Our beginner’s guide to network-attached storage (NAS)

Want to learn more about this NAS business? Enter the rabbit hole.

Limited storage space is an issue most people will experience, whether it’s on a portable device like a smartphone and tablet, a video game console, or even a desktop PC. We’re all going to run into that dreaded “this device is running low on free space” message eventually. This is where network-attached storage (NAS for short) comes into play and we’re going to run you through everything you need to know.

What is a NAS?

Network-attached storage is exactly what the name describes. It’s smart storage attached to your local network. Imagine an external drive with its own OS and other features and you’ve basically got yourself a NAS enclosure. These super-useful servers are perfect for the home and office.

A NAS comes in a variety of configurations. It’s possible to spend very little on two-bay enclosures that are best suited for file storage and backups, or you can go all-out with 10 bays or more and buy the best NAS available. These more advanced servers can do so much more, like hosting websites and running media servers.

Synology DiskStation DS419slim

Popular NAS terms

A handy glossary for learning all about NAS.

Instead of connecting a NAS to a PC or device directly, you need to access it over the network. Most devices have the necessary support for the protocols to connect to NAS and manage files. You can move photos from your smartphone to your NAS server and edit them on your PC in a matter of moments.

How to choose the best NAS

Front of the QNAP TS-464. (Source: NM)

The most important factor in determining which NAS enclosure is best for you is price. These servers can get really expensive. I’m talking a couple of thousand when taking into account countless bays and high-speed LAN connectivity. Really, all you need is a NAS with at least two drive bays.

Single-bay NAS are available, but these should only be used for storing files that are already backed up elsewhere or if you want a server to test some things out. Having more than a single drive bay available lets you take advantage of more capacity or data redundancy.

There are different brands that make NAS enclosures and they differ in design and software support. Synology is arguably one of the more popular options whilst TerraMaster is a little less known and offers more affordable servers with slightly worse software support.

Synology DiskStation DS220+

Best NAS

We’ve rounded up all the best NAS.

If we were to recommend a single model for most people, it would be the Synology DiskStation DS220+. This server has two drive bays, which is enough for most homes, and an Intel CPU that will let all family members access stored data simultaneously. Then there’s the possibility of running Plex Media Server.

Synology DiskStation DS220+

Synology DiskStation DS20+
Synology DiskStation DS20+. (Source: NAS Master)

Our favourite NAS enclosure is the Synology DS220+. It has two drive bays, an Intel processor, upgradable RAM, and an amazing operating system. This is the NAS to get.

How to set up your NAS

Once you’ve chosen the best NAS drives (be it HDD or SSD) and installed them inside your new server, it’s time to set up the operating system. This is where the fun begins and it’s usually the same process for all manufacturers. Simply load the server IP in your favorite browser and follow the wizard.

You’ll see the term RAID or redundant array of inexpensive disks (what is RAID?) thrown about with NAS and it’s essentially a technology that allows the combining of multiple physical drives into a single volume. There are a few RAID configurations available, but I’d recommend having one enabled that saves some of your data in case of a drive failure.

Once you’re up and running, most NAS operating systems will let you install apps like Plex Media Server. These will expand the functionality of your server beyond simple file storage. There’s so much you can do with NAS and you can learn more right here on NAS Master.

By Richard Edmonds

Richard has been covering the technology industry for more than a decade. He has spent more time tinkering inside a PC chassis than anywhere else, for better or worse.

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