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Having trouble installing a piece of hardware? Want to know if that peripheral is compatible with Linux?
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Keep in mind that the RPI has a low network bandwidth, typically between 1MB/s and 4MB/s depending on the protocol in use. A disk drive will reduce that, since the network and the USB ports use a shared interface. In other words, it will be slow.
I don't own a Rasperrry Pi, but long ago NetGear had a file sharing device that ran Linux, so NetGear's firmware was replaced with Debian to do what you describe. It worked fine. The Rasperry Pi has much more horsepower. It'll run way more stuff than just a NAS.
These days you can buy a RAID1 NAS for about the same price as a DIY. Waaay back when, there were no low-end NAS devices. The off-the-shelf NAS are generally less fuss too. But, that's not the point most of the time, is it?
"slow" is relative. The bottleneck is wireless networking.... Unless you an I are the last ones using a cable.
On the Raspberry Pi, the bottleneck isn't WiFi. If you add a WiFi dongle, it will use the same USB port. The two USB ports and the LAN all are off the same shared port, which the RPI can't drive at full speed in any case. So the WiFi and hard drive are still in contention. Expect your WiFi throughput to be one-fifth to one-tenth the usual.
Distribution: OpenSUSE 13.2 64bit-Gnome on ASUS U52F
Thank you. I failed to mention I am planning on run it hard wired right next to the router using its Ethernet port.
I am also planning on run Debian on it. I like FreeBSD but I am not sure if FreeBSD will have a driver for the Broadcom ethernet card. I dont know how much different will be just to buy a NAS device instead of the Pi + external HD.
For sure thought the power consumption cant be topped in the Pi.