NAS drive buying guide

How to choose the best network attached storage for your computer

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

Data obtained December 2018. Prices are subject to change and should be used only as a general guide.
Name Product Average price (AUD) Capacity Interface Compatible OS Purchase today
WD My Cloud Personal
WD My Cloud Personal
$229
2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB
USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Windows 7-10, Mac OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, Mavericks, Mountain Lion
The Western Digital My Cloud Personal can be accessed remotely and automatically backs up computers and other devices.
Synology DiskStation DS115j
Synology DiskStation DS115j
$181
16TB
2 x USB 2.0, Gigabit ethernet
iOS, Mac OS, Android, Windows
A powerful 2-bay NAS unit that will let you stream media files around the home easily.
Asustor AS3202T
Asustor AS3202T
$433.63
N/A
3 x USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7-10, Windows Server 2003-2012, Mac OS X 10.6 or later, UNIX, Linux, BSD
The Asustor AS3202T has HDMI output capabilities and offers users fast graphic processing speeds.
Buffalo LinkStation LS220D
Buffalo LinkStation LS220D
$440.99
2TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB
USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Windows Vista, Windows 7-10, Mac OS X 10.6-10.10
The Buffalo LinkStation LS220D has two bays, can be set up via smartphone and holds data for up to five computers.
Asustor AS1004T
Asustor AS1004T
$445.01
N/A
2 x USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7-10, Windows Server 2003-2012, Mac OS X 10.6 or later, UNIX, Linux, BSD
The Asustor AS1004T consumes energy efficiently and has space to install up to four 10TB hard disks.
Promise Apollo
Promise Apollo
$562.58
2TB, 4TB
USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet
iOS, Mac OS, Android, Windows
The Promise Apollo syncs automatically with Dropbox and Google Drive using Cloud functions and can be managed via smartphone.
QNAP TS‌-253B
QNAP TS‌-253B
$874.25
N/A
USB 3.0, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet
Mac OS 10.7 or later, Linux, UNIX, Windows 7-10, Windows Server 2003-2016
The QNAP TS-253B has a built-in PCIe port that serves as an expansion pack for an array of storage options.
Seagate Personal Cloud
Seagate Personal Cloud
$881.30
3TB, 4TB, 5TB
Gigabit Ethernet
Windows 7-8, Windows Vista, Mac OS X 10.7 or later
The Seagate Personal Cloud comes with an Ethernet cable and direct streaming capabilities.
WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra
WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra
$1,089
4TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB, 20TB
Gigabit Ethernet
Windows 7-10, Mac OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, Mavericks, Mountain Lion
The Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra allows you to categorise your data into public or private folders for easier access or increased security.
WD My Cloud Pro Series PR2100
WD My Cloud Pro Series PR2100
$2,025.15
4TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB, 20TB
Gigabit Ethernet x2
Windows, Mac
The Western Digital My Cloud Pro Series PR2100 offers one touch copying and automatically streams media in the correct format.
Apple AirPort Time Capsule
Apple AirPort Time Capsule
$429.53
2TB, 3TB
USB 2.0, 3 x Gigabit Ethernet
Mac with OS X Lion v10.7.5 or later and AirPort Utility 6.3, iOS device with iOS 6 or later and AirPort Utility 1.3
The Apple AirPort Time Capsule is compatible with other Apple software and can serve as a Wi-Fi base station.

Compare up to 4 providers

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 vs cloud storage

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.

Storage

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
  • Easy to set up and use
  • User-friendly companion app
  • Lacks some advanced features of other drives
  • A little slow
Western Digital My Cloud Personal
  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Fast performance
  • Only one drive means limited data redundancy
  • Some minor software issues
Apple AirPort Time Capsule
  • Fast performance
  • Also a Wi-Fi base station
  • Lacks advanced features
  • Has been discontinued but is still selling while supplies last
Asustor AS3202T
  • Fast quad-core processor
  • Wide range of handy apps
  • Decent value for money
  • Most services need to be downloaded and installed
  • Must remove case to change HDDs
Promise Apollo
  • Simple and straightforward to set up and use
  • Quiet operation
  • Performance is a little slow
  • Must use companion app to access data

Choosing hard drives for your NAS unit

NAS hard drives

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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