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.
1. WD My Cloud Personal
Simple, yet fast
Capacity: 2TB, 3TB or 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet | Features: Remote file access, DLNA, iTunes Server
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 or 4TB). 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. Seagate Personal Cloud 2-Bay
Convenient network storage
Capacity: 4TB, 6TB or 8TB | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet | Features: Remote file access, media server software, RAID support
Picking up on the 'personal cloud' theme, this unit from Seagate takes its lead from My Cloud, but it offers far larger capacities, along with dual bays for two hard drives. This allows the Seagate Personal Cloud 2-Bay NAS device to mirror the files on one hard drive to a second one, giving you protection in case one of those drives fails.
We also like the no-fuss appearance of this unit, meaning it can sit nicely under a router or on a shelf. It works with cloud accounts, including Dropbox and Google Drive, and you can also use an app to share content to streamers, including Chromecast and Roku.
3. QNAP TS-251A
Feature-packed media NAS
Capacity: N/A | Interface: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 | Features: Remote file access, HDMI out, 4K media transcoding, DLNA
The QNAP TS-251A is an awesome NAS device that comes with more features than you can shake the included remote control at. You've got dual Ethernet ports, a HDMI out for connecting it up to a TV and beefy hardware including a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Celeron CPU and 4GB of RAM (that can be expanded to 8GB) for hardware transcoding media files.
The QTS operating system allows you to easily install a range of apps, from Plex Media Server, file sharing apps and even a karaoke app, as well as run Ubuntu Linux for even more flexibility.
In short - this is a fantastic NAS device, though you'll need to buy the hard drives separately, so factor that in to the overall cost.
4. Buffalo LinkStation LS220D
A decent dual-bay NAS with built-in BitTorrent
Capacity: 2TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 | Features: Dual bay, WebAccess apps, Apple Time Machine support
This 2TB dual-bay NAS (it's also available in 4, 6, and 8TB capacities) comes from Buffalo, the company that also makes the TeraStation line of advanced NAS units.
The key selling point of this model is that it can integrate directly with BitTorrent, meaning it can download stuff for you even when your PC is turned off. Like many of the other devices here, you can also stream to it via various devices, it's platform agnostic and you can use it as an iTunes server.
5. WD My Cloud Mirror
A unit that backs itself up
Capacity: 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 16TB | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet | Features: Automatic backup, two hard drives, My Cloud mobile app
This two-bay unit can create a mirrored backup of your stuff (duplicating your data on both drives), using RAID configuration. That's quite an advanced feature for a consumer box and you do pay quite a lot for that capability and WD's user-friendly presentation, including an easy-to-master, browser-based control screen.
This is a 4TB unit (6, 8, and 16TB units are also available). For extra piece of mind, you can also back up the contents to Dropbox.
6. Synology DiskStation DS216j 2 Bay Desktop Network Attached Storage
A powerful two-bay enclosure
Capacity: N/A | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet, 2 x USB 3.0 | Features: Dual core CPU, DskStation Manager OS, remote cloud access
This great NAS is a two-bay device with a DLNA media server on board. As with the QNAP enclosure, there's no storage included out of the box, and you'll need to buy your own drives.
While this means it takes a little more time to set up, the flexibility of choosing your own drives means you'll get the capacity and speed you need, while sticking to your budget. The DiskStation software will also sync with Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and others, as well as different DiskStations.
7. WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra
The small business version of the My Cloud Mirror is now even better
Capacity: 4TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 | Features: Remote file access, RAID features, My Cloud OS 3 software
As well as the RAID capabilities found in more expensive and complex NAS devices, this box is meant for small business use and supports Microsoft Active Directory. It can also act as a file server, FTP server, backup server and P2P download server.
WD's EX series are also available in diskless variants, though this price is for the 4TB version. 8TB, 12TB and 16TB are also available. If you don't need any of this extra stuff, then get the My Cloud Mirror.
8. Synology Embedded DataStation EDS14
Not the cheapest enclosure, but there's plenty on offer
Capacity: N/A | Interface: 2x Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, USB 2.0 | Features: Remote file access, fan-less design, SD card slot, dual LAN ports
The EDS14 from Synology is definitely a unique option. The tiny EDS14 foregoes the typical drive bays for flash memory and USB-mounted external storage. However, what it lacks in drive options, it makes up for in its ability to be tucked away out of sight.
The EDS14 can operate in temperatures ranging from -20 to +50 degrees Celsius (-4 to 122 Fahrenheit), and really shines when used as a network attached storage solution for IP cameras that are tucked away in the corners of a building or bus. Building on this idea is the device's relatively low power consumption, along with Surveillance Station software. In other words, if you're looking for a convenient way to set up a network of IP cameras, the EDS14 might be your ticket.
- Read our full Synology Embedded DataStation EDS14 review
9. Western Digital DL4100
Excellent backup for a wide variety of users.
Capacity: 8TB, 16TB, 24TB | Interface: 2x Gigabit Ethernet, 2x USB 3.0, USB 2.0 | Features: Dual LAN, 2GB RAM (expandable up to 6GB), NTP Client
If you're looking for a NAS device to help manage your backup needs, the DL4100 might be worth. taking a look at.
One of the coolest features of this device is its web dashboard that offers users options for backing up to cloud services such as Dropbox and Box. Additionally, we really liked the ability to set up SMS and email alerts in case the system failed for whatever reason.
As far as storage options are concerned, the DL4100 comes with four drive bays in your choice of four configurations. Aside from some annoying issues with wireless transfers, we found that the DL4100's 1.7GHz dual-core Atom processor and 2GB of RAM (configurable up to 6GB) performed admirably. Combine this with an easy setup and cloud connected web apps, and you have an interesting backup offering on your hands.
- Read our full Western Digital DL4100 review
10. Apple AirPort Time Capsule
An expensive option any way you look at it, but it is wireless
Capacity: 2TB, 3TB | Interface: 3x Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 | Features: Automatic wireless backup, easy setup, printer and hard drive sharing
While the Time Capsule offers a seamless option for Mac users, its 2 and 3TB storage options are supremely expensive compared to other alternatives.
It might be wireless itself, but the lack of wireless isn't an issue for any of the other devices here because you will almost always wire them into a router… a wireless router. You access content in exactly the same way.
As with many of the other devices here, you can use the USB port on the rear to share a USB printer or external hard drive.
What the Time Capsule does well is make it easy to setup and configure automatic backups for Mac and iOS users. If you're an Apple fan that doesn't like getting into the nitty gritty of technology, this is a good choice.
- Read our full Apple AirPort Time Capsule review