NAS Buyers Guide

Network Attached Storage – Buyers Guide

Why Get A NAS?

If you’re like most people you probably have multiple computers, laptops, and mobile devices in your home. As a result, your most important data files, music, photos, and videos are scattered across several devices in a chaotic manner. If that’s the case, most of that data can only be accessed by whoever owns or frequents the device it’s on. If something happens to that device the data is gone.

NAS system in use

If you’re a parent you may have things on your network you don’t want your kids to have access to. If you live alone you probably have most of your data spread across multiple devices with no centralized system of organization or backups.

That’s where a NAS device comes in. A NAS provides a central storage area to organize, share, and back up your most valuable data, music, photo, and video files. You can use permissions and policies to set up file shares that can only be accessed by certain members of your family.

Once everything is set up you’ll have peace of mind knowing all your most important data secure, easy to find, and is being backed up regularly. You’ll be able to find anything you’re looking for from any device in your home and even devices away from home if you so desire.

A home network can be awesome without a NAS but any home network with a NAS is an Awesome Home Network.

Redundancy

Another big advantage of using a NAS device for backups is “redundancy.” Most NAS devices have multiple hard drives and use a special hard disk configuration called RAID. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.”

RAID can be used to expand the storage space of several smaller drives into one larger disk. This is called RAID 0. RAID 0 maximizes space and improves performance but it’s not recommended if you’re concerned about redundancy. If a RAID 0 disk fails it takes all your data with it because it was being shared by both drives.

RAID 1 is also known as mirroring. It makes an exact duplicate of one drive on the other drive so if one fails you still have your data on the other drive. If the drive bay is “hot-swappable” getting your RAID configuration back is a simple matter of sliding the old drive out and another drive back in.

The thing to know about RAID 1 is it cuts your hard drive space in half. If you have two 4TB drives in your NAS set up in RAID 1 your total disk space is 4TB and not 8TB. I get into more detail about RAID and how to set it up on a Synology NAS in my Free eBook.

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What Can You Do With A NAS?

Before getting just any NAS device it’s important to decide what you plan on doing with one first. After exploring all the capabilities of your new NAS you may decide you want to do “everything” with it including washing the dishes. It’s easy to get carried away with one of these devices.

That’s OK because most NAS devices can multi-task and aren’t tied down to a specific function. Still, it’s important to understand which features are most important to your priorities and budget. The most popular uses for a Network Attached Store Device are:

Backups

Things happen in this world and unfortunately, some of those things are computer crashes and hard drive failures. Most of us have some sort of cloud storage these days but is that the perfect solution? Do you really want your most personal data “out there” with everyone else?

Many of us have a LOT of files and the more files you have the more you have to pay for a cloud storage server per month. A NAS is a perfect way to store back up ALL your data on a scheduled basis. Many NAS devices come with excellent programs for backing up personal or business data. You can also use the backup software that comes with Windows to back up to your NAS.

Personal Cloud

Most of us use some sort of cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox to store files and sync them to our computers. The problem is they charge a monthly fee when your files take up too much space on their servers.

Some NAS devices have applications that allow them to become cloud servers in your own home. Synology calls its cloud application Cloud Station. It works with Cloud Station Drive to create an environment for you to store your files and folders and sync them with all your computers just like Google Drive or Dropbox.

You can also sync your Synology Cloud Server with other Synology Cloud servers and access your files from across the Internet using a web browser.

File Sharing

With a NAS you can give your My Documents folder and assorted shortcuts on your desktop a break and put it all on your NAS in an organized folder structure that’s easy to navigate from any computer.

You can set up your own categories in a centralized location and set up accounts to give certain people specific levels of access to certain folders.

Maybe you don’t mind your kids viewing certain documents and photos but with a NAS you can prevent them from accidentally deleting them or dumping their own files in that folder.

Multimedia Player

Most NAS devices come with some sort of multimedia software package. Even without one, a NAS that supports DNLA can be used with whatever multimedia players you have on your computers and laptops. Simply point at the file you want and click on it.

Things change when you try to do the same thing with phones and other mobile devices. Many times a mobile device cannot play a certain file format or the file is too big. That’s where “transcoding” comes in.

Transcoding automatically changes a file on your NAS to a format that works on your mobile device. If this is important to you look for a NAS that has a processor that contains a “Hardware Transcoding Engine.” This will take the load off the processor when transcoding files and keep your processor from being overloaded.

Plex is a popular web browser-based multimedia software you can use to categorize and organize your favorite multimedia files. It’s a little work to get set up but once it’s done you’ll be able to sort your favorite movies, videos, music, and photos but category, date, and genre.

A Plex installation also includes an online account you can use to easily access your music, photo, and video libraries from anywhere. Not all NAS devices support Plex. If you’re getting a Synology NAS check this list to make sure it supports Plex.

Storage

If you’re using a NAS for a home business or small business purposes storage space becomes extremely important. I remember an IT job I had where some of the employees were complaining that the server I was purchasing was overkill and a waste of money. They thought there was no way we would ever need that amount of hard drive space.

Three years later the server’s hard drives were full and we were scrambling around trying to find duplicate files to delete because replacing RAIDed hard drives with larger ones is not an easy upgrade.

If you’re in the video or photography business you already know how big those files can get and how they eat up storage space. 

To future-proof yourself, it’s best to get a NAS with four or more drive bays. You don’t have to use them all at once but you’ll be able to add drives later fairly easily. At the very least you want an expandable two-bay or four-bay NAS that allows you to connect expansion bays later.

Top 5 NAS Systems

1. Synology DiskStation DS220+

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Synology 2 Bay NAS DiskStation DS220+ (Diskless)

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Synology DS220 and its predecessor the DS218 are both similar in appearance, which is great because the model DS218 is an attractive NAS device. It has an easy front cover for quick access to both built-in hard drives. Drives slide in along with simple hot-swap capability.

The newer NAS is slightly better and costs less to purchase than the so-called “legacy NAS.” Despite this, both Synology NAS devices are a great buy. Strong performance at an affordable cost, combined with its reputation and a vast selection of apps that enable you to perform absolutely any network function you can imagine.

Synology DiskStation DS220+ Full Review

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Synology DiskStation DS220+NAS Device Review
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Design and Features The Synology DiskStation DS220+ is almost identical in appearance to the DS218+ and that’s a good thing because the DS218+ is a nice-looking device – as far as NAS devices …

2. Synology DiskStation DS418

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Synology 4 bay NAS DiskStation DS418 (Diskless)

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Designed to be both flexible and scalable, the Synology DS418 NAS comes with numerous storage features and is compatible with other Synology NAS devices.

The Synology DS418 NAS is more suitable for home use than a SOHO NAS. It is ideal for a small office, as it offers powerful performance, security, and storage capacity. Policies and user permissions can be set and its built-in encryption features, antivirus, and SSL options make it a popular choice for IT pros.

Synology DiskStation DS418 Full Review

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The Synology DS418 NAS is perfect for small businesses or home users who want to set up a centralized storage solution. It offers high performance and reliability, making it ideal for hosting …

3. Synology DiskStation DS220j

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Synology 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS220j (Diskless), 2-bay; 512MB DDR4

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The Synology DS220j is designed to be an affordable RAID 5 storage device that is especially great for home businesses and home users. It’s furnished with 2GB of DDR3 memory and SATA 6Gb s hard drives, providing it with a large storage capacity.

The DS220j is a great NAS device for home use. It excels at local and network file sharing, backups, and streaming multimedia files that will successfully be played using the SMB protocol. The $180 NAS device emphasizes greater efficiency and more affordable hardware.

Synology DiskStation DS220j Full Review

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Synology DiskStation DS220j NAS Device Review
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Synology DiskStation DS220j is an affordable Synology NAS server that offers great performance for small and medium-sized businesses. It supports up to 4 disks and has a sleek, simple design. …

4. Asustor AS4002T

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Asustor AS4002T | Network Attached Storage + Free exFAT License | Personal...

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The old Asus diamond pattern has been replaced with a pleasing hexagonal design, which is more attractive to the eye. The cover can be removed by magnets located on the front cover and case. The tool-free and hot-swappable drive bays are very convenient. The drive bays simply slide in and out by turning the handle so they plug into the enclosure.

The ASUS NAS lives up to the reputation of the brand in performance and design. You can find many ASUS and third-party applications to keep you engaged in the evolution of your home network. Tool-less installation and the CD are nice touches. If you’re a home user looking for fast file transfer capabilities, backups, file sharing, and can live without PLEX.

Asustor AS4002T Full Review

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Asustor AS4002T NAS Alternatives Asustor AS4002T NAS Design The old Asus diamond pattern has been replaced with a sharp hexagonal design that’s pleasing to the eye. The front cover can …

5. Buffalo Linkstation 220

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BUFFALO LinkStation 220 4TB 2-Bay NAS Network Attached Storage with HDD Hard...

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The LinkStation 220, otherwise known as a BUFFALO LinkStation, goes for basic or bare bones. The LinkStation is a simple, square black box. You don’t even realize how you are a computer networking device that you would then turn around to realize the back of the device, which only has basic things like an Ethernet port, USB port, fan, and an on-off button.

This NAS might not have all of the bells and whistles of another NAS, but it has everything you need. However, if you’re in the market for a NAS with great security features and a quick setup time, this is a good option for you.

Buffalo Linkstation 220 Full Review

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BUFFALO LinkStation 220 NAS Device Review
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Design Everything about the BUFFALO LinkStation 220 is “basic” or maybe “bare bones” is a better term. The LinkStation is a basic, square black box. You don’t even know you’re looking at a …

A Word About Transcoding – OK More Than One

Anytime you get near a group of computer enthusiasts bragging about their Plex servers you’re likely to hear the word “transcoding” dropped a few times. It’s a big topic that’s important to understand when choosing a NAS server to run Plex so allow me to condense and simplify it as much as possible.

Desktop PCs generally have the power and capability to playback any media file you store on your NAS. Mobile devices generally have less processor power and can struggle while playing back large media files that require higher resolution than they are capable of.

Transforming a media file from a format that PCs and laptops prefer to a format a mobile device prefers is called “transcoding.” Transcoding performs this transformation on the fly with no intervention from you. It’s pretty amazing technology. Still, there are things you need to be aware of. There are two main types of transcoding.

1. Hardware-based transcoding. Some processors have a special “hardware transcoding engine” built into them. This offloads the work of transcoding files from the main processor to the hardware transcoder. In Intel processors, this special capability is called “Quicksync”

2. Software-based transcoding. If a hardware transcoding engine is not available 3rd party software like Plex can emulate what a transcoding engine would normally do. Unfortunately, all this extra work is done by the processor and can cause your device to slow down considerably.

By far the preferred way to go is hardware transcoding. Always check the specs of the NAS device you’re looking into and make sure there is something along the lines of “10-bit H.265” in the Hardware Transcoding Engine column.

I’d like to end this section here, but unfortunately, there’s a major caveat. Plex will not “activate” the Hardware Transcoding Engine on your NAS unless you purchase a special “Plex Pass.” That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to transcode at all. Your NAS will just have to use more CPU power to do it natively – a lot more. Don’t be too alarmed though. For the most part, major transcoding is not needed until you start watching large 4K files on mobile devices while away from home. As long as you’re on your home network you should be able to transcode to any relatively new device with no problems.

Buzzwords You Should Know

Array

An Array Is the total size of the physical hard drives in a volume. For example, if you have two 2GB drives set up as RAID 1 (Mirrored) The size of the array is the total of both physical hard drives (4GB.) The size of the volume is what is seen by the operating system which in this case is 2GB.

Plex

Plex is a browser-based program that gives you a convenient user-friendly way to store, access, and categorize all your multimedia content. It’s an application that can be accessed almost anywhere with an internet connection and on many different types of devices.

Transcoding

The process of converting the format and size of multimedia files on a source device to a size and format that’s compatible with the target device. This allows HD content to find its way to many more client devices even in low bandwidth situations.

Volume

A Volume is a series of hard drives set up in a RAID array that appears to be a single virtual drive to the operating system. For example, four 2GB hard drives in a RAID 0 array will appear as a single 8GB hard drive to the operating system.

RAID

RAID is a technology used to increase fault tolerance, improve performance, and increase storage capacity by combining a series of hard drives with a specific RAID configuration.

RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent/Inexpensive Disks. It’s a technology that allows data to be stored across multiple hard drives (Striped) or duplicated on multiple hard drives (Mirroring) or creating a cross-section of data that can be used to regenerate the data on a failed drive (Parity.)

RAID 0 is known as Striping. RAID 1 is known as mirroring. RAID 5 is striping with parity. There are other types of RAID but they are generally a combination of those three.

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Jerry Jones (WiFi Guy) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” – Jerry Jones

Affiliate Disclosure

Jerry Jones (WiFi Guy) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

“As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.” – Jerry Jones

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