Choose a NAS box

Con­sid­er­ing net­work-at­tached stor­age? We test five re­cent mod­els

Computer Active (UK) - - Contents -

A NAS is ef­fec­tively a small PC run­ning its own op­er­at­ing sys­tem, with apps for var­i­ous server tasks. At home, it’s com­monly used for keep­ing col­lec­tions of mu­sic and video files that can be played from any­where. The NAS it­self can be con­nected to a TV as a home en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre. You can also use it to store and dis­play pho­tos, host web­sites, con­trol se­cu­rity cam­eras and more, and to store any shared files. There may be ports to ac­cess USB drives or print­ers too.

Most af­ford­able NAS boxes have two or four drive bays con­tain­ing mul­ti­ple hard drives, which will ap­pear as one vol­ume. Hard drives don’t last for­ever, and when you set up your NAS you can choose a con­fig­u­ra­tion that bal­ances risk against speed and space. One op­tion is JBOD – ‘just a box of disks’ – which presents the drives as in­di­vid­ual vol­umes, which you ac­cess sep­a­rately, or ‘spans’ the drives as one vol­ume match­ing their to­tal ca­pac­ity. In this lat­ter case, when one fails you’ll lose a ran­dom half or quar­ter of your files.

RAID (Re­dun­dant Ar­ray of In­de­pen­dent Disks) is the sys­tem used by NAS drives to store data ef­fi­ciently and au­to­mat­i­cally back up com­puter hard drives. RAID0 ‘stripes’ data across the drives, in­creas­ing speed, but if one fails you’ll lose ev­ery­thing.

RAID1, the sen­si­ble op­tion, ‘mir­rors’ two drives, so ca­pac­ity is halved – buy two 2TB drives, get 2TB of space. But if one fails, all your data is safe – just make sure you re­place it im­me­di­ately. With four bays, RAID5 gives you three-quar­ters of the to­tal ca­pac­ity and will sur­vive any one drive fail­ing, while RAID6 gives you half and will sur­vive two fail­ing at once. RAID isn’t in­vul­ner­a­ble, and it won’t stop you ac­ci­den­tally delet­ing things, so you still need to back up cru­cial files sep­a­rately.

Your NAS con­nects to your router with an Eth­er­net cable, from where you can ac­cess files from any PC on your net­work and usu­ally from mo­bile de­vices. Most NAS soft­ware now sup­ports on­linestor­age func­tions, so you can ac­cess files over the internet and back up data ‘in the cloud’. We don’t have room here to list all the fea­tures of each box, so check the web link un­der ‘Specifications’ be­fore you buy.

We tested five NAS boxes un­der £300. That’s with­out the hard drives, which you can eas­ily add your­self, or may be of­fered as an op­tion. Any 3.5in SATA drive can be used, but they should all be of the same ca­pac­ity. You could buy, say, two 2TB Sea­gate Bar­racuda drives (£50 from Ama­zon for as lit­tle as £100. It’s prob­a­bly worth pay­ing a lit­tle more, though, for a Nas-rated drive like a Sea­gate Iron­wolf or WD Red (£63 from Ama­zon, which are built for greater re­li­a­bil­ity and add er­ror-re­cov­ery fea­tures to help RAID set­ups sur­vive prob­lems.

If you want some­thing cheaper, Buf­falo’s two-bay Linksta­tion 520ED (£87 from Ama­zon, pic­tured) has only ba­sic file shar­ing, and mu­sic and video-stream­ing fea­tures, but it’s good value.

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