A modern NAS is essentially a tiny but efficient and powerful computer, capable of going beyond file storage and running third-party applications.
Home use is not just backups and storage — a modern NAS can download torrents, record security footage, run third-party software, and more.
For remote management and access, smartphone apps let you create personal cloud storage and are critical to getting the most from a NAS.
We have tested a range of devices, from the most basic units to ready-to-go NAS with drives installed, all the way up to very powerful models with high-end hardware and features.
Two-bay devices are ideal for home use — it’s often cheaper to buy higher-capacity drives than it is to shell out for more drive slots. For future storage expansion, USB 3.0 and an external drive is simple and fast.
When shopping for a NAS, keep in mind the sort of usage you need. Simple DLNA media streaming does not need much grunt, whereas those who want to transcode video, run third-party applications or use AES security need a more powerful NAS.
Outright read/write speeds are less important than the quality of the operating system and mobile apps. The latest models support options such as the Btrfs file system or direct HDMI outputs and IR remote controls.
For many users, a NAS able to handle 4K media is overkill, but with the increasing amount of content (and cheap 4K TVs) available, it’s worth keeping in mind for future proofing.
How we tested
We tested with dual Seagate Barracuda 2TB 3.5-inch drives, or the pre-installed options.
Read/write speeds were checked with a Netgear D6300 router and CrystalDiskMark to a mapped network drive.
Apps were tested on a Nexus 5X, and media streamed to a Chromecast.
Rather than the dual-core Celeron N3050 CPU, the AS6202T has the more powerful quad-core N3150. It boosts up to 2.08GHz, yet uses less than 6W of power. The NAS also has 4GB of RAM, which is upgradeable to 8GB.
For faster transfer speeds, it has dual Gigabit LAN ports, which support link aggregation.
For media buffs, the NAS has an HDMI 1.4b output that can handle 4K resolutions, as well as S/PDIF audio. The AS6202T has hardware transcoding, as well as support for streaming and third-party apps such as Kodi and Plex, as well as an optional IR remote.
The NAS takes both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch HDDs (and can run them in RAID), but also has two eSATA expansion ports.
On the front, it has USB 3.0, as well as another two of both 3.0 and 2.0 ports on the rear. The NAS also has hardware AES-NI encryption, which gives protection with minimal transfer speed reduction.
Not surprisingly, performance is absolutely top notch — in fact, it’s (glorious) overkill unless you need to do a serious amount of transcoding, streaming and 4K playback all at once.
The ADM OS on the AS6202T is solid and easy to use, and there is a range of very good iOS and Android apps available for personal cloud and mobile use.
Verdict: Flagship performance for home and media use, without an excessive price premium.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
The D-Link is available unpopulated, and supports 3.5-inch drives (but not 2.5-inch options) in JBOD, RAID 0 or RAID 1, with a total capacity up to 12TB. It features a single core 1.2GHz Marvell Armada 370 CPU, along with 512MB of RAM.
Round the back, it has a single Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as USB 3.0 that can be used to connect an external drive or printer.
In testing, the NAS is easy enough to get set up and offers reasonable speeds for the price.
Designed for basic home networks, the D-Link can handle backups, as well as stream music and videos.
It supports DLNA and UPnP, iTunes, can download torrents, and has extra functionality (such as IP video support) available via apps.
Other important uses include operating as a person cloud, via mydlink and iOS, Windows Mobile and Android apps.
The setup is pretty good, and allows remote monitoring, backups, streaming and configuration without much hassle. The NAS can also integrate with existing cloud storage, such as Google Drive.
For those with even less demanding performance concerns, the D-Link NAS has a $50 cheaper sibling. The DNS-320L has the same footprint, but uses a slower 1GHz CPU, 256MB of RAM and has USB 2.0 instead of 3.0.
Verdict: An affordable beginners NAS, but it’s worth paying more for higher-end features.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
The ioSafe 214 takes data protection to the next level, with fire, theft and flood protection. It’s not very likely, but if your house burns down, normal HDDs are a total loss.
The ioSafe 214, on the other hand, can survive 30 minutes of 843°C temperatures, which meets the ASTM E-119 rating. To manage this, it has a special inner layer, which endothermically cools the drives inside via evaporation.
The NAS is also sealed, so can handle the pressure of three metres of water for 72 hours, and has a kit available so it can be locked or bolted down like a safe.
In a smart move, ioSafe has actually used Synology hardware inside the 214’s protective outer shell. It’s not a high-end system, but is no slouch either, with a dual core 1.06GHz Marvell Armada XP CPU and 512MB of DDR3 RAM.
The NAS has dual bays which can take 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives in RAID 0, 1 or JBOD. The NAS comes diskless, but installing drives is only slightly trickier than usual, and the 214 offers great read and write speeds.
On the front, it has a single USB 2.0 port, with two USB 3.0 and a Gigabit Ethernet connection round the back.
Importantly, the NAS runs the Synology DSM OS, which can handle all the usual backups, media streaming and run third-party apps.
You also get the excellent array of Synology mobile apps, for remote access and personal cloud creation.
Verdict: Expensive, but for total data protection, the ioSafe offers what no other NASs can.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Netgear ReadyNAS 202
It runs an ARM Cortex A15 CPU — in this case, a dual-core processor that hums along at 1.4GHz. It’s also got a better-than-most 2GB of RAM, which aids performance when running third-party apps.
It also supports the Btrfs file system, which is great for those who want to give their data some extra protection. Of course, the NAS also supports the usual DLNA media streaming and automated backups.
The ReadyNAS 202 handles two hot swappable 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch HDDs, in RAID 0, 1 or JBOD.
Around the back, it has dual Gigabit LAN ports (with link aggregation), along with eSATA and three USB 3.0 connections. One USB port is mounted on the front, along with a one-touch backup button.
Getting the 202 set up on the network is dead simple, and it easily reaches peak network speeds. It’s not quite the fastest NAS tested, but gives great performance for the price.
The Netgear ReadyCLOUD mobile app (or web interface) helps create a personal cloud, and is fairly comprehensive, though still feels like a work in progress.
The Netgear comes as a diskless NAS, but there are also 4TB and 6TB versions that are, as of yet, still not for sale.
Shop around, as the 202 has some big price variations online, or upgrade to the 204, which takes four HDDs, but is otherwise the same underlying hardware.
Verdict: Decent mid-range performance and features, without going overboard on price.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Designed for TV and movie lovers, the TS-251+ has an HDMI output and an IR remote control. It also handles offline and on-the-fly media transcoding, as well as the usual DLNA streaming for playback to other compatible devices.
The 251+ features a last gen but still very powerful Intel Celeron J1900 CPU — a quad core with frequencies up to 2.41GHz.
As tested, the QNAP NAS comes with 2GB of user upgradeable RAM (one or two slots), but there is also a 8GB model available, albeit for an extra $200.
The 251+ can take two 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives, which are hot swappable and able to be run in RAID 0, 1 or JBOD.
The QNAP also has dual Gigabit LAN ports which can work together to double transfer speeds. Up front, it has a USB 3.0 port, as well as dual 2.0 and another 3.0 connection on the rear.
While read/write performance from the QNAP NAS is excellent, the HDMI output is limited to 1080p. While not an issue for most setups, as 4K TVs become common (and they are already cheap), higher resolution output would
QNAP provide an excellent, if somewhat large, array of apps that give comprehensive personal cloud connectivity. The 251+ also has plenty of grunt to run third-party apps or even run a separate OS as a virtual machine.
QNAP also have the non + TS-251, which features a slower CPU and less RAM, for around $100 less.
Verdict: Direct media playback with loads of processing power for transcoding and encryption.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Seagate Personal Cloud 2 Bay
Sure, just about any NAS can be tipped on its side, but the Seagate is designed to fit right in with your AV equipment under the TV.
The NAS is available in one- and two-drive versions, with a capacity from 3TB up to 8TB configured in RAID 0 or 1. It’s aimed at home use for less technical users, so doesn’t include a diskless version.
The Personal Cloud uses an older 1.2GHz Marvell ARMADA 370 CPU combined with 512MB of RAM. While the setup doesn’t have the latest hardware enabled features, such as HDMI output, the NAS has plenty of performance for everyday tasks, such as backup and streaming.
The Personal Cloud also sports a Gigabit Ethernet port and USB 2.0 connection round the back, and a USB 3.0 port on the side. It’s a shame there’s no USB 3.0 connection up front, but the ports can be used to add storage or act as a print server.
The Personal Cloud gives quite good performance for copying files, making backups and streaming media to DLNA compatible devices.
It also has an excellent mobile app, which is available for Windows Phone, Android and iOS.
This provides personal cloud features such as remote data access, configuration and the ability to do tasks such as automatically backing up photos.
The Seagate NAS itself can also run third-party apps, such as Plex or a Torrent downloader.
Verdict: A stylish home NAS with great mobile connectivity.
Price: From $499
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Buried inside is the Intel Celeron N3050 CPU, which is a dual core that can burst from 1.6GHz up to 2.16GHz.
It’s also got 1GB of (non-upgradeable) DDR3 RAM, and runs the latest DiskStation Manager 6.0 OS.
Importantly for media lovers, the DS216+ has a hardware transcoding engine, which can handle 4K resolutions at 30 frames per second.
It also has hardware based AES-NI encryption, for extra security without (overly) affecting access speeds. The Synology NAS also supports the Btrfs file system, as well as Ext4.
The dual slots of the DS216+ can take both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives and run them in RAID 0, 1 and JBOD.
Round the back, it has the usual Gigabit LAN port, but also a less common eSATA expansion option. Combined with the USB 3.0 port (and 2x USB 2.0), this makes it easy to add extra storage or read external drives. You don’t get direct HDMI output, though — just DLNA streaming.
Not surprisingly, the DS216+ offers top-notch read and write speeds.
The interface is also excellent — even including features such as indicator LEDs that can be dimmed to a schedule. The NAS can also run a host of third-party apps, such as Plex, for a customised experience.
Synology also have a very comprehensive (if somewhat too numerous) array of mobile apps for remote management, streaming and backups.
Verdict: Great transcoding and encryption options without going overboard on price.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
WD My Cloud Mirror (Gen 2)
It also has a single Gigabit Ethernet connect and dual USB 3.0 ports round back.
Unlike a lot of the competition, the Mirror doesn’t have a diskless option available. Instead, it sells in 4TB, 6TB, 8TB and 12TB models, for around $500, $600, $800 and $1,000, respectively.
By default, the drives are configured in RAID 1, which halves the capacity but gives a full duplicate of the data. For access to the full capacity, JBOD or the faster but less safe RAID 0 are also available.
While on the lower end, the WD My Cloud OS 3 makes efficient use of the hardware. This results in great performance for day-to-day uses, such as backups and DLNA streaming, but excludes some features of higher-end NAS models, such as hardware-based encryption.
Where the Mirror excels is actually the mobile apps, which are designed to make it easy for even non-tech-savvy users to get the most from the NAS. Aside from configuration, you can remotely stream media, back up your smartphone and sync data files in a personal cloud.
When shopping for the Mirror, it’s important to check it’s the Gen 2 version, as the older Gen 1 devices are still available, and often for a similar price.
The big difference is a faster dual-core CPU on the new model, which is well worth getting.
Verdict: A very easy to set up and access NAS for typical home use.
Price: From $499