It's November, and we're carefully monitoring for hard disk drives and solid-state drives with even larger storage capacities after TechRadar Pro reported earlier this year the news that hard drives with capacities exceeding 30TB could come as soon as 2023. Everything's all quiet on this front for now, so these drives remain our best choices for drives that balance storage space, speed, reliability, and affordability to make great network-attached storage devices. It's worth addressing, though, that our choices are likely to become even cheaper once the leap to larger devices is made.
Luke Hughes, Graduate Junior Writer
Welcome to our pick of the best NAS hard drives. A large, fast, dependable hard drive is essential if you have a network-attached storage device.
No matter how much you spend on a NAS device, if the hard drive (or, more commonly now, SSD) in it isn't up to scratch, you could be facing wasted money and, worse, lost or damaged files.
So, how do you pick the best NAS drive for your needs? First of all, you need to think about what you need. Is speed the most important thing? Or would you rather have the largest capacity you can afford to save all your documents?
How about a mega cache – or vibration protection? These are just some considerations when checking out the best NAS hard drives.
To help you choose, our pick of the best NAS hard drive for small business and home office environments can be found below. And with our built-in price comparison tool, you can shop safely with the knowledge that you're getting the best price.
Backup your NAS drive with cloud storage (opens in new tab)
IDrive, the cloud backup (opens in new tab) veteran, delivers tons of storage online for an incredibly small outlay. 10TB for $3.98 for the first year is unmatched till now and so is the support for unlimited devices and the extensive file versioning system available.
The best NAS hard drive
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It is amazing that it is possible to cram ten 2TB platters and 20 heads into a 3.5-inch drive package. But Seagate achieved this using CMR technology and by replacing the atmosphere inside the drive with Helium.
On the plus side of this equation, the new IronWolf Pro 20TB is 2TB bigger than the 18TB model, about 25MB/s faster at reading and writing, and it's more power-efficient. All these advantages come at a price that is only marginally more than the 18TB option. So it’s a no-brainer for commercial and enterprise NAS to support the needs of creative professionals and large businesses, surely?
The blot on this landscape is the yearly workload limit of 300TB, which could easily be eaten by regular integrity testing, not to mention actual use. With data center drives offering 550TB workload limits at a very similar price and nearly identical performance, the IronWolf Pro might not be the best drive for the job, depending on your NAS profile.
Read the full review: Seagate IronWolf Pro 20TB (opens in new tab)
It was only a few years ago that Western Digital’s 6TB NAS was the pack leader, offering more storage space than you could get from competing models. While that’s no longer the case, it’s still a unit with capacious storage space. Designed for businesses and consumers, it offers fast performance, especially in multi-drive environments where it boasts strong large-block sequential read and write-speeds.
If your business requires storing large files (or just lots of them), WD’s Gold series stretches to a massive 12TB in size. And they boast some exciting traits: not least being filled with helium to protect tiny components inside that can become damaged by atmospheric turbulence. It's on par with any of Seagate’s 12TB offerings regarding reading and write performance and offers many of its rival drives’ features at no extra cost.
WD’s Red Pro continues the company’s mantra of offering affordable and reliable storage that reduces the total cost of ownership. It packs 3D Active Balance Plugs tech, which is said to significantly improve the over-drive performance and reliability. That’s in addition to NASware tech, which is designed to improve reliability and system performance, reduce downtime and simplify the integration process while offering robust data protection.
Another Seagate drive with ten 2TB platters in the classic 3.5-inch form factor to sit alongside the new IronWolf Pro 20TB. The only significant difference on the outside is that the EXOS comes in a SAS flavor in addition to a conventional SATA variety model.
The EXOS drive beats the IronWolf Pro with a workload limit of 550TB, a significant improvement over the 300TB of its brother mechanism. These are the same workload limits as the Western Digital UltraStar DC HC560 20TB and WD Gold 20TB.
Tuned for data center use, the EXOS 20TB is designed for high-capacity servers, enterprise NAS systems, and bulk storage. While the cost is higher than the 18TB models, it is slightly faster and offers enhanced rack space efficiency. Until the rumored microwave-assisted switching (MAS-MAMR) drives come along, the EXOS 20TB is as big a hard drive as you can buy.
Read the full review: Seagate EXOS 20TB (opens in new tab)
Toshiba is pitching its N300, which has a 180TB/year workload rating, at small offices seeking high reliability in a NAS hard drive. It offers high performance at 7200 RPM with a large 128GB cache, and it’s driven by integrated RV sensors internally that mitigate the impact of rotational vibrations on components. Other features in include up to a 256MB buffer, with scalability of up to eight drive bays in a multi-raid environment.
Synology's DiskStation DS1522+ is a quality drive, though it falters regarding external drive connections. What makes this drive quality, though, is its AMD Ryzen power, lack of tools needed for upgrades, and the 10Gb Ethernet option.
To the untrained eye, this drive looks nearly identical to its predecessor, simply adding an access panel in the back for a 10Gb Ethernet port. The DS1522+ also has upgraded memory speed, allowing multiple applications to run on this NAS simultaneously, which is precisely what this drive was built for.
Read the full review: Synology DiskStation DS1522+
What is bits per cell?
Anthony Spence, from SSD and memory specialist Silicon Power, answers this question.
Flash memory cells are the basic building blocks of NAND Flash. Data is stored as bits in the cells, the bits represent an electrical charge contained within the cell that can be readily switched on and off by means of an electrical charge. Adding bits to the cell increases the number of states a cell can have, thereby exponentially increasing its capacity.
Additionally, the number of bits a cell contains serves as one of the primary ways to classify NAND Flash:
Single-Level Cell (SLC): They can only store one bit per cell and take up to two levels of charge. SLC NAND offers the highest performance, reliability and endurance (up to 100K P/E (program/erase) cycles). However, the memory density is the lowest among the variants and the price per GB is considerably higher than the other types. SLC is only available in 2D format and mostly used in enterprise setups.
Multi-Level Cell (MLC): MLC takes up to 2-bits per cell and four levels of charge. Available both in 2D and 3D variants, MLC offers good performance, reliability and endurance at a cheaper price than SLC. 3D NAND variants can reach P/E cycles in the range of 30K.
Triple-Level Cell (TLC): TLC stores 3-bits per cell for up to eight levels of charge. Commonly used for consumer grade products, TLC has a lower performance, reliability and endurance to the previous two. However a cheaper price and higher memory density make up for the drop in performance. The 3D variant can reach up to 3K P/E cycles.
Quadruple-Level Cell (QLC): Similarly to TLC, QLC is also commonly found in consumer grade products. QLC stores 4-bits per cell and can take up to 16 levels of charge. Among the 4 variants listed, it has the highest memory density and cheapest price. However, the lower price comes at a cost in performance, reliability and endurance (up to 1K P/E).
Penta-Level Cell (PLC): Announced in 2019, PLC has been hailed as the logical next step in solid state storage technology. With the capacity to store 5-bits per cell and up to 32 (2^5) levels, PLC is expected to knock down HDD’s last line of defense, namely high storage capacity at affordable prices. PLC will ease the production of high capacity low cost SSDs; however the drawbacks in terms of endurance, speed and reliability found in QLC will still persist.