Sunday, February 9, 2014

SMB and Media Server sharing of my external harddisk with TP-Link TL-WDR3600 router to PCs, tablets and TV box

I have just purchased a Transcend StoreJet 25A3 USB 3.0 1TB external harddisk from Lazada at the cost of  RM189 (with discounted price of RM219 and Lazada Chinese New Year voucher of RM30) and successfully shared it out with my TP-Link TL-WDR3600 router to my PC, laptops, Android tablets and HiMedia Q5II TV box using the SMB (Microsoft Server Message Block network file sharing protocol) as well as Media Server service.

This article is to record and share out my experience in setting up this external harddisk sharing.

By default, the Transcend StoreJet 25A3 is formatted with a single FAT32 partition occupying all its 1TB storage capacity. I learnt that the FAT32 partition type has the limitation in file size capped at a maximum of 4GB only. 4GB is just too small for partition image backup, for HD movie images and some other files which have big size.

I have tried to format the Transcend StoreJet 25A3 into different file systems, and here is my finding:

  • NTFS - this is supported by my TL-WDR3600 router. However, it is not a preferred file system for Linux (which is used in the firmware of the router), and its read/write speed is slow.
  • EXT2 - this is the most preferred file system for external harddisk connected to a Linux host. However, it is not supported by the stock firmware of my TL-WDR3600 router.
  • EXT3 - this is basically EXT2 with a journalized file system. It is also not supported by the stock firmware of my TL-WDR3600 router.
  • EXT4 - this is the most commonly used file system in Linux today. It is also not supported by the stock firmware of my TL-WDR3600 router.
As I need NTFS to store large files, and also FAT32 as a more stable file system for Linux host to store smaller files, I ended up formatting my Transcend StoreJet 25A3 into 2 primary partitions, one NTFS and another FAT32.

The harddisk partitioning and formatting was done using MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition, which is a free harddisk partition management software running on Windows that is capable of dealing with FAT32, NTFS, EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4 file systems. Most other Windows based partition management software can't deal with Linux file systems such as EXT2, EXT3, EXT4, etc.

After the partitioning and formatting, I made a Windows system image into the NTFS partition of the external harddisk, which is a crucial Windows restoration data that will be critically useful when the Windows system is corrupted (when infected by virus, critical system file is damaged, etc.). This can be done from within Windows 7 by going to Control Panel > System and Security > Backup and Restore > Create a System Image.

Then, I plugged the external harddisk into one of the USB port of my TL-WDR3600 router. Both the NTFS and FAT32 partitions are detected and ready to be shared out.

The stock TP-Link firmware supports USB file sharing using SMB (Storage Sharing), FTP (FTP Server) and Media Server.

Once a folder with photos, videos and/or music is shared out using Media Server, the TP-Link router will be detected as one of the Media Devices in the Network section of Windows 7, and the shared media files are accessible from there. They are also accessible from UPNP media access in HiMedia Q5II TV box.

As for the SMB sharing, it is accessible from Windows by opening Windows Explorer and key-in "\\" in the address bar. It is also accessible from Android devices by installing apps that is able to access SMB server, such as ES File Explorer. It is accessible from HiMedia Q5II TV box from SMB media access using the IP address of the router running the SMB service. You need to start the Samba service of the TV box in its Settings page before searching for the SMB server.

For easier future access, I have also mapped a drive in my Windows PC to the shared external harddisk partition.

I heard that the Asus RT-AC68U router supports USB sharing with Linux partition format. You can also add support for EXT2, EXT3, EXT4 in TP-Link router's USB sharing with custom firmware such as OpenWRT. There is reason why I didn't changed my TL-WDR3600 router to use custom firmware, which you can read here.


Unknown said... Reply To This Comment

WDR 3600 also supports EXT4 partition share but you have to flash WRT(DD or Open) on it.

How about speed, what is the transfer speed throught network ?

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