How to Choose NAS (Network Attached Storage)

By | August 4, 2014

How to store your data? CDs? DVDs or Blu-Rays? Maybe hard drives and usb flash drives? But what if you could put all your files to one place, from anywhere? The solution is Network Attached Storage, or simply put NAS, and this guide helps you to choose NAS.

Quick history

Our need for digital storage space has increased exponentially over the last two decades. People take thousands of pictures and download hundreds of songs, television episodes, and movies from services like Amazon and iTunes.

There was a time that we thought that we would never need more than the 1.44mb that could be stored on a 3.5” floppy drive. Today, you would need more than 700 of those discs to equal the storage capacity of one 1GB flash drive. And that single flash drive doesn’t contain enough storage capacity to hold one 1080p Blu-Ray movie file. The solution? Home NAS.

NAS or Network Attached Storage systems are energy-efficient storage systems that can provide the perfect place for you to store your movies and music. These storage systems are designed to be networked, so you will be able to access your files from any device in your home. If you set up a personal cloud using this system, you will be able to access your files from anywhere!

There are so many NAS systems on the market right now that it can be hard to gather enough information about the options to make an informed choice. Here are some tips and tricks to help guide you through the world of home NAS.

Storage Capacity

The first step in choosing the perfect NAS system for your home is to determine how much storage space you actually need. While it may be nice to have a storage system that can hold 32 TB worth of data, do you need that much space?

Here’s an example of the storage needs of the average computer-savvy user.

Movies: 491 Files – 206 GB

Television Episodes: 928 Files – 257 GB

Music: 17,623 Files – 93 GB

Pictures: 12,234 Files – 27.2 GB

This is all stored on a single 1TB external hard drive, and that still leaves more than 200GB of storage space left over.

The average size of a DVD quality movie file is around 700mb. A 60 minute television episode at 720p resolution will usually take up around 400mb of space. The average music file will only fill up about 8-10mb of your hard drive, where pictures depending on the resolution, will take up between 50kb and 5mb.

So, how much storage space do you need?

Commercially available NAS systems can be obtained in sizes that vary from 2 to 32 TB. If you’re planning on downloading a lot of movies, you might wish to look into a larger storage system. It would also be ideal for professional photographers who take hundreds of high-resolution pictures. If you’re just a casual user, a smaller system might be more cost effective.

Need for backups

As the space requirement is an important question, maybe even important question is, how valuable is your data? What happens, if you lose it, is it end of the world, or do you mind at all? Probably somewhere in between, and that’s why it’s important to talk about backups.

One of the key differences between NAS and a hard drive, is that NAS can keep your data safe, by allowing you to use different RAID configurations. RAID is a technology, which is most commonly used to guarantee that your data is available, even one of your hard drives stops working. So for example, you can lose one of your three hard drives, but still all of your data would be safe.

You can use RAID also in PC or other devices, but usually these solutions are based on software. Software RAID isn’t the optimal solution, actually far from it, because it affects performance a lot. But with NAS, you can use RAID without of a fear of performance drop.

So, how valuable your data is, and are you planning to store it only on NAS? Keep this in mind, while looking for network attached storage. If you feel that RAID would be useful, look a NAS where there’s RAID configuration what you desire.

While you’re thinking about that, we’ll address the step in the guide: price.

Budgeting

Once you’ve determined do you need backups and how much storage space you’ll need, the next thing to consider is the amount of money you’re willing to spend on your home NAS system.

The Seagate Central is a user friendly, easy to use fixed single NAS. What that means is that the 4TB storage capacity is not adjustable, and all you need to do to set this system up is plug it in. At $219, it is one of the most cost effective systems for people with lower storage needs.

Western Digital is one of the best names in external data storage. (Author’s Note: Every external HDD that I’ve ever owned has been a Western Digital, and I’ve never had any issues with them!) The My Cloud Mirror is slightly more expensive, coming in at $399, but it offers more options than the previously mentioned fixed single drive. The JBOD/RAID disc configuration allows the user to update the storage capacity if needed by switching out the existing drives. It comes equipped with 4TB of storage.

For someone who needs large amounts of storage, Synology DiskStation DS1813+ offers 32TB of storage space. The price tag, of course, is much higher than the NAS systems that offer less storage. The price of this device comes in at $1,000. It would be ideal for someone who downloads a lot of high quality movie files. If each 1080p Blu-Ray file is approximately 2GB, you could potentially store 16,000 high resolution movies.

If you’ve got a budget in mind now, here is the next thing you should consider before you buy an NAS system.

Connectivity

There are two aspects of connectivity to consider: the network connection and the physical connection.

How old is your computer? If it was built before the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014, chances are it is equipped with USB 2.0 ports. These ports have been part of the standard installation since the early 00’s and while they do work well enough for their intended purpose, they can be very slow. Have you ever noticed how it takes 15-30 minutes to move a very large file from one location to another via a USB cable? High speed USB 2.0 is only capable of moving about 60MB/second.

USB 3.0 was actually implemented in 2008, but was not fully implemented until last year. The 60MB/second speed that was standard with USB 2.0 is improved 100 fold. USB 3.0 can move files at up to 625MB/s. Rather than taking 10 minutes to move a 700MB DVD-quality movie file, you’d be able to move that same file in less than 2 minutes.

This is important to keep in mind when you are choosing a NAS for your home. Most will be equipped with USB 3.0, which is necessary if you are moving large programs or large files.

If your computer is not equipped with USB 3.0, you can still purchase an NAS that is. The plugs and ports are still compatible. You will just not be able to take advantage of the speeds offered by USB 3.0.

If you purchase a completely wireless NAS, it will need to be connected to an Ethernet cable so your computers and mobile devices can connect to the stored data via your household network connection. The speed of your wireless file transfers will be entirely dependent on the speed of your internet connection.

Before Purchasing

Now, you should have a pretty good idea of what to look for in a NAS system. Here are a few last minute things you should consider before making your final purchase.

Where should I buy my NAS?

While online computer equipment stores may offer the best prices, they will often lack customer support. For best results, and to get all of your questions answered, we suggest visiting your local computer supply store. Best Buy isn’t always your best option. Do a quick Google search of your area to find your local Tiger Direct or similar facility. The men and women who work in these stores are highly trained and will be able to offer advice on your purchase as well as answer any questions you may have.

Are there any warranties for my NAS?

This will vary depending on the brand of NAS that you purchase. Most stores and website will not offer any sort of warranty on electronic devices, though most will replace a device if it is damaged or defective immediately after being removed from the box.

Individual companies will often have warranties on their products that extend well beyond what the website or store is willing or able to do for you. Make sure you register your product with the manufacturer after you have received it and if you begin to have problems with it, make sure you contact the manufacturing company first.

Do I need to call the Geek Squad?

NAS set up and installation is usually fairly simple and straightforward. Most will come with some software that needs to be installed on the computer that is hooked up to, but not all systems will require this. Most are just ‘plug and play’ meaning all you need to do is plug it into your computer and power it up. Once it is connected to your main computer, the rest of the devices on your network should be able to see and access it as well.

Why are there empty spots in my NAS?

These are called bays. These bays give you the ability to upgrade your storage capability by inserting another SATA hard drive into the enclosure. If you have 4TB of storage and 4 bays, chances are you have two 2TB hard drives installed and two empty bays, meaning that you could easily upgrade your overall storage capacity to 6 or even 8TB without doing anything more than plugging in a hard drive.

Conclusions

Purchasing an NAS for your home can be a great way to free up some of your internal hard drive space while providing a neat and easy way for everyone on your network to be able to access shared files like movies, music and pictures.

Hopefully this guide has pointed you in the right direction. Don’t let the price of these NAS systems intimidate you, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before you make your final purchase.



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