Those who work together on photo editing, video editing or in any other industry that requires storing lots of videos, photos or other files, sooner or later realize that storing files on separate computers is not the best idea. Moving files between PCs—especially if they are large—becomes an incredibly difficult and time-consuming task. That is where NAS or Network Attached Storage enters the chat. These devices allow you to store lots of data on one large server that is always available for devices within your network. It is much cheaper to use compared to cloud storage and it offers much more flexibility. Depending on the needs of the user, NAS can offer from few to thousands of terabytes of free space.
NAS is a good solution not only for office or enterprise use. Many people buy small NAS for home use and storing their media library thus make it available on all devices whether it is a PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. In addition to that, NAS offers data redundancy and lowers the risk of data loss in case of HDD or SSD failure. In this article, we are going to tell what you need to know when shopping for a NAS.
How to Choose a NAS?
Let us start with the NAS form-factor as it defines lots of different options and features available for your disposal. There are two different types of NAS. One is rack-mounted and the second is a regular tower. Rack NAS looks more like a regular server and it is optimized for better performance and large disk capacities (it works with no less than 4 drives installed and more). In addition to that, rack NAS is usually equipped with two PSUs for power redundancy. If one PSU fails, secondly keeps your data accessible with no interruptions.
If you want to buy a rack NAS, prepare for some inconveniences. For example, it takes much more space than a regular tower NAS, it is very noisy, and it is less user-friendly to install and maintain. In contrast to that, tower NAS takes less space and is much easier to install and maintain but at the same time they usually offer less performance. Synology 4 bay NAS DiskStation DS418 is one of the best tower NAS with 4 disk bays suited for home or small office use. QNAP TS-451 is similar to the one above and for those who don’t need 4 bay NAS there are options like TerraMaster F2-210 or Synology DS218J. If you need more than 4 bays, Synology DS1819 offers you 8 bays to spare.
Long story short: tower NAS is more than enough for home use or a small office. Medium business, big production team and large companies will have to stick to a powerful rack-mounted NAS.
Usually, NAS comes with no preinstalled drives. You need to buy separate drives and install them on your own. This leads to a few additional nuances you need to consider. First, is it possible to replace a drive on the go without turning off a NAS? Second, how drives are mounted? Special sliders make drive installation hassle-free and easy. Third, consider disk size. They are SFF and LFF or 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch. Fourth is cooling. The hard drive itself generates a lot of heat and if there are many drives, the amount of heat increases drastically. Cooling is very important so make sure the NAS of your choice offers good cooling. If you buy a NAS for home use, make sure the place for it is well-vented and has a constant flow of fresh air, otherwise, your NAS will overheat.
Another good thing is a special door with a lock to protect your drives from stealing and unauthorized access.
Usually, NAS works with any regular drive you can put inside your PC but some are better suited for network usage. NAS-oriented drives offer larger cache and bigger warranty, plus they are filled with helium to reduce the turbulence generated from a spinning disk. Also, consider buying drives that are optimized for RAID in configuration RAID1, RAID0 or RAID5. RAID combinations offer data redundancy and protect you from data loss in case of drive malfunction.
- RAID 1 combines disks and records information in a mirrored fashion so that the disks secure each other, which also speeds up the reading of data. Uses a minimum of 2 HDDs.
- RAID 0 combines disks and doubles the access speed, but does not affect fault tolerance. Also at least 2 HDDs.
- RAID 5 is a RAID configuration that uses disk striping with parity. Positively affects fault tolerance, it is used from 3 HDDs.
If you don’t want to bother choosing a hard drive for your NAS, consider options with preinstalled drives like QNAP 2 Bay NAS with two 4 TB Seagate IronWolf NAS HDDs or QNAP 4 Bay Rackmount NAS with 4TB Seagate IronWolf Drives. There are also options from Synology (Synology BeyondCloud Mirror 2-Bay with 2×3 TB Seagate drives) or Buffalo (BUFFALO TeraStation 3410DN Desktop 12 TB) Obviously, these NAS’ will be much more expensive but they are almost plug-and-play. They come pre-configured out of the box and mostly do not require additional settings.
In case you are willing to buy HDDs for your NAS on your own, consider the following options:
- Seagate IronWolf NAS HDD. Available from 1 to 16 TB with a cache up to 256 MB.
- WD Gold Enterprise HDD. From 1 to 14 TB with a cache up to 256 MB.
- WD Red PRO HDD. From 2 to 14 TB with up to 256 MB cache.
- Toshiba N300 NAS. Available in configuration with 4-14 TB and 256 MB cache.
- Seagate Exos 12 TB HDD. Also available with 14 TB capacity.
To improve your experience, NAS manufacturers offer additional features. For example, additional Ethernet port for network expansion, additional USB ports for external drives connection, printer support, one-button backup, etc. Also, some NAS solutions come with built-in Wi-Fi. Such an option will be useful for home-use and streaming.
NAS CPU and RAM
NAS can use simple Intel Atom in budget versions, and in top-end models, you can find something like Intel Xeon or Intel Core. Some NAS models have ARM processors. NAS with ARM CPU is a good choice for use at home or in a small office where the number of connections to network storage drives is small. It is also worth noting that NAS with ARM processor is very difficult to modernize or repair because RAM and the processor are soldered directly on the motherboard. This makes upgrading ARM-based NAS almost impossible.
In addition to the processor and the network controller, overall performance and the simultaneous number of connections depending on the amount of RAM in your NAS. Here’s the rule of thumb: 1 GB of RAM per 1 TB of data. This means that a 16TB NAS array must be equipped with at least 16 GB of RAM.