GROUP TEST: NAS drives

Benny Har-Even re­veals what to look for in a NAS drive and re­veals our top picks

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

NAS stands for Net­work At­tached Stor­age and it en­ables you to have a large amount of stor­age con­nected di­rectly to the router, mak­ing it avail­able to all your de­vices. NAS drives are de­signed to be left on per­ma­nently, which means you can ac­cess your mu­sic, movies, pho­tos and doc­u­ments with­out hav­ing to make sure a com­puter is turned on.

One of their most pop­u­lar uses is for me­dia play­back, so files can be viewed on your TV, with­out hav­ing to con­nect a PC. A NAS drive also uses much less power than a reg­u­lar com­puter mak­ing them much cheaper to run. For ease of setup and use, a ded­i­cated NAS drive is hard to beat.

Ca­pac­ity

It’s vi­tal that you opt for a drive that has enough stor­age to meet your needs both now and in the fu­ture. Plenty of NAS drives come with no disks – these are known as disk­less or bare drives. Their ad­van­tage is that you can choose the drives you want and how much ca­pac­ity you need.

You can now get disks up to 10TB in size, though for each disk you’ll be pay­ing at least £400 or so for the priv­i­lege. 4TB disks are ar­guably the sweet spot, at around £120.

Disks for NAS drives

When you choose your disks, look for ones that have been de­signed to work specif­i­cally with NAS boxes. NAS-op­ti­mised features in­clude more se­cure con­struc­tion pro­vid­ing more re­sis­tance to vi­bra­tion, which makes a lot of sense for a drive that’s de­signed to be on the whole time. They also of­fer power man­age­ment, so they can ad­just per­for­mance based on their tem­per­a­ture. These drives also of­fer special features in firmware known by WD as TLER (Time-Limited Er­ror Re­cov­ery) and by Sam­sung and Hi­tachi as com­mand com­ple­tion time limit (CCTL). This op­ti­mises the er­ror correction for drives when they are in­stalled in a RAID ar­ray (ex­plained be­low) as is usu­ally the case with NAS drives.

RAID

RAID, stands for re­dun­dant ar­ray of in­ex­pen­sive disks. It can be com­plex, but at a ba­sic level you’ll want to use it pri­mar­ily to pro­vide re­dun­dancy, so if a disk fails your

You can now get disks up to 10TB in size, though for each disk you’ll be pay­ing at least £400 or so for the priv­i­lege. 4TB disks are ar­guably the cur­rent sweet spot, at around £120

data is still safe. There are many vari­ants, but three of the most pop­u­lar are known as RAID 1, RAID 5, and RAID 6.

Most NAS drives of­fer at least two bays, which means you can set them up as

RAID 1. In this sce­nario, the sec­ond drive is a mir­ror of the first, so if one drive fails com­pletely all your data is safe on the other. You then can re­place the faulty disk and re­build the RAID ar­ray, though this will take sev­eral hours.

RAID 5 re­quires at least three drives and of­fers par­ity data. That means a RAID 5 ar­ray can with­stand a sin­gle drive fail­ure with­out los­ing data or ac­cess to it. As data is ‘striped’ across three drives, reads are fast, but at the ex­pense of slower writes be­cause of hav­ing to also write the par­ity data.

RAID 6 re­quires four drives but of­fers both striped and dual par­ity, so two drives could fail and the RAID could still re­cover.

Which­ever you choose don’t con­sider RAID to be your only backup. First, you’re re­ly­ing on the RAID ar­ray re­build­ing suc­cess­fully, and while from ex­pe­ri­ence we know that it does work, it is another point of fail­ure. If the box just dies, you’ll still lose all your data. To mit­i­gate this you’ll want another ex­ter­nal backup, prefer­ably to the cloud. Most NAS of­fer na­tive ap­pli­ca­tions for cer­tain providers, but these will re­quire sub­scrip­tion to the ser­vice and won’t nec­es­sar­ily be from your pre­ferred one.

Hot swap

Another fea­ture to look out for is hot-swap ca­pa­bil­ity, which en­ables you to take out or add a drive with­out hav­ing to power down first, which could be im­por­tant if you’re run­ning busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions off your NAS and want to main­tain up­time when re­plac­ing or adding a drive.

Re­mote con­nec­tiv­ity

You should also con­sider whether you’ll need re­mote ac­cess to the drive. Pre­vi­ously this re­quired sign­ing up to a third-party DNS ser­vice, but these days you can just sign up for an ac­count with your NAS man­u­fac­turer as you set up the drive.

Lo­gin to the ac­count and they’ll han­dle the con­nec­tiv­ity to your box at home. If pri­vacy is a con­cern you many not wish to go down this route, but for ease of use it’s the way to go.

Transcod­ing

It’s also worth con­sid­er­ing how pow­er­ful you need your NAS’s pro­ces­sor to be. The ded­i­cated OS that NAS drives use are light­weight, but a faster pro­ces­sor and more mem­ory will en­able features such as transcod­ing. This means any me­dia files will be con­verted on the fly into a playable for­mat, so you don’t have to rely on your client de­vice be­ing able to play them smoothly. For ex­am­ple, HEVC H.265 files are be­com­ing pop­u­lar due to the small file sizes, but de­vices that can play them back na­tively are still un­com­mon. Transcod­ing will deal with this for you if your NAS is pow­er­ful enough. If, how­ever, you have 4K files and want to play these you’ll need a fast NAS.

Ap­pli­ca­tions

Fi­nally, you might want to con­sider to what use you’ll be putting your NAS to. As well as me­dia a small busi­ness owner will want to know what ap­pli­ca­tions it has to of­fer, such as set­ting it up as an email server, a VPN server or us­ing it to host a web­site.

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