Best NAS drive: 8 on test
5th Feb 2012 | 10:00
Network storage reviewed and rated
Best NAS drive: Overview
NAS (network attached storage) devices certainly aren't the most glamorous gadgets you can have in your home. A network-connected hard drive might seem like a remnant from a home office – a backup necessity for over-paranoid users and not much more.
Early NAS devices – and even some new no-frills budget ones – do little more than allow any computer that's connected to a network to access an external hard drive as if it was physically installed in the computer. However, a lot of new NAS devices have some great features built in, which can completely transform what your home network is capable of.
Not only can they act as media servers throughout your house – letting your devices access and stream music and videos to any device on the network – they can also be used be used to stream your media across the internet, letting you access the files from anywhere in the world, and effectively allowing you to create your own version of Spotify or Netflix.
As for cloud backup and synchronisation services, while you could pay Dropbox the equivalent of $9.99 a month for 50GB of space, with a NAS device you could have your own service with huge amounts of storage (some NAS devices accept hard drives of up to 3TB) without monthly fees or the need to trust your private data to a third party. We've gathered the best NAS devices on the market to find out just what they are capable of.
Buffalo Cloudstation Duo - £240
Western Digital My Book Live - £147
Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4 - £423
Buffalo Linkstation Pro LS-VL - £129
D-Link ShareCenter - £60
Iomega StorCenter ix2-200 - £274
Netgear Stora MS2110 - £130
Synology DS411 - £485
Best network storage: 1-6
1. Buffalo Cloudstation Duo
There remains a lingering feeling that setting up a network attached storage device can be complicated, time consuming and fiddly. Buffalo aims to dispel these preconceptions with the Cloudstation Duo, a NAS kit designed to be as user friendly as possible without losing any features or functionality.
The device itself is compact, though quite heavy. Flicking open the front gives quick access to the two 1TB hard drives that come installed. Removing the drives is a bit fiddly at first, but the process is certainly a lot easier than with many other NAS drives.
The fact that the Buffalo Cloudstation Duo is supplied with two large hard drives already installed and set up in a RAID 1 configuration is great, and eliminates a more fiddly and complicated part of the setup procedure.
2. Western Digital My Book Live
When it comes to hard drives, Western Digital knows its stuff. While the Buffalo Cloudstation Duo is promoted for its ease of use, the Western Digital My Book Live goes even further in its pursuit of simplicity.
For a start, the small case is completely enclosed, so there is no easy way to open the My Book Live up and replace or upgrade the hard drive as you can with the Buffalo Cloudstation Duo. This means that it's not really suitable as a comprehensive backup device – the lack of hot swappable hard drives means you'd have to physically remove the entire thing if you wanted to store your data safely off site.
The 'My' in the title is evidence that this is a NAS device that focuses on creating your own personal cloud, sharing your own media and files across the internet with as little fuss as possible.
3. Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4
NAS devices are a speedy, convenient means of backing up data, and units like the ReadyNAS Ultra 4 featured here are also capable of streaming any multimedia files to any device that can accept them.
Each of the ReadyNAS Ultra 4's bays can accommodate a 2TB drive, resulting in a possible 8TB of storage – that's an awful lot of video, photos and music.
The Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4 supports various implementations of RAID technology, which trades off available capacity against protection for your data. If one of the drives fails, you should be able to recover your files.
Features like RAIDar and X-RAID 2 help you make the most of this handy feature. Powered by a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor, it's speedy and responsive. The onboard DLNA 1.5 media server worked well with a variety of networked players. Even multiple full HD video streams were glitch-free.
4. Buffalo LinkStation Pro LS-VL
Devices like these are becoming the tool of choice for storing a wide range of digital media, including downloaded movies and TV, music, images and CD/DVD/Blu-ray rips. Speed, capacity and reliability are all essential features, and the Linkstation Pro LS-VL has all three.
This 'Multimedia Shared Network Storage BitTorrent Download Box', ships with a power supply, LAN cable and installation discs, and is available with built-in SATA hard drives in 1TB, 1.5TB and 2TB sizes. Windows and Mac OS X compatible, the unit is simply plugged into any network Ethernet port or into the back of your wireless router, and is instantly accessible from any networked device.
The device features transfer speeds up to 76MB/s courtesy of a 1.6GHz CPU, which is a big increase from Buffalo's more home user-orientated Cloudstation Duo.
5. D-Link ShareCenter
D-Link has designed its NAS device to be at the centre of your home network, sharing your files and media throughout your home and over the internet – an admirable aim. The installation process is fairly straightforward, though there are a few options that you need to set yourself, and these can be confusing if you're not used to setting up network attached storage devices.
For example, at one point you're asked if you want to enable NTP server, without any explanation of what this is. There's also a step that asks you to enter your email address, along with port number and SMTP server – a pain if you don't have that information readily to hand.
The network drive wasn't mapped during installation – instead we had to run the D-Link Easy Search Utility, which found the D-Link ShareCenter on our network and then let us map it.
As with other aspects of the ShareCenter, the execution was rather cumbersome and inelegant, but it worked.
6. Iomega's StorCenter ix2-200
This 2TB NAS drive is billed as cloud storage, which means you can access the drive from anywhere with an internet connection. It's nothing hugely new, but Iomega has provided a good web interface for accessing your stored data online.
Unlike some of the other drives in our test, we had to install software to make it appear on our network. Fortunately, the software is well designed and your hand is held firmly through the process, making it ideal for people who have never used a NAS drive before.
From here, every feature of the drive is clearly explained with colourful bold icons, and essential tasks – such as setting up backups – are highlighted.
There's a range of useful tools too, from email updates to let you know if anything's changed on the drive itself, to the rather useful ability to download torrent files. You can also view hardware statistics, such as how full the drive is, and its current temperature. It's ideally suited to a RAID setup, too, and this can be implemented quickly and easily.
Best network storage: 7,8 and verdict
7. Netgear's Stora MS2110
We had high hopes for Netgear's NAS drive – after all, Netgear's home networking solutions have often trumped the competition in tests like these. However, we found ourselves sorely let down.
As soon as we connected the drive, all other computers on the network lost the ability to connect. It turned out that the drive had been completely locked down to the previous user, forcing us to do a complete hardware reset. That's not hugely unusual, but we're not sure why Netgear insists on you entering a software-style product key for something that's unlikely to ever leave your home or office.
Although the drive is hefty, the build quality is below par. The front panel – which clicks off to access the hard drives – sprang off in our hands. In fact, merely placing it on the floor caused the panel to flop open. Fortunately, the drives inside feel nicely secure, with a latch at the back to eject them.
8. Synology DS411
The DiskStation feels like it's stuck between being a consumer-friendly NAS drive and a rack-mounted server. It's supplied without any hard drives, and looks like a small PC, complete with thumbscrews at the back and an array of lights at the front.
Synology recommends certain drives for the product, which are formatted on insertion. This isn't an easy process, especially compared to the more user-friendly drives we've looked at.
Hard drives must be mounted and formatted with Synology's software, and then the NAS drive itself has to be configured via a small patch located on the CD. Then any folders you want on the drive need to be added manually. These all seem like features that would be automated on other NAS drives.
This group test proved to be a perfect microcosm of the current state of the NAS market. On one hand you have devices that stick to the old ways of doing things – heaps of functionality, but with little thought of user-friendliness. The main culprits here are the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 4, the D-Link ShareCenter and the Synology DS411.
On the other side of the divide are the devices whose manufacturers have acknowledged that there is a growing market for centralised storage in the home, and have tailored their devices to offer easy to use interfaces for creating our very own personal clouds without a single network administrator in sight.
We believe that these devices that will excel in the future, when more homes are equipped with internet enabled devices like smart TVs, leaving the backwards-looking NAS devices in their wake.
Best NAS: Iomega StorCenter ix2-200 - £274
The StorCenter ix2-200 encapsulates everything we were looking for in a NAS device. Its advanced features are wrapped up in a user friendly package that's easy to set up and maintain. It isn't as fast as a professional NAS, but for the internet connected home, this is a great choice.
Best value NAS: Western Digital My Book Live - £147
It's not quite the cheapest NAS device on test here, but the Western Digital My Book Live wins the best value award because it has some great features, is reliable and is easy to use. If you want a relatively cheap NAS device that you can quickly set up and then just leave it to do its job without you having to check on it and tinker every now and then, go for this.
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