Best NAS drive

A NAS drive that pro­vides shared stor­age are ideal for homes that own mul­ti­ple de­vices. Cliff Joseph looks at your op­tions

Macworld - - BUYING GUIDE -

One of the great unsung fea­tures of the macOS is Time Ma­chine, the soft­ware that sits in­side your Sys­tem Pref­er­ences panel and qui­etly per­forms an au­to­matic backup of the en­tire con­tents of your Mac’s hard disk ev­ery hour, on the hour.

If you ac­ci­den­tally delete a file you can just go back and check out all the pre­vi­ous ver­sions of that

file that you backed up in the past. And if your Mac starts be­hav­ing oddly and you think you might have been in­fected by some sort of virus or mal­ware then you can just re­boot your Mac and use Time Ma­chine to re­store the en­tire macOS to an ear­lier, un­tar­nished state.

But, of course, in or­der to use Time Ma­chine you do need to have an ex­ter­nal hard drive con­nected to your Mac that can store all your old backup files. Hard drives are pretty cheap these days, but as we all start to own more and more desk­top com­put­ers, lap­tops and mo­bile de­vices, it starts to be­come both ex­pen­sive and rather im­prac­ti­cal to buy a sep­a­rate backup drive for ev­ery sin­gle de­vice in our home or of­fice.

The an­swer to this prob­lem is a NAS drive.

Ad­van­tages

Rather than con­nect­ing your hard drive to a USB or Thun­der­bolt port on a sin­gle Mac, a NAS drive (NAS stand­ing for net­work-at­tached stor­age) can be con­nected to an Eth­er­net port on the net­work router in your home or of­fice net­work, and the stor­age space on the drive can then be shared by every­one that has ac­cess to your net­work.

Early NAS drives were ex­pen­sive and com­pli­cated, and were mostly used by large or­ga­ni­za­tions that needed a cen­tral backup de­vice that could be used by mul­ti­ple em­ploy­ees. But most homes these days now have their own Wi-Fi net­works, which are shared by sev­eral peo­ple who of­ten own mul­ti­ple de­vices. This means that

a shared NAS drive now makes sense for many home users as well.

NAS drive fea­tures to look for

Time Ma­chine sup­port

Most NAS drives are ‘Mac-com­pat­i­ble’ – but not all of them are what we might call ‘Mac-friendly’. For in­stance, not all NAS drives will al­low you to use Time Ma­chine to make back­ups over the net­work, so sup­port for Time Ma­chine is a key fea­ture that you should check on when think­ing about buy­ing a NAS drive for use with one or more Macs.

User ac­counts and shar­ing

An­other im­por­tant fea­ture is the abil­ity to cre­ate

in­di­vid­ual user ac­counts, so that each per­son in

your home or of­fice can have their own pri­vate area

on the NAS drive for stor­ing their per­sonal files.

And, at the same time, it’s also handy to cre­ate ‘shares’, which are like pub­lic fold­ers that can be shared by every­one – per­haps for stor­ing mu­sic or pho­tos for the whole fam­ily.

Most NAS drives will let you do this, but you may need a bit of net­work know-how to fig­ure out how each drive han­dles this process (and some drives, such as Ap­ple’s own Time Cap­sule, just ig­nore this side of things al­to­gether and sim­ply fo­cus on the ba­sic task of han­dling Time Ma­chine back­ups).

Mo­bile de­vice sup­port

And, of course, you’ll also want to check that your new NAS drive pro­vides an iOS app for your iPhone or iPad. Most of us now tend to use iCloud for back­ing up pho­tos, videos and other files from our iOS de­vices, but it can give you ex­tra peace of mind to know that you’ve got a spare backup on your NAS drive in case any­thing goes wrong.

A good NAS drive will also let you share your pho­tos and videos with other peo­ple by stream­ing them to mo­bile de­vices over your net­work, or pos­si­bly even pro­vide a re­mote ac­cess op­tion that al­lows you to re­trieve files over the In­ter­net when you’re away from home (a fea­ture that man­u­fac­tur­ers of­ten re­fer to as a ‘per­sonal cloud’).

File stream­ing

Many peo­ple also use their NAS drive as a kind of cen­tral me­dia server for their home, per­haps stream­ing mu­sic and videos to a games con­sole

that is con­nected to their TV in the front room. Mac

users should check to see if a NAS drive can stream

files to an Ap­ple TV, or act as an ‘iTunes server’,

stor­ing your iTunes mu­sic li­brary on the NAS drive

so that it can stream mu­sic to ev­ery Mac or iOS

de­vice on the net­work.

De­cid­ing on stor­age

That’s some­thing you’ll need to de­cide for your­self, but it’s worth men­tion­ing that some NAS drives are more flex­i­ble on this point than oth­ers.

Some of the less ex­pen­sive NAS drives are sold with a built-in hard drive – gen­er­ally at least 2TB – but the hard drive is fixed and can’t be re­placed once it’s full (al­though the NAS drive may have a USB port that lets you con­nect a con­ven­tional USB hard drive in or­der to add some ex­tra stor­age). This is the sim­plest op­tion, favoured by most home users and small busi­nesses, as it means you can just un­pack the NAS drive and con­nect it to your router to get started.

The un­pop­u­lated op­tion

How­ever, many NAS drives are sold ‘un­pop­u­lated’

– with­out any in­ter­nal hard drives al­ready in­stalled

– and sim­ply pro­vide two or more empty drive bays

into which you insert your own choice of hard drives.

This op­tion is more ex­pen­sive, but it al­lows you

to cus­tom­ize the NAS by buy­ing your own hard in

or­der to pro­vide as much stor­age as you need. And,

if you run out of stor­age space, you can just take

out the old drives and insert new, larger drives in

the fu­ture. This type of NAS drive gen­er­ally also of­fers a num­ber of ‘RAID’ op­tions – this stands for ‘re­dun­dant ar­ray of in­de­pen­dent disks’ – which use mul­ti­ple hard drives to pro­vide ad­di­tional per­for­mance and data pro­tec­tion.

1. WD My Cloud Home

Price: £144.99 (2TB), £189.99 (4TB) from fave.co/2pN9xxY

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to West­ern Dig­i­tal’s My Cloud range, with sev­eral mod­els avail­able for home users and small busi­nesses, as well as a num­ber of Ex­pert and Pro mod­els for larger or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The orig­i­nal sin­gle-drive My Cloud is get­ting a bit old now, but it’s still around and starts at just £125 (fave.co/2pNP2kT) with 2TB of stor­age. How­ever, you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter off get­ting the newer My Cloud Home model shown here, which is a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive, but is faster and pro­vides a few ad­di­tional fea­tures, such as sup­port for the Plex Me­dia Server soft­ware (al­though that’s prob­a­bly not a must-have fea­ture for Mac users).

The sin­gle-drive ver­sion of the My Cloud Home that we re­view here costs £145 with 2TB of stor­age, go­ing up to £290 with 8TB, which should be more than

enough for most homes, as well as small of­fices and self-em­ployed users. The slimline white-and-sil­ver unit is neatly de­signed, and only mea­sures 2in wide, so it’ll sit eas­ily on your desk, or on a shelf close to your router with­out tak­ing up too much space.

There’s also a larger dual-drive model, called the My Cloud Home Duo, which houses two match­ing drives and costs up to £600 with a pair of 8TB drives (for 16TB to­tal). That pro­vides RAID 1 mir­ror­ing for ex­tra data pro­tec­tion, but if you want more so­phis­ti­cated RAID fea­tures, as well as the abil­ity to in­stall and re­move drives your­self, then you’ll need to step up to the My Cloud Ex­pert (£144 from fave.co/2IcDq1x) or My Cloud Pro (£341 from fave.co/2pO5ZMc) mod­els.

WD al­ways does a good job with Mac sup­port, and the My Cloud Home is no ex­cep­tion, with apps that han­dle a range of tasks quickly and eas­ily. The iOS app can per­form au­to­matic back­ups of your pho­tos and videos, while the Mac app lets you use Time Ma­chine for your back­ups (and there are Mac and Win­dows ver­sions of the apps avail­able, too).

There are some nice touches too, such as the abil­ity to right-click a folder on your Mac and au­to­mat­i­cally sync the con­tents of that folder onto the My Cloud Home. That will be handy for peo­ple who want an ex­tra backup of their cur­rent work files or projects in ad­di­tion to the ba­sic Time Ma­chine backup. You can also right-click any file that is stored on the My Cloud Home and send a down­load link in or­der to quickly share that file with friends or col­leagues.

And, if you also use an on­line backup ser­vice, such as Drop­box, then you can sync the con­tents of your Drop­box ac­count onto the My Cloud Home too. You can even back up pho­tos and al­bums from Face­book on to the drive for safe­keep­ing if you want to.

There are a cou­ple of rough edges, though. You can’t sim­ply dou­ble-click the drive’s icon on the Mac desk­top in or­der to open the drive and then drag-and-drop to copy fold­ers or files onto the drive. For some rea­son you have to open the app’s pull-down menu and view the con­tents of the drive through the app in­stead. You can’t cre­ate in­di­vid­ual user ac­counts on the Mac ei­ther, so you’re forced to use the iOS app on an iPhone or iPad if you want

to in­vite some­one else to cre­ate their own per­sonal

fold­ers on the My Cloud Home drive.

Most Mac users will have an iPhone or iPad, of

course, but we’d like to see the Mac app up­dated

to al­low you full free­dom to con­trol the My Cloud

Home with your Mac as well.

2. Drobo 5N2

Price: £430 from fave.co/2pKCmeH

A five-bay drive such as the 5N2 might be

un­nec­es­sary for home users, but Drobo has a

well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion amongst pro­fes­sional

and cre­ative users who need a ver­sa­tile and

re­li­able NAS drive.

The 5N2 is more ex­pen­sive than most of its

ri­vals – and the com­pany doesn’t cur­rently make

any less-ex­pen­sive two-bay mod­els – cost­ing

around £430 when bought ‘un­pop­u­lated’, so you

still have to bud­get for your hard drives on top

(al­though some on­line stores also sell pack­ages

that in­clude the 5N2 with drives al­ready in­stalled).

But while the non­de­script black box isn’t much to

look at, the 5N2 will earn its keep in your of­fice as

it is ab­so­lutely packed with fea­tures de­signed to

keep your data safe.

Drobo claims to of­fer “the ben­e­fits of RAID

with­out the com­plex­ity”, and the com­pany does

a re­ally good job of help­ing new­com­ers to get

started and show­ing you how to use the 5N2.

Even be­fore you turn it on or in­stall a sin­gle

hard drive into the 5N2 you’re in­structed to go to

the Start page on the Drobo web­site. This shows how you can sim­ply slot the drives into the 5N2 and then con­nect it to your router – and the 5N2 even has two Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net ports, which can be ‘bonded’ to­gether to pro­vide higher per­for­mance for de­vices such as the iMac Pro, with its 10GB Eth­er­net in­ter­face.

Af­ter the ini­tial setup, you’re prompted to down­load Drobo’s Dash­board app for Macs and Win­dows PCs. This in­stalls a pull-down menu into the main menu bar at the top of your Mac’s screen, pro­vid­ing in­stant ac­cess to the drive’s main fea­tures.

How­ever, you prob­a­bly won’t need to use Dash­board very of­ten, as many of the drive’s fea­tures work au­to­mat­i­cally. Once the drives have been in­stalled there’s a se­ries of lights on the front panel that in­di­cate the sta­tus and health of each drive, along with a row of blue lights that act as a ca­pac­ity gauge to let you know when you’re run­ning out of stor­age.

The 5N2 also al­lows you to ‘hot-swap’ drives, re­mov­ing and re­plac­ing faulty drives, or sim­ply adding some ex­tra stor­age with­out hav­ing

to restart the unit. It even has a small built-in

bat­tery that can pro­tect the 5N2 from power

fail­ures, keep­ing it run­ning long enough to

com­plete the cur­rent task and then shut down

with­out los­ing any data. And, rather than of­fer­ing

con­ven­tional RAID modes the 5N2 uses Drobo’s

own BeyondRaid soft­ware to au­to­mat­i­cally pro­tect

your data (which comes in handy if, like me, you can

never re­mem­ber the dif­fer­ence be­tween RAID 0

and RAID 1).

In fact, most peo­ple will prob­a­bly only use

Dash­board to set up user ac­counts for other peo­ple

who also need to use the 5N2 for net­work stor­age,

or to set up Time Ma­chine back­ups for your Macs

– which you can do at the same time as set­ting

up the ‘share’ for each user. If you want to ex­plore

fur­ther, then Dash­board also al­lows you to in­stall

ad­di­tional apps, such as the Plex me­dia server, or

Drobo Ac­cess, which pro­vides re­mote ac­cess over

the In­ter­net. There are iOS and An­droid ver­sions of

Drobo Ac­cess avail­able too, so that you can view

and edit files stored on the 5N2 with your mo­bile

de­vices, along with a DroboPix app that al­lows you

It’s prob­a­bly too ex­pen­sive for most home

users, but the ad­mirable ease of use pro­vided

by the Drobo 5N2 makes it an ideal choice for

small busi­nesses and cre­ative users who may

not have used a NAS drive be­fore. And, with fail-

safe fea­tures such as its in­ter­nal bat­tery, the 5N2

can of­fer rock-solid re­li­a­bil­ity for pro­tect­ing your

most im­por­tant data.

3. Sea­gate Per­sonal Cloud

Price: £150 from fave.co/2I7mTvR

Sea­gate used to make a two-bay ver­sion of the Per­sonal Cloud that came with two drives al­ready in­stalled, and also al­lowed you to open the case and re­place or up­grade the drives your­self. That model seems to have been dis­con­tin­ued, but this re­main­ing fixed-ca­pac­ity, sin­gle-drive model is still a good op­tion for home users who need an af­ford­able net­work stor­age de­vice for back­ing up pho­tos, videos and other files.

The sin­gle-drive model is avail­able with 3TB, 4TB or 5TB of stor­age, cost­ing around £150, £175 and £210 re­spec­tively. You can’t re­place the drive your­self – and it doesn’t of­fer the RAID op­tions that were avail­able with the two-bay model – but that should still be enough stor­age for most fam­i­lies, or even self-em­ployed peo­ple who need a net­work drive for their work files. And, while the hard­ware de­sign is fairly con­ven­tional, the Per­sonal Cloud stands out thanks to a num­ber of apps that are ab­so­lutely packed with use­ful fea­tures.

For ba­sic backup and file ac­cess, there’s a mo­bile backup app that is avail­able for iOS and An­droid de­vices, along with a sec­ond app called Sea­gate Me­dia that al­lows you to stream pho­tos, videos or mu­sic from the Per­sonal Cloud to your mo­bile de­vices. You also have the op­tion of set­ting up a Sea­gate Ac­cess ac­count that al­lows you to stream files re­motely over the In­ter­net when you’re away from home (but watch out for those mo­bile data charges when you’re trav­el­ling). You can also use the Me­dia app to con­nect to other cloud ser­vices, such as Drop­box, and if you get caught on the road with­out the re­quired apps or de­vices then you can log into your Sea­gate Ac­cess ac­count via a web browser on any com­puter or de­vice that has In­ter­net ac­cess.

Macs and PCs have their own app for back­ups, called Dash­board. This works with Time Ma­chine for au­to­matic back­ups, but also pro­vides ad­di­tional op­tions that might be handy for of­fice users, such as the abil­ity to sched­ule back­ups for spe­cific times – per­haps at the end of the day af­ter you’ve fin­ished work.

There’s a ‘con­tin­u­ous backup’ op­tion, which watches for changes to any files while you’re work­ing and au­to­mat­i­cally makes back­ups on the

spot when­ever you edit or delete any files on your

Mac. You can also plug a mem­ory stick or hard drive into the USB port on the back of the Per­sonal Cloud and back up files from those ex­ter­nal de­vices, too.

As well as Macs, PCs, and mo­bile de­vices, the Per­sonal Cloud is com­pat­i­ble with an im­pres­sively wide range of other de­vices too. You can stream video to an Ap­ple TV, or ri­val me­dia play­ers such as Google Chrome­cast and Roku. It’s com­pat­i­ble with a num­ber of smart TVs from LG and Sam­sung, and sup­ports the DLNA net­work­ing sys­tem used by games con­soles such as the Xbox and PlaySta­tion.

Only mi­nor com­plaint is that all these fea­tures are spread across a va­ri­ety of apps that might be a lit­tle con­fus­ing when you’re first get­ting started, and Sea­gate’s on­line man­ual has an an­noy­ing habit of sim­ply list­ing fea­tures with­out al­ways mak­ing it clear where you can find them or how to use them. That slightly un­tidy ap­proach means that it might take a lit­tle while to get the Per­sonal Cloud set up just the way you want it, and more ex­pe­ri­enced users might pre­fer a NAS drive with ac­ces­si­ble drive bays that pro­vide greater up­grade po­ten­tial.

But if you’re look­ing for a ver­sa­tile NAS drive that of­fers plenty of stor­age at a com­pet­i­tive price, the Per­sonal Cloud is hard to beat.

Net­gear’s ReadyNAS 212 has been around for a while, and it’s show­ing its age a lit­tle, but its

com­bi­na­tion of strong data pro­tec­tion and good

Mac sup­port en­sure that it will ap­peal to both home

and small busi­ness users alike.

The hard­ware de­sign is a lit­tle old-fash­ioned,

con­sist­ing of a sim­ple black box with two drive bays

for adding stor­age. The RN212 when bought on its

own with­out drives, but Ama­zon and some other

deal­ers sell pack­ages that in­clude drives as well, so

you should shop around to see what’s on of­fer.

Along with the drives that you choose to in­stall,

the ReadyNAS pro­vides some use­ful fea­tures for

adding ex­tra stor­age and en­hanc­ing per­for­mance.

There are no less than three USB 3.0 ports

for con­nect­ing USB stor­age de­vices – one on

the front and two on the back – and even an

eSATA in­ter­face for high-per­for­mance stor­age

sys­tems. The ReadyNAS also in­cludes two Gi­ga­bit

Eth­er­net ports, which can be used

to­gether to con­nect

to the su­per­fast

10GB Eth­er­net on

the iMac Pro.

In­stalling the

in­ter­nal drives is a

lit­tle fid­dly, though.

The trays that hold

the two drives pop out

of the front of the unit

eas­ily enough when

you press down on a

small latch, but the

next step is a lit­tle

con­fus­ing as it in­volves slot­ting the hard disk drives into a flimsy plas­tic bracket that then has to be lined up in just the right po­si­tion be­fore you can push the trays back into the en­clo­sure. It took us a cou­ple of at­tempts to get it right but, thank­fully, once that’s done Net­gear’s ReadyCloud soft­ware takes over and set­ting up the drive on your net­work proves to be very straight­for­ward.

Once you’ve con­nected the ReadyNAS to mains power and then to your router, you sim­ply launch your web browser and go to the web page for Net­gear’s ReadyCloud ser­vice. This web page au­to­mat­i­cally de­tects the ReadyNAS on your net­work, and can also check for any prob­lems if the drive isn’t work­ing prop­erly.

There are two op­tions for get­ting started, with sim­ple ‘off­line’ in­stal­la­tion al­low­ing you to quickly con­nect the ReadyNAS to your net­work and start back­ing up your files - in­clud­ing us­ing the drive for Time Ma­chine back­ups on your Macs. The other op­tion is to cre­ate a ReadyCloud ac­count, which pro­vides re­mote ac­cess over the In­ter­net as well, so that you can con­nect to the ReadyNAS and re­trieve files even when you’re away from home.

You also use your web browser to man­age the ReadyNAS, but we were pleased to see that the var­i­ous set­tings are well or­ga­nized and easy to use. All the key fea­tures are or­ga­nized un­der sim­ple head­ings, such as Shares for cre­at­ing in­di­vid­ual user ac­counts, or Cloud for set­ting up re­mote ac­cess or sync­ing with other cloud ser­vices such as Drop­box or Mi­crosoft Azure for busi­ness users.

There’s good sup­port for Mac tech­nolo­gies too, with op­tions for ‘shared’ Time Ma­chine back­ups, which store the back­ups for mul­ti­ple Macs in one folder on the ReadyNAS, or ‘pri­vate’ back­ups for in­di­vid­ual users that are all kept sep­a­rate. You can even spec­ify the amount of stor­age space that is al­lo­cated to in­di­vid­ual Time Ma­chine back­ups so that no one per­son can hog all the stor­age for them­selves.

The ReadyNAS can act as an iTunes server for stor­ing a cen­tral iTunes li­brary, and also sup­ports the Plex me­dia server and DLNA for stream­ing to de­vices such as games con­soles. It can han­dle a spot of video transcod­ing, too; this is lim­ited to 1080p (HD) video, re­flect­ing the age of the RN212, but that should still be fine for most peo­ple. And, of course, there’s a ReadyCloud app for iOS de­vices too, which al­lows you to back up pho­tos and videos from your iPhone or iPad, as well as stream­ing files that are stored on the drive.

5. Synol­ogy DiskS­ta­tion DS218

Price: £246 from fave.co/2pIqrxX

Synol­ogy is best known for its high-end net­work and stor­age sys­tems for busi­ness users, but it does have a ‘value’ range for home users and small busi­nesses. The £246 two-bay DiskS­ta­tion DS218 is the suc­ces­sor to the DS216 that has im­pressed us in the past.

The DS218 makes a good first im­pres­sion. It’s sold ‘un­pop­u­lated’, which means it is up to you to

buy and in­stall the drives you want, but Synol­ogy makes it easy to get started. There are no nuts, bolts or screws to worry about, as the empty drive bays in­clude two trays that pop out with the press of a but­ton. We were able to insert our drives into the trays with no trou­ble at all, and get started in a mat­ter of min­utes.

There’s one Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net port on the back for con­nect­ing the DS218 to your router, and three USB ports – one on the front, and two on the back – that can be used to plug in a mem­ory stick, cam­era or ex­ter­nal hard drive so you can trans­fer files on to the DS218. The USB port on the front even has a ‘Copy’ but­ton just be­neath, which can be used to au­to­mat­i­cally back up any files on your stor­age de­vices on to the DS218. The only od­dity here is that the front port is USB 2.0, while the two ports on the back use the faster USB 3.0.

Once you’ve in­serted the hard drives and con­nected the DS218 to your router, you can sim­ply type find. synol­ogy.com into your web browser and this will take you to Synol­ogy’s on­line Web As­sis­tant. The As­sis­tant mag­i­cally de­tects the DS218 on your net­work, and in­stalls Synol­ogy’s DiskS­ta­tion Man­ager

(DSM) soft­ware for you.

But this is where things start to get a bit more com­pli­cated. The DS218 is cer­tainly packed with use­ful fea­tures – it can be used for Time Ma­chine back­ups, and there are RAID 0 and RAID 1 op­tions for en­hanc­ing per­for­mance and se­cu­rity, along with Synol­ogy’s own ‘hy­brid’ RAID for­mat that al­lows you to com­bine disks of dif­fer­ent sizes within the DS218. There’s also a Quick­Con­nect op­tion that al­lows you to con­nect to the DS218 over the In­ter­net when you’re away from home.

The DS218 works well as a me­dia server too, with a pow­er­ful 1.4GHz quad-core pro­ces­sor that al­lows it to con­vert (transcode) video files into var­i­ous for­mats suit­able for a wide range of dif­fer­ent de­vices – it can even han­dle 4K video for stream­ing to an Ap­ple TV or other me­dia player. There’s an iTunes Server op­tion that lets you store a cen­tral iTunes li­brary on the DS218, and it can stream mu­sic to AirPlay speak­ers, too.

The only prob­lem here is that the web browser in­ter­face used by the DSM soft­ware to con­trol all these fea­tures on the Mac is pretty com­pli­cated.

Dif­fer­ent sets of fea­tures, such as those for work­ing with mu­sic or video are han­dled by a col­lec­tion of ‘pack­ages’, which are like mini-apps that you need to in­stall from within the DSM browser in­ter­face. There’s a lot of tech­ni­cal jar­gon thrown around, and new users may well feel over­whelmed at this point.

The mo­bile side of things is com­pli­cated too – with around a dozen dif­fer­ent apps avail­able for your iOS de­vices. These do pro­vide use­ful fea­tures,

such as the abil­ity to back up pho­tos from your iPhone on the move, and there are even apps for the Ap­ple TV and Ap­ple Watch. How­ever, get­ting to grips with so many dif­fer­ent apps and fea­tures will be a daunt­ing task for most peo­ple.

Synol­ogy does pro­vide ex­ten­sive help files and tu­to­ri­als on its web­site, and hob­by­ists who like to delve into the fine de­tails of NAS drives and me­dia servers will re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the depth and scope of the DS218. How­ever, it’s a se­ri­ous case of overkill for home and small-busi­ness users who are sim­ply look­ing for a straight­for­ward NAS for their Time Ma­chine back­ups.

6. Ap­ple Time Cap­sule

Price: £299 from fave.co/2pNI1kd

Ap­ple’s Time Cap­sule is ac­tu­ally a bit of a weird de­vice. It comes with a typ­i­cal Ap­ple price tag that makes it quite a bit more ex­pen­sive than most of its NAS ri­vals, cost­ing £299 for a model with 2TB

of stor­age or £399 with 3TB. How­ever, the Time Cap­sule also dif­fers from a con­ven­tional NAS drive in a num­ber of ways, and it might well be the ideal plug-and-play backup so­lu­tion for some Mac users, while be­ing over-priced and too in­flex­i­ble for oth­ers. And, if you’re lucky, you can some­times find re­fur­bished Time Cap­sule mod­els for sale on the Ap­ple Store with dis­counts of up to 30 per­cent.

The Ap­ple-es­que de­sign is typ­i­cally dis­tinc­tive. Rather than the bor­ing ‘black box’ de­sign adopted by most NAS drives, the Time Cap­sule con­sists of a gleam­ing white tower that stands al­most 7in high. It’s vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to Ap­ple’s Air­Port Ex­treme Wi-Fi router – and that’s be­cause the Time Cap­sule ac­tu­ally houses both an in­ter­nal hard drive for stor­age, and a built-in Air­Port router that also pro­vides 802.11ac net­work­ing. If you’re still us­ing an older 802.11n router then the Time Cap­sule can help to jus­tify its high price by giv­ing you a faster, more re­li­able Wi-Fi net­work (al­though you’ll still need to hang on to your ex­ist­ing router, as the Time Cap­sule will need to con­nect to that in or­der to get In­ter­net ac­cess).

Set­ting up the Time Cap­sule is also very sim­ple and straight­for­ward for Mac users, as Ap­ple’s Air­Port soft­ware is built into the macOS on all Macs and can au­to­mat­i­cally de­tect the Time Cap­sule and guide you through the in­stal­la­tion process. Some NAS drives can be re­ally con­fus­ing for first-time users, so the sim­plic­ity of the Time Cap­sule is its main strength for home users or small busi­nesses that don’t have their own IT staff.

And, of course, the Time Cap­sule works with Time

Ma­chine as well, al­low­ing you to eas­ily back up mul­ti­ple Macs over the net­work us­ing ei­ther Wi-Fi or wired Eth­er­net con­nec­tions.

Tucked around the back of the Time Cap­sule there are no less than four Eth­er­net ports – one for con­nect­ing to your ex­ist­ing router, and three for wired con­nec­tions, which will be use­ful for of­fices or home work­ers who pre­fer to use a wired net­work. There’s also a USB 2.0 port, which al­lows you to add ex­tra stor­age or a printer that can be shared on the net­work. Peo­ple us­ing Win­dows PCs can con­nect to a hard drive or printer con­nected to the Time Cap­sule net­work, but the Win­dows ver­sion of the Air­Port soft­ware hasn’t been up­dated for a while so the Time Cap­sule is re­ally best suited for homes or small busi­nesses that are pri­mar­ily Mac-based. And, with just a sin­gle, non­re­place­able hard drive, you can’t up­grade the in­ter­nal stor­age at all, or con­fig­ure the Time Cap­sule as a RAID drive.

And, sur­pris­ingly, the iOS side of things is quite lim­ited too. There is an Air­Port app for iOS de­vices, but this is re­ally just in­tended to help you in­stall the Time Cap­sule and set up your new Wi-Fi net­work.

How­ever, you can’t quickly back

up pho­tos, videos or other files from an iPhone or

iPad – not even with the new Files app that was

in­tro­duced with iOS 11.

Ap­ple’s plan – and, of course, Aun­tie Ap­ple

al­ways knows best – is that you use iCloud for

back­ing up and shar­ing files from your iOS de­vices.

But while iCloud works pretty well these days,

there might also be times when you want to quickly

up­load some new hol­i­day snaps, videos or other

files into a shared folder on your NAS drive so that

every­one can take a look.

For­tu­nately, it is pos­si­ble to use third-party apps

that will al­low an iPhone or iPad to use the Time

Cap­sule for backup stor­age, such as the pop­u­lar

FileBrowser, which costs £5.99 (fave.co/2IcTksW)

for the stan­dard edi­tion or £10.99 for FileBrowser

Busi­ness Edi­tion (fave.co/2GjNlSA).

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