If you’re on a network and looking to keep your data safe and secure, you’ve landed in the right place, as today’s article is about choosing the best NAS, whatever devices you use and wherever you go. And we’re not talking about the rapper either, as NAS is an acronym that stands for Network Attached Storage. What does it mean, you asked? Well, unlike a regular external hard drive, a NAS does quite a bit more, i.e. it works both as a media server and a personal cloud service of sorts. How is this possible?
Well, it’s pretty straightforward: a NAS drive is smarter than a regular hard drive, as it connects directly to your router, hence even if your computer/network is switched off, you’ll still be able to access your files (photos, music, documents) via the magic powers of the “interwebz”. On top of that, you’ll be able to use a NAS the same way you use a flash drive, provided you have an internet connection available.
Basically, if you’re looking for a cool device which allows you to store/back up your data, but in the same time you want to be able to access your files from basically any computer, anytime and anywhere, on demand, today’s article will help you choose the best NAS drives available on the market.
How to Choose the Best NAS
Okay, so you have like a million models and brands to choose from. How do you get the best NAS money can buy? Think along the lines of choosing the best gaming hard drive, because a NAS is just a glorified hard disk drive after all (just kidding): storage capacity (the bigger, the better, the merrier), RAID configuration options, then think about the extra features. Let’s begin with the most important issue:
Unlike a regular hard disk drive, NAS capacity translates into the amount of data your NAS can hold, which is determined by the number of bays and also the drive-size(s) you can afford. Ideally, you should choose maximum capacity, even if some NAS models come with HDDs built-in, while others do not, yet all of them mention how much data they can hold in their specifications.
To make it real simple, the more HDDs you can cram into your NAS, the better the device is in terms of storage capacity. Generally speaking, consumer-grade NAS devices have 1 or 2 bays, while office versions come with 4 or more; however, try to avoid single-bay NAS drives, as this translates into a severe lack of redundancy. And as we all know, there are only 2 types of hard drives in this world: those that have failed and those that will fail.
A top-notch NAS device will allow you various RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) configurations for the drives you’re installing, in order to help with data back-up; for example, if one drive dies on you (these happenings are almost inevitable, especially in enterprise environments), you’ll have data redundancy, i.e. another drive can step up to the plate and save the day. That scenario stands true in a RAID1 configuration, as opposed to a RAID0 config. RAID1 means you have 2 drives on which data is automatically written at the same time, so if one of them fails, you’ll not lose any data.
In such a configuration, 2x 1TB drives will provide you with 1 TB of storage. If you have more than 2 drives, RAID5 and RAID6 comes into play; truth be told, there are several other RAID configurations, including the hybrid RAID10, but these are the most common, so we’ll keep as simple as possible for now.
Depending on what you intend to do with the NAS, you should pay extra attention to this section: for example, if you want to back up your computers overnight, or easy access to Word docs and spreadsheets, the most basic NAS model would do the job with flying colors.
On the other hand, if you want to use your NAS for streaming HD movies on your smart TV or over your home-network on multiple devices, you must look for a “big brained” NAS, as in a device with high-specs for the processor, memory and network capabilities, including media streaming subtleties if that’s your cup of tea.
Diskless or Populated
Some manufacturers offer pre-populated NAS drives, while others are “barebone”, i.e. diskless. HDD manufacturers like Western Digital who also sell NAS devices tend to prefer pre-populated NAS drives for obvious reasons, i.e. they try to sell you their own HDDs along with the NAS device. Mind you, this is just a good business model, not necessarily a trick. Anyhow, the metric to look for in this regard is value for money, as in check out the cost difference between a diskless NAS and a pre-populated one.
Choosing Disks for NAS
If you’re buying an “empty chassis” NAS, as in a diskless unit, in order to populate it with your favorite drives, keep in mind that not all drives are 100% compatible with a given NAS device. Most NAS manufacturers will offer you a compatibility list. And yes, you should read it thoroughly before you buy. Be extra careful with the so-called “green drives”, the eco stuff that automatically turns down when there’s no activity; some NAS devices will perceive this trick as a catastrophic failure.
It’s worth mentioning that some manufacturers like Seagate (“IronWolf” and “IronWolf Pro”), Western Digital (WD Red) or Toshiba (N Series) have specially tagged drives for NAS use, and most of the NAS certified HDDs have been thoroughly tested to run in harsh/enterprise like environments (24/7/365). With all these things considered, let’s take a look at the best NAS devices.
1. Synology 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS218+
Last but not least, we have another Synology NAS, the 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS218+ respectively. To make a long story short, if you’re looking for one of the best NAS for home-use out there, this baby may very well fit the bill. To begin with, the DS218+ is relatively affordable, and due to the hardware inside, it’s crazy fast and comes with lots of features, including upgradeable RAM, hardware encryption acceleration and an intuitive and well-designed user interface.
On top of great design and strong hardware, the DS218+ offers plenty of backup/syncing options, plus a plethora of mobile apps for file management, media streaming and more.
- crazy fast
- powered by an Intel Celeron J3355 CPU
- 2 GB of RAM preinstalled (user upgradeable)
- capable of 4K H.264/H.265 video transcoding @ 30fps
- supports BTRFS for scaling and better data protection
- good connectivity: 3 USB 3.0 ports, 1x eSata, 1x Gigabit LAN Port
- smart and affordable
- comes with media streaming apps for Smart TVs, Android, Android TV, Apple TV, iOS
- accessible disk bays, compact design
- excellent software suite
- solid build quality
- low noise
- Plex transcoding
- none really at this price
2. NETGEAR ReadyNAS RN422
Next in line, we have the ReadyNAS RN422 from NETGEAR, a 2-Bay diskless device, yet built to last and lightning fast. Generally speaking, NETGEAR shines in this regard, as they’re known for their super-fast and well-built NAS boxes, and if you take a closer look at their direct competitors, the likes of Synology and QNAP, you’ll understand that the ReadyNAS RN422 is quite affordable compared to its business-grade siblings.
So, if you’re looking for a high-performance business-grade NAS, this one may suit you like a glove. Under the hood, you’ll find an Intel Atom Processor C3338 CPU clocked at 1.5GHz and 2 GB of RAM, which is more than enough for both business environments and media streaming. Even if the ReadyNAS RN422 is aimed at enterprise first and foremost, it also performs great as a backup on a home network or for media streaming, due to its strong hardware.
- enterprise-grade NAS
- solid hardware
- good OS with integrated backup capabilities
- supports cloud backup to Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox, and Google Drive
- great choice if you have large file storage requirements
- fast and reliable
- 2 Bay design, well-built and rugged
- lots of apps, easy to set-up
- 20 TB capacity
- capable to transcode media (can be used as a Plex server)
- works great on both Mac and PC
- lacks SSD cache support
3. Drobo 5N2 (DRDS5A21)
Here comes another “beyond RAID” NAS system, the Drobo 5N2 respectively, featuring 5 bays, 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports and 64 TB maximum capacity. The new 5N2 NAS comes with a number of interesting features, such as at a glance storage monitoring, mixed drive size utilization and SSD cache. The UI design is as user-friendly as humanly possible, the drive compatibility is stellar, and the cherry on top is the internal battery that comes handy in case of power failure, i.e. it protects against user data loss.
If you are wondering about OS support, the Drobo 5N2 works on Microsoft Windows 7/8/10, along with Apple macOS X 10.10 and higher.
- intuitive user interface
- set up is a breeze
- BeyondRAID allows you to mix and match drive sizes
- supports on the fly drive swaps
- supports 3.5″ SATA II and III HDDs and SSDs
- great design
- feels solid and well built
- smooth sailing on Mac OS
- remote access via DroboAccess is well implemented
- snappy file browsing
- the fan is rather noisy
4. Zyxel NAS540
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense and affordable NAS, the Zyxel NAS540 would be best described as “the final solution”. Jokes aside, this device is marketed as a personal cloud storage server, as the NAS540 features remote access and media streaming, along with 4 bays with hot-swappable HDD support, and a maximum capacity of 24 GB (6×4). On top of that, you’ll get 3 USB 3.0 Ports, Two Gigabit Ethernet RJ-45 connectors and a One-touch copy/sync button.
There’s nothing fancy about the Zyxel NAS540, but strong specs and decent hardware, everything at an affordable price. Basically, this is as good as it gets in terms of affordable and compact desktop storage gear, everything doubled by an uncluttered and clean design. Despite being an older model, the NAS540 really does a good job performance wise due to its dual-core Freescale FS1024 processor clocked at 1.2 GHz, helped by 1 GB of RAM (fixed).
- dual Gigabit networking ports
- RAID 0/1/5/6/10 and RAID5 support
- great value for money
- cloud access, loadable apps
- dead quiet
- 3 USB 3.0 Ports, SD Card Slot
- supports both 3.5″ and 2.5″ SATA drives
- dated OS
- lacks iSCSI support
5. QNAP TS-453Be-2G-US
The QNAP TS-453Be-2G-US is a 4-Bay versatile and future proof NAS if it ever was one, due to its Intel Celeron Apollo Lake J3455 Quad-core CPU SoC, which supports hardware encryption. On top of that, you’ll get 4 GB of RAM and, connectivity-wise, SATA 6G, 2xGbE, and a PCIe slot for 10GbE or 2 more Gbe. Here’s more tech-porn for you: this baby supports 4K hardware transcoding, dual 4K HDMI V1. 4B, multimedia viewing on HDTV via HDMI output and 4K media playback and online transcoding. To make a long story short, the QNAP TS-453Be-2G-US is a high-end NAS, which is the perfect tool for a small office or for your IoT empowered home.
The PCIe slot allows you to add a SSD caching solution for faster networking, which confers this unit future-proofing, along with improved overall performance. Basically, the QNAP TS-453Be-2G-US makes for an updated version of the already great S-453B, but it’s aimed at budget-conscious users. Essentially, this NAS is a mini PC of sorts which is capable of running a wide range of services like virtual machines and different programs on its custom OS.
- high end at heart
- versatile and future proof
- 4 Bays, 4 GB of RAM (supports 8 GB max)
- spicy quad-core Intel Celeron J3455 CPU
- RAM is user upgradable
- PCIe x2 slot
- supports full hardware encryption
- supports Windows, Linux, Android, Unix machines
- 48 TB maximum capacity
- great for home and small office use
- Overly complicated setup
6. WD Diskless My Cloud Pro Series PR4100
The WD Diskless My Cloud Pro Series PR4100 is a very interesting choice if you’re looking for the best NAS for Plex and transcoding, as it offers an excellent mixture of performance and value. Basically, if you’re into “the best bang for the buck” kind of thing, the WD Diskless My Cloud Pro Series PR4100 should rank high on your shopping list. Also, this NAS is great for content creators/creative professionals looking for affordable and high-performance backup solutions. In this regard, the Western Digital My Cloud Pro Series makes for a storage device with a brain.
And speaking of brain, the PR4100 is powered by a quad-core Pentium N3710 processor and comes with 4GB of DDR3L RAM, which is actually upgradable to a whopping 16 GB. This alone is a relatively unique feature, as most NAS devices do not offer upgradeable RAM modules. To sum it up, hardware wise, the PR4100 really shines and punches way above its price.
- amazing value for money
- the processor supports HD and 4K transcoding
- you get aes-256 bit encryption, multiple download tasks/file transfers
- awesome Plex Media Server Support
- DLNA support
- iTunes, email, download server (FTP, HTTP, BT, NZB)
- supports ISCSI, Mac/Windows, Media Center
- supports Apple Time Machine
- Dual LAN ports, Dual PSU/Power Ports
- user upgradeable RAM
- 4 bays, up to 32 TB capacity
- 3 USB 3.0 Ports
- excellent for storing media
- supports multiple RAID configs
- easy to use due to WD’s proprietary software
- sleek minimalist design
- relatively poor app ecosystem
- no HDMI output
7. Synology 5 Bay NAS DiskStation DS1019+
The new Synology 5 Bay DiskStation DS1019+ makes for an impressive consumer-grade NAS (diskless), built and designed to deliver an impressive multimedia experience to home-users and beyond. And by beyond, we mean that the Synology DS1019+ would also fit perfectly small business environments as well. There are many things to like about this device: the 5 drive bay, which provides plenty of RAID solutions, awesome speed due to its state of the art NVM cache storage, a rather fast Celeron J3455 quad-core processor clocked at 1.5 GHz, not to mention the powerful SoC, that boasts 8 GB of DDR3l memory in dual channel.
On top of that, you’ll get 2x m.2. 2280 slots, a cool feature which allows you to create NVME SSDs (cache based that is) without actually using any of the 5 drive slots. The DS1019+ has a maximum capacity of 70 GB, provided you use 14 GB disks, and due to its DS Video/Video Station feature, can encode/decode/transcode h264 and h265, which means this is the perfect tool for streaming 4K if one so inclined. Finally, being a Synology product, this NAS comes with excellent apps, including Synology Drive, Office, Music Station, Chat, Moments, Active Backup and File station, to name just a few.
- versatile and expandable to 10 bays via external storage dock
- transcodes 4K video
- can stream Roku, Apple TV, movies, Chromecast and more
- plenty of RAID options
- hot swap trays
- NVM cache feature
- spicy quad-core processor, plenty of RAM
- offers file sharing and security center
- great choice for both SOHO or home users
- supports AES-NI encryption
- powered by friendly and intuitive DSM OS
- compact, easy to set-up
- the app ecosystem is impressive
- lacks PCIe slots
- kind of plasticky for our taste
- comes with 1Gbe Ethernet ports
- doesn’t really worth upgrading from DS918+