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Networking

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.

QNAP TS-231+ 2-bay NAS

While QNAP might not be as well known a manufacturer as companies like Western Digital or Netgear, the excellent design and hardware in this budget NAS are undeniable. It has two bays that work with both 3.5 and 2.5 inch drives, giving you support for hard disk drives and solid state drives. You get 512MB of memory in this model along with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor which keeps your data access nice and fast. Connectivity is really a major feature on this model which includes three USB 3.0 ports and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. There is also an eSATA port on this NAS, which lets you connect an external SATA hard drive to it for even more storage than you can fit into this model. All of this comes together to make a terrific NAS that can fit into just about any budget.

Synology Diskstation DS114

This is definitely a NAS that benefits from being a diskless model, giving you great performance at a budget-friendly price. You get two bays in this one, which are designed for 3.5 inch drives but include 2.5 inch holders so you can use smaller disk drives as well. It supports both hard disk drives and solid state drives, making it ideal for just about any computer setup. It includes 512MB of DDR3 RAM, which is perfect for a NAS, and has a dual-core 800MHz processor to ensure fast and efficient data access whether you are reading from or writing to the drives in this model. While additional USB ports would be a welcome addition, this one has a single USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port, which is decent but certainly not amazing. It also has a RJ-45 LAN port so you have a fast network connection.

Seagate NAS 2-Bay 2TB Network Attached Storage Drive (STCT2000100)

While there are a somewhat limited number of budget NAS models that include storage with them, this is one of the best ones out there. The 2TB model is the best overall value, but you might also consider either the 4TB model also available, since it does not cost much more for quite a lot more storage space. This budget NAS has two bays, one of which is taken up by a 2TB hard drive, with support for a maximum of 10TB of total data storage. It has 512MB of DDR3 memory and a 1.2GHz processor, which helps it run fast and keep your data accessible. You get a lot of connectivity with this one, which has two USB 3.0 ports, as well as two Ethernet ports.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS 102 2-Bay Network Attached Storage 1TB (RN10211D-100NAS)

While there is a lot to like about this NAS, there are a few things that just hold it back from being the very best budget option on the market. It has two bays and is a diskless model, which saves you money, but it only supports a maximum of 8TB of storage, which is less than some other ones out there. The bays can fit 2.5 or 3.5 inch drives and support both hard disk drives and solid state drives. There are a total of three USB ports on this NAS, one USB 2.0 port and two USB 3.0 ports. A single Gigabit LAN Ethernet port gives you solid network connectivity. It has 512MB of memory and a 1.2GHz processor, which keeps it running nice and fast, but not quite as well as a dual-core CPU.

WD My Cloud EX2 Diskless Network Attached Storage - WDBVKW0000NCH-NESN

This is a nice, budget-friendly NAS, but it just lacks anything to really push it beyond comparable models out there. It is a diskless model, so you need your own storage, though if you have more money to spend, then you can choose between several options that come with drives from Western Digital. You get two bays, but they are designed only to fit 3.5 inch drives without adapters to insert 2.5 inch drives which limits the types of hard drives you can use and pretty much eliminates using solid state drives. This model has 512MB of memory and a 1.2GHz processor, but that's not particularly exceptional. You only get two USB ports on this one, but they are both USB 3.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port, which is good but not any better than what you can find on comparable models.

Synology Disk Station 2-Bay Network Attached Storage - DS715

There are a lot of different NAS models available from Synology, but this one in particular is ideal for someone with a home entertainment or small office setup in mind. It has a quad-core 1.4GHz processor and 2GB of DDR3 memory which lets it run fast while giving you great read/write speeds when accessing your data.

This pick comes with two bays but you can connect a separate expansion unit that adds five more if you need additional storage down the road. Each bay supports up to an 8TB hard drive for 16TB of total storage support so just about anything you could need to store and access in your home is available. This NAS has two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port that lets you connect additional external storage to the NAS, and two RJ-45 Ethernet ports for all your connectivity needs.

Netgear ReadyNAS RN10221D 2-Bay Network Attached Storage

While there are a number of different models offered by Netgear in their ReadyNAS line, the RN10221D is probably the best option for home use. It gives you a good amount of storage with room to expand without overwhelming the average user with excessive options. This model comes with a 1TB hard drive in each of its two bays but it can support up to 8TB total storage. Although the pre-installed drives don't take full advantage of the storage possibilities with this NAS, they’re a pretty good start at a reasonable price.

This model has 512 MB of memory and a 1.2GHz processor, both of which should be sufficient for a lot of home setups, but would be a poor choice for a large business. You get a single Gigabit LAN port on this model along with an eSATA port for additional external storage, and it has one USB 2.0 port and two USB 3.0 ports.

QNAP 2-Bay Personal Cloud NAS - TAS-268

This NAS has two bays for hard drives and each one supports up to a 6TB drive so you can get a ton of storage space out of those bays. It has a 1.1GHz dual-core processor, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and 4GB of additional Flash memory which helps it run very quickly. It comes with a lot of nice software options and tools to control your setup, so you can customize this NAS to share files more easily and control who has access to your data.

This model doesn’t  have an eSATA port so that’s something to keep in in mind if that’s an important option for your setup, though it does include one RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port. You get a total of five USB ports on this model including one USB 3.0 port on the front and four USB 2.0 ports on the back. That gives you some great options for connecting to this NAS, plus it includes a one-touch button that copies data from a drive connected to the front USB port.

WD My Cloud EX2 4 TB NAS

One thing to keep in mind with this home NAS is that if you're looking for a professional-light version which gives you a lot of tools for a home setup, then this option probably isn’t for you. This is a pretty simple model that comes with hard drives provided so there's little you need to do to set it up. It has a storage capacity of 4TB, though there are also diskless models available, along with ones that have more storage installed: 6TB, 8TB, or even 12TB.

What really allows this selection to shine is just how easy it is to set up since there's no need to install or swap out drives and you don't have to fiddle with a range of applications to get it up and running on your network. While it has 512MB of memory and a 1.2GHz processor, it’s not going to run as fast as something like the Synology DS715 so that’s something to keep in mind. You get a Gigabit Ethernet port and two USB 3.0 ports on this model which gives you some good connectivity, though it lacks an eSATA port.

Buffalo LinkStation 420 4TB 2-Drive NAS - LS420D0402

This is a great choice for a home NAS although its features may be too limited for something along the lines of small home business or similar setup. The storage potential with this model is a bit limited as it has 4TB of data storage. There's another model that has only 2TB of storage, as well as a more expensive model that offers 8TB of storage, so you do have some options available.

This one comes with a USB 2.0 port, which is slower than a USB 3.0 port, so you don’t get the same level of read/write speeds and connectivity some other home NAS systems on our list. However, you are getting an RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port so you can still get fast performance. Unfortunately, the lack of USB 3.0 support is still potentially problematic. Overall, this is a solid choice and quite affordable for a home NAS if you don’t need it to handle a lot of responsibilities.

Synology DiskStation 12-Bay, Diskless Network Attached Storage - DS3615xs

This NAS provides you with an impressive 12 bays in a great piece of hardware that offers solid overall performance. Each bay can hold a hard drive with up to 8TB of storage on it for 96TB in total storage on this NAS. While it comes with 12 bays, Synology offers additional hardware that you can purchase and connect with this unit to expand the storage to up to 36 bays in total. Read/write speeds are nice and fast with this pick and it offers great performance for data transfers. It has 4GB of DDR3 memory in two slots with two additional empty slots that can hold up to 32GB of total memory and a 3.4GHz dual-core processor. You get a pair of USB 3.0 ports on this one along with two expansion ports for additional NAS connectivity and four RJ-45 LAN ports so you can connect as many devices as you need to this model.

Netgear ReadyNAS 300 Series 314 Diskless 4-Bay Network - RN31400-100NAS

Netgear ReadyNAS 300 Series 314 Diskless 4-Bay Network - RN31400-100NAS

This is a four-bay model that is available for a pretty reasonable price, while offering terrific overall performance. Each bay can hold up to a 6TB drive, for a total of 24TB of storage. You can expand on this setup with additional hardware from Netgear, however, that brings that total up to 14 bays and 84TB of data. It has a 2.1GHz dual-core processor and 2GB of memory. There's a simple-to-use user interface that lets you set up your server and get it working on your network however you want. There is a USB 2.0 port and two USB 3.0 ports, one of which is a shared USB/eSATA port, plus there's another eSATA port for even more storage. Two Gigabit LAN ports give you plenty of connectivity, all of which comes together to give you a great option for a high performance NAS.

Synology DiskStation 8-Bay Network Attached Storage - DS2015xs

There's definitely a lot to like about this NAS, and it offers tremendous performance though something like the Synology DiskStation DS3615xs certainly gives you more storage. You get 8 bays in this model though you can connect it to an expansion unit for up to 20 bays, and each one supports an 8TB hard drive for a total of 64TB, or 160TB with the expansion unit. This model has 4GB of DDR3 memory in a single slot with a second memory slot that can hold another 4GB of total RAM. Perhaps the highlight of this NAS is the CPU which is a quad-core 1.7GHz processor, offering you tremendous performance and read/write access speeds. This performance NAS has two USB 3.0 ports and a pair of RJ-45 LAN ports, plus the expansion slot for connecting additional storage from Synology.

WD 8TB My Cloud DL4100 Business Series Network Attached Storage - WDBNEZ0080KBK-NESN

For a high-performance NAS with disks already installed, this is a hard one to beat. It has four bays and comes with two 4TB hard drive installed into them, for 8TB of installed storage, though it supports up to 24TB of total storage. You get a pretty quick 1.7GHz processor and 2GB of memory, expandable up to 6GB, in this NAS for quick read/write speeds and excellent performance while sharing data or streaming media. If you prefer a diskless option so you can easily put in whatever drives you want, then there is another model of this NAS available without any disks. This NAS also includes a USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports, so you get plenty of connectivity.

Buffalo TeraStation 5600 6-Bay 18 TB RAID Network Attached Storage (TS5600D1806)

Simplicity is definitely an advantage with this NAS system. It's a fast, powerful setup that you won't need to do a lot of work to just get it working with your network. There are two different setups available with this model with one offering 18TB and another with 12TB of total storage. Both models have six bays with this one having just has 3TB drives while the other has 2TB drives. This is ideal if you're just looking for a straightforward setup that you can quickly get onto your network but if you prefer to adjust every element of your hardware, then you'll probably find a diskless model to be a better option. You get 2GB of memory, regardless of which model you prefer, along with a 2.13GHz dual-core processor. This NAS has two USB 2.0 ports and three USB 3.0 ports along with two RJ-45 Ethernet ports.

Buyer's Guide

 

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.

Desktop
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.

Rackmount
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.

eSATA Ports

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.

Processor Type

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.

Greg Wiesen
With an AA in Computer Animation, I have spent years building computers and playing video games. I learned early on that the best way to figure out a new software program was to just start pushing buttons and see what happens (saving often, of course), and that is still my philosophy. From hard drives and motherboards to graphics cards and "holographic" keyboards, I enjoy checking out and playing with all the tech I can get my hands on. I have written hundreds of informative computer and technology articles in the past, and I believe that anyone can understand and use a computer. I'll worry about research and trying out different hardware, you just enjoy the results.
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