Network Attached Storage (NAS) is no longer just for big businesses. This last decade has seen NAS drives find their place in homes and small offices at a remarkably impressive pace. All due to the emergence of some capable, really advanced, and affordable options.
Think of them as a central repository for your files.
You can not only house all your essential data on these drives and secure it, but also stream your media, and access everything from one place, anytime you want — even when you are on the road. All thanks to some excellent remote access services that work with these neat little gadgets.
And that’s not even talking about the peace of mind you get if your hard drives fail. Setting up a RAID array of multiple disks is the easiest way to keeping your data safe.
But more than that, modern NAS appliances run all manner of useful network applications, and the list is ever-expanding. Hosting a media server for yourself or a database for your company is standard practice, as is using these drives for web hosting and security camera management systems.
With practically limitless potential, NAS drives are the best buy for both your home and your office. We take a look at the best ones on the market right now, fit for every budget and every need.
What is a NAS Drive?
A modern NAS is effectively a fully-featured computer. Most modern networks attached storage systems come with everything you need to work with Windows, macOS, and Linux clients. Even the most affordable ones will do the necessary job of storing and service files on your network.
But more advanced ones come with all the latest bells and whistles, including USB 3 ports for faster transfers, and multiple types of connectors. Some even offer HDMI and audio sockets for connecting a monitor directly to your NAS box.
Not to mention a selection of apps and add-on software are there to extend the capabilities of your NAS significantly.
Of course, this means that there are some critical factors to consider before you make your purchase. These are what differentiate an excellent NAS appliance from a great one, that mix of design, features, connectivity, and integration with other services.
Features that Make a Good NAS Drive
As you can imagine, features are what separate NAS drives. The more feature-packed a drive is, the more expensive and powerful it will usually be. Some of these are so supremely versatile that they can stand in a for a desktop PC — impressive enough as that sounds.
We have come a long way, we have.
The Bay System
The first and foremost deciding factor is the bays. We do not recommend single-disk NAS systems, as they get you in trouble if your hard disk fails, and that drive contains the only copy of your data. It is much safer to go with a two-bay system.
That said, it is much safer to go with a four-bay NAS drive if you are willing to spend a bit more. Four disks also allow you to set up a RAID5 array, which offers a better balance of capacity and data security.
Connectivity & Speed
Look for pacey USB 3 connections that you can hook up your external hard drive with, for a simple way to make your files available to everyone in your home or office. Also seek a cabled connection, a Gigabit Ethernet so that your data moves fast — wireless ones will have you settle for slower speeds.
Apps significantly extend the capability of your NAS appliance, and most vendors offer a built-in app store that can contain dozens, even hundreds of applications. Expect to see media server apps, business and development tools, surveillance apps that work with IP cameras, and whatnot.
Processor & RAM
One point worth a mention is that if you plan on enabling a whole load of apps, or if the website or blog that you are hosting on your NAS starts to attract a lot of visitors, your hardware may start to struggle. For this reason, it is a good idea to pick a model with a powerful Intel processor, and plenty of RAM.
Few other things
And since NAS drives also let you access your data from anywhere in the world, they are a great alternative to cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive, without the hassle of monthly fees or storage limitations.
To that end, many providers still offer integration with third-party cloud services for backup purposes.
What this ultimately means is that you will need to set up the security of your NAS drive correctly. Make a point of installing system updates as soon as they are available, ensure that your apps and services are up-to-date too, and keep your network attached storage free of viruses, malware, and ransomware.
The Best NAS Drives
NAS drive is an investment, one that will last you years and years. Prices start from as low as under $200 and go to well over $1,000 — depending on the make and model. It is therefore essential to do your research before you make your selection.
We list a few of the best options available on store shelves right now and evaluate each model based on its hardware, design, feature set, connectivity, and overall performance.
Intel Celeron J3455
Intel Celeron N3060
Intel Pentium N3710
Single, JBOD, RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID6, RAID10
Single, JBOD, RAID0, RAID1
Single, JBOD, RAID0, RAID1, Synology Hbybrid RAID
JBOD, RAID0, RAID1, RAID5, RAID10
Cloud Connect, DDNS
myDrobo, Drobo Access
MyQNAP Cloud, DDNS
Quick Connect, DDNS
WD Cloud Access
Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive
Amazon Cloud, Dropbox
Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive
Amazon Cloud Drive/S3, Box, Google Drive, Azure, OneDrive
Folder level (AES 256)
Volume level (AES 256)
Volume level (AES 256)
Folder level (AES 256)
Volume level (AES 256)
170 X 230 X 186mm
150 X 262 X 185mm
101 X 220 X 142mm
102 X 219 X 169mm
100 X 226 X 165mm
170 X 232 X 192mm
#1 – Asustor AS6404T
One of the more expensive NAS appliance on the market right now, the Asustor AS6404T offers powerful internals in a supremely versatile package. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to call it just network attached storage — it has all it needs to stand in for a desktop PC.
Let’s starts with the processor; the quad-core Intel Celeron J3455 sits near the top of the mountain when it comes to performance. This chip comes with hardware video acceleration, support for up to three 4K display, and basically, more power and flexibility than you would ever need.
The versatility also extends to the overall hardware. The HDMI and S/PDIF connectors on the back make the AS6404T ideal for use as a standalone entertainment center. And the twin USB 3 connectors will take a keyboard and mouse, turning it into the lightweight desktop.
And while 8GB of RAM is on the low side of things, it is enough to deploy either Windows or Linux on this four-bay NAS. Asustor also has a store called App Central, which offers a selection of local desktop applications like Chrome, LibreOffice, Spotify, and even VirtualBox.
Asustor also has its own Cloud Connect service that you can use to monitor up to four IP cameras for free, while it provides NAS backup services via CrashPlan and ElphantDrive — good enough premium services for offsite backup.
As you can see, all the basics are well covered. The Asus AS6404T supports all the necessary network protocol and services, including media focused ones. Indeed, you’d have to look hard to find a turnoff here. There’s much to like with this Asustor if it falls within your budget.
#2 – Synology DS216j
From the most expensive one on the list to the most affordable one. Synology DS216j is for those that want a cost-effective little box, without the bells and whistles. If that’s your play, then the two-bay DS216j is worth a look.
It scores low on glamor, with the shiny white plastic about par for the course at this price point. It does not provide easy access to the drives either — you’ll need to use a screwdriver to install or replace disks. But it’s a small price to pay for something this affordable.
Functionally, though, there’s little to fault here. Despite its diminutive size, this NAS box runs the full version of the Synology DSM6.1 operating system. What this means is that you get all the features that are available on more pricier models from the company, like the DS916+.
Plenty of add-ons are available as well, allowing you to host an email server, a web server, a wiki or a blog, what have you. Network services are pretty reliable too, both for home users that want to connect iTunes and Time Machine to small business owners that want to set up surveillance.
Where things go wrong is with the hardware. A modest 1GHz dual-core 32-bit Marvell processor beats at the heart of the DS216j, which is excellent for basic networking demands, but not much else. The 512MB of DDR3 RAM is also pretty much the lowest you can go.
What this means is that this NAS appliance is more suited for simple file sharing, as opposed to more heavy tasks like use as a video server. Still, for primary applications at home or small office, the Synology DS216j does everything you expect it to do, at an excellent price.
#3 – Netgear ReadyNAS 212
A midrange two-bay NAS device, the Netgear ReadyNAS 212 offers a decent combination of power and flexibility. There are a few limitations that might push you towards other models, and a few frustrations if your ambitions grow.
Starting with the good stuff first, you have a machine with excellent build quality. A sturdy metal enclosure and the two tool-free drive bays that hide behind a door is solid stuff. You also get a handy USB 3 port on the front with a one-click copy button.
Most of the available network services have made the cut. You have FTP, DLNA, Time Machine and iSCSI. No Active Directory, though, which is not exactly surprising, considering this is still a midrange machine, not exactly meant for enterprise use.
Rounding up the hardware is a sturdy Cortex-A15 quad-core CPU that can stand its own when running media apps. Plex runs excellent, and so does the company’s own ReadyNAS Surveillance software. Developer tools like Drupal, Joomla, phpMyAdmin, and WordPress all run fine.
There are a few limitations here, worth a mention. The 2GB of RAM is not expendable, sadly. Similarly, only drives up to 8TB are officially supported, unlike other NAS appliances that support the latest 10TB hard drives, and will likely work with even larger drives.
Same goes for the web interface of the ReadyNAS 212, with its massive menu look and a blend of tabs, links, and icons. It makes this Netgear a solid recommendation unless you can work around these limitations and are okay with the mixture of hardware and software.
#4 – WD My Cloud Pro PR4100
Tremendous value for a four-bay, the WD My Cloud Pro PR4100 passes all the NAS tests with flying colors. Where it falters is in its feature set, which gets unadventurous very quick when you consider that Western Digital has decided to follow the straightforward NAS template.
That means, all the critical protocol and services, but no local audio or video outputs. There’s no virtualization host here either, saying you can’t run your desktop applications right on the PR4100. All these omissions make it look slightly limited next to more feature rich NAS appliances.
And by most counts it is. But with excellent hardware underlying support for frameworks like Joomla and WordPress, surveillance capabilities provided by Milestone Arcus, and all the prowess you need to run a Plex server, you get a compact NAS that can run through heavy loads of network services.
Part of the reason for this is the sheer horsepower you get with the PR4100. The 4GB of RAM that it houses is officially upgradeable to 16GB if you wish. A quad-core Pentium N3710 CPU powers the machine, and that is miles ahead of competing solutions from other manufacturers.
The bay doors at the front of this NAS device pop open, allowing you to slide your drive inside. Closing the door firmly pushes the connector into its place. This convenience means you are limited to 3.5-inch drives, and can’t use 2.5-inch ones.
Overall, the PR4100 stacks up well against other four-bay units and offers a lot of strengths in some different areas. You also get easy access to a dedicated website that provides easy access to your files from anywhere. If you’re looking for a no-frills, all-thrills NAS unit, then this WD creation is where it’s at.
#5 – Drobo 5N2
Drobo has been a known name in the world of network attached storage. And the 5N2 is a cleverly designed five-bay device that follows the company’s philosophy of keeping things simple to a tee. It makes an excellent buy for less technical users, and this is where you find its strengths.
Although the Drobo 5N2 offers five drive bays, it is barely larger than a four-bay unit. A lot of this has got to do with the space-efficient design that the company has gone. Another thoughtful feature is the row of LEDs at the bottom that shows how much space you have used — handy.
This simplification also extends to how you set it up. No talk of RAID levels here, as the unit automatically configures your installed media to provide the best balance of capacity and security. You only have to decide whether you want protection against a single disk failure or two simultaneous ones.
That said, this approach is not without its flaws, mind you. The attitude of keeping things simple has meant that you will not find any USB or eSATA ports at the back. Though surprisingly, you do get two Ethernet ports that provide support for adaptive load balancing.
You get a 1.6GHz quad-core CPU with 2GB of RAM inside, which means that the Drobo should have no trouble running apps and services like iTunes, Plex, and the various developer tools. AirPlay support is sadly missing, and we can say same of prominent business features like Active Directory or iSCSI.
Unsurprisingly, there’s no support for IP cameras as well here. There’s much to like and admire about this Drobo if you’re a beginner to NAS. It’s decently priced too, for a five-bay unit. It’s just that this not a conventional device — and that is its biggest strength and weakness.
#6 – Qnap TS-251A
This appealing little box may not be the cheapest two-bay appliance, but you get a lot for the money with the Qnap TS-251A. The company has crammed in a whole range of features into its compact two-bay frame, so much so that even at this price it is a steal.
The neatly thought out design starts at the front, where you will find the standard USB 3 connector along with a micro USB 3 port and an SD card reader. Meaning? The TS-251A makes it ridiculously easy to consolidate your media, no matter where you save it.
And the goodness continues with support for USB WiFi and Bluetooth adapters so that you can do direct over-the-air transfers. There is a duo of Ethernet connectors at the back, alongside two HDMI sockets and a couple of audio jacks. It’s an ideal machine for media station use — there’s even a remote!
Now, while the included Intel Celeron N3060 CPU may no longer be the most powerful one around, it still has enough juice to drive a pair of 4K displays. The supplied 2GB of memory may be a little tight, but it is easily expandable to 16GB.
Even with all these included features, you have support for practically every network protocol and service, including the likes of Time Machine, AirPlay, iSCSI and Active Directory. Not to mention, a wide array of cloud and backup services.
It’s also possible to turn the TS-251A into a fully featured desktop PC via the free Linux Station app. Yes, there are simpler offerings available that are more affordable. But if you need something a little more ambitious, then this Qnap almost offers it all. At a very fair price, at that.
Shawn is a WindowsChimp Staff writer, who is a fan of making lists and does the same on this site. He has a Contemporary Writing degree and been in technology niche since last 3 years.