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How to choose a home NAS for your storage needs

Ready to create your own network attached storage system? Here’s how to start.

network attached storage box on desk
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

When you decide that you need a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device for your home, there’s a lot of information thrown at you when making purchasing decisions. Do you need to stream 4K video? How much storage space do you need? What apps do you want running on your NAS instead of using up your PC’s resources?

The sheer number of data points can be overwhelming, so we rounded up some handy tips to get you started. There are also a few recommendations, as always, based on products or companies we’ve personally used and can vouch for.

What do you need to store?

Are you planning to just rid yourself of your dependency on OneDrive, or do you have grander plans? Maybe a Plex server capable of serving 4K content to all your devices? If so, you’ll have to take note of the CPU that the NAS uses, as you’ll need a hefty one to transcode 4K.

Thankfully, there’s a handy document that the NAS community has maintained that shows which NAS enclosures are capable of 4K transcoding. You might be better off building your own NAS in that case, and we’ll have a guide on that soon.

How many drive bays do you need?

drive bays for nas

Image: KnowTechie

Some planning here is needed, as you don’t want to underprovision your NAS, or buy one with more drive bays than you’ll actually use. A good way to decide is by totaling all the storage you have in cloud services and the devices you use. That lets you know how much space you’ll need to back up everything.

Then add to that number based on how much data you create. Like to take home movies? Add all the storage you can afford, so your precious memories live on. Haven’t managed to fill your free OneDrive quota after 5 years? Maybe you only need a couple of drives so you know your data is stored where you control it.

If you’re just starting on your storage journey and want to bring your cloud storage in-house so you don’t have to pay subscription fees, we recommend the TerraMaster F2-210. For $150, you get a capable NAS with space for two drives that support up to 16 TB drives, Emby and Plex server support, cloud drive sync and a capable mobile app.

If that’s not enough for your storage needs, check out the 6 Bay DiskStation DS1618+ from Synology. The extra cash gives you room to grow, with some of the easiest to setup software in the business. It’s got an inbuilt virtual machine manager if you need that functionality and multi-version backup which helps defend against human error and ransomware. You can also expand it to a total of 16 drives with additional enclosures.

Once you’ve figured that out, check out our guide on choosing NAS hard drives.

What software options do you want?

diskstation nas screen

Image: Synology

Are you just going to be storing your precious photos and documents, or do you plan on using your NAS as a fully-fledged server? While any NAS enclosure can be used for simple backup, if you want to run programs on it, or use the various backup options in your computer’s operating system, you’ll need to dig into the specs. Support for Apple’s Time Machine isn’t commonly found, so make sure if you’re a Mac user that you look for that first.

Again, Synology gets our vote here if you need more functionality. Their DiskStation Manager software is super easy to use and comes with a huge array of plugins from both Synology and third-party providers like WordPress. You can even run a fairly large business from one, with integrated chat services, mail servers and more. You can also roll out a hybrid cloud by connecting a Synology NAS to various public cloud services such as Google Drive so all the files in both can be accessed in one place.

Connectivity and power needs

uninterrupted power supply

Image: KnowTechie

At a minimum, you’ll need to run an Ethernet cable from the back of your router to the rear of the NAS. Some NAS enclosures have a USB port that you could set up with a USB WiFi dongle, but it’s more pain than it’s worth for most users. Make sure the NAS you choose has enough ports for your needs, and if you need specialty ones like for 10G Ethernet read the specifications page carefully.

The other thing to take care of is power needs. You’re likely going to be running your NAS 24/7. That means two things, that you need to account for the additional energy use, and that you also need to think about what happens if the power goes out while you’re not there.

You might want to invest in an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to give your NAS those precious minutes to finish writing data and shut down. We like this one from APC, which has enough stored juice to let you safely shut down your NAS, so you don’t lose any precious data. After all, the whole point of your NAS is storing that data safely, right?

Do you need any add-ons?

Will you be running large databases, multiple virtual machines, or doing heavy video editing from your NAS? If so, you’ll benefit from SSD cache, such as used on this add-on card from Synology. The other bonus? Because it’s on an add-on card, you free up drive bays so you can put more storage into your NAS. Winner. It’ll need a compatible NAS enclosure like the DS1618+ though, which does make the cost creep up.

Do you need sustained transfer speeds over your network instead? The same NAS can support a 10 GbE add-in card instead, giving you up to ten times the network bandwidth if the rest of your network is also 10G.

Our recommendation:

Okay, so this isn’t a set in stone recommendation because your needs may differ, but we like Synology NAS devices here at KnowTechie. The combination of solid connectivity, easy to use software and their new hybrid RAID is a winner in our books. The $735 DiskStation DS1618+ is what we’re using to store and archive all our product shots and prior reviews, as well as backups of our various cloud storage accounts and email accounts. Synology’s admin dashboard is one of the best we’ve used, and if you’ve used any modern OS, you’ll pick it up in no time.

The only drawback we’ve found on this unit? It can’t handle transcoding, so unless the devices you’re watching Plex with support Direct Play, you’ll be limited to watching 1080p files.

What do you think? Plan on setting up your own NAS system? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

Editors’ Recommendations:

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