READ ALSO: Using a PC as a NAS file server with FreeNAS
Complete guide to NAS
Before buying a NAS for your network, let’s check what they are the advantages of this type of device, what we need to add to a NAS in order to function correctly (for example create a RAID), and finally the inevitable Buying Guide of the best models available on Amazon.
What is a NAS
The NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a network storage device capable of share storage space between all the devices connected to your router. You can think of the NAS as a large mechanical disk accessible from any device: we can therefore save files, computer backups, and multimedia contents (video, audio, photos, etc.) in this common space knowing that we can access them at any time, even from other computers, smartphones, and tablets.
One or more hard disks can be housed inside the NAS (depending on the models), with the possibility of configuring them in different ways according to needs (as a single storage space or as multiple back-ups via RAID).
Advantages of owning a NAS
The advantages of owning a NAS can be very numerous, especially if you want to replace the fixed PC always on and let it act as a file server (in fact the NAS takes all the functions).
- Sharing files in a common space: as already mentioned before we can save folders and files on the NAS to share them among all the devices connected to the network. If we save a PSD on the NAS we can open it from another computer, from a Mac, or from a smartphone without even having to download it, just access the shared folder of the NAS.
- Download center: once the NAS is configured we can use it to download BitTorrent files. In this way, we avoid leaving a desktop PC on (which consumes a lot in terms of electricity) and we can download safely even for 24 hours continuously, without interruptions. This is possible because all NAS have very low power consumption (around 15-30W at full load, compared to the minimum 300W of a new PC with BitTorrent open).
- Secure backups: if the hard disk of the PC breaks, it is a problem for our personal files, especially if they are important documents. We automatically save important documents and folders on the NAS, taking advantage of the Windows 10 file history.
- Virus immunity: NAS almost always use operating systems based on GNU / Linux, therefore immune to the vast majority of threats present on the network. We can keep files without fear of viruses!
- Media server: All NAS is compatible with the DLNA protocol and we can install advanced media servers such as Plex or Kodi. In this way, all the multimedia contents saved in the memory of the NAS can be seen in streaming from a TV connected to the router or from the PC, complete with posters and information.
- Cloud server: instead of saving the photos taken by the smartphone to a cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox, we can set the NAS as a cloud server and always have maximum control over all your shots, which will remain encrypted and accessible only to us even remotely.
How to set up a NAS
Depending on the number of available slots you can use the disks in different ways, the NAS itself will ask you which method to use to use two or more disks (on models with more than two slots).
- JBOD: in this configuration, the hard disks used in the NAS are used as a single space, without any special precautions. In case of disk failure, we will only lose the files stored on that disk, while those on other disks will continue to function.
- RAID 0: If you have two disks you can use this configuration to logically merge them (two 2TB disks will generate a single 4TB space). If one disc breaks, the other will not be accessible either.
- RAID 1: the ideal solution to have an automatic backup. With this setting, the data is saved on one disk and immediately copied to the other; in the event of a disk failure, we can access the data stored on the other. The total space is equal to the size of a single disk (if we connect two 2TB disks we will always have 2TB usable).
- RAID 5: This configuration is only available if we insert 3 or more disks into the NAS. The data is divided into blocks and saved on all disks to preserve the information. This RAID is ideal for keeping very important documents that we never want to lose. In the event of a disk failure, information can be recovered from one of the other two surviving disks.
- RAID 6: one of the most advanced solutions to merge discs. It is very similar to RAID 5 but it allows to make up for the lack of 2 drives, in fact, to be able to realize it, at least 4 disks are required.
To learn more about the use of RAID, we suggest you read our guide How to combine multiple discs into one.
The hardware of a NAS
A good NAS must be fast enough to dispose of data between all the disks inside. For this reason, we must pay close attention to the list of features to check before buying a NAS.
- CPU: to start streaming movies and manage hardware decoding, we advise you to focus only on models equipped with dual-core CPU (or higher) and dedicated graphics acceleration support.
- RAM: 2 GB is more than enough if we use the NAS to store files, but we intend to use it for streaming we recommend that you focus on models with 4 GB of RAM or higher.
- Ethernet: all NAS has a Gigabit Ethernet port to connect the NAS to the modem or router of the LAN; some models also allow aggregation with two or more Ethernet connections to create a server farm with numerous connected NAS and also offer the new 2.5GbE and 10GbE Ethernet connections.
- USB ports: with these, you can copy on the fly all the contents of a key or an external hard drive by pressing a simple button.
- M.2 cache: on some NAS we can also find slots for M.2 NVMe memory cards, so as to speed up the transfer of files from one computer to another as much as possible (first they will be loaded on the M.2 and then transferred calmly to the disks mechanical).
- HDMI: some NAS has an HDMI port, useful for being able to connect it directly to the TV and take advantage of media centers such as Kodi or Plex.
After seeing some of the advantages of NAS and the features to consider, in this chapter, we will find some affordable models that we can buy online on Amazon (which has more than competitive prices). All the models that I point out to you are within the reach of the home user, without necessarily having to bother the professional models intended for the office; some have no hard drives inside, while others have ready-to-use discs.
The first model that we recommend viewing is the Asustor AS3102T v2, available on Amazon for less than € 300.
On this NAS we find a double bay for 3.5-inch hard drives (not included), 1.6 GHz Dual-Core processor, 2 GB of RAM, personal private cloud, hardware-accelerated Home Media Server, 3 USB 3.1 ports, HDMI port, link aggregation, dedicated system for downloading apps dedicated to NAS and control apps for smartphones and tablets.
If we are looking for another mid-range NAS model we can take a look at the TerraMaster F2-422 2-Bay, available on Amazon for less than € 300.
This NAS features a dual bay for 3.5 inch hard drives (not included), Intel Apollo J3455 Quad-core 1.5GHz processor, 4GB of RAM (expandable up to 8GB), 1 x 10GbE RJ45 port, dual LAN 1GbE with failover and link aggregation support, hardware AES encryption (for shared folder encryption and network data transmission), real-time transcoding of two 4K streaming videos and aluminum case.
Always in the mid-range of the market, we also find the Synology DS220 +, available on Amazon for less than 400 €.
This famous brand of NAS offers for this model a double bay for 3.5-inch disks (not included), 2.0 GHz 2 core processor with Turbo mode (up to 2.9 GHz), advanced multimedia system (with Audio Station, Moments and Video Station), 2 1 GbE LAN ports, automatic synchronization with any operating system and automatic copying of USB sticks inserted in the front port.
The first advanced solution for offices and business environments and immediately ready to use is the QNAP TS-253D-4G, available on Amazon for less than 850 €.
This NAS features dual bays for 3.5-inch mechanical disks included (there are two 4TB Western Digital Reds), dual 2.5GbE ports, PCIe expansion system (to insert Multi-Gig 10GbE or 5GbE, an M.2 NVMe card or SATA SSD), 4K media playback and real-time transcoding, HDMI output and proprietary HBS backup system.
For large companies and for IT environments we must focus on high-end NAS like the Synology DS920 +, available on Amazon for less than € 1100.
This large NAS offers 4 bays for 3.5-inch mechanical disks included (4 x 2TB Seagate IronWolf drives), M.2 2280 NVMe SSD slot for cache acceleration, local multi-user collaboration environment, scalability up to 9 side-by-side drives, and an advanced critical data backup system with Recovery Time Objective (RTO).
Even if NAS remains a very elite device, reserved for companies and those who have to store a large amount of data to share, this does not mean that they cannot find a place even in the home environment, especially for users who care a lot about privacy. and want to create their own personal photo cloud, as also seen in the guide Create a Personal Cloud Server on your PC unlimited and free.
If we don’t want to spend a lot of money on a NAS and its disks, we can always turn an old computer into a file server, as seen in the guide for creating a server in the house to share resources on the internet.