There are plenty of NAS (network-attached storage) enclosures which you can load with hard drives to create effective centralised storage for your home network. All promise to keep your data accessible and backed up for redundancy on multiple drives, but which ones do the best job? Here are five top picks based on your nominations.
Title photo by Sinchen.Lin.
Whatever NAS system you choose, some features are common across the board in this roundup: all systems have internal memory to run an operating system, so the drives you choose to add can be used purely for storage. Where systems vary is in how many drives they can handle and the number of connectivity options they offer.
Synology DS212j ($210)
The Synology DS212j is a two-drive bay model aimed squarely at home users and small groups looking for a budget NAS solution. It can also function as a low-powered 24/7 downloading system. It is also DLNA-certified, which makes for easy media streaming to connected devices on your home network. The DS212J supports a maximum capacity of 8TB (using two 4TB drives), and includes a pair of USB 2.0 ports and 1 Gigabit Ethernet port on the back. The device comes with backup software for Windows, is Time Machine compatible, and can be configured for remote access to your files. The Synology app for iOS and Android also lets you retrieve files on your smartphone or tablet.
Synology DS1512+ ($790)
If you need a large amount of capacity in your NAS, the DS1512 is a five-bay model that supports a maximum of 20TB (five lots of 4TB). It sports a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports on the rear, and has two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports for external connectivity along with an eSATA port. If you need to extend the device's storage capabilities, it can easily be daisy chained via iSCSI or eSATA to other models using a Synology DX expansion unit. The larger model is a little less energy-efficient than its smaller cousins, but the device can support whatever operating system you choose to throw on it thanks to its internal (and expandable) memory.
Netgear ReadyNAS Pro 2 ($500)
Netgear's ReadyNAS line of appliances offer some high-end features at a relatively low price. The ReadyNAS Pro 2 is a two-drive bay model that supports a maximum of 12TB of storage including externally connected hard drives via its six SATA II channels and three USB 2.0 ports. It offers dual Gigabit Ethernet ports. In addition to operating as a file server, the ReadyNAS Pro 2 functions as a print server if you attach a USB printer to it, and is streaming compatible with Windows Media Center, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360. The ReadyNAS Pro 2 isn't a desktop model, so no backup software is included, but it does function with network-compatible Windows backup clients and Time Machine on Macs.
Synology DS412+ ($660)
Synology's DS412+ is a prosumer NAS model targeted at small business users. The DS412+ is a four drive bay model that supports up to 16TB (for lots of 4TB) and features dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port and one eSATA port on the rear of the device. Like the other pro models, the 412+ can be daisy chained via eSATA or iSCSI to additional units for added storage, and can be configured for remote access or even to host external web sites or business applications that need to be accessible from multiple locations.
Build It Yourself
Many Lifehacker readers opt for a "built it yourself" approach to NAS systems. Some opt to use an existing older computer stuffed with larger drives; others will build a new dedicated machine for the purpose. The choice is a largely matter of convenience, easy setup and support versus choice and expandability. If you decide to assemble your own DIY NAS, check out our guides to building a home file server or useful constructing a streaming and torrenting machine. Photo by Justin Ruckman.
We were tempted to group the many nominees into models so we didn't have so many Synology boxes in the roundup, but we did set out to find the best NAS enclosures, not who makes the best NAS systems. Still, we're betting you have some alternatives to suggest, so let's hear them below.