If you’re looking to add network-attached storage to your home network, it can be intimidating to sort out which NAS is best, given the surprisingly vast number of devices available to home users. And while the primary purpose of a NAS is to serve as a highly-failure-resistant backup solution, the best network-attached drives can do far more, serving as collaborative file servers, web servers, virtual machines, and media centers. They range from small, single-drive devices to massive, rack-mounted enterprise-focused machines that hold dozens of drives.
We’ll focus on the consumer end of this broad spectrum, just as we did with the best network switches. We spent the last few months testing out several of the best NAS drives for the home / home office user, to sort out the best across categories like Best Overall, Best Budget NAS, Best Media Server and Best NAS for Backups – and we’ve even detailed a couple of unique options for ultimate security and networking versatility. Most of the machines we tested were 2-bay devices (designed to hold two drives). But where price made sense, we tossed in a couple of four-bay options, as well as a single-bay budget choice, for good measure. The NAS devices we chose to evaluate were partly determined based on availability of product, so if we didn’t get your favorite device in this list, it may simply be that we were unable to get our hands on one. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.
Quick Tips for Choosing the Best Network-Attached Storage Device
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If you’re on the hunt for the best NAS for you, here are some basic considerations:
Number of Drive Bays: Although you can get some truly massive storage from NAS-tuned drives these days, there’s no substitute for data redundancy, and the more crucial your data—or at least, the more attached you are to it—the more important increasing your drive count becomes.
Port Selection: If you’re trying to pick the best NAS drive for your setup, you may look beyond ethernet ports. Generally-speaking, NAS systems for the home come with at least one gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port. Typically, they will also have at least one USB port, through which you can back up your phone or other devices storing important data. As you might expect, the more money you spend, the better your selection gets, with more and faster ports. Some even come with HDMI ports, letting you connect your network drives directly to your TV for media server purposes.
Internal File System Support: Different NAS offer different file system support, which can have bearing on a user’s choice. There are two primary file systems in use in the products we tested for this page: ext4 and Btrfs. Without going too deep, ext4 was built on ext3 and is generally considered more stable, while Btrfs offers newer features and is designed specifically for NAS in a way that ext4 was not. Which of the too is best is beyond the scope of this article, but it would be best to familiarize yourself with them to some degree while deciding on your purchase.
Drive Compatibility: Believe it or not, not every NAS is fully compatible with every drive you can fit inside it, and your choices may become more limited as time goes on. Synology updated its policy last year, to some consternation amongst users, in such a way that many drives were released from its list of supported devices. If you already have drives you would like to use, or are preparing to migrate an old NAS to a new one, it would be in your best interest to check the drive compatibility list of prospective manufacturers for the most up-to-date lists of drives tested and confirmed to work with your NAS device.
Interface and Features: The emphasis on this is weakening as time goes on and NAS makers’ user interfaces become more refined—and their features largely reach parity with one another—but you are going to want to do some research to make sure that a given NAS will accommodate your use case. When it comes to local backups and Plex support, for the most part you can choose whatever NAS you’d like. But if,say, you want to network multiple NAS devices together or you’d like your device to serve as a cloud music server that you can reach no matter where you are, then you need to verify that the model you’re considering can do what you want, and be sure it does so without much hassle.
Hardware Specifications: A NAS is essentially a small computer, and as such, specifications like RAM and CPU are important considerations, also depending on your use case. For most home users, these don’t need to be especially high—2GB of RAM or less will take care of any backups you need, and putting your NAS to work as a media server will likely be fine. But if you think there’s a chance you’ll be doing heavy hardware acceleration, or you’ll be using it as a virtual machine to run Linux from, you’ll want to look into devices that have more RAM (or at least are expandable in that department) and devices with better CPUs and even those with dedicated GPUs.
Best NAS Devices You Can Buy Today
When looking at the best network-attached device for most needs—no matter what the device—we generally want to know how user-friendly it is, how versatile, how well it performs, how much it costs, how it looks, and how it sounds (where applicable). Among the devices tested, when considering all of these things put together, the Synology DS220+ came out on top. This 2-bay NAS comes in at $300, has a powerful CPU capable of hardware transcoding some 4K content on the fly, provides a good first-party software experience, and it has the sleekest, most refined OS of the bunch. And those with network equipment supporting link aggregation may use the Synology’s dual gigabit port as a single logical link and get a throughput boost that way.
Owners of the DS220+ will be pleased with its refined appearance, tool-less drive installation, quick setup, and easy configuration. It supports all the major players in cloud backups, and setup is very straightforward. We were able to get it connected to and syncing bi-directionally in just a couple of minutes, with prompts for data encryption and scheduling along the way—you can even set it to only sync specific folders. Those who like to keep and view family photo albums on their NAS will find a lot to love in Synology Photos, a powerful photo library that offers automated albums and facial recognition—both features you can get from QNAP, but in our experience, Synology’s implementation does a better job filtering out faces you wouldn’t want to categorize, like those in posters in the background.
As of the time of this writing, Synology also offered robust compatibility with 22 cloud backup services via its Cloud Sync app, from the most popular consumer-level products like Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive to business-oriented options from Rackspace and OpenStack Swift. Asustor’s offerings were more limited, with access to services spread across three apps. TerraMaster has individual apps for each service, while QNAP offered more built-in cloud connections—35, as of this writing—accessible through its Hybrid Backup Sync software.
One of the biggest benefits offered by many Synology NAS systems is the company’s own Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). It’s is a proprietary RAID designed to be easily expandable, and allows users to take advantage of the total capacity of their drives, rather than limiting storage to the size of the smallest drive, as in RAID 5 configuration. Synology considers SHR to be most useful to those new to RAID storage, thanks to its flexibility. For instance, in a traditional RAID setup in a 2-bay NAS, if you were to add a single drive to your NAS that has double the storage of the drive it’s replacing, you would be unable to access the extra space, whereas with SHR, a user could take, say, a 4TB overall NAS that uses two 2TB drives, replace one drive with a 4TB drive, and that user would now have a 6TB NAS.
In benchmarks, Synology’s device performed very well, with sequential reads and writes fast enough to saturate (or nearly) saturate the gigabit connection, while random reads and writes were respectable, although Synology’s write speeds at higher queue depths were unimpressive. This was reflected in our first backup, where both the Synology DS220J and DS220+ had the slowest performance of the bunch, taking 90 and 91 minutes, respectively. This wasn’t a huge difference when backing up our 92.3GB test folder, but with a more typical first-time system backup, it could easily stretch out hours, or even days longer than one of the other systems tested. The other complaint we have is the lower RAM expansion limit of 6GB when compared to the QNAP TS-253D and the Asustor AS5304T, both of which can support up to 8GB of RAM officially.
Still, for most users who are just looking for an additional place to keep their data, or a media server, those concerns are fairly moot, particularly after you’ve completed that first backup.
And as a media server specifically, the DS220+ stands out as well. The truth is that any of the NAS systems tested would make a great home media server, depending on your situation. They all run Plex, and run it well. And if you have a media player with good software compatibility, hardware transcoding is a non-issue. When trying to find the balance choice, the best device for hosting and watching media depends a lot on where you place the fulcrum point, so this becomes a very personal decision. In the interest of keeping this section short, however, we will focus only on those devices capable of hardware transcoding, also omitting the powerful QNAP QmiroPlus-201W, as its additional mesh router components make it overkill for anyone only seeking to add a media server to their network environment, not replace their router. That leaves us with the Synology DS220+, the Asustor AS-5304T, and the QNAP TS-253D.
The 2-bay DS220+, like the other two contenders here, uses an Intel Celeron Gemini Lake processor—in this case, the J4025 variant, with a 2.0GHz base frequency and burst to 2.9GHz. This is a dual-core processor is capable of pushing 4K @ 60Hz, as are the J4105 and J4125 that power the Asustor and the QNAP systems, respectively. In fact, comparing these chips, apart from clock speeds and core count, there isn’t much difference at all between the CPUs in any of the power players in our test set. And in practical application, you don’t see a huge difference in performance between them in everyday use either. Plex worked roughly equally well with all three devices, although in the case of Synology, the version available in the Package Center is well behind that of Asustor and QNAP, so you’ll want to go to the Plex downloads page to get a current version (this is true of all three, but signed versions available in the other two app stores are far more recent). Once signed in to Plex (and your paid-for Plex Pass account), granting the appropriate permissions to Plex to be able to access your media is an unintuitive process. And unless you’re very familiar with operating a NAS, you may find yourself doing some forum browsing to get it to work—of course, this is likely a familiar concept to anyone who wasn’t born with an intrinsic familiarity with the inner workings of Plex.
Synology also has a nice first-party music server application in its Audio Station, which allows you to listen to not just music stored on your NAS, but also any other music servers on your network. The interface features a familiar layout with various sorting options on the left side, allowing you to view all of your songs, or navigate by artist, album, composer, genre, or folder. Default playlists are below this, and include a random 100 song list, recently-added songs, and shared songs. Your custom playlists will be found here, as well. Farther down, you will find radio stations, including user-defined stations and a section for favorited stations. Using the DS Audio companion app—which we tested on iOS—you can turn your Synology into a private cloud music server, browsing your music outside your home after you’ve set up Synology’s QuickConnect.
Note, however, that unless you are very comfortable with network security, it’s a good idea to restrict your NAS system’s access to the internet, as they are common targets for hackers and data thieves. As NAS first-party media applications go, Audio Station and DS Audio are both top tier, coming as close to the experience you can expect from the likes of iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or Apple Music as you can get. But they still have a long way to go to reach those levels of quality, thoughtful, and attractive design.
While it’s nice to have the added speed of a 2.5GbE connection or the extra memory offered by a 4GB RAM out of the box none of these proved necessary in our tests, as the DS220+ was perfectly capable of serving media to multiple devices simultaneously without faltering, and its software experience was deeper and more stable when it came to its first-party apps. On that front, Asustor came close with its SoundsGood app, while QNAP seemed to fall flat on its face with media apps that seemed to fail to actually play media across the board.
The absence of HDMI on Synology’s machine is hardly a hindrance in view of Plex and the explosion of media streaming boxes and smart TVs with actual good interfaces in the last few years. And frankly, the implementation of HDMI on both systems felt outmoded—that’s not to say it can’t be done well, just that Asustor and QNAP have both allowed this aspect of their systems to fester, which is a shame, because even in this day and age, a good HDMI interface with quality media-playing apps that can be accessed directly on your TV holds a great deal of appeal. In the end, of those tested, the Synology DS220+ remains the media server NAS with the fewest compromises, and the best suited for modern home media server needs. That calculus changes for those who need more space, however, as the $450 AS5304T is an excellent alternative that undercuts the Synology 420+, which starts at $500 with only 2GB of RAM, while the Asustor is currently selling for $50 less on average with double the RAM. We believe the lower cost coupled with superior base hardware overcomes the relative software shortcomings of the AS-5304T.
For the budget category, we were again faced with some excellent choices—the Synology DS220J, the QNAP TS-130, and the TerraMaster F4-210. All three have their strengths, but it’s hard to beat a 4-bay NAS that comes in under $300. The current TerraMaster OS, TOS 4, proves to be a snappy, fully-featured and surprisingly powerful OS that pretty closely mirrors the design of Synology’s DSM. There are a few differences, such as sticking apps right on the desktop instead of hiding them behind a drop-down menu, as well as a few organizational changes that are easy to overcome. The result is a clean OS that is easy to understand, particularly for anyone who has used recent iterations of DSM.
Like the DS220J, TerraMaster’s device uses an ARM-based Realtek RTD1296 quad-core processor clocked at 1.4GHz. Both devices have non-upgradeable memory, but where the DS220J only comes with 512GB RAM, the TerraMaster can be purchased in 1GB and 2GBconfigurations. It can hold up to 72TB of raw internal storage, with a maximum single drive capacity of 18TB, compared to the 32TB of the DS220J. QNAP’s single-bay TS-130 obviously can’t compete on raw storage capacity, but it does have 1GB of RAM, which puts the DS220J as the skimpiest offering from a memory perspective.
TerraMaster’s software library is definitely lacking, but it has enough to serve basic needs, particularly if your main use case is as a Plex server, although we found updating Plex to be a finicky process that required some troubleshooting to get the server up to date properly. Apart from Plex, there are individual apps allowing users to sync with Dropbox, Google Drive, and others, but no single backup app that hits all of these services at once. The NAS supports USB device backup, but has no one-touch backup button, so you’ll need to do this from within TOS.
When performing benchmarks, TerraMaster’s NAS kept up with other devices on sequential reads, while its sequential write speeds were slower at 109MB/s with a queue depth of 8 and 94MB/s with a queue depth of 1. Random reads were similarly in line with the other gigabit-equipped devices, although random reads of 4KB files were the slowest we recorded of our test bunch. Random reads are less important when it comes to NAS, but still worth noting. Performing file transfer tests with a folder full of TV show episodes had the TerraMaster performing better than the DS220J, with 775Mbps writes versus 751Mbps on the Synology, while the QNAP TS130 was the fastest of all the tested devices with 839Mbps writes. TerraMaster’s device was pretty firmly in the middle of the pack here. On reads, it performed in the bottom 50% at 699Mbps. Here, Synology’s budget device did better at 728Mbps, while the QNAP TS130 came in at 625Mbps.
For pure backup muscle, the QNAP TS-253D tops our tested list of NAS devices, thanks to its excellent out-of-the-box hardware specs, upgradeability options and broad support for cloud storage solutions. QNAP tends to lean more heavily into the professional side of things, which hinders it for a lot of at-home use cases (mostly because it’s overkill and priced as such), but when it comes to storing backups, having a wide breadth of options for keeping your data safe is key.
The QNAP TS-253D offers built-in support for backing up to more than 30 different cloud backup services, ranging from popular consumer options like Google Home and Dropbox to business-or-programming-oriented services like Rackspace or OpenStack Swift. It’s also easy to set up backups to additional NAS systems, both local and remote, and everything sits in one app, called Hybrid Backup Sync. The app isn’t quite as straightforward as Synology’s Cloud Sync software, but this single program offers more centralized functionality—to achieve the same with Synology, you’ll need to use its Hyper Backup app in addition to Cloud Sync. In Hybrid Backup Sync on the QNAP, you’ll also find settings for rsync, making it easy to set up NAS-to-NAS backup jobs, as well as one-touch USB copy configuration, where you can determine behavior for quickly backing up your phone or any other external storage medium via the front-facing USB port.
Security should also be part of anyone’s consideration when it comes to backups And not only does QNAP provide easy configuration of things like its built-in firewall, but it also offers a security advice app – called Security Counselor – that will help you secure your NAS. When you boot this app up, you’re presented with a screen letting you tailor recommendations based on your preference for basic, intermediate, or advanced security settings. This app will then run scheduled scans to determine whether it thinks your security settings are up to snuff based on what you’ve chosen, and the resulting report links out to each identified issue so that you can correct it. This is important because NAS systems are often a target for data thieves and extortionists. And even amongst NAS users, few are security experts that know all of the best practices—having a guide like this elevates QNAP above its competitors in a way that stands out.
The biggest drawback to QNAP’s system is the learning curve, as some of the settings and options are named in such a way that it can be ambiguous what their function is. However, the practicality of having essentially a one-stop shop, in the form of Hybrid Backup Sync, to which you can go to review and configure all of your backup types and jobs is very nice. Add to that the very broad cloud support, imminent expandability of the TS-253D, and the built-in speed and high memory bandwidth, and the QNAP becomes the clear choice for those who prize backup versatility.
What is a NAS good for if not data security? Well, although we’ve answered that in our picks above, it remains imperative that a NAS provide the peace of mind that comes with the knowledge that your data is safe. Having a single backup in the form of an attached hard drive is all well and good, but hard drives and even SSDs can be subject to abrupt, catastrophic failure. And although a typical NAS alleviates this with multiple drives and redundancy, they remain susceptible to other kinds of failure, not the least of which are house fires, floods, and the like.
The ioSafe 218 NAS is a 2-bay system with, colloquially speaking, bomb-proof storage. The 31lb enclosure (up to 39lbs after you’ve populated it with drives) is made of heavy-duty metal, with insulating, IP68 waterproof materials beyond. It promises to keep your drives safe in fiery temperatures up to 1,550°F for up to 30 minutes, or submerged in water up to 10 feet deep for as long as 3 days. It’s not just the elements it protects against, however, as the drives are kept behind layers of panels held on by either magnets or screws, and the whole device can be locked down to the floor with a sold-separately $200 floor mount kit, which offers additional security by adding a locking front panel and, of course, securing your NAS to the floor in a way that would make it difficult for anyone to steal. While we did not get to test that accessory and did not do any destructive testing, it is quite apparent the 218 NAS by ioSafe is by far the most sturdily constructed of our tested devices. That added security comes at the expense of your desk space, however: this is a massive device, measuring 5.9 x 12 x 9.1 inches (WLH). For comparison’s sake, the DS220J, which is a very standard-sized NAS, and comparable in terms of performance to the ioSafe, is 3.9x 8.9 x 6.5 inches (WLH), roughly 2/3 the size of the ioSafe. In cramped conditions, you may have to do some serious rearranging to fit that into your normal desk setup, assuming you want to keep your NAS nearby (and not everybody does, of course). One benefit we noted was that this machine was extremely quiet. The fan was always audible, but we never heard the drive actuators, buried as they are within the thick outer shell of the device.
Digital security is also important, and Synology has solid options baked in, from a firewall to antivirus options provided by Norton, as well as robust, customizable security options in its Control Center.
The 218 NAS is not a cheap 2-bay machine—with an MSRP of $699, it’s in the ballpark of about $400 more than the DiskStation DS218 that beats at its heart. If you buy the machine with disks populated by ioSafe itself, then the NAS comes with a 2-year data recovery service that’s upgradeable to 5 years after you register the machine. This service means ioSafe will attempt to recover your data for free for any reason, from old-fashioned disk failure to human error to simple accidental deletion.
The 218 NAS is also not a particularly powerful device, powered only by a Realtek RTD1296 ARM-based CPU with 2GB RAM. And not having the option to upgrade its RAM is disappointing (albeit understandable, considering the heavy-duty case). Still, the DS218+ at its heart has proven itself over time to be a beloved NAS for many people, and is an excellent choice for anyone concerned about keeping their physical backup machine safe and their data difficult to access.
Although these devices didn’t make the cut, any one of the NAS systems we looked at for this page would make excellent additions to your home network. On the QNAP side of things, the QmiroPlus-201W is a NAS every bit as powerful as the TS-253D, but with some crucial differences, like a built-in mesh Wi-Fi 5 router component that can be used to build a web of Wi-Fi in your home. While we found it unimpressive from a wireless throughput perspective, it may be a better experience when run in a mesh configuration (we were only provided with a single unit) with the Qmiro-201W, which is its router-only counterpart. On the NAS side, the device can only accommodate 2.5-inch drives, but performance-wise, it kept up very well with our primary choices for media server duties—it even uses the same CPU and 4GB RAM as the TS-253D. QNAP also provided us with the single-bay TS-130, a surprisingly solid, and even visually-appealing device with a Realtek RTD1295 quad-core 1.4GHz processor and 1GB DDR4 RAM. At $150, it’s the cheapest device in the batch we looked at, and although its single drive nature means you won’t have the protection offered by the redundancy of a RAID setup, it is still quite capable, particularly if you’re not planning to use it for mission-critical storage—it would make a great Plex server for an uncomplicated library.
We also liked the DS220J from Synology—if it wasn’t for TerraMaster's absurdly cheap $290 4-bay F4-210 NAS, this 2-bay machine might have been our pick for best budget network-attached device. It’s a slick-looking unit that performed well in our testing, but is held back unfortunately by non-expandable 512MB RAM—though priced well at $190, it simply didn’t offer a compelling enough case to overcome the TerraMaster. Still, for anyone looking for a capable, easy-to-use NAS under $200, the DS220J is a solid option.
The right NAS, of course, is a fluid choice that can change extensively with each passing year, and prices that can fluctuate by the day or even the hour. Security problems crop up, software improves or degrades, and new products come out. Be sure to check back here periodically for updates on the best NAS systems for home and entry-level users.
How We Tested
Testing was carried out with a variety of devices, including a 2021 M1 iMac with 16GB RAM, which we used largely for setting up the NAS and some Plex transcoding tests, while disk read/write benchmarks were carried out using CrystalDiskMark installed using a modest dual-core, 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-equipped Acer laptop equipped with a Western Digital WD Blue SN550 NVMe Internal SSD installed at its internal M.2 slot. This laptop was connected via a Plugable 2.5GbE USB-C adapter to a TP-Link 2.5 GbE network switch, as were all of the NAS systems for benchmarking. Plex media tests were carried out with, in addition to the aforementioned iMac, an Xbox Series S and an Apple TV 4K, both hardwired to the network. The testing parameters within CrystalDiskMark were as follows:
- Sequential Read/Write tests using 4GiB of files, written in 1MiB blocks. These were tested in single threads with a queue depth of 8 and again with a queue depth of 1.
- Random read/write tests of 4 GB of files, written in 4K blocks. These were tested again in single threads, with a queue depth of 32 and again with a queue depth of 1.
- The drive was mounted using iSCSI as the protocol, which allows the drive to be used indistinguishably from a direct-attached drive.
Subsequent tests involved normal file transfers. For this we used a 4.22GB folder of video files, transferred to the NAS and back. We also performed a first backup, using our Windows machine and Windows File History. The chosen folder was 92.3GB of filesl of random types and sizes.
Test Drives Western Digital Red Plus
Western Digital provided four 3.5-inch 4TB WD Red Plus drives to use in testing for this piece. These 5,400RPM drives are rated for NAS usage, meaning they’re intended to run constantly, for their entire lifetime, under harsher, hotter environments than typical internal hard drives. NAS drives are expected to live in places like data centers, never to rest until they die. These particular hard drives offer transfer speeds of 175MBps, have a 128MB cache, and have a mean time before failure—abbreviated typically as MTBF—of 1 million hours. In short, they’re ideal for this sort of testing, as they were designed to be written and rewritten to many times, which is what we did during the course of benchmarking the devices featured here. The WD Red Plus drives aren’t the priciest drives you can buy, but they’re solid, affordable workhorses—the 4TB models typically sell for $110, but occasionally go on sale for less. In fact, when we wrote this, the drives were on sale for $85 directly from Western Digital.
I own 5 different Synology NAS arrays and have yet to regret any of my decisions to purchase them. My latest (and greatest) is a (surprise!) DS420+. Stuffed with 16TB (10TB working with SHR RAID) of Seagate's finest and 6GB under the hood, it sings for me each time I push or pull files to it. My eldest still chugs away, babysitting a UPS battery, ready to send shutdown signals to my server garden if we go to candle power.
Replaced both units with Synology DS220+ units. No issues with the Synology units.