And, backing up data is just one thing. You can also use the NAS to then access this data on other devices, which makes these drives perfect for media libraries. But NAS drives aren’t incredibly cheap, because they do a little more work than your external hard drive, so you’ll want to choose carefully. We’ve selected the NAS drives that we believe offer the best experience and performance for a variety of use cases, so you can find one that will meet your needs.
TL; DR – Here are the best network storage solutions:
1. Synology DiskStation DS220 +
Better network storage
If you don’t want to mess around with overly complex software or settle for simple hardware, Synology DiskStation DS220 + will let you get up and running with a high-performance yet simple NAS that won’t let you down. DiskStation DS220 + has two drive bays, allowing you to opt for increased storage or a RAID 1 configuration that can protect your data with redundancy. The NAS also has options for its connectivity through two Gigabit LAN ports, enabling higher speeds with Link Aggregation or support for network failover.
Using this NAS is easy thanks to applications and software from Synology. You can configure your NAS to store security camera images, create a media server, or keep files and photos safe and accessible. With a 2.0GHz dual-core processor and 2GB DDR4 RAM built in, DiskStation DS220 + can also run fast, so you can manage files and stream videos smoothly.
2. Synology DS120j
Best low-budget network storage
If you’re looking to start small or have leaner needs, we recommend the Synology DS120j. Firstly, it costs just $ 100, making it the cheapest NAS device on our list. Second, it’s very easy to use, making it a great choice for NAS newbies.
It’s a single bay device, so it’s also more limited than the others on this list. There’s also no hardware-based video transcoding (meaning some files will need to be converted first), nor does it work with Plex. In summary, there are much better options if media streaming is your priority; but for more basic use the DS120j does the job well.
3. Asustor AS5202T
Best network storage for power users
Two drive bays. Two 2.5 GB LAN ports. One 1.0 GHz Intel Celeron J4005 processor. And yes, a steep price tag – but the Asustor AS5202T is perfect for heavy users thanks to its power. The 2 GB of DDR4 RAM can be expanded up to 8 GB, and there is 4 GB of flash memory to play with. Moreover, LAN ports also give you the option of link aggregation for Zippy 5Gb Ethernet.
We also like the Asustor Data Master operating system, which has plenty of apps for media and productivity. The inconvenients? It is very expensive and no reader is included.
4. Synology DiskStation DS1821 +
Best multi-bay network storage
If you’re looking to get a NAS, it’s probably not because you just want a little extra storage that will be readily available for multiple devices. You could probably get away with a USB drive plugged into your router for this. So if you are looking for a decently large storage solution, the Synology DiskStation DS1821 + is. This one comes at a steep price, but you’ll be ready for the future with a lot of scalability.
DiskStation DS1821 + includes eight 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch hard drive or SSD bays, allowing you to amass a sizable storage stack. The drives are also hot-swappable. If you need even more storage, DS1821 + supports expansion units to expand to a total of 18 drive bays. The system is powered by a quad-core AMD Ryzen processor with 4 GB of DDR4 ECC memory expandable to 32 GB. And, there are two M.2 2280 NVMe slots allowing high speed caching. If you need more networking speed down the line, you can also upgrade the unit to support 10 Gigabit Ethernet.
Best network storage for media streaming
If you love media, you’ll want to make sure your NAS plays well with video, music, and pictures. The QNAP TS-251D is such a unit. You will have space for two 3.5 inch drives and installing your drives will not require any tools. Once the readers are loaded, you can fill them with a lot of content. The NAS itself can run a variety of applications, supports hardware decoding and transcoding, and offers Plex integration, making it a great option to set up as a Plex server. The player even has an HDMI port on the rear with support for 4K video output.
You can set up the NAS as is (once you’ve added your storage) and enjoy a fast Intel Celeron processor with 4GB of DDR4 RAM and Gigabit Ethernet speeds, or you have the option of customizing it. You can add more RAM and upgrade storage and networking with a PCIe expansion card that adds M.2 SSD caching and a 10 Gigabit connection.
6. Synology DiskStation DS920 +
Best network storage for RAID configurations
A key benefit of having a NAS is the ability to back up your data. When you want to be more secure, it makes sense to consider using a RAID configuration. Synology DiskStation DS920 + is a great option for both. It has four drive bays, so you can not only load it with storage but also run it with redundancy.
DiskStation DS920 + isn’t just designed for 3.5-inch hard drives. Although these are your primary storage media, the NAS also includes two M.2 2280 NVMe SSD slots. This will allow you to equip the NAS with super fast storage that can act as a cache. You may also want this extra speed, as the NAS has two 1 Gigabit Ethernet ports to support link aggregation or failover.
What to look for in network attached storage
Not everyone needs network storage, but it can be used to cure some network related headaches. Do you and your family / roommates all share the same network? A NAS device allows you to share files with all of these computers from a single central unit. Don’t want to individually back up all of your family’s computers? A NAS device lets you do it all on one drive.
Why are you using it?
If any of the above scenarios resonate with you, a NAS device may be worth considering. If you find yourself in a situation where multiple devices in your home need to access the same tools or files, a NAS device can. So it’s not just about storing things, but also accessing them.
The other reason for a NAS device is that you have a huge media library that you wish you could access from multiple computers / TVs / tablets / etc. You can turn your NAS into a Plex server, so everyone at home has quick access to the same movies, TV shows, and music.
Go without a disk? How many berries?
You will find that most NAS devices come without a disk drive, which means you will have to purchase them separately. There are exceptions to this, however, such as WD My Cloud home network attached storage – which, being manufactured by Western Digital, makes a bit more sense.
But in many cases, NAS manufacturers don’t make hard drives, so they will sell their device without any drives included. You may already have some disk drives, in which case a diskless system is less of a problem, but check the manufacturer’s recommendations as some brands of drives may perform better than others.
Bays are what disk drives come in, so the more bays in the NAS, the more capacity there is potential. In general, two or more berries are best; multimedia systems will often have more.
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Hugh Langley is a technical journalist who is fascinated by clothing, health technologies, the smart home and more. You can find him tweeting (often nonsense) to @hughlangley.