hat is a NAS Storage, what is it for and how much does it cost to have a server as a shared storage space on the network
When we need to keep a large number of files and documents between different PCs, it is convenient to have a common space at hand , which all computers can access and effectively store data without having to leave PCs with Windows or Macs always on (consuming a lot of electricity). This common storage space on the LAN is called a NAS, a network device capable of hosting large mechanical disks (at least 2TB) and making them available as shared network folders for all computers and other devices on the network.
In this guide we will therefore see what we can do with a NAS , what it means to have one even in the home environment (even if we get the best in offices and business environments) and the best models to buy without spending a fortune , also because professional models can cost a lot, especially those that can accommodate many mechanical discs.
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 are the advantages of this type of device , what we need to add to a NAS in order to work properly (for example create a RAID) and finally the inevitable guide to buying the best models available on Amazon.
What is a NAS
NAS ( Network Attached Storage ) is a network storage device capable of sharing a 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 a multiple backup via RAID).
Advantages of owning a NAS
The advantages of owning a NAS can be really numerous, especially if you want to replace the fixed PC that is 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 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).
- Safe backups: if your PC’s hard drive breaks, it’s 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 .
- Immunity to viruses: NAS almost always use operating systems based on GNU / Linux, therefore immune to the vast majority of threats on the network. We can keep files without fear of viruses!
- Media server: all NAS are compatible with the DLNA protocol and we can install advanced media servers such as Plex or Kodi on them . In this way, all the multimedia contents saved in the NAS memory can be streamed 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 on a cloud service such as 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 from remote.
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 present 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 for merging disks. It is very similar to RAID 5, however, it allows you to make up for the lack of 2 drives, in fact, at least 4 disks are required to achieve it.
To learn more about the use of RAID, we suggest you read our guide How to combine multiple disks 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 have a Gigabit Ethernet port to connect the NAS to the modem or router on 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 all the contents of a stick or external hard drive on the fly by pressing a simple button.
- 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 (first they will be loaded on the M.2 and then transferred calmly on the mechanical discs).
- HDMI: some NAS have 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 having seen 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 do not have hard drives inside , while others have ready-to-use drives.
The first model that we recommend you to view 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.
Also 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 IT environments we must focus on high-end NAS such as 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 IronWolf Seagate 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 remain very elite devices, 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 about privacy. and want to create their own personal cloud of photos, as also seen in the guide Create a personal Cloud Server on the PC unlimited and free .