In an age when HD media content is everywhere and most homes have multiple computers and mobile devices, finding a secure and practical way to store all your data can be a challenging task. This is where network attached storage (NAS) drives come in. By providing a central storage hub for all your files and allowing easy access for multiple users, they offer a practical solution to file storage and sharing problems.
The price of a NAS drive usually ranges from around $150 to $650, but high-end models cost more. If you're thinking of buying a NAS drive, our guide will help you understand how these storage devices work and what key factors you need to consider when choosing a NAS drive to suit your needs.
Compare some of the best NAS drives
What is a NAS drive?
A NAS drive is a high-capacity storage unit that connects to all the computers and mobile devices in your home or office via your local network. It can also be accessed over the Internet when you're away from home. While traditional external hard drives must be physically plugged and unplugged when moving files between devices, NAS drives offer a quicker and easier way to store, stream and share files.
NAS drives are typically self-contained units that hold one or more hard drives and allow multiple users to access data. They're quick and easy to set up, and many units allow you to replace their hard drives with larger-capacity models if you need more storage space.
Why should I consider a NAS drive?
There are several reasons why you might want to buy a NAS drive:
Who shouldn't consider a NAS drive?
If you don't have any need to share your files with other users and if your file storage requirements are adequately met by your current set-up, there's probably no reason for you to consider a NAS drive.
Most people who only have one or two computers at home will probably be able to get by using USB drives or even an external hard drive to share and back up files.
NAS drives should not be confused with online cloud storage, which allows you to upload and share files to "the cloud". The cloud refers to a server or network of servers connected to the Internet and it can be accessed from any computer, phone or other electronic device with an Internet connection. Check out our online cloud storage service guide for more info on how to use cloud storage.
What are my main options?
There are two main types of NAS drives:
- Prepopulated drives. These units come with hard disk drives already installed and are most commonly offered by companies that also manufacture hard drives, such as Seagate and Western Digital.
- Unpopulated drives. Also referred to as diskless, these units allow you to insert your own hard drives.
Some NAS drives are available in both prepopulated and unpopulated form. If this is the case, make sure you compare the price difference between the two models to determine whether the included hard drives provide good value for money.
The other main way to distinguish between NAS drives is to consider their storage capacity, which is determined by the number of bays (or slots) it has for hard drives:
- Most home and home-office NAS units have one or two bays. Other multimedia-centric units have four bays including the Synology DS418play.
- Models designed for business use tend to have four or more bays.
The number of bays is important because NAS units with two or more drives allow you to create a more effective redundant array of independent disks (RAID). This basically means merging all the hard drives in your array into one logical unit, allowing you to protect your data in case of drive failure and also enjoy performance benefits.
For example, let's say you have a two-bay unit with two 2TB drives. By mirroring the contents of one drive to another, you ensure that your data remains safe and accessible even if one of the drives fails. However, this configuration (known as RAID 1) means your unit only has 2TB of space available, not 4TB.
How to compare NAS drives
When choosing a NAS drive, you'll need to consider your file storage and sharing needs both now and into the future. By comparing the storage capacity, ease of use and connectivity of the units in your price range, you'll be able to buy a NAS drive that meets your requirements. Make sure you consider:
Which NAS drive is best for me?
The best NAS drive for one person may be completely inadequate for another, as the product you choose will be determined by your own personal circumstances. You'll need to consider why you need a NAS drive, the ease of use of the available products and your budget to decide which product is right for you.
To help make your choice easier, check out the best and worst aspects of five popular NAS drives in the table below:
|The good||The bad|
|Seagate Personal Cloud||
|Western Digital My Cloud Personal||
|Apple AirPort Time Capsule||
Choosing hard drives for your NAS unit
If you buy a unit that doesn't include built-in hard drives, you'll need to shop around to find suitable hard drives. However, don't assume that you can just go out and buy any old drive.
Many hard drive manufacturers offer NAS-optimised hard disk drives. While they cost more than normal hard drives, they've typically been designed to run 24/7. NAS-optimised drives feature special firmware to improve long-term reliability, reduce operating temperatures and offer better performance.
Some also come with an extended warranty, but just make sure you check your NAS unit's list of compatible hard drives (if such a list exists) before you buy.
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