The amount of digital information to be managed and stored is increasing all the time and NAS devices are ideal for consumers and businesses that want to keep data and files under their physical controlcentralizing this task (and other added tasks that increase its versatility of use) in a single device.
In case you don’t know them, these Network Attached Storage (NAS) are special storage devices networked. This connection, usually using the standard TCP/IP protocol, marks the main difference with a typical external storage device and gives the device the ability to be connected to the network enormous advantages over them.
In addition to others that we will see later, the sum of storage technologies and network connectivity allows access to stored content from any type of device (or simultaneously from several of them) from anywhere in the world via the Internet. In addition, NAS have their own hardware, operating systems and applications, allowing them to operate independently of PCs and operating systems, running on virtually any infrastructure.
Best NAS: Use Cases
Although the main purpose of a NAS is to add storage capacity to the entire network and also to facilitate access to files by centralizingÂ file management, its great versatility allows for other interesting uses such as the following:
- Multimedia media serverÂ to stream content to other equipment. A joy, because the most capable models allow you to stream, for example, 4K content to large screens such as TVs.
- CollaborationÂ in editing documents in a similar way as we do in cloud services such as Microsoft 365 or Google Docs.
- Automatic backup managementÂ of any computer equipment to avoid surprises in the event of errors.
- P2P ClientÂ usable without the use of a computer. You set up your Torrent network and forget about it; the NAS will continue to work without the need for PCs.
- Video surveillance. You can connect IP surveillance cameras to a NAS to save their recordings.
- Private cloud. It is also ideal for setting up your own private cloud, which can also be connected to other Cloud storage services such as OneDrive, Amazon or Google Drive.
Features to choose the best NAS
This is not a piece of equipment that we are going to change frequently, so it is a good idea to make the right purchase. Even so, as with any purchase of an electronic product, it is advisable to think one step ahead of our current needs and take into account a number of key features to get it right. We review them.
Surely this is the differentiating factor that every user will value when purchasing a NAS. The industry offers everything you are looking for. From simple consumer models with space for one or two storage units, to large data center racks that can use hundreds of them. They also vary in the inclusion or not of storage drives, as some models come fully equipped, while others (the majority) are delivered with empty bays for the user to mount their own.
In fact, you can use unused hard drives (or SSDs) that you have at home or in the office that you have been removing from other equipment or purchase new models specialized in NAS, optimized for lower power consumption and greater durability, something to keep in mind if, as is common in these devices, you are going to have them running 24/7. In both cases, assess the total capacity you will need before purchasing and give it the corresponding margin.
Considering that the basis of a NAS’s operation is its ability to transmit files over a network, an obvious recommendation is that it should at least have a connector Ethernet with support for 1GbpsÂ (or higher) and not lower standards because it will be very noticeable in performance when handling data and it will be impossible to use it for another of the discussed use cases such as multimedia streaming. There are models of all types with support for more advanced networks or various LAN connectors.
The rest of the ports are accessories, although they can come in handy for any user. For example eSATA or USB to which external storage drives or support for microSD memory cards can be connected. It is also common for them to offer LEDs for unit operation or LCD displays for system control, but these are accessories.
We already said that a NASÂ has its own motherboard, processor and memoryif in addition to the typical storage functions you want to use the NAS as a media server, make sure its processor has the capacity to do so, for example to stream 4K content.
Mid-tier and advanced models also allow you to expand the base RAM capacity or use additional PCIe M.2 solid-state drives that act as cache and speed up data transfer from the main storage drives.
Operating system and applications
The NAS runs onÂ proprietary Web-based operating systems. Large manufacturers such as QNAP or Synology offer outstanding developments in design and operation, in addition to hundreds of specialized applications to cover any usage task.
If you opt for the option of setting up a NAS on your own, for example taking advantage of an old PC to convert it into a network storage server accessible from other computers, you can use free and open source operating systems such as FreeNAS, undoubtedly the best of the alternatives.
Starting up a NAS
As you will have seen in the product reviews that we have been offering (the WD My Cloud Pro PR4100 consumer or the more business Synology DiskStation DS1621xs+ as an example) the installation of a NAS is simple, in a process that begins by installing the storage units that we are going to use, preferably hard drives for their excellent price per GB ratio. Solid state drives can also be used, but in a NAS we will not take advantage of all their capacities and the cost will be quite high.
From there, it is simply a matter of connecting it to the local network and configuring it using the proprietary operating system they come with, which are fantastic. They are web-based, but very powerful and intuitive to get started. They have installation wizards for formatting and preparing the disks by selecting the RAID level and all the other necessary settings, and the best NAS have a wealth of applications to take advantage of them in all areas of use.
NAS Buying Guide (April 2022)
If you select the right model for your needs, a NAS will last you quite a few years without the need to replace it with another one. Because of this, NAS offerings are not updated as quickly as other categories such as smartphones and laptops. In addition, most models allow you to expand the storage capacity or in the best units improve performance by installing SSDs for data caching and thus increasing their longevity.
Any model of the big NAS manufacturers (Synology, QNAP, WD…) will offer you great satisfaction to get into these storage and network systems. We leave you a sample of the existing offer with updated prices and with the mind set for use in a future NAS system computer desktop,Â home, small business or home officewith prices ranging from 100 euros to 500 euros, because the industry offers solutions for all budgets and needs.
An attractively designed two-bay home NAS powered by a Realtek RTD1296 processor, a quad-core ARM that is accompanied by 2 Gbytes of DDR4 memory and promises H.264 hardware decoding and real-time transcoding of 4K content. It has a Gigabit Ethernet LAN connector and several USB 3.2 ports in case you want to connect external drives. It has the QTS 220.127.116.11 operating system, one of the best on the market. It has a price (without disks) of 149 euros.
WD My Cloud EX2
A basic model very well presented in its external appearance with two bays to install 3.5 or 2.5″ disks. It has a dual-core Marvell processor and 1 Gbytes of DDR3 RAM, while for connectivity it includes an Ethernet LAN and two rear USB 3 ports. With its own operating system, My Cloud OS, WD sells it from the version without disks by 160 euros and from there offers several versions with disks from 8 Tbytes to 36 Tbytes.
A NAS with two bays for a maximum capacity of 32 TB, powered by a 1.4 GHz 4-core ARM processor and 1 Gbyte of DDR4 memory. It has a Gigabit LAN connector and uses the proprietary TOS operating system. You can purchase it (without disks) for 169 euros. TerraMaster markets similar models with four bays for 279 euros.
Synology DS218 PLAY
Another ideal consumer NAS starter model with two available bays and up to 20 Tbytes of capacity, quad-core ARM processor and 1 Gbyte of expandable DDR4 RAM.Â It can transcode video up to 4K in real time, which in addition to file sharing and backup tasks, enables it as a media server. Its DiskStation Manager 7.0 operating system is (along with Qnap’s) the best on the market and offers all kinds of applications to take advantage of it. It is priced (without disks) at 193 euros and is one of the best sellers.
A quad-bay NAS with a maximum capacity of 64TB, powered by a Realtek RTD1296 4-core 1.4GHz ARM processor and 2Gbyte of DDR4 memory. It has a Gigabit LAN connector, two USB 3.2 ports and uses the proprietary TOS operating system. You can buy it (without disks) for 259 euros.
We up the capacity level with this four-bay NAS and 1.7GHz quad-core ARM processor. It includes 2 Gbytes of memory, dual Ethernet LAN 2.5 Gbe and dual USB 3.0 connectors. It is priced at 379 euros diskless and features the QTS operating system, which has all the free apps you need, 256-bit AES encryption and several local/remote/cloud backup options included.
Synology DS418 Diskstation
A four-bay NAS with 1.5GHz quad-core ARM processor and 4Gbytes of DDR3 memory (expandable to 8GB). It features dual RJ-45 Ethernet LAN and multiple USB 3.0 ports. Of note are the two available M.2 slots to install solid-state drives for caching and data acceleration tasks, its AES-NI hardware encryption engine and the ability to transcode video at 4K. It is priced at 476 euros (without disks) and of its DSM operating system there is little to say: an absolute guarantee of good operation and performance.
WD My Cloud Pro PR4100 Pro
Right at the limit of the marked budget we have this 4-bay model that can accommodate up to 40 Tbytes of storage capacity. Its processor is a quad-core Intel Pentium N3710 at 1.7 GHz, accompanied by 4 Gbytes of DDR3L memory (expandable). It has two Gigabit Ethernet LAN connectors and rear and front USB ports. With My Cloud OS operating system, it is priced (without disks) at 499 euros. WD offers versions with included disks starting at 8 Tbytes.
We stop here the selection of offers and the budget we had set for ourselves. With four bays and storage capacities exceeding 30 TBytes, these models are more than enough for home, small office or home office environments, although those who need more can opt for higher capacity and performance versions.
Need hard drives?
The vast majority of NAS are sold without storage drives. The good thing about these devices is that you can take advantage of hard drives that you have removed from computers and have available. You can use models of any manufacturer and size, keeping in mind that in a typical RAID level you will only take advantage of the storage capacity of the smallest one.
If you need to buy new modelsin addition, you should know that the two major manufacturers market models optimized for 24/7 operation that offer lower power consumption and greater durability. As an example, here are two of the best series:
- WD Digital (RED)â Internal hard drive for desktop NAS devices (Intellipower, SATA 6 Gb/s, 64 MB cache, 3.5â³). It offers versions from 1 TB for 61 euros and other options with 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 Tbytes.
- Seagate IronWolfâ Internal hard drive for NAS systems (3.5â³, 5900 RPM, up to 180 MB/s â SATA with 6 Gbit/s). It offers versions from 1 TB for 49 euros and other options with 2, 3, 4, 6, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 Tbytes.
Note: This selection contains some links from our affiliates, but none of the products included have been proposed or recommended by them or their manufacturers, but chosen at our own discretion.