Choosing a NAS: Network Storage Megatest

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When buying a NAS, most people pay attention to models that have at least two drives installed. No wonder, because they provide the ability to operate two hard drives combined in a RAID array, which significantly increases data security.

An added benefit of dual compartment models is that they can be tailored to individual requirements and budgets. Optionally, you can install only one hard drive at first and thus «enter the world» of network storages without any special expenses. If more storage space is needed, the NAS can be easily upgraded with an additional HDD.

System with or without hard drive?

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestBefore buying, you need to make a fundamental decision: whether to purchase a model with hard drives or an empty NAS enclosure in which you install separately purchased hard drives and configure them. The advantage of the first option is that you can start working with the device immediately after turning it on. In favor of the second option is that you can equip the network storage system with hard drives that exactly meet your requirements.

In our test, we concentrated mainly on empty hulls. The exception was the WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra models and devices from Buffalo. For example, the Buffalo TeraStation 1200D already comes with 8TB of storage, which translates into a relatively high price.

In retail, all devices are available both without discs and with various media installed, resulting in significant price differences. For example, the price of an empty case of our test winner in the price / quality category (Qnap TS-228) is 130$. With an installed HDD with a capacity of 2 TB, it already costs 170$, 4 TB — 170$, 8 TB — almost twice as expensive as a two-terabyte one.

In total, we tested 38 network storage systems with two hard drive bays. The cost ranges from 700$ for top devices to a very reasonable 120$. The form factor in them, as a rule, is the same: in compact cases, hard drives are installed vertically. The exception is the Qnap HS-251+ horizontal NAS with a passive cooling system for use in the living room. With this device, Qnap is targeting the consumer electronics market. Thanks to the HDMI output, it can be connected directly to a TV as a media server. When installed with SSD drives, it runs completely silently and is therefore ideal for use in the living room.

Simple controls or many features?

All systems offer similar basic functions, such as use as an FTP and media server. However, this is where their similarities end. So, there are significant differences between manufacturers regarding operating systems. The first configuration step is always the same: to configure the device, you must enter the network address in the browser. Then you are taken to a user interface that looks like a desktop computer.

The exception is the Western Digital My-Cloud series device. It relies on a completely different operating concept, which provides an extremely simple configuration, but at the same time limits the functionality. Thanks to a thoughtful user guide, you can easily go through all the main steps. However, the expansion options and “connection points” to other services, such as cloud storage, are limited.

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestQnap and Synology devices are equipped with extensive software. With numerous free applications, you can provide, for example, automatic backups, connection to cloud storage systems, use of the Plex Media Server service or the download server function. Synology offers the ability to integrate additional repositories, such as those from the community, through a wide range of additional applications. Asustor also provides users with a range of applications, but their choice is not as rich as that of Qnap and Synology. Other manufacturers have largely abandoned this expansion option.

For ports, the picture is similar: all devices are equipped with a fast gigabit network interface, but less than half of them offer two such interfaces. To increase performance, they can be combined using Link Aggregation technology if your router or router supports this feature.

It’s a little annoying that not all network storage systems are equipped with a fast USB 3.0 or eSATA port for connecting external hard drives. Almost all top models are equipped with an HDMI interface, so that the device can be connected to a TV. Some devices also offer a remote control system.

Expensive or affordable equipment?

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestDifferent processors work inside network hard drives. So, top models are equipped with dual-core or even quad-core Intel Celeron processors. The situation is different for low-cost devices: they use Marvell’s «economy class» CPUs. In addition, in the simplest models, not a very large amount of RAM is installed. The standard memory size is 1 GB. The test winner (Qnap) is equipped with a whopping 8 GB of RAM. In especially inexpensive models, the amount of memory is 256 or even 128 MB, which significantly limits the possibilities of their use.

The data transfer rate for reading in top models is about 113 MB / s, which significantly loads the Gigabit Ethernet interface. It is also very pleasing that most modern network storage systems consume very little energy. Below we have selected the most interesting NAS models that we have been able to test.

You will find all tested models in our ratings:

  • Single HDD NAS
  • Dual HDD NAS
  • NAS with four HDDs

Qnap TS-253A-8G: Functional giant with excellent equipment

Advantages

Excellent performance
top class equipment
HDMI
RAM 8 GB

Flaws

Very high price for 2-bay NAS
no eSATA port and no display

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestQnap TS-253A-8G confidently passes the test «polygon». An overview of the table shows why: the device leads the way in the performance, features and hardware categories. There is no miracle in this: a dual-core Intel Celeron processor and as many as 8 GB of RAM are installed under the «hood». The read speed reaches an impressive value of 112.2 MB / s. On write only (96.1 MB/s), like most Qnap devices, it’s slightly slower than Asustor’s competitor. A convenient additional feature is the remote control system included in the package. Connecting the 253A-8G to a monitor or TV via the HDMI port makes setup a child’s play thanks to the remote control system. The winning model is equipped with two HDMI connectors, four USB 3.0 ports and two LAN interfaces that support 4K decoding and direct video transcoding from 4K to H.264.

Asustor AS1002T: Numerous network storage features at a very low price

Advantages

Inexpensive
compact
simple control
app store

Flaws

Little RAM
slow processor
no cloud connection

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestThe Asustor AS1002T is a typical desktop device suitable for storing large amounts of files or making backups. However, the hardware of the Asustor AS1002T is not designed to perform overly complex tasks. The «brake» of performance is an ARM processor with a clock speed of 1 GHz and a small amount of RAM. A bonus for all Asustor NAS is the application store, which greatly expands the possibilities of multimedia and other functions that are meaningful to the user. In addition, we liked the simple and concise management of this inexpensive NAS. The operating system does not require the user to have in-depth knowledge of configuration and administration. And the night mode for the fan makes the device suitable for placement in the bedroom or living room.

Asustor AS6302T: A fast contender for the championship

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage Megatest

Advantages

Wide functionality
high data rate
four USB 3.0 ports and two LAN ports
HDMI
low energy consumption

Flaws

Only 2GB RAM
no eSATA
relatively high cost

Asustor’s flagship scores points thanks to its high performance and excellent equipment at the same time. Despite a less powerful processor and significantly less RAM, it can beat the test winner (Qnap) in write speed — a sign that the software developers have done their job well.

Thecus N2810Plus: Powerful Plus Model

Advantages

Extremely well equipped and high performance
RAM 4 GB
three USB 3.0 ports and one HDMI
two LAN interfaces

Flaws

No app store to expand special features
no eSATA connector

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestThecus, like Synology, is attracted by the «Plus» series devices, which offer the best hardware, which, however, is strongly reflected in the price. However, the buyer gets a powerful processor in return, as well as 4 GB of RAM. As a result, the performance is very high. Particularly captivating is the data transfer rate during recording — 106.4 MB / s. The biggest downside is the lack of apps.

Synology DS216j: Midrange NAS

Advantages

Wide functionality
low noise fan
Relatively high performance at an affordable price

Flaws

Designed by default for 3.5″ drives only
no HDMI port, only LAN port

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestDespite the mediocre hardware, which includes a Marvell Armada processor and 512 MB of RAM, the DS216j demonstrates quite acceptable results when reading and writing data. The offered performance parameters in any case justify the price. Thanks to the low noise fans, the device is well suited for use in the living room.

WD My Cloud Pro PR2100: Convenient and fast storage

Advantages

Good performance
RAM 4 GB
quad-core processor
easy setup

Flaws

Little functionality
default package only with 3.5-inch hard drives
no HDMI
high price

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestThe big disadvantage of WD devices is the lack of functionality compared to Qnap and Synology. However, the hardware performance of the PR2100 can be impressive. Despite the existence of devices with higher read and write speeds, this model, thanks to a quad-core processor and 4 GB of RAM, is among the leaders in the «performance» section.

Zyxel NAS326: A budget device for beginners

Advantages

Inexpensive device for beginners
good read speed
low power consumption
two USB 3.0 ports

Flaws

Only basic functions
weak processor
no HDMI port and app store

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestThis network storage is a real blow to prices! It is clear that it is difficult to expect super performance from this very inexpensive device. When it comes to features, Zyxel offers only the essentials. In addition, the read speed is quite good, which cannot be said about the write speed. There are no additional features such as an app store or an HDMI port.

Buffalo TeraStation 1200D: 8 TB already included

Advantages

Ready-made kit for an unprepared user
adequate cost

Flaws

Very weak processor
no HDMI
poor performance
hard to find for sale

Choosing a NAS: Network Storage MegatestThe device is already equipped with hard drives and prepared for operation. This approach is convenient for beginners, but hides many pitfalls. Firstly, the NAS is deprived of a number of important functions that are due to its rank. Secondly, the manufacturer chose an outdated platform on a slow processor. Ultimately, the amount of RAM will not allow you to work with the NAS without brakes.

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