Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024


NAS (network-attached storage) devices can keep all of your files backed up, secure, and accessible from anywhere around the world. Hook up the right NAS to your router, and you’ll have everything from a centralized backup to a home streaming server.


UPDATE: 10/24/2023

We’ve reviewed our recommendations and have updated the best NAS for businesses.

What to Look for in a NAS in 2023

While every NAS fulfills the basic function of attaching storage to your network, that’s where the similarities end. A NAS hard drive is essentially a specialized computer and, like all computers, comes in many varieties. The key aspects you need to consider before buying one can be broken down into a few broad categories.

The number of drive bays is the first decision you need to make. A single-bay NAS (or even a simple external hard drive) is fine for users who only want to stream media, create basic backups, or have fast local shared storage. However, with just one bay, all data is lost should the drive fail.

A two-bay model allows for disk mirroring and is a better choice ensuring your data stays intact. Going beyond two drive bays comes down to your desired mix of maximum capacity, speed, and redundancy.

When choosing a product, performance specifications on NAS devices are as important as those of a personal computer. The NAS has a CPU, RAM, specific Ethernet port speeds, and maximum drive specs that you’ll need to be aware of. For example, if you need a NAS to transcode 4K video or edit video files directly over the network, it needs the hardware horsepower to make that possible.

Upgradability is also an important factor to consider. If your needs are going to grow over time, then having a NAS that can be expanded makes for a better purchase. RAM is a common upgradeable component, but some NAS devices also allow you to install an SSD to act as a high-speed cache, dramatically improving data transfer performance.

Finally, application support can be crucial. NAS devices use different operating systems than a standard computer, usually. Some OSes can be customized, while others could be a little more than a standard Linux installation. Support for specific applications such as web servers or media streaming software can vary wildly, so check whether a given NAS device supports the specific applications you need it to run.

How Did We Research

Models Evaluated

Hours Researched

Reviews Analyzed

20

5

40

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Synology DS220+ on desk
Synology

Pros

Cons

✓ The best jack-of-all-trades NAS with a fair price

✗ A bit too expensive for casual buyers

✓ Offers RAID 1 disk mirroring for the basic redundancy most people require

✓ Dual Gigabit LAN with either failover or link aggregation

✓ Surprisingly powerful CPU and upgradable RAM

✓ Fast read and write speeds

✓ Competent basic Plex solution

The DS220+ has a lot going for it. It looks attractive and works in a home or business setting. The price is not low, but it’s not excessive either. With two drive bays, you get the most important minimum level of redundancy with RAID 1 support.

The dual gigabit Ethernet ports give you the option of either aggregating them for maximum performance or using a failover setup to ensure your data is always available. The CPU is fast enough for most user needs, and the RAM allocation can be upgraded if needed. Being the household name in the NAS market, Synology also offers nearly 100 applications for the DS220+.

The DS220+ is a hard product to criticize because it seems like you’re getting more than your money’s worth no matter how you look at it. We can’t imagine most users with a budget in this region buying this NAS and being unhappy with it. If you’re still not sure, though, Review Geek’s article on the DS220+ is sure to convince you.

Then again, if you’re not a fan of the Synology software platform and ecosystem, then the DS220+ isn’t going to change your mind on that front. But if anyone asks us which NAS they should get, this is the one we’d point to as the first stop on the road to NAS nirvana.

Synology 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS220+

Synology 2 Bay NAS DiskStation DS220+

Best NAS Overall

$248 $300 Save $52

Synology’s DS220+ is one of the best NAS devices around, and perfect for most anyone’s needs. It’s good for archiving data, can be used with Plex, and is relatively inexpensive.

Synology DS120j on grey background
Synology

Pros

Cons

✓ Extremely cheap, especially if you use it with a drive you already have

✗ Having just one drive removes any redundancy

✓ Read/Write speeds are actually pretty good for the price

✗ CPU and RAM aren’t up to media transcoding or any heavy lifting

✓ A feature-complete NAS for very little money

✗ Risky as your only backup solution

When does “budget” become cheap? Some might argue that a NAS with only one drive bay defeats the point of having such a device. However, not everyone who wants a NAS is looking for speed or additional reliability.

If you’re only looking for an inexpensive and simple way to add local file storage to your network, then the Synology DS120j has you covered. It’s modest in every sense of the word, but for the price, it’s got a surprising number of tricks on offer.

While it may only have a single drive bay, the DS120j can accept a drive up to 16TB in size. Most users would find a storage amount more than acceptable. With an encrypted read speed of 112MB/s, drive performance is balanced with its single Gigabit Ethernet port.

It may only have an 800Mhz dual-core CPU, but a dedicated hardware encryption engine makes it so CPU performance isn’t affected. That being said, the DS120j isn’t going to do any heavy media transcoding work at the best of times, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to set up a NAS for Plex.

You get the same versatile Synology software as the best overall pick and based on user reviews, most have no trouble setting up and using this NAS. That’s a great sign, given that this is a real network-attached storage unit with the software flexibility and complexity that the name implies. If all you want is flexible, shared local network storage, the DS120j will get the job done for as budget-friendly as possible.

Synology DS120j 1 bay NAS DiskStation (Diskless)

Synology DS120j 1 Bay NAS DiskStation

Best Budget NAS

Getting a NAS set up for just $100? That seems too cheap, but the DS120j is anything but. Provided you’re not doing any media transcoding, this is a solid NAS choice.

WD 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra on dark background
Western Digital

Pros

Cons

✓ Plug-and-play solution with included storage out of the box

✗ Limited app availability

✓ Decent CPU and RAM combo at this price

✗ Some user reviews cite reliability issues and trouble accessing the NAS over the internet

✓ Supports Plex Media Server and comes with 3-month trial

✓ Suitable for non-technical users

✓ Mac Time Machine compatible

While the average computer geek will not be phased by buying and installing drives into a NAS device, most home users looking for network storage solutions typically lack the know-how or time to build a custom unit. The WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra is the perfect solution for those folks to hit the ground running.

We’ve linked the 4TB model here, but you can buy up to 28TB variants of this NAS, so you can get the storage space you need. There is even a diskless model, in case you’ve already got the drives you need.

The case for the Cloud EX2 Ultra as the perfect home NAS candidate is further bolstered by its software. A common theme among users is how easy configuration is, and the EX2 Ultra is even Mac Time Machine compatible. But, that simplicity comes at a cost.

While NAS devices from companies like Synology offer you a long list of applications and powerful, finely-grained control over your device, Western Digital does not. Instead, you’re presented with basic functions, a limited number of optional apps, and a lot of hand-holding. While power users might see this as a downside, home users who want to get the job done without a course in network engineering will appreciate this ease of use.

It’s also worth noting that Western Digital has focused on equipping the EX2 with fast hardware, specifically with a focus on media streaming performance. You even get a three-month Plex trial included in your purchase, so home users looking for a solid Plex solution should definitely have the EX2 on their shortlist.

Western Digital 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra

WD 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra

Best Home NAS

$306 $350 Save $44

WD’s My Cloud NAS is perfect for many home setups. This one includes storage right out of the box and is compatible with Plex servers.

Synology 5-Bay DiskStation

The Synology 5-Bay DiskStation on a wooden table.

Pros

Cons

✓ Five-bay system allows for growth

✗ Expensive

✓ Three-year warranty

✗ Might be excessive for some small businesses

✓ Fast sequential read and write speeds

✓ Built-in file and photo management software

Small businesses need a reliable system that is fast, offers plenty of expansion opportunities, and is relatively easy to install and manage. The Synology 5-Bay DiskStation DS1522+ checks all those boxes and then some, making it a great fit for the corporate environment.

With sequential read speeds up to 736 MB/s and write speeds up to 796 MB/s, it’s more than up to the task of providing your team with quick file transfers. It also features a built-in file and photo management system to help wrangle all your data.

Toss in a three-year warranty, four 1GbE ports to integrate into existing systems, and the option to add up to 10 extra drive bays, and you’ve got a product with very few compromises.

However, if you’re just getting your business off the ground, it might be best to stick with other products on this list. The hefty price and five-bay capacity are a bit extreme for small businesses that aren’t using much data. But if your team is handling large quantities of data regularly—and you want room to grow–it’s hard to beat the Synology 5-bay DiskStation.

Synology 5-bay DiskStation DS1522+

Synology DiskStation DS1522+

Best NAS for Business

$587 $700 Save $113

If you don’t flinch at the price and would benefit from its impressive storage capabilities, the Synology 5-Bay DiskStation DS1522+ is a perfect companion for growing businesses.

Asustor AS5202T on desk
Asustor

Pros

Cons

✓ Listed in the Plex database for up to 4K hardware transcoding

✗ Requires a paid Plex Pass to get the most from the hardware

✓ Good specifications to handle media encoding

✗ Gamer aesthetic and features may not appeal to some

✓ RAM is expandable if needed down the line

✓ 2 x 2.5 Gigabit ethernet

✓ Direct HDMI Port for a local TV

In-home media streaming is one of the main reasons most people are looking at a NAS. The popularity of Plex is a driving factor in looking into these network computer boxes. Most people start off running a Plex server on their desktop or using a spare computer. However, as your collection of media (and transcoding needs) grow, an old unused computer doesn’t cut it anymore.

Plex is compatible with a wide range of NAS devices that will run its app, but many of them are limited to software transcoding. That means available CPU resources determine whether you’re getting smooth, crisp playback or a blurry, stuttering mess. Ideally, you want a NAS that offers dedicated hardware encoding and certified compatibility with Plex.

The first place anyone should look on this quest is Plex’s official NAS compatibility list, and that’s where you’ll find the Asustor AS5202T. It’s one of the few NAS devices at this price point that offers hardware-accelerated transcoding of 4K footage, although it’s limited to SDR and H.264 output at that resolution.

Additionally, hardware acceleration support requires a paid Plex Pass subscription, so if you only want to rely on software encoding, you’ll have to buy a NAS with much more CPU power than this device. Still, if you’re buying a NAS specifically for Plex, it’s a fair assumption that you’ll also want Plex’s premium features, in which case this is a great match.

If you want to watch high-quality 4K HDR content, the AS5202T has an HDMI output for direct connection to a display, so you don’t even have to worry about wi-fi performance for your main television. This is a NAS that’s truly built for media consumption.

Asustor AS5202T

Asustor AS5202T

Best NAS for Plex and Media Streaming

If you’re looking for a NAS mainly for media and Plex, you can make it easy with the Asustor AS5202T. This NAS allows 4K transcoding at a great price point.

WD 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra on dark background
Western Digital

Pros

Cons

✓ WD My Cloud is easy to use

✗ Slower transfer speeds

✓ Time Machine Support

✗ No third party app

✓ Dual drive functionality

✓ Lag-free streaming

Too often hardware is designed specifically to work with Windows. The WD 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS crosses the aisle and offers network storage for Mac users, as well.

But what does that mean, since most NAS devices are already Mac-compatible? It’s all about optimization for what users are more likely to utilize the NAS for. In the case of Mac users, you’ll want a network storage device that’s quick and intuitive, which is exactly what WD’s 4TB EX2 Ultra is.

The lightweight unit provides 4TB of centralized storage for important files needed across the entire network of users. For simplicity, WD opted for a pre-configured dual-bay arrangement for a pair of 2TB drives that can be easily accessed and configured to your needs. The NAS also comes in 8TB, 12TB, 16TB, 28TB, 32TB, 36TB, and diskless options.

Despite having two drives to manage, creating a backup folder and managing each drive is considerably intuitive thanks to software like the WD My Cloud mobile and desktop apps. Like the NAS device, the desktop and mobile apps are available on Mac and Windows computers, though the Mac version tends to fair a bit better.

While the NAS device works wonders in creating a functional and accessible network, you may find that the write speeds could be improved. The 1.3GHz dual-core Marvell Armada A9 processor and 1GB DDR3 RAM ensure an optimal speed for lag-free streaming. Unfortunately, you won’t hit any impressive speeds when transferring files.

The EX2 Ultra comes with 2 USB 3.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a button on top releases the drive bay door.

Western Digital 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra

WD 4TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS

Best NAS for Mac

$306 $350 Save $44

Lag-free streaming and seamless cloud navigation. The 4TB WD NAS is designed to give Mac users everything they need from their network area storage.

FAQ

What does NAS stand for?

NAS stands for network-attached storage and is used to describe data that can be accessed remotely by multiple users on the network.

Do I need a NAS at home?

Not necessarily. But if you have multiple people in the home that need to access the same files, it might be worth considering.

Is a NAS better than cloud storage?

NAS tends to be cheaper than cloud storage, but both offer similar perks. However, NAS drives are stored locally, while cloud files are stored remotely. Pick whichever best fits your needs.

Should I need a NAS for Plex?

No, but most people recommend using NAS for Plex because it’s much more efficient and user-friendly.



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By John P.

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