LaCie CloudBox: Compact drive tightly integrates with Cloud storage

Device offers undeniably simple combined NAS and offsite backup, but the 100GB local capacity is too limited, and it's a poky performer.

The minimum "best practice" backup arrangement for your vital data is to maintain three copies of the data: the original, a local backup, and a second backup offsite. With LaCie's CloudBox NAS device, you simply back up to the ethernet-connected unit, which then automatically backs up to LaCie's own online backup service. But easy as it is, CloudBox is also expensive, capacity-challenged, and slower than average.

Configuring the CloudBox is a breeze: Browse to the unit's attractive Web management console, enter the provided code for one year's online backup, and enter the validation code sent to you via confirmation email. LaCie includes a network navigator to help you find the device, though savvy users can check the router's DHCP table. You also get Genie's TimeLine app for handling the actual backups of your PC (CloudBox supports TimeMachine for Mac users). Alternatively, you can use your own software, or simply drag and drop files and folders; CloudBox will appear on your network just as any other network drive would.

Beyond the purchase price of $199 for a 100GB hard drive plus one year of the backup service, you face a $129 yearly fee for backing up online after the included first year of service ends. And though $129 is competitive for 100GB of online storage, LaCie offers no lower tiers of service, so you can't opt for a lower fee if you don't need the full 100GB. And at this writing, LaCie offers just one capacity.

Matching the local capacity with the online capacity does keep things simple, and 100GB is more than adequate for backing up financial documents, email, and the like. But as music, photo, and video collections continue to grow rapidly, 100GB isn't enough space to support a full backup of many users' data. LaCie should have included at least a 1TB hard drive, and it should have provided a two-tier backup plan--backing up the 100GB of most crucial data online, and then backing up the remaining, less important data to the hard drive alone.

Of course, that would work against maximum simplicity, but covering all of a user's backup needs is more important. Many NAS boxes, including models from Synology, Qnap, and even LaCie itself, support online backup services, allow far more capacity, and let you tailor your backup strategy to suit your needs. For larger data sets, they're a better option.

The gigabit-capable CloudBox proved to be a very sluggish performer in my hands-on tests. It wrote a 15GB mix of small and large files across my gigabit network at 9.9 mbps, and improved only slightly to 12.5 mbps when reading them. That's slower than any comparable storage drive I've seen in years--and slower than many USB 2.0 direct-attached storage boxes. I tried the CloudBox on several different systems and routers and got essentially the same results in each instance.

The CloudBox is a great idea imperfectly realized. For users who have small data sets or are concerned only with their vital data, it's an appealingly simple--though slow and pricey--backup system. Before you buy, make sure that you're willing to pony up $130 bucks a year to maintain your online backup. Without the online component, all you have is an underpowered, low-capacity NAS box.