The best NAS drives for 2017/2018
NAS drives are like cloud storage: you can access all your files from anywhere, both inside and outside of your home or office. You can use them to store and play your music and video collections, as well as documents and other files.
NAS drive buyer’s guide
NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. It enables you to have a large amount of storage connected directly to your broadband router.
This storage is therefore available to all your devices. NAS drives are designed to be turned on permanently, which means you can have access to your music, movies, photos and documents at all times. Most have timers so you can set them to turn on and off during the hours you want.
One of the most popular reasons to buy an NAS drive is for media playback. Videos can be viewed on your TV, without having to connect a computer.
A NAS drive will use much less power than a regular PC, too, making it much cheaper to run. For ease of setup and ease of use, a dedicated NAS drive is hard to beat.
What capacity do I need?
The first requirement is capacity.
You’ll need one that has enough storage to meet your needs now and in the future. Plenty of NAS drives come with no disks at all – these are known as diskless or bare drives. The advantage is that you can choose the drives you want and how much capacity you need.
You can now get disks up to 10TB is size, though for you’ll be paying at least GBP400 or so for the privilege.
4TB disks are arguably the current sweet spot, at around GBP120.
Disks for NAS drives
When you choose your disks, look for ones that have been designed to work specifically with NAS boxes. NAS-optimised features include more secure construction providing more resistance to vibration, which makes a lot of sense for a drive that’s designed to be on the whole time. They also offer power management so they can adjust performance based on their temperature.
These drives also offer special features in firmware known by WD as TLER (Time-Limited Error Recovery) and by Samsung and Hitachi as command completion time limit (CCTL). This optimises the error correction for drives when they are installed in a RAID array (explained below) as is usually the case with NAS drives.
What is RAID?
RAID stands for redundant array of inexpensive disks. RAID can be quite complex but at a basic level you’ll want to use it primarily to provide redundancy so if a disk fails your data is still safe.
Three of the most popular variants are RAID 1, 5 and 6. Most NAS drives will offer at least two bays, which means that you can set them up as RAID 1. In this scenario the second drive is a mirror of the first, so if one drive fails completely all your data is safe on the other.
You can then replace the faulty disk, and rebuild the RAID array. RAID 5 requires at least three drives and offers parity data. That means a RAID 5 array can withstand a single drive failure without losing data or access to data.
As data is ‘striped’ across three drives, reads are fast, but at the expensive of slower writes because of having to also write the parity data.
RAID 6 meanwhile requires four drives but offers both striped and dual parity, so two drives could fail and the RAID could still recover. Whichever you choose however, don’t consider RAID to be your only backup of your data. If the box just dies, or if something catastrophic happens like a fire, you’ll still lose all your data.
To mitigate this you’ll want another external backup, preferably to the cloud.
Hot-swap capability enables you to take out or add a drive without having to power down first, which could be important if you’re running business applications off your NAS and want to maintain uptime.
Consider whether you’ll need remote access to the drive. Previously this required signing up to a third-party DNS service, but these days with most NAS drives you can just sign up for an account with the manufacturer as you set up the drive. Log into the account and they’ll handle the connectivity to your box at home.
How powerful does your NAS’s processor need to be?
The dedicated OSes that NAS drives run are lightweight, but a faster processor and more memory will enable features such as transcoding. This means that any media files can be converted on the fly into a format that’s playable by your TV or set-top box, so you don’t have to worry if it can’t play the file as it exists on your NAS.
Best NAS drives to buy in 2017/2018
The 216+II is a very good choice for home or small business use. Installing hard disks is simple, and the software is great.
There’s a huge range of applications to choose from and plenty of horsepower to run them, too.
However, if you like the idea of direct hook up via HDMI you may be swayed by the slightly pricier QNAP TS-251A.
Synology wants to repeat the success of the DS416j without treading on the toes of other products in the range. For almost the same price the DS418j offers more CPU performance, RAM, more USB 3.0 ports, larger drives and volume sizes.
We like the Asustor AS1004T for its ease of installation, it’s relatively quiet operation in normal use and its decent performance.
It isn’t fast enough for hardware transcoding though, so you’ll need native support for all your files on all your client devices. Where it trumps the completion is that it offers a four-bay chassis where some offer only two. If storage rather than performance is the priority then, it’s a great choice and while the ADM interface isn’t as accomplished looking as some of its rivals it’s got the apps you’ll likely need.
The QNAP is an undoubtedly impressive NAS drive.
There’s plenty of power for virtually all tasks, and H.265 aside it will handle anything you throw at it. The range of apps is very comprehensive and the interface is excellent. The downside is the lack of support for MKV from its native app, which will mean having to pay for Plex to play files on mobile devices.
The unit was also noisier than we would have liked in operation and while it’s good value – it’s not cheap. If you’re willing to stretch to paying this much for a diskless system, the QNAP TS-251A is the best featured NAS drive at the price.
When it comes to ease of use the WE My Cloud Mirror is hard to beat. Initial setup is very easy and even sorting our remote access is simple too.
For sharing music, movies, photos and documents it works a treat and performance is fine. The downside is that you don’t get the huge range of apps that are available for other brands. However, if you prioritise ease of set up and ease of use the WD is worth looking at and with 4 TB of storage included for the price, it’s a great value option.
Synology has made headlines with its new cut-price DS115j, and its recommended retail price of just GBP78.
The performance has also been cut, along with useful features like USB 3.0, but if you need these the DS114 is still in the range for around GBP140. And if you really would rather not spend that, the cheaper DS115j will take on basic storage tasks, and still perform faster than some more expensive competition.
The design and styling of the hardware in the My Cloud Home is top-notch, with all its issues lying in the software components provided for it. The underlying platform is a solid one for which WD hardware engineers should be proud, and the software team needs to better support.?
The My Cloud Home can provide DLNA storage to access with a smart TV or a personal cloud solution, but those that want more should consider Synology, QNAP or the higher-end WD My Cloud products.
The Netgear’s physical design is very impressive, but a few issues mean it lacks the appeal of drives we’ve tested from QNAP and Synology. In particular the interface for installing and using apps isn’t the best we’ve seen, nor is the range of choices.
Performance is good, but the ARM processor doesn’t quite have chops to handle 4K transcoding. It’s a good NAS, but only if you can find it cheaper than the competition.
The 216play will likely be a disappointment to 214play owners wondering about an upgrade.
It makes sense only if you have – or will soon have – lots of 4K content that you need to transcode on the fly.
Its performance is good, but if you don’t need real-time transcoding, you may want to opt for a different DiskStation (or indeed another NAS entirely) which has the extra ports and SD slot which the 216play lacks.
The WD My Cloud EX2 has a few minor faults, but it’s easy to use and provides good performance and reliability at an attractive price.
There are more sophisticated NAS drives available for larger businesses, but the EX2 provides all the features that home users and small businesses are likely to need, and presents them in a straightforward manner that will appeal to people who might not have used a NAS drive before.
- ^ Read full review for Synology 216+II NAS (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Synology 216+II NAS review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for Synology DiskStation DS418j (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Synology DiskStation DS418j review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for Asustor AS1004T (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Asustor AS1004T review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for QNAP TS 251A (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ QNAP TS 251A review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for WD My Cloud Mirror 4TB (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ WD My Cloud Mirror 4TB review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for Synology DS115j (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Synology DS115j review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for WD My Cloud Home (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ WD My Cloud Home review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for Netgear ReadyNAS RN212 (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Netgear ReadyNAS RN212 review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for Synology DiskStation DS216play (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Synology DiskStation DS216play review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ Read full review for WD My Cloud EX2 (www.techadvisor.co.uk)
- ^ WD My Cloud EX2 review (www.techadvisor.co.uk)