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Best NAS 2022: Top network-attached storage devices
If cloud-based servers don't meet all of your storage needs, consider a NAS solution. We selected a handful of devices that passed our reliability torture tests and offer superior usability and feature sets.
If you work for a large company, you undoubtedly have access to a corporate file server. But if you work for a small business or you're working from home, your file server is likely to be in the cloud, probably something offered by Dropbox, AWS, Google, or Microsoft. Cloud-based servers are good (here I talk about how one saved my bacon), but for full-time work-at-home folks, cloud based servers don't always cut the mustard.
Cloud-based servers are terrible for video editing, as it takes forever to upload and download video to the cloud (even if you have a fast pipe). If you're doing anything with video (or other large files), you're unlikely to find cloud storage practical except, maybe, for backup. Second, cloud servers can get kind of expensive. Sure, if you're equipping a NAS, you're paying for drives, but once you pay out the expense for the NAS and drives, you're done. You don't have to pay for it month after month after month.
Don't get me wrong. I strongly recommend cloud storage as one leg in a 3-2-1 backup strategy, but for home and small office use, a NAS can be invaluable. It's fast, it's easy to get to, you can segment shares for family members or workgroups, and many NASes offer a wide range of additional applications that turn your box into a local, private, on-premises general-purpose business server.
Let's dive in. I'm showing you six machines that I am sure will serve you well over the years.
By far, the standout feature of any Synology NAS is the company's exceptional DiskStation Manager (DSM) software. While the Synology hardware is on-par with many other NAS offerings, it's when that hardware is combined with the DSM software that Synology's offerings become best-in-class.
Synology's DS1621+ ships with built-in enterprise grade data software and support for dozens of applications, OS and SaaS services. Featuring six hard drive bays by default and expandable up to 16 bays total DS920+ is a compact and economical NAS solution with plenty of room to expand as the users data storage needs grow.
Running DiskStation Manager 7.0, DS1621+ comes complete with Synology's suite of enterprise backup solutions. This includes Active Backup for Business which allows users to backup Windows PCs, VMs, SaaS applications like Microsoft 365 and more. All license and subscription free. Active Backup for Business has a number of useful features baked in including the ability to instantly restore accidentally deleted or destroyed data.
Also included is Synology's Hyper Backup software which allows you to backup your entire NAS, or specific files and folders to most major cloud service providers. This flexible and free backup software gives the user enterprise-grade tools in an easy to understand format. This makes setting up a proper 3-2-1 backup environment a breeze no matter what devices or how many you are responsible for.
The DS1621+ is also a certified storage devices for VMware and is compatible with most major virtulization platforms including Windows Server, Microsoft's Hyper-V and Citrix. In addition to being ideal for standard iSCSI storage, DS1621+ also comes with Synology's Snapshot Replication software which gives users the ability to Snapshot specific LUNs or shared folders and replicate them to an offsite Synology device.
Don't think of this box as just a NAS. Instead, think of it as a server with RAID and NAS capabilities. Not only can it support 64GB RAM, it's running a 64-bit x86 AMD Ryzen embedded V1500B 4-core/8-thread 2.2GHz processor. This is not just a file server. It could very well be equipped as a small departmental bare-metal VM or container server.
The selection of applications QNAP offers is nothing short of ridonculous. Not only can you install the usual NAS suspects, but you can run a Chrome browser or even install a full Ubuntu on top of the NAS capabilities.
QNAP offers two NAS operating systems for this device, their normal QTS environment and their ZFS-based QuTS hero operating system. This later OS has increased performance and reliability, but at the cost of some system resources.
So where does this fit in our overall pantheon of recommendations? Put simply, it's an appliance server. But not just a file or web server. This can serve up containers and VMs, making it quite possibly the core of a small business or department.
The Drivestor 4 Pro is a new offering from ASUSTOR with a focus on design. They tell us the "all-new rose gold logo perfectly complements the diamond-cut design." ASUSTOR was founded in 2011 by an investment from ASUS, the world's 5th largest PC vendor by unit sales, according to Gartner.
The internal 2GB RAM is unfortunately not expandable, but we were impressed with the 2.5G Ethernet port. Be aware, however, that many switches and routers don't support 2.5G, so you might be limited to the performance of a typical 1G Ethernet feed.
The Drivestor 4 Pro series is first ASUSTOR device to use the new ADM 4.0 operating system. ADM has more than 200 applications in App Central that include various tools, business applications, office applications and digital home entertainment.
Overall, the ASUSTOR Drivestor 4 Pro is a solid offering with a compelling price-per-bay. We've noticed availability fluctuates, especially with current supply chain issues, but at this price it's understandable why some resellers are having difficulty keeping it in stock.
Our experience with TerraMaster is it's a solid offering at a budget-friend price. We found the user interface to be clean and well done, and the overall usage experience to be solid. Now, to be clear, this is not a QNAP or Synology, but those devices are considerably more expensive.
During our testing, we had not difficulties with the unit and it passed our RAID tests. However, there are sporadic user reviews complaining of system failure -- but TerraMaster seems to have provided solid support for those users. For those with the bucks to spend, we still recommend the top-tier brands. But as long as you practice 3-2-1 backup and make sure you backup this server (which you should do as a matter of practice with any NAS), you should have a good experience.
It's kind of odd that Drobo hasn't updated its one NAS storage array since 2017, but that goes to Drobo's main focus as a direct-attached storage solution. Even though it's been around for a while, the Drobo 5N2 has to go into our list of the best NAS devices, chiefly because its RAID functionality is just so good.
Let's clarify where this device fits: If you want a server with lots of apps and features, the Drobo is absolutely not for you. But if you want brain-dead easy RAID that keeps your drives safe and available on your LAN, and you don't really care about much else, the 5N2 is a win. The Drobo justifiably won my best-in-show award for RAID performance, which was flawless in my testing. It also landed at the very bottom for network features, so you win some and you lose some. Go ahead and read and watch my full review for the in-depth details.
Face it. No matter where you work or what you do, one day the #&@! is going to hit the fan. It doesn't matter if it's earthquakes or hurricanes (two things my home office had to live through) or some other form of disaster, it's likely that your drives will be at risk, at least part of the time.
Now, let's be clear: We never recommend you store all your data in one place. In fact, the 3-2-1 backup strategy we recommend involves storing three copies of your data, using at least two different types of storage mechanisms and at least one copy of which is stored off-site. But restoring from off-site can be difficult and time-consuming, and cloud backups get very expensive as your data usage goes up. It's not a bad idea to have a robust storage solution in-house.
That's where ioSafe comes in. ioSafe builds NAS boxes inside boxes that are, essentially, safes. They're fire and water-proof. They also weigh a ton and are rock solid, so (especially if you attach them to a floor or closet with an available bracket), you can prevent them from walking away. As a bonus, the ioSafe machines use Synology's DSM software, making them very easy to use.
I use an ioSafe machine as a second backup to my main Synology box. It comes on once a week, accepts a backup, and then shuts off. That way, even if my network is breached, the ioSafe is powered down except for a few hours each week. My drives are protected physically and (mostly) air-gapped from the internet. You can implement this strategy, as well.
I have a five-bay model, but I've recommended a two-bay model here, simply because they are quite expensive due to the added protection. Also, expect to pay $50 to $100 for shipping because these machines are very, very heavy.
I wouldn't be allowed to get out of this article alive if I didn't mention the option of building your own NAS box. There is no law that says you need to buy a pre-built box from a vendor. You can repurpose an old PC or even build a very custom NAS solution to meet your exact needs.
For years and years, I always built my own NAS boxes, including some that were very customized. But as the NAS offerings from vendors like Synology, QNAP, and Drobo got better, the need to build my own diminished. I also had a ton of other projects to work on, and delegating NAS building to others saved me some time.
If you're super-comfortable with specing PC parts and building PCs, you'll probably want to go it on your own. But if you're new to PC building, buying an appliance NAS is probably the way to go. I'm not going to go into too much more detail, because this article covers it in some depth. Not everyone agrees with my assessment, so if you want to really see what folks think, visit my YouTube video of the same name and dig through the hundreds of comments. There are good conversations there.
As with many of my other "best of" lists, this one comes out of my experience. I've been running NAS boxes since sometime in the 1980s. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to bring boxes in from seven vendors and stress test them in the lab. From those tests, come my top recommendations.
While the devices here aren't the identical ones tested in the lab (with one exception), these all reflect the technology from each vendor. In addition, I'm using devices from three of the four vendors recommended here on a daily or weekly basis, so I have a lot of experience with how well they work.
So, how should you choose? In this case, the decision tree is pretty straightforward. You need, of course, to determine your budget and storage needs. Almost all vendors offer models in two bays (room for two drives) and up. If you need a ton of storage, get more bays. I'm running two eight-bay units, one four-bay unit, and one five-bay unit here at Camp David, but I produce a lot of video and need a lot of media asset storage.
From there, here's a good decision tree:
If you want a high-performance computer that can run VMs with ease: Get the QNAP. It can be expanded to 64GB RAM and has the power to host VMs and containers. The Synology can do this as well, with a slightly nicer interface, but it can only be expanded up to 32GB RAM.
If you're concerned about surviving the apocalypse or you work in Congress: Get the ioSafe. It's an armored fortress of a NAS.
If you don't care about apps and just want to share files with easy-peasy RAID: Get the Drobo. It makes RAID (even on the bad days when a drive fails) about as easy and reliable as it gets.
If you have any other NAS needs, get the Synology options: Synology is by far the brand I recommend when people come to me for NAS recommendations, as borne out in my lab testing and experience.
So, there you go. Let us know what you're doing for file sharing, local storage, and NAS options in the comments below.