFS+ drives, which should then support Time Machine (Yes/No)? They said the MX5 supports APFS (read-only), or FAT32, or HFS+. So, do you think the trouble you had in the full-review with having to reformat as NTFS was just with that SanDisk Extreme Portable Drive, perhaps? Just would be so nice to NOT have a big old ugly deer antler rack on my nice clean looking shelf…if the MX5 will do what the specs and Linksys says it is supposed to do. 😉

    Reply
    • The file systems only apply to DAS devices (like a portable drive), TEK. For a NAS device, its file system has little to do with its capabilities. So having the support for HFS+ doesn’t mean a router (or a server) can do Time Machine backup and vice versa — all TM-enabled servers I know don’t use HFS+, or any MAC file systems for that matter.

      Reply
  24. Thanks for the great reviews Dong…sure appreciate your efforts!

    Sure is a bummer that the Linksys MX5/MX10 does not work with Time Machine…so there went my plan to replace my beloved AirPort Time Capsule. So you continue to save me and many others!

    Seems nobody makes my ideal perfect Mesh Wi-Fi yet. 😉

    Reply
    • Sure, TEK. Almost all Asus routers support Time Machine, so you can use AiMesh. However, note that this depends on Apple since the company can change things and TM might not work anymore with a 3rd party hardware after you upgrade macOS.

      Reply
  25. A thing I had no idea about is that many (most?) mechanical HDD’s constantly spin. Another thing is that not all drives and routers are comparable. I made a horribly expensive mistake buying a 2tb Seagate “fast SSD” that is not recognized by my Netgear RAX120.

    Reply

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