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NAS buying advice: find the right network storage TechStage


Network storage is available for less than 100 euros. In addition to the hardware, the software features are particularly different. We show how to find the right NAS.

NAS, Network Attached Storage, is now much more than just a storage space in the LAN. The devices work as servers, provide web services, are media centers and private clouds. The price is already under 100 euros, there are no limits to the top. Countless model versions cause confusion. Our purchase advice is intended to help you find your way in the jungle of network storage.

This article is part of our topic world around consumer and middle class NAS storage. The following articles and tests have already appeared here:


The connections of a NAS, here using the Asustor as an example.

The origin of network storage can be found in the professional work environment. In the meantime, many manufacturers are also addressing private users with models that have a lot to offer, particularly in the field of multimedia. A NAS system is much more than just network storage: it is rather a small PC with a lot of storage space, an operating system developed by the manufacturer and many functions specially tailored for operation in the network.

The best-known providers for private users include QNAP (overview) and Synology (overview), which also offer the widest range of models in different performance and function classes. Both are known for a tidy user interface, easy access with lots of cleverly integrated help and a wide range of functions. As a surprise from the last test series, Asustor AS6302T (test report) turned out to be: The manufacturer is now on par with the two top dogs. Buffalo and Zyxel concentrate on the inexpensive entry-level area and serve customers who are primarily concerned with the function as network storage. With Terramaster, a relatively new player is also preparing to conquer the consumer NAS market – with solid metal housings, good hardware equipment and the in-house TOS operating system. This does not quite offer the enormous range of functions and the app selection of solutions from Asustor, QNAP or Synology, but it does provide a solid basis. In the test, the Terramaster F2-420 also convinced with good hardware equipment and some unusual customizing options for hobbyists.

The hard disk manufacturers themselves are also active in the NAS area: With the somewhat older devices of the Personal Cloud series, Seagate also has a deliberately simple, DLNA streaming-capable backup solution on offer. WD goes one step further with the My Cloud and also offers third-party apps for the systems, such as for managing multimedia data or a WordPress plugin. High-priced devices from other manufacturers such as Drobo, Netgear or Thecus are primarily aimed at professional users.

Inexpensive entry-level NAS systems typically use an ARM-based system on a chip (SoC) with one or two cores and start from 256 GB RAM. This is already sufficient for many basic tasks and uses little power due to the low power. When it comes to the core competency of NAS and making data available on the network and running a simple DLNA media server, these models offer an affordable entry. If you do not have to look at every single euro, you should preferably use a NAS with two hard drive bays to make the drives work in a RAID 1 network.

The performance of many entry-level solutions, however, comes to its knees when it comes to encrypting the data on the storage. Even then an ARM CPU is sufficient, but in this case it should have an acceleration module for 256-bit AES data encryption. Otherwise, the write speed can drop quickly to up to 20 to 30 MByte / s and it takes an extremely long time to back up large amounts of data.

If several users access the NAS at the same time or if several additional programs are used, a sensible start begins with at least one ARM SoC with two or four cores and 512 MB or better 1 GB RAM. In particular, the working memory is quickly full when there are several plug-ins running at the same time.

Stronger two- or even four-core processors from the x86 range and at least 2 GB of RAM mark the typical features of the NAS middle class. On the CPU side, Intel’s Celeron is primarily used in this segment. This is also sufficient for sophisticated multimedia apps such as Plex, including hardware accelerated video transcoding. This performance class is also the right base for expanding the functionality of the network storage using Docker containers and for setting up virtual machines. Some manufacturers offer the option of running a virtual Linux or Windows PC on the NAS. If this is more than just a gimmick, four-core processors, of which two cores can be assigned exclusively to the VM, and 4 GB of RAM are recommended. Often there is a SO-DIMM slot in this device class to be able to retrofit RAM if necessary.

There are no limits to the equipment: Professional NAS platforms for sometimes several thousand euros have Intel Xeon and AMD Ryzen desktop processors with six, eight or even more cores. However, they are more intended for the use of small teams and simply unaffordable for private users – at least insofar as the motivation for the purchase is not based on a pronounced, personal nerdness.


Synology DS218 +

Synologys DS218 + scores with multimedia orientation through simplicity. The manufacturer contrasts a comparatively small number of external interfaces with a high level of functional diversity and an intuitive operating concept.

Review

Find the best price for empty enclosures

Best price for NAS with 4 TB storage

At the beginning of the NAS purchase there is the question of the number of hard drive bays required: An inexpensive 1-bay NAS is sufficient for mere storage and multimedia playback and only requires the purchase of a single, additional hard drive. Since corresponding models only serve the entry-level area, they only offer very limited performance reserves.

Many NAS, such as the Synology DS218 +, have slots for the hard drives.

If you want to invest a little more, you can drive better with a 2-bay model: Corresponding devices are available with different hardware configurations in several price and function classes. Common to all is the possibility of RAID 1 operation of the hard drives, which mirrors the data on both drives. This means that only the storage space of a drive is available for effective use. The advantage: If a drive fails with a defect, all files are still available. Some NAS systems offer the option of inserting a replacement drive via hot swapping and then starting an automatic rebuilding of the RAID array. Although this does not replace a proper data backup concept, it increases data availability.

If no important data lands on the NAS, hard disk operation in JBOD mode is also possible: Then the total, added storage capacity of all drives is available. Merely a RAID 0 for more data throughput is almost always a humbug: If a hard disk fails, the data is gone and a single, modern hard disk space is already often faster than the data throughput via the Gigabit Ethernet port, which is still particularly popular at the moment.

If you value the reliability of your network storage, use special NAS hard disks: Seagate’s Ironwolf (Pro), Toshibas N300 and WDs Red (Pro) have firmware specially adapted to the application scenario and are suitable for continuous operation. This is reflected in the average operating time between two theoretical failures (MTBF) or the average operating time to failure (MTTF) and the expected value for reading errors. The Seagate and WD Pro models come with a five-year warranty instead of three, and Toshiba’s N300 comes from the same production lines as the more expensive enterprise hard drives. Accordingly, quality controls and the target values ​​for the manufacturing tolerances are also stricter than for a normal desktop hard drive. Only the enterprise models themselves are above that. In the article “Comparison: The best hard drive for the NAS from 4 to 12 TByte” we provide the different hard drives and show the performance of the different memory sizes.

If it is not a question of the maximum possible read and write rates, but rather the quietest possible hard disk operation, it is recommended to use storage drives with 5400 to 5900 depending on the model instead of the usual 7200 rpm. Corresponding NAS hard drives are available from both Seagate and Western Digital. Smaller and even quieter 2.5-inch drives with rotating magnetic disks, on the other hand, hardly play a role at least in this area of ​​use: apart from the advantage in terms of operating volume, they are slower, have lower long-term durability and, with a few exceptions, usually offer no more than up to 2 TB of storage space.

In most cases, silent SSDs only make sense as an additional cache due to the high purchase costs: Higher-quality NAS systems sometimes have a PCI Express slot and thus allow the use of M.2 SSDs via a low-profile carrier card. This enables smoother work, but is particularly relevant for power users. Speed ​​is not a limiting factor. Nevertheless: For well-heeled users, QNAP’s SilentNAS HS-453DX, for example, has a model with 2.5-inch SSD slots and very fast 10 Gigabit Ethernet at prices from 700 euros. Matching 4 TB SSDs cost at least 400 euros each, but then the NAS works completely silently in the living room or bedroom. The classic hard drives are still fast enough, the limiting factor in this case is the network connection. The table shows the transmission speed for unencrypted data transfer from a gigabit NAS.

Data transfer, unencrypted

Asustor AS6302T

QNAP TS-251B

Synology DS218 +

TerraMaster F2-420

Copy tests

unencrypted

unencrypted

unencrypted

unencrypted

2000x 128 KB: Read

26.2 Mbytes / s

25.4 MB / s

27.6 MB / s

15.9 Mbytes / s

2000x 128 KB: Write

10.5 MB / s

14.1 Mbytes / s

16.4 MB / s

2.0 Mbytes / s

600x 2.5 MB: Read

80.4 MB / s

84.2 Mbytes / s

88.7 Mbytes / s

68.6 MB / s

600x 2.5 MB: write

65.1 MB / s

68.0 MB / s

72.6 MB / s

27.3 MByte / s

1x 7.94 GB: Read

118.1 Mbytes / s

118.2 Mbytes / s

117.6 Mbytes / s

108.4 MB / s

1x 7.94 GB: write

116.3 Mbytes / s

117.2 Mbytes / s

117.0 Mbytes / s

94.5 Mbytes / s

Mixed folder (9.53 GB): Read

02:41 min

02:40 min

02:33 min

03:34 min

Mixed folder (9.53 GB): Write

04:41 min

03:54 min

03:36 min

16:36 min

All NAS systems are suitable as network storage. The basic access is either via (network) protocols such as FTP and WebDAV for external access or SMB (Windows), AFS (Apple) and NFS (Linux) for direct integration as a network drive under the respective operating system or intranet access. In order to be able to easily reach the model outside of the local LAN or WLAN, depending on your own Internet connection, you must pay attention to IPv6 support. Some older models only support the outdated IPv4 protocol. If your own internet provider only offers IPv4 via DS-Lite tunneling, the network storage may remain unreachable. Otherwise, the NAS receives an address from a manufacturer’s own or a third-party DNS service at which it can be reached via the Internet.

The network storage not only secures a PC or notebook, but often also brings apps for mobile devices.

To back up data from the NAS itself to external storage, many models with a USB 3.0 connection have an easy-to-set-up one-click solution: plug in the storage drive via USB, press a button next to it, and a backup process starts from the NAS to the external storage. USB 3.1 (Type-A and Type-C) is at least currently reserved for semi-professional systems in the price category well over 1,000 euros. Backups from PC to network storage are also possible, Apple users pay attention to time-machine compatibility. Most manufacturers provide programs for download.

Many NAS systems offer the option of mirroring the entire content on a second device at a different location. Models that support the Btrfs file system offer extended protection against corrupt files and an incremental snapshot function is the ultimate solution for data backup: This enables the entire system to be backed up at lightning speed, sometimes including versioning of individual files. Here too, the approach of individual manufacturers differs very much, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, which in themselves could fill an entire article.

The majority of NAS systems integrate an easy way to connect to common, public cloud services such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft Onedrive. This allows the synchronization of data on the NAS with a corresponding cloud storage – for example, as a double backup of important, locally stored data. In the course of growing concerns about public providers, however, the use of NAS as a private cloud is also becoming available: Asustor, QNAP and Synology each offer their own software for PCs and smartphones, which allows the NAS to be easily integrated, as provided by is used to the public clouds. This also includes the automatic synchronization of data and, of course, the possibility of access from outside the local network.

The hardware requirements are low: with access from just one user, one of the entry-level models is sufficient, which typically uses 512 MB of RAM and an ARM-based dual-core processor. However, snapshots can require more memory. More demanding scenarios require a more powerful CPU: With AES-256 data encryption on the NAS, a fast, x86-compatible processor with AES-NI module can make a decisive contribution to accelerating the hardware encryption process so that the data transfer rates do not drop. In the private user segment, Intel Celeron processors with two or four cores are usually used here. Attention: Entry-level models such as Buffalo’s LS520D (test report) do not support file encryption.

There is no NAS that meets all requirements. Accordingly, you cannot say how much money you have to hold in your hand. The prices depend on the technical specifications, the performance and not least the available memory. Empty enclosures are correspondingly cheaper, but there are also the costs for hard drives. To provide an overview, we give the prices for popular empty enclosures and finished storage solutions

Among the current innovations in the NAS area, a higher-throughput Ethernet port is preparing to become the future consumer standard: 2.5-Gigabit-Ethernet should inherit Gigabit-Ethernet. Buffalo’s TeraStation 3220DN, the Asustor Nimbustor 2 (AS5202T) or QNAPs already listed in the price comparisons Turbo Station TS-253D already have the new features. Alternatively, NAS systems such as the TerraMaster F5-422 with 10 Gigabit Ethernet for just under 600 euros are just within the price range affordable for normal users and are downward compatible with slower Ethernet standards. Existing network storage with its own PCI Express slot can be retrofitted in many ways: For this purpose, the manufacturers themselves offer add-in network types with faster ports.

However, using the 2.5 gigabit connection or an even faster solution requires a fully coordinated ecosystem in the home network. The major notebook, motherboard and chip manufacturers have recently taken a first step towards this. All motherboards for Intel’s current Socket 1200 with Z490 chipset support at least 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet. This also applies to some well-equipped models with the smaller H470 and B460 chipsets. At least a handful of AMD’s AM4 boards also benefit from the fast network connection, the same applies to a few notebooks, primarily from the gaming sector.

Routers are slowly becoming faster. The Fritzbox 6660 Cable, for example, has at least one port with 2.5 GBit

The last link for a 2.5 Gbit / s home network is the switch or router. With the exception of the Fritzbox Cable 6660 (test report), there is still nothing to buy in the area of ​​routers with an integrated modem, which is particularly popular in Germany, and this model also only has one of the new network ports. The ROG Rapture AX-GT1100 comes without a modem and also only offers a 2.5 gigabit port: This means that only NAS users who have multiple users accessing the network storage in parallel benefit from this. Otherwise, there is currently no way around the purchase of a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet switch in order to allow multiple devices to communicate with each other directly and at the same speed.

The effective use of the higher data throughput is already given in combination with conventional hard drives. The fastest NAS hard drives currently read and write depending on the model with around 250 MByte / s. In contrast, the maximum theoretical transmission rate of Gigabit-LAN ​​is 125 MByte / s and 2.5-Gigabyte Ethernet is 312.5 MByte / s – everyday performance in practice is somewhat lower. At least from a prosumer perspective, the change to the faster transmission standard makes sense.

The most basic multimedia function is provided by a DLNA server running on the NAS, which almost all models currently available on the market also have on board. This streams music, videos or images to DLNA-compatible devices such as PCs, smartphones or smart TVs. Expansion packages for managing the multimedia data provide additional convenience and automatically call up missing covers or meta information such as the date of publication from an Internet database. In addition to their own programs, almost all manufacturers integrate extensive third-party multimedia suites such as the Plex media server, the Kodi Media Center or TV Mosaic for video recording. The use of a Bluetooth USB adapter also allows in many cases to transfer music wirelessly and directly from the respective audio software of the NAS to a speaker system. Keeping compatibility lists with a claim to completeness is impossible in view of the abundance of available adapters, here often only the trial and error principle helps. Experience has shown that NAS systems that offer such a function can cope with most USB dongles. Additional Chromecast or Airplay compatibility allows streaming to the corresponding hardware from Google or Apple.

Most NASs offer the necessary programs to work as a multimedia center. Here is the example of QNAP.

External video and audio connections allow wired signal output to speakers or a television. Suitable HDMI ports and jack sockets can be found in some higher-priced network storage devices, but they are not the rule. If a NAS has a video output, it can be used as an independent, small multimedia and office PC. Manufacturers such as Asustor or QNAP implement a separate user interface, which in turn requires its own expansion packages and therefore cannot use the entire arsenal of functions. The USB ports of the network memory allow the use of a keyboard and mouse or touchpad, the graphics are output on a monitor or a TV. Thus, the NAS ideally provides some typical functions of a smart TV, some multimedia packages such as Plex and at the same time a small office package of its own. It is a lot of fun to use it as an independently running multimedia center in conjunction with a remote control, which some manufacturers offer as optional accessories. If a corresponding smartphone app is available, this can also take over the function of a touch remote control.

If you rely on more exotic file formats than MP3, WAV or MPEG-2, you should find out beforehand whether the desired model supports playback at all. This also applies to video transcoding, i.e. the on-the-fly conversion of a video from the NAS to a lower resolution in order to minimize data traffic. This makes particular sense if the user wants to stream films to his smartphone via a volume-limited mobile flat rate. Inexpensive NAS systems only partially support software transcoding, but this is far too slow for real-time playback, accordingly uses the small processor 100 percent and, at least in real-time playback, causes dropouts and stutters. Network storage devices from the upper middle class, on the other hand, offer hardware acceleration of the transcoding and, for example, down-convert 4K videos to 720p before they transmit them over the network for smooth playback. However, there are significant differences between the individual NAS systems: While Synologys DS218 + (test report) easily copes with 4K videos in H.265 (HEVC) and the older H-264 format (AVC), the hardware acceleration of Asustors Only handle AS6302T (test report) with Full HD material. The multimedia software provider Plex offers a practical overview of this topic in connection with your own program. Unfortunately, the model pages of the individual manufacturers are often not very informative in this regard, so interested buyers should contact manufacturer support in advance.

Multimedia applications place completely different demands on the NAS than pure backup jobs and the provision of stored data over the network. Since the development does not stand still, it makes little sense in this area of ​​application to choose the cheapest possible device with economical configuration. If there is a plan to install more than just a handful of extensions in parallel and more than one user is accessing the network storage at the same time, an ARM-based quad-core CPU or an x86-compatible dual core including at least one or better is the same two gigabytes of RAM are the minimum. In case of doubt, love investing a few euros more than not being satisfied with the performance in a year or two. Experience has shown that NAS usage intensifies after the initial start-up, which means that your own requirements will increase in the medium term.


Functions for virtualization of operating systems are aimed at advanced users: The user installs the familiar Windows, any Linux distribution or another operating system via a system image as a virtual machine on the NAS. A look at the corresponding documentation from the manufacturer shows which of these exactly supports a model. However, the function is demanding and usually requires a previous RAM upgrade to at least 4 GB. Ideally, a stronger CPU is used here than can be found in the upper middle class for private users: Quad-core processors are not absolutely necessary, but useful in terms of performance, in order to provide the VM with a minimum of two CPU cores and to be able to allocate at least 2 GB of RAM. Entry-level devices and the lower mid-range therefore do not even have such functions on board.

One of the currently most popular nerd play areas is the support of Docker containers: Docker is a separate program that has to be adapted on each of the NASes. Docker offers the advantage that complex programs and their dependencies can be bundled and distributed in one file. Users load the container into the program and can then use the respective program. This in particular opens up additional options for running apps on the NAS that the manufacturer itself does not support. The facility is rich in prerequisites, but due to its high popularity, there is now a large number of very good documentation on the web.

Those who prefer to limit themselves to manufacturer extensions and third-party solutions that are compatible with their personal NAS will find what they are looking for in the download area on the NAS themselves. Whether content management systems such as Typo3, special backup solutions such as Acronis True Image, video surveillance software, office programs or extensions to get your own small web shop up and running – especially in the (semi) professional In the area, the network storage shows its original anchoring in the professional sector and has a variety of sometimes very different software.