Network storage is still increasing in popularity, as we have more devices in our homes and more stuff we want to store on all of them.
NAS (Network Attached Storage) essentially connects a hard drive to your router via an Ethernet cable (often fast Gigabit Ethernet), therefore creating a storage share that can be accessed by your desktop PC, your tablet and sometimes even remotely.
They tend to be platform-agnostic, able to work with almost any device you connect to your wireless network – including DLNA-compatible devices (a standard for sharing media) such as smart TVs.
Think of them as supercharged external hard drives; mini servers, if you like. Indeed, many small businesses are now using NAS drives as an alternative to the expensive, power-hungry server they used to need to have in the cupboard.
NAS manufacturers promote their devices as removing confusion about where your data is stored, and while this could be seen as marketing bluster, there is some truth in it.
You have photos on your iPad, music on your PC, documents on your Mac – how can you bring it all together? A NAS device is the answer and – what's more – prices are tumbling to compete with the also-compelling cloud storage providers such as Dropbox or Box.
It's impractical – and slow – to have several terabytes of data in the cloud, so even if you're a convert to, say Google Drive, there's a space for a NAS in your life as well.
Personally, we use cloud storage for all current work, including photos and important documents such as travel itineraries. Then, for any older photos, as well as old work, project documents or music we would use a NAS drive.
As well as a simple file share, these devices can be used to back up your PC using Windows Backup or an alternative, or Time Machine on a Mac (look for compatibility).
While many NAS units have a single drive, others have multiple hard drives inside. The benefit of this is that they can be used to mirror each other, meaning that if one of the hard drives fails, your data will still be backed up on the other one.
If this is important to you, look for NAS devices with "multiple bays". Some units – such as the second one we've featured here – don't come with drives included.
While you can specify them with drives, it's often cheaper to order and fit your own. Look for drives that work well with NAS boxes, such as WD's Red range (from £50 for 1TB – all of WD's own NAS boxes feature WD Red drives).
1. WD My Cloud Personal
A simple but extremely effective NAS, it's our top choice for the home
WD has achieved quite considerable success with its unashamedly consumer-friendly My Cloud products, which can stream to any DLNA-compliant device and can be accessed via mobile apps for iOS and Android.
Labelled as a 'personal cloud', it's a NAS box by any other measure and starts at 2TB of storage (you can also get it in 3, 4 or 6TB). As it's a one-bay unit, it can't back itself up to a drive inside the unit, but it can back up to an external hard drive via a USB port on the back.
- Read our full WD My Cloud Personal review
2. D-Link ShareCenter 2 Bay Cloud Network Storage Enclosure
Yes, it really is that cheap – the best solution if you want to use your own drives
This is the closest thing to 'instant NAS' for existing hard drives you may have – a cheap enclosure that even supports RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), the standard for making hard drives work together.
As with many other enclosures nowadays, installing the drives is a piece of cake. Here, you just open the top to insert them. The price leaps up to £190 if you want a 4TB unit.