Best NAS (Network Attached Storage)
Network attached storage allows for digital storage available across a wired/wireless network. Many implementations focus on redundancy, performance, or throughput. The better NAS devices are simple to use, feature excellent cooling options, and function reliably to allow for maximum uptime for accessing digital media over a local area network.
Many NAS devices allow for multiple hard disks to be inserted within the unit to increase the storage pool and offer RAID support for physical disk redundancy, or through duplication within Windows Home Server. Before making a selection, take a look at the NAS buyer’s guide below for more information and suggestions on the best option for your setup.
Best NAS for Performance:
In looking for the best NAS setups in terms of performance, consider both diskless systems and those that come with hard drives loaded in them. These are all desktop models, though many of these manufacturers also have high-end rackmount setups. You want to find hardware that is as fast as possible, providing you with quick read/write speeds that are great for data backup or streaming media. There's a wide range of storage sizes here, but many of these systems can be expanded and diskless models give you a lot of options for overall storage size.
We've chosen these best NAS systems for performance because they give you a lot of storage thanks to at least four hard drive bays, though some of them have much more. All of these models have at least 2GB of memory, and support for more maximum memory if you need even better performance. You get at least two USB 3.0 ports on each of these models, along with at least two Ethernet ports for all the connectivity you need.
This is a tremendous NAS system that provides a great deal of power and storage capacity. It's a diskless model that you can use with your own hardware and it has 12 bays for hard drives. It is fast and effective for data backup or media streaming, and includes a powerful dual-core processor and 4GB of memory. Read Full Review
Netgear offers a lot of different models for their ReadyNAS line of products which gives you plenty of setups to choose from. This four-bay model is a great choice and diskless, so you can add whatever drives you want to it. It has 2GB of memory and a dual-core processor with plenty of USB and Ethernet ports for you to work with. Read Full Review
This is an excellent, eight-bay diskless NAS from Synology that provides very good speed and storage capacity. You get 4GB of memory and while it might not have as many bays as some options on the market, you get a quad-core processor for terrific overall performance. This is an especially strong option, especially those of you for small or medium businesses. Read Full Review
If you're looking for a performance NAS that comes with hard drives installed, then take a good look at this model. It costs more than some other ones out there, since it has storage included, but you can set it up quickly and easily. You get a total of four bays with 8TB of storage installed in this NAS, along with three USB ports, two Ethernet ports, and 2GB of memory. Read Full Review
This is a solid, high-performance system if you're looking for something powerful that doesn't require a lot of setup or technical knowledge. It's a straightforward, six-bay model with an impressive 18TB of storage. You get 2GB of memory in this model along with a dual-core processor and five USB ports. Read Full Review
Best Home NAS:
If you’re in the market for a home NAS solution, you’ll want to look for systems that are fairly easy to setup at a price point that’s reasonable for a home network. Some of our picks are also great choices for small businesses that might not need the full options of a high-end, performance server. As a home NAS, however, these servers all work well for backing up your data, with solid read/write speeds, and they are easy to get working with your network. You should look for solid systems for streaming media and data, so that you can set them up with your networked media player or entertainment system.
We’ve chosen the following picks as the best home NAS systems because they include two drive bays, which give you plenty of storage potential without breaking the bank. The maximum storage on these models is at least 8TB, though some can hold up to 16TB of total data. All of these models also have at least 512MB of memory for fast speed and performance, though some of them have even more. You get at least two USB ports on all of these models plus an Ethernet port for great overall connectivity.
Everything comes together in this NAS to make a great system that’s perfect for use in a home or small business. It has a quad-core processor and 2GB of memory along with two bays and an optional expansion unit that adds five more. With two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, and two Ethernet ports, this is a great option for setup in just about any type of small network situation. Read Full Review
Netgear offers a number of different models as part of their ReadyNAS line, and this one is a great mid-range option which is absolutely perfect for home use. This is a two-bay setup that includes two 1TB hard drives, though it supports up to 8TB of total storage if you install larger drives. Read Full Review
Another solid choice for a home NAS system, this one is a diskless setup with a decent amount of storage potential. It has 2GB of RAM along with 4GB of Flash memory and a dual-core processor so it runs nice and fast. You get an Ethernet port and a total of five USB ports on this model which give it a lot of connectivity options. Read Full Review
Western Digital offers up a somewhat simpler NAS option with this model, which makes it great for a simple home setup. It comes with 4TB of storage already installed in it, along with 512MB of memory. This one has two USB 3.0 ports and an Ethernet port, but lacks some of the connectivity you can find on other models. Read Full Review
This is a solid choice for a home NAS system, though it lacks some of the great features found in some other models on the market. The storage capacity with this particular model is only 4TB of data, but Buffalo offers other setups of this model with different amounts of storage. Read Full Review
Best Budget NAS:
A budget NAS can be somewhat difficult to find. Many NAS systems can run many hundreds or thousands of dollars. However, you can still find setups that offer solid features and options, while staying close to $200 to $250. Most of these are diskless options, which help keep them quite affordable, so consider how buying hard drives will impact your budget. As long as you have one or more compatible drives already, however, this makes these budget NAS models quite attractive and affordable.
We've chosen these best budget NAS options because they have at least two storage bays which gives you more functionality and total storage space. All of these models also have at least 512MB of RAM, which might seem low compared to a personal computer, but is quite sufficient for a mid-range NAS system. You also get at least two USB ports on each of these models, including one or more USB 3.0 slots, as well as at least one Ethernet port, which give you a lot of options in setting up your network and connecting to these NAS systems.
There is a lot to like about this model, including both the hardware in it and how much connectivity it offers. The two bays support 3.5 and 2.5 inch drives and it has 512MB of memory and a dual-core processor. This one also includes three USB 3.0 ports, two Ethernet ports, and an eSATA port, which lets you connect just about everything you could want to it. Read Full Review
Here is a great, inexpensive NAS that offers very nice performance and works with a wide range of setups. It has two bays that work with 3.5 and 2.5 inch drives, both disk drives and solid state drives, along with a dual-core CPU. This model has a USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 port, plus an RJ-45 LAN port. Read Full Review
This is a great little unit that is really easy to set up and use, plus it includes data storage with it, rather than being a diskless system. While that means you don't have as many options and flexibility with this model as you might with a diskless one, it also means you get storage for the price of the unit. The included drive only uses up one bay and you also get a pair of USB 3.0 ports and Ethernet ports. Read Full Review
Here is a nice diskless option, though it does not have as much maximum capacity as some other models on the market. With two bays that support 2.5 and 3.5 inch drives, along with an eSATA port, you get great options for all of your data storage. This one has three USB ports, including two USB 3.0 slots, along with an Ethernet port. Read Full Review
Although there is a lot to like about this model, it just cannot quite establish itself as the best of the best when it comes to a great budget NAS. It has two trays, but they are designed to only fit 3.5 inch drives, and only two USB ports. You get half a gig of memory and a solid processor, but there are equally good options on the market. Read Full Review
Network Attached Storage (NAS) Buyer’s Guide
There are a lot of specific details and considerations to keep in mind before choosing the right NAS for your system, but taking them one at a time can help simplify the process. The design and type of storage you want make a big difference, so carefully consider your options. You should also look at the size, depending on your design preference, and the number and types of ports available. It can help to treat your NAS almost like a specialized, separate computer, so consider memory and processor to ensure fast, reliable access to your data.
Desktop vs Rackmount Design
There are two basic designs to choose from, and you really need to consider how you want to setup your system before picking one.
A desktop NAS is a relatively small housing for one or more hard drives that can sit on your desk or near your work area. If you’re looking to setup your NAS for media storage in a house or for a small business, then a desktop model is probably best for you.
A rackmount option requires a server rack and fits on one or more shelves to give you extra data storage. A rackmount option is better if you have a medium-sized or large business, though you need a server rack to house it.
Diskless vs Included HDD
A diskless model is just what it sounds like, as it doesn’t have any kind of hard disk drive included so it’s just a housing to which you can add your own storage. There are other models that include one or more HDDs.
The best option really depends on what you plan on setting up. If you need included storage, choose one with a hard drive. On the other hand, if you plan on adding your own hard drives separately, a diskless option is better.
Form Factor and Size
The form factor of a NAS system is indicated differently depending on what design you choose. Desktop options are usually measured in terms of the number of bays available. Each bay can house a single hard drive, so if you need to place three drives in your NAS, then choose one with at least three bays.
Rackmount models are measured in terms of how many shelves or units are used up by the NAS. If a NAS requires three shelves it will be described as 3U, while a smaller model that only takes one shelf is indicated as 1U. Larger models offer you more storage, but also take up more space, so make sure you have room enough for whatever model you are interested in and choose one that has enough storage for your needs.
Number of RJ-45 Ports
RJ-45 ports are used to connect your NAS physically to other devices such as computers or other networking hardware. This really comes down to figuring out your overall network design and choosing a NAS model that has enough ports to connect to your other hardware.
Most models have at least one or two RJ-45 ports, but there are also NAS systems with three or four ports. To make sure you choose the right option, plan out your network and determine how many ports you need, then pick a NAS that works with your requirements.
Number and Type of USB Ports
In addition to RJ-45 ports for connecting other networking hardware, many NAS devices also include USB ports for additional device connectivity. This is a bit more common for desktop models, since rackmount NAS systems are more specialized types of hardware, but both designs frequently include USB ports. You should consider not only the number of USB ports you need but also what version. USB 2.0 ports can slow down data storage access, so look for a NAS with enough USB 3.0 ports for your hardware needs.
While most of your storage in a NAS will be installed directly into the hardware, you can choose a model with one or more eSATA ports for additional storage options. Many NAS systems include one or two eSATA ports, but there are also some that include one or two eSATA II ports for faster connectivity when transferring data between drives.
Unless you know for sure that you really need an eSATA II port or two on your system, it is probably best to look at other factors first when determining the right option for you. Having one or two eSATA ports is definitely helpful, however, so it is still worth considering.
While you do not have to choose a NAS that includes a processor, it is at least worth considering and looking at. Models without processors work just fine, but if you are spending several hundred dollars or more on a system, then it should be as good as possible.
A processor in the NAS helps it run faster and handle requests for data more efficiently, since it can devote processing power to these tasks. Look at the different models with processors and choose one that gives you the fastest processing power possible, preferably an Intel Xeon or Atom processor.
Maximum and Default Memory
The memory in a NAS helps keep the system running quickly, providing some temporary memory for data requests and submissions. You want to look at not only how much memory comes with a NAS but also the maximum, so that you can plan out any future additions or improvements.
For a desktop model, either 512MB or 1GB of default memory is quite good, with up to 8GB of maximum memory being the best you are likely to find. Rackmount NAS systems usually have 1GB or 2GB as the default amount, and maximum memory usually going up to 8GB.
Manufacturer and Warranty
If you are going to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a NAS system, then it is worthwhile to choose a reliable manufacturer that offers a warranty to protect your investment. Companies like Netgear, Western Digital, and Seagate are well known for the hard drives they produce and also make reliable, excellent desktop NAS systems. For rackmount options, you should consider manufacturers such as Synology, Netgear, and Buffalo. Your NAS should be covered by at least a three-year warranty, though five years or more of protection for such an investment is certainly ideal.