Extensive hands-on testing proves to us there isn’t a singular “best model,” and you must carefully consider the use case for your NAS. Several vendors have a good product range, with Synology leading the pack.
This year’s Bitcatcha list of Best NAS for Home Users has some strong contenders. We’ve dug deep to bring you the ideal models for various use cases. We found Synology came up tops in many categories.
Network Attached Storage, or NAS, is a slightly lonesome category of devices. They don’t often come to mind unless you’re looking for a solution – e.g. setting up a central streaming point for home media.
Whether you’re a movie buff, data hoarder, small or home business owner – or anyone using some form of digital device – there’s something a NAS can do for you.
Prices shown in this article were based on the time of writing. To view current prices, click on the various product links.
At first glance, NAS devices seem like a collection of similar technical specifications. However, like most computing devices, they have some unique characteristics. Synology, for example, has some of the best NAS applications and support in the market.
This list brings some of the best brands and models available right now to the fore.
Synology is one of the most well-known NAS brands and one I’ve tested myself extensively. I’ve built a DS718+ from an “out of the box” blank shell to offer everything from basic storage extension to Cloud access and running multiple Virtual Machines (VMs).
In the market for over two decades now, they have built a business entirely around network accessed storage systems. Synology NAS solutions cater to all levels of users, from simple home setups to enterprise-scale systems.
Hardware is pretty much even across the NAS spectrum. Synology offers users a key advantage due to its focus on the software side of things. We can see this in both comprehensive application support and their unique Synology Hybrid Raid (SHR).
The DS220J is a very compact 2-bay NAS that comes with very little in the way of frills. While the limited hardware can drive functions such as media streaming, the DS220J may struggle to serve multiple streams of high-definition content.
Yet the stripped-down configuration of this NAS unit does come with several advantages – chief among them is comparably lower cost. That makes it a fantastic choice for those whose primary concern is simply data redundancy.
The small and unassuming size of this NAS comes with a neat yet functional design. It may look a little out of place in an office but will blend perfectly with most homes.
Very cost-effective and suitable for basic home use, the Synology DS220J is a great starter device for those new to NAS systems.
The DS420+ is a much more robust alternative to the DS220J. It is a 4-bay model that also comes with more powerful hardware. The Celeron J processor may not be the fastest around, but considerably competent when used in NAS.
Aside from what comes out of the box, the DS420+ is upgradable in a couple of ways. If necessary, you can bump up the RAM to 6GB. That’s enough to give you a large cache buffer if you want a cheaper alternative to using expensive NVME for that purpose.
If you intend to put the DS420+ to heavy use, though, the dual NVME slots will come in useful. Slap on two sticks of NVME drives, and your NAS will be able to handle simultaneous read and write operations for an entire small office.
The DS420+ fits a pretty niche space and offers just the right specs to match advanced home users who like to experiment a little without burning wads of cash.
If you’re looking at something that will survive past the first years of a growing business, the DS1621+ is a fantastic choice. This NAS is both highly reliable and expandable to a significant extent.
Not only can it support a healthy maximum of 32GB of memory, but it moves away from non-ECC memory. ECC, or Error-Correcting Code memory, is used in servers and increases resilience by protecting the data it caches.
Aside from the massive storage capacity it can hold, the DS1621+ can use Synology expansion modules. It stacks with dual DX517 units to offer a total of 16 drive bays – enough storage that small offices will likely never need another upgrade, ever.
While the DS1621+ is a bit much for home use, it would be the perfect model for most small offices. Scalability and high cache potential will assure this.
Quality Network Appliance Provider sounds a bit cliche, probably why they typically present themselves simply as QNAP. This company has been around for almost as long as Synology has and today serves a global market. Headquartered in Taiwan, QNAP offers solutions for everything from home to enterprise.
QNAP stays true to the hardware focus for which many Taiwanese companies are known. They often integrate newer hardware in their NAS units that most traditional NAS manufacturers take some time to adopt.
The QNAP TS-230 comes with decent hardware, but design-wise, it may look slightly out of place in an office setting. The baby blue casing won’t fit most traditional office spaces well, but thankfully, the small form factor means you can hide it away easily.
Some detail in the hardware specs reinforces the “made for home use” assumption. For example, this NAS has a relatively high-draw power brick and operates at significantly low noise levels of approximately 15db.
That means you get silent and reliable performance for streaming 4k video over your home network. However, we recommend you lean more towards just using it for backups since the limited drive bays mean you’ll eventually run out of space for large media files.
This NAS runs silent and comes in a unique, non-traditional color. It’s ideal for modern homes and comes specced slightly above average for non-office use.
If you’re considering the QNAP TS-451D2 be cautious of which model you tick the box on. The G2 and G4 are virtually identical, but the former only offers 2 drive bays. The 4G model brings that up to 4 bays – much better for advanced home users.
This model is fascinating for multiple user segments, including prosumers, home or small office, or even simply data hoarders. While capacity certainly plays a part, so too does the weirdly excessing number of USB ports (four of them) included.
Powerful (for a NAS) specifications make it a solid all-rounder suitable for almost any use case. It’ll do well, for instance, at managing backups, file sharing, or even media streaming.
The one shortcoming is the lack of NVME support. This lack means that if you want to run any VMs effectively, you’ll likely have to sacrifice one HDD slot and use it to house a SATA SSD – not ideal by any stretch of the imagination.
If you’re looking for a NAS to use for anything except running VMs, the TS-451D2-4G is ideal. The lack of NVME support helps trim the price while maintaining other solid specifications.
QNAP or Synology?
If you’re stuck deciding between these 2 brands, check out our in-depth direct comparison of QNAP VS Synology.
With more than a decade in the market, TerraMaster has ample experience in high-capacity storage devices. It’s a Shenzen-based company, giving them first access to lots of hardware that runs out of the tech city.
TerraMaster has improved its product line in leaps and bounds over the years. They are among the few China-based entities that have paid equal attention to GUI design and ease of use.
TerraMaster’s F2-221 has an oddly industrial look for a NAS intended for home use. Yet its very basic specifications make it exactly fit for that use alone – fitting for an introductory unit at the price point seen.
If you intend to find a solidly constructed NAS that you can set up to run reliably in a corner for ages, this model works well. It isn’t so great if you want to fiddle with your NAS a fair bit since there aren’t any expansion options on this two-bay unit.
I readily recommend the F2-221 for those seeking reliable network storage with no extra frills. Remote access is fine, but there’s not much else you can do with this model.
All of TerraMaster’s home or small office NAS units look seemingly alike, and the F5-422 isn’t any different. It is quite literally an expanded clone of the F2-221 but does come with a few extra hardware features.
For instance, the F5-422 has an extra memory slot to spare and a more powerful processor. The five drive bays also puts it slightly ahead of most competitors who seem fond of four-bay configurations.
Of particular note is the inclusion of two RJ-45 LAN ports, one of which supports up to 10Gbps speed. This addition isn’t something you’ll find on most regular consumer NAS drives, making it suitable for office use.
The 10Gbps ports on the F5-422 make it a viable candidate for many use storage-heavy access cases. If you want to run applications, I recommend Synology NAS instead.
For those of you who are guessing about the name, yes, Asustor is an offshoot of AsusTek, the computer hardware manufacturer. It was founded in 2011 to be the storage-specialized arm of Asus and has been doing a roaring business since then.
Like TerraMaster, Asustor has first access to a whole slew of hardware. They have also sought to combine the best of many worlds, such as opening access to Synology BTRFS and high-capacity LAN ports seen in QNAP and TerraMaster devices.
The AS4002T is showing slight aging since it’s an older model on this list. Yet this seemingly antiquated unit boasts relatively up-to-date specifications, including a decent processor. While only two drive bays exist, this isn’t a problem since Asustor has NAS expansion units.
Although the specifications aren’t up to snuff for advanced use cases such as running many applications, it’s excellent simply for storage potential. For example, it includes s stunning triple LAN port configuration, one of which supports speeds of up to 10Gbps
The AS4002T is a storage powerhouse that punches far above its weight class. Be it for home or office use, data hoarders around the world can rejoice.
When I first came across the AS5202T and saw what they pitched it as, my first reaction was, “huh?”. That’s right; this is a NAS built for gamers – at least that’s what they say. In reality, it’s a sort of souped-up version of the AS4002T.
Who, exactly, runs games off a NAS is anybody’s guess, but the AS5202T includes 2.5Gbps LAN ports instead of the standard 1Gbps versions. That gives it a little more punch in transfer, still making this model a step above average.
Ignoring the marketing spiel, the AS5202T has the same expandability in mind. That, along with more memory potential, makes this a very agile choice for many use cases.
This brand of storage manufacturer likely needs little introduction. It’s one of the kings of mechanical storage and branched out somewhat into the NAS market. The brand did raise a slight stink with the SMR-drive debacle but is still a good choice for reliable storage.
Unlike the majority of NAS units we’ve covered, the Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra comes ready to use as soon as you plug it in. There’s no concern about shopping for drives, installing anything, or multiple warranties – it’s simply good to go.
For anyone who isn’t into tech but needs NAS capability, this is the final word in convenience. All you need to do is select what capacity you need when making your purchase, and everything comes bolted in place.
The downside, of course, is the lack of customizability and the fact that you’ll be paying a premium price for that Western Digital branding.
It’s pre-built and ready to run out of the box. For tech butterfingers, it’s a way to add storage reliability with very little investment of time. Oh, and it looks pretty cool.
NAS has gotten a reputation of being expensive mainly due to comparisons between them and other external storage devices such as portable drives. If you were to compare them in a pure price-per-capacity sense, that would be correct.
However, the reality is that NAS devices can do much more than simply store or backup data. To understand the difference between NAS and basic external storage, let’s examine them in greater detail.
When referring to external storage, your mind is likely to go towards the external hard drive quickly. Today, these are likely to be portable drives you can connect to with a USB cable. In some cases, the USB drives may be larger and require a power brick to run.
This type of external storage falls under the Direct Attached Storage, or DAS category. DAS attaches directly to a specific device that then has exclusive control over it. One typical example of a DAS unit is a portable hard drive that plugs into the USB port of a PC or laptop.
DAS devices will usually only consist of simple elements such as the storage drive, a simple I/O interface like a USB port, and a small device controller. Aside from storage, any other features depend on the device connected with the DAS unit.
These basic features result in DAS devices being a relatively cheap way of quickly increasing storage space. They are simple to use and, in some cases, don’t even require an external power source.
NAS units come packed with much more hardware and features than most DAS does. Besides storage drives, they will also generally include dedicated processors, memory, and an independent NAS-specific Operating System (OS).
The inclusion of this hardware results in the NAS being able to offer powerful features independent of the devices which connect to it. Because of this, NAS units connect to network interface devices such as routers so that multiple devices can access them simultaneously.
Since NAS devices have so many advanced components, prices are correspondingly higher compared to DAS. Setting them up may also require more technical knowledge than it would take to use DAS units.
Given the advanced hardware available on NAS devices, you need to know what you want to use it for when considering which to buy. How capable the NAS would be in its selected role will heavily depend on the components within it.
For example, if your objective is better reliability, a NAS that can support more storage drives would be recommended. Alternatively, NAS devices used as media servers would be better off with more memory and a powerful processor for better video decoding.
If you’re considering a NAS purely for additional storage space, you may want to look towards DAS instead. There are multi-storage-bay DAS units that come for a fraction of the price in a comparable NAS.
Assess each NAS based on a few critical parameters once you know what you will be doing with it.
The heart of the NAS is its processor. This component allows the NAS to work independently – for example, decode video files for streaming over the network. NAS units come with various processors, from simple ones that also power mobile devices to powerful desktop-type processors.
If you only need your NAS to store data and do simple backups, processing power isn’t a significant consideration. However, if you want your NAS to run applications – that’s when you may need more processing power.
Traditionally, most NAS devices relied on mechanical hard drives. To speed things up, we make use of Memory (RAM). RAM plays a valuable role by providing fast storage to cache data, improving performance.
Today memory has a more prominent position, allowing NAS units to house entire virtual machines (VMs). As a rule of thumb, the more memory your NAS unit has, the faster it will perform for many activities.
Since NAS units are attached to network devices, the interface between the two can be a choke point for data. Most home or small office networks rely primarily on 1Gbps Ethernet ports.
If you need to accommodate a larger number of concurrent devices, you may want to look towards a NAS that has a better network interface. Some newer units may support 2.5Gbps or even 10Gbps links.
NAS devices can technically support most brands and models of hard drives. However, if you want to use a specific model, it is advisable to check a compatibility list from the vendor before making a purchase.
In some cases, NAS vendors may restrict which drives you can use – especially vendors that produce hard drives of their own, such as Western Digital. It isn’t prevalent but has occurred before.
Aside from the make and model, you also have to consider how many drives you want your NAS to support. While single-drive NAS units exist, it is more common to go for those with at least 2-bays for redundancy.
Which hard drives to use?
Check out our guide to the best NAS hard drives for different users.
Perhaps the most considerable appeal of a NAS lies in the fact that it’s essentially a microserver. Instead of just storage, most NAS units can install and run various server-type applications. For example, widespread use of home NAS as media servers using third-party applications like Plex.
There are 2 elements to consider where software for NAS is concerned. The first is what native applications the vendor offers. The second is what third-party applications can run on the NAS you choose.
To recap and compare the top 10 NAS devices, here’s a chart:
|Synology DS220J||Synology DS420+||Synology DS1621+||QNAP TS-230||QNAP TS-451D2-4G||TerraMaster F2-221||TerraMaster F5-422||Asustor AS4002T||Asustor AS5202T||WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra|
|CPU||1.4GHz 4-core||2GHz 2-core||2.2GHz 4-core||1.4GHz 4-core||2GHz 2-core||2GHz 2-core||2GHz 2-core||1.6 GHz 2-core||2 GHz 2-core||1.3 GHz 2-core|
|RAM||512 MB||2 GB||4 GB||2 GB||4 GB||2 GB||2 GB||2 GB||2 GB||1 GB|
|H x W x D (mm)||165 x 100 x 225.5||166 x 199 x 223||166 x 282 x 243||188.64 x 90.18 x 156.26||165.3 x 160 x 219.4||227 x 119 x 133||227 x 225 x 136||170 x 114 x 230||170 x 114 x 230||154.94 x 99.06 x 171.45|
|Get It From|
The most critical aspects of choosing your NAS are the firm knowledge of what to expect and your use cases.
NAS is more than simply storage expansion and can cover many possibilities. Don’t match NAS price with standard storage expansion – you’re paying for flexibility and reliability instead. Oftentimes it’s also not just about the hardware.
Where NAS is concerned the software side of things is equally vital to a smooth experience. The Synology DSM, for example, is fantastic at what it does. It’s easy to use while offering comprehensive features and helps me retain the top spot for their brand in my mind.
Once you’ve chosen your NAS, check out our quick-start guide to setting up your NAS for the first time.