In this era where HD quality photos and 4K videos are the norm, you can normally see your storage space filled faster than before. While you have the option of using external HDDs or SDDs for storing and backing up your files from your laptop or PC, you won’t be able to access those files once you disconnect your drives.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can use to access various files on your hard drive. However, they might be quite complicated to implement or have a number of security risks. If that’s the case, the best option is to go for a network attached storage or NAS device.
In this article, we’re going to review the best network attached storage devices available in the market along with a quick buying guide. But before we get into that, let us first have a look at what NAS is.
What is a Network Attached Storage?
A Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a storage type that features a huge amount of storage space which you can simply connect to your office or home network. As such, you along with other users can easily access files from your computer and/or mobile devices without necessarily connecting to the storage device itself.
In other words, it works pretty much like a cloud storage: you gain access to your files anytime and anywhere, regardless if you’re in your home or office. Since NAS devices are designed to run at all times, you can access all of your important files anytime you want. However, most devices have their own timers which you can set to turn on and off during specific hours of the day.
One of the reasons why a lot of people are starting to use a network attached storage is media playback. With NAS, you can view your videos or listen to your favorite music on your TV without the need to connect to your computer. Additionally, since it uses much less power compared to a regular computer, it is also a lot cheaper to run.
What Can NAS Do for You?
After you decide to store your important files and documents on a network drive, you then need to decide what to do with them so you can determine the type of NAS you need. For instance, if you only want to use NAS for storing office files such as Word or Excel documents and share it with your coworkers, you can opt for a simple device. Using the device for backing up files on your laptop overnight is a pretty straightforward process for a NAS as well.
However, if you want to stream high definition videos over your home network to multiple devices simultaneously, you will need a NAS with a higher specification in terms of processor, memory, and network capabilities. The same goes for storing media libraries such as tens or hundreds of thousands of HD images and graphics.
When Should You Get NAS
A network attached storage device mainly consists of one or more hard-drive bays and is operated using a Linux-based operating system designed for network storage. It also comes with enough RAM and CPU power to perform its tasks while minimizing power usage as much as possible. Compared to other types of storage media, a NAS with several hard drives can provide data redundancy – a process which involves automatically copying contents of one drive to another.
So when exactly should you consider using a network attached storage?
- If you have a huge media library. With a NAS, you can keep your files in a single storage then stream them locally to multiple devices. The same goes for your photos, music files, graphics, PSDs, and just about any media with large file sizes. While most people don’t need to store hundreds or thousands of photos, audio files, or graphics, a NAS is a really useful tool to those who do.
- If you have too much data that you can’t store them all in the cloud – or if you simply don’t trust cloud storage services. By using NAS, your important data will remain in your home network and not into the cloud, unless you tell it to do so. Most NAS devices even have their own set of tools and syncing services that function similarly to that of cloud storage. Albeit not too powerful and feature-packed compared to most cloud storage services, they can at least offer you a more affordable alternative.
- If you’re using multiple computers at home. Since NAS allows you to back up all data from your computers into the device instead of connecting an external backup drive, the entire process becomes a lot quicker and easier. Also, if you want to secure your backup and data from a security breach or natural disasters, a NAS has a function that allows it to upload your files directly to a cloud backup service.
The Best Network Attached Storage Devices on the Market
Now that we had an overview of what NAS is, let us take a look at the best products available out there. We picked these products based on certain factors (we’ll get into the details later on). Also, keep in mind that the list is in no particular order, so just because a product is in #1 doesn’t mean it’s the best among the rest. Let’s start.
First on the list is the DS216+II DiskStation by Synology. It’s basically a full-featured network attached storage device which can be used for both home and small business storage purposes. The model is a bit more advanced compared to the previous Synology models.
It comes with a dual-core Intel Celeron N3060 processor, 1GB of expandable memory, and a number of connectivity ports. Also, the device comes with a built-in 4K Ultra HD video transcoding and easy file management tools.
The device is run on the DSM (DiskStation Manager) OS which pretty much looks like Windows, thus allowing you to configure your device quickly and easily. You can choose whether to use it as a home media server, a primary backup device, or a mail server. It’s a two-drive storage device, but you still need to provide your own drives. Nonetheless, it’s available for only $300, making it a deal you don’t want to miss. Also, since there are no drives included, you can freely choose your own drive speed and capacity.
The DS216+II device doesn’t have HDMI ports and Ethernet, but these lacking features are easily overshadowed by its ease of use and integration into a business setting with admin support for file access and monitoring.
- Impressive speeds of 113.01 MB/s read and 111.66 MB/s write via CrystalDiskMark
- Comes with a built-in 4K video transcoding
- User-friendly and intuitive DSM OS
- Affordable than most NAS devices in the market
- No HDMI port
- Only has one USB 3.0 port available
If you plan to use your NAS device mainly for media playback, then the QNAP TS-215A is a perfect choice. It’s run by the QTS OS which is as feature-packed and powerful as the DSM. It’s a dual-bay device that comes with a dual-core Intel Celeron processor, a number of USB ports, 2GB of RAM, and two Ethernet inputs.
It also features HDMI support to allow you to play high quality videos on the device straight to your HDTV. Although the processor used in the device is a bit older, the TS-251A still displayed impressive performance with write speeds of up to 118.5 MB/s and read speeds up to 111 MB/s.
The product is ideal for small business purposes. You have the AirPlay, Active Directory, and Time Machine. It even supports a range of backup and cloud storage services along with a Surveillance Station license which allows you to control two IP cameras.
- Impressive speeds reaching up to 111 MB/s and 118.5 MB/s for read and write respectively
- Features a built-in 4K video transcoding
- Solid RAID recovery
- No built-in MKV support
- No hard drives included
One thing we like about the Asustor AS1004T is its ease of use and installation, not to mention it runs quietly during normal use. Unfortunately, it’s not as fast for hardware transcoding when compared to other NAS devices in the market. Therefore, you will need native support for all files on your client devices.
It only comes with a Marvell processor instead of an Intel and with only 512MB of RAM. This might sound rather disappointing when it comes to the device’s performance. Fortunately, the drive proved itself to be responsive enough. Based on the results from CrystalDiskMark, the Asustor AS1004T device has a write speed of 110MB/s and a read speed of 82.2MB/s. Although its read speed isn’t on par with most NAS drives that can easily reach 100MB/s and beyond, the device is nonetheless well-performing especially if you need a device on a budget.
Another thing that makes the Asustor AS1004T a great choice is that it comes with a four-bay chassis whereas most products only come with two. If you are more focused on storage space than performance, then this is the one for you. Also, its ADM interface isn’t as intuitive as that of the other devices, but it has all the apps you will most likely need.
- Comes with four-bays for more storage space
- Features an impressive write speed of 110MB/s despite using an older processor
- Runs quietly during normal use
- Read speed is quite slow compared to most NAS devices
- Not fast enough for transcoding
The Buffalo TeraStation 5200DN NAS device is an excellent choice if you’re only looking for a simple system to backup your files. It’s available at a relatively affordable price (though not as affordable as the previous devices on this list) and comes with two 1TB drives.
It comes with an Intel Atom D2550 processor along with 2GB of RAM. Performance-wise, the TeraStation 5200DN was able to display read speeds of 71MB/s and write speeds of 65MB/s which is quite inferior compared to the previously mentioned products.
What makes the device shine is its black, sturdy metal casing. At the top third of the device’s front panel, you can see an LCD that displays information such as the status of your drives, the unit’s IP address, and whether or not its USB ports are currently in use. Meanwhile, the rest of the front panel is a door which you can lock/unlock to gain access to your drives. On its back panel, you can see a number of ports which include a pair of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports and two Ethernet ports.
Since the TeraStation 5200DN is plug and play, you can easily share and access your files over the network into your computers. Albeit having a smaller storage capacity compared to Western Digital’s My Cloud DL4100, it is a bit more affordable nonetheless. If you need a NAS device to back up two or three Mac or PC clients, then this can be a good option.
- Comes with two 1TB drives installed
- Features a front panel LCD for displaying various information
- Lockable front panel door for added security to your drives
- No USB port in the front portion
- Slower compared to other NAS products
If you’re looking for ease of use and functionality in a network attached storage device, then the My Cloud Mirror from Western Digital is no doubt one of the best options available. Aside from being easy to set up, it also allows quick and easy access to your files.
You can stream your movies, listen to music, and share your media across various devices without having to worry about its performance. As its name implies, the two-bay My Cloud Mirror device can create a mirrored backup of your files with the help of RAID configuration – something you can consider advanced for a consumer box.
You can choose from various variants ranging from 4TB to 6, 8, and even 16. Unfortunately, the device doesn’t have a wide range of apps which you can normally find in other brands. Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a storage device that’s very easy to set up and use, not to mention a product that comes with 4TB of storage, then this is a great option.
At the rear section, you can find two USB 3.0 ports along with a Gigabit Ethernet port. In terms of performance, My Cloud Mirror can reach read speeds of up to 107 MB/s and write speeds of up to 115.8 MB/s via CrystalDiskMark.
The My Cloud Mirror prides itself as a compact-sized unit featuring curves compared to the angular lines that most NAS devices have. However, it has quite a plastic feel to it and is a bit less sturdy compared to the other units in this list.
- Quick and easy setup and installation
- Features a user-friendly interface
- Supports both RAID 0 and 1
- Comes with a huge 4TB of storage
- Doesn’t support printers via USB ports
- Only comes with a default 512MB of RAM
Another product from Western Digital, the My Cloud Home grants quick access to your smart TV, offers tight security for your personal cloud data, and sports a sleek appearance. It is the design and style of the hardware that makes the product top-notch, although there are certain issues lying in its software components.
Performance-wise, the typical read/write speeds of My Cloud Home can reach up to 60 MB/s and 32 MB/s respectively. The numbers are rather low when you compare it to other NAS devices in this list. However, if you’re looking for an extremely affordable product that can give you the basic functionality that a NAS device has, then this is no doubt the option for you.
With the My Cloud Home device, you can gain access to DLNA storage with the use of a smart TV. However, if you’re looking for more functionality and features, you’re better off going with the other options.
- Quite affordable
- A great NAS device for personal and home use
- Features an elegant and stylish design
- Performance isn’t on par with the other brands on this list
- Read/write speeds are generally slower than most products in the market
The Drobo 5N2 might be a bit expensive; however, it is capable of handling multiple drives of varying sizes all at once. With the product’s solid performance, durable build quality, and expanding app selection, there’s no doubt it’s one of the best NAS devices out there.
Perhaps one of the biggest selling points of Drobo 5N2 is that it aims to make NAS storage devices a lot more accessible to non-technical individuals. Basically, if you’re a non-tech savvy person, you don’t have to get confused over what RAID levels are. The unit will automatically configure all of your stored media in order to provide you with the best balance of security and capacity possible. Also, the Drobo uses a desktop client known as the Drobo Dashboard instead of the traditional web-based interface.
You can find a wide range of supported services and applications such as Time Machine, iTunes, Plex, and more alongside developer tools like Ruby and Node.js. However, if you’re in need of a device that comes with more technical settings and a more hands-on approach, this might not be for you.
Nonetheless, if you’re a casual home user who simply wants a hassle-free storage to his files and documents, this is a great option.
- Impressive performance with read/write speeds of 118.5 MB/s and 117.8 MB/s respectively
- Comes with a flexible RAID system for handling several drives of varying sizes
- Hassle-free and user-friendly experience
- It’s not ideal for technical users
- A bit too expensive than other NAS boxes
Albeit a number of flaws compared to other NAS storage options out there, the Apple Time Capsule is no doubt an excellent choice for a storage device. It’s quite easy to set up, and you can even schedule automatic backup of your files in your Mac and iOS devices.
The Time Capsule is more than just a network attached storage. Aside from its auto backup function, it can also sync with your online cloud storage and even work as a Wi-Fi base, thus making it easier to share a hard drive or wireless printer with other devices. Also, it’s entirely wireless.
There are some limitations, unfortunately. For one, you can’t find any expansions in the device. This simply means that the built-in 2TB storage capacity can’t be expandable by any means, except for one. Two, it only works with Mac and iOS devices, thereby rendering it completely useless for those who use Windows.
On the other hand, the Apple Time Capsule isn’t that expensive, and since it doesn’t use diskless drives, you can easily buy more Time Capsules then sync them together in order to further improve your total storage capacity. However, if you plan to back up more than 10TB of files, the Time Capsule isn’t your best bet.
- Features a wireless operation
- Syncs into an online cloud storage for backing up files
- Limited to iOS and Mac devices
- Storage capacity can’t be upgraded
NetGear is known for creating modems and wireless systems, so it’s no longer surprising that they also have their own network attached storage devices to offer. One of them is the ReadyNAS 212. This device comes with 4TB of RAID-ready storage, a powerful quad-core processor, and 2GB of memory.
It also features a cloud-based portal that works with Apple, Android, and Windows operating systems. Among the selling points of the ReadyNAS 212 is the five levels of data protection included. These include the anti-virus software, additional backup options, RAID protection, bitrot protection, and snapshot technology.
The device’s physical design is rather impressive, but it’s somehow lacking in its user interface. Performance-wise, the ReadyNAS 212 is quite good, although its ARM processor isn’t capable of handling 4K video transcoding. It also displayed impressive read/write speeds of up to 116.9 and 98.42 MB/s respectively.
- Features impressive read and write speeds
- Comes with five levels of data protection for enhanced security
- Compatible with Android, Apple, and Windows OS via the cloud-based user portal
- Not capable of handling 4K transcoding
- User interface is not so user-friendly
The FreeNAS Mini is no doubt an excellent option for home data storage mainly due to its portability and size, and partly due to its huge capacity and great performance.
The device can have a capacity of up to 24GB and can easily broadcast high quality media over the network through its low-latency fire streaming design. However, the price is quite expensive when you compare it to the rest of the products in this list.
There are good reasons for that though. First, the FreeNAS Mini device comes with an octa-core processor, 32GB of RAM, and 8 bays for expanding its storage capacity. Also, the device places heavy emphasis on performance rather than base capacity, thus making it an excellent choice for quick transfers, hassle-free backups, and ultra high quality media streaming.
The only drawback with the device is its incredibly steep price which makes it an almost unaffordable option for home use. However, if you have the budget and are looking for a reliable NAS device for serious file sharing and home streaming, then this is for you.
- Can have a capacity of up to 24GB
- Incredibly steep price
- Comes with an octa-core processor
- 8 bays for expanding its storage capacity
How to Pick the Right NAS Drive for Your Needs
Choosing the right NAS device can be a bit difficult due to the overwhelming number of products available in the market. If you’re a complete beginner and haven’t purchased a NAS before, taking these factors into account will help you come up with an informed buying decision.
- Storage Capacity
The very first thing you should consider when buying a NAS device is its storage capacity. You need to pick a device with a capacity that suits your needs and your current budget. If you simply want a NAS drive to share files and documents as well as back up some files from several laptops or PCs, picking a NAS with 2TB of capacity is more than enough.
On the other hand, if you have a massive media library and want to add images, audio, or videos on a regular basis, then you should consider a product with around 6-8TB of storage. Keep in mind, however, that the higher storage capacity you choose, the more you will have to pay.
- Diskless or Not
Most NAS drives in the market feature diskless drives. This only means that they don’t have any storage device included in the package. There are also some low-end products that come with a small amount of memory, although most of the time, they aren’t expandable. In other words, you need to buy hard drives separately.
You can also find NAS models that have drives preinstalled. Although it’s much easier to set up, it is a bit more expensive depending on how much storage space the drives have. Therefore, before you even decide on a certain product, make sure you factor this as well.
NAS units work just like your PC in a number of ways. One, they use dedicated CPUs which can be compared to computer processors, except that they’re generally less powerful. Since network storage doesn’t involve loading executable files or running an entire operating system, less speed is necessary.
Most of the time, especially in home use, a NAS drive’s performance shouldn’t be that much of an issue. After all, they are designed to handle small-scale networks without that much effort. However, if you want to stream high quality videos to several devices all at once, you will need a unit with more processing power and enough RAM.
On the other hand, if you only use it for storing and backing up files at home, then a NAS device’s power might not be that important.
- Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks
Commonly known as RAID, the RAID technology allows you to ensure that your data remains safe in the event a certain disk fails or gets corrupted. There are three well-known RAID variants namely RAID 1, 5, and 6.
Regardless of which RAID variant you opt for, make sure you always keep a backup of your files somewhere else. Some unexpected events such as disaster or fire may occur that could damage your NAS unit, thereby eradicating all of your important data.
In most cases, NAS devices will connect to your home network via the router with the use of Ethernet connections. However, there are also those that connect via USB or WiFi. Regardless of the connectivity you choose, your device’s performance will be limited by your router. Therefore, if your router performs poorly, you will suffer from poor NAS device performance in return.
It’s advisable to look for a NAS unit that comes with USB or HDMI support. Through this, you can get a clear indication that it’s specifically designed for file and media sharing which simply means it’s more suited to home use.
Meanwhile, if you really want the option to access your drive from a remote location, you can simply sign up for an account with the device’s manufacturer during the setup process. Afterward, simply log in to your account and enjoy remote access.
While the dedicated operating systems that run the NAS devices are lightweight, you will need one with a larger RAM and faster processor if you want features like transcoding. Transcoding is the ability to convert any media files into your desired format which can be played by your TV while on the fly.
Basic NAS devices with limited features and functionalities are often available at around $150. However, if you want a more powerful device with a ton of useful features, you should be prepared to spend more. Various factors such as the storage capacity, processor, transcoding ability, and more directly affect how much a NAS unit will cost.
Network attached storage devices are advantageous for a number of reasons. One, you get to enjoy the convenience of having a personal cloud where you can store and back up your important files and data. Two, you have the ability to access your files anytime and anywhere you want. Regardless of which product you choose, make sure you consider your storage needs, preferences, and your current budget.
If for any reason buying a NAS is too expensive for you, check out this article: Hard drive enclosure vs docking station