How to choose the right NAS for your important files 

Hard disk slots, SSD, HDMI and USB ports – this is what you need

Daniel Haaf

28 October, 2020

Having a NAS at home makes it easier to back up all your important files and access them easily. Regardless of whether you’re at home or traveling, the NAS can help you access the files you need right then and there.

It’s not particularly difficult to find the right NAS for your specific needs, especially if you don’t have specific requirements that narrow down the number of models available. With that said, there are some important things you need to be aware of before making a purchase. Here are five things you need to know before you buy a NAS.

Processor & RAM

A fast processor and a lot of RAM works in your favour if you want to decode high-definition films, run several docker containers or just share files in your home network.

You don’t want your NAS to work 98 per cent with full RAM for several hours just because you are watching films. The more your NAS works, the higher the heat generation and you want be able to do other things with it. 

If you frequently watch high-definition films stored locally on your NAS, we recommend a media player that complements the NAS. The videos won’t then need to be decoded locally, but are handled by the media player. The hardware is relieved and the heat is kept to a minimum. A media player could be your Xbox One S, an Apple TV 4K or Nvidia Shield TV. We recommend that you choose a NAS that has at least 1 gigabyte of RAM, more preferably 2 gigabytes. More memory means more things can run on your NAS at the same time without straining the capacity.

Amount of RAM:

  • 2 GB: Simple tasks and home network file sharing
  • 4 GB: Multiple docker containers, high definition film viewing, and high network activity
  • 8 GB+: Virtualisation of operating systems, docker containers, many simultaneous users

Many NAS models have a fixed RAM module and a free space for an optional module. Check how much RAM you need and which modules are compatible before you buy.

Number of hard disc slots and the amount of storage

A NAS has two or more hard disk slots. By having several hard disks, you can either increase the space with each extra hard disk you insert, or alternatively use the extra hard disks for extra security by mirroring the contents. 

The advantage of mirrored hard drives (in something called RAID configuration) is that your files are protected even if a hard drive breaks down. All you need to do then is remove the broken hard drive and insert a new one. Your NAS fills the new hard drive with your files automatically and everything works just as normal.

  • 2-4: For normal home use with simpler backup. Normally no more than four slots are needed for everyday use. 
  • 4-8: Home use and office use that need a lot of storage space. 
  • 8+: For professional use in a business environment

Choose the right hard drive type for your NAS

At the same time, hard drives adapted for NAS use are generally more expensive than regular hard drives. If you plan to use surveillance cameras connected to your NAS to store footage, you should choose special hard drives for it. With a four-slot NAS, you can select two NAS-specific hard drives for normal NAS use, and two to store only video data from the cameras.

A tip: Choose hard drives that use CMR technology instead of SMR. The reason is that SMR is a poorer technology for RAID use, which is common in NAS systems.

Think about the sound level - a NAS is not silent 

It’s best if you can put your NAS away in a hidden place where it’s neither seen nor heard. Ideally, it should be cool and of course accessible with an Ethernet cable that can be routed all the way to the NAS. For many, it’s certainly possible to do this, but for some it may be downright impossible. 

If your NAS must be completely visible in, for example, the living room or on your desk, think about the sound level. Traditional mechanical hard drives aren’t normally silent, and even if they are enclosed in the NAS, they could be noisy (more or less depending on the manufacturer and model). 

Another important thing is that almost all NAS models have a built-in fan to cool the device. Components such as processors and hard drives don’t enjoy being at high temperatures for long, and if you use the NAS to decode high-definition film or run many applications, the fan will need to work harder to cool the processor. 

Here are some tips to keep your sound level and temperatures in check: 

  • Read reviews on hard drives and NAS models to see which ones have the lowest noise level 
  • Use vibration-damping materials under the NAS and the hard drive brackets 
  • Choose mechanical hard drives at 5,400 rpm instead of 7,200 rpm or higher

Remember not to put your NAS into too small a space. Cool air must be able to be drawn into the NAS and hot air is must be ventilated out effectively.

Important to consider regarding connections: 

  • HDMI: With an HDMI output, you can connect your NAS directly to a computer monitor, TV, soundbar, or home theatre amplifier. Perfect for those who often watch films or pictures from their NAS. HDMI 2.0a or later is recommended for 4K resolution. 
  • Ethernet: A NAS typically has one or two Ethernet ports. Usually you only need one, but with two you can connect different networks and get network connection with redundancy. Some models also support link aggregation. 1GbE is standard today, but if you want it future-proof, 2GbE or 2.5GbE is better. 
  • WiFi: There are a few NAS models that support wireless connection over WiFi. This is convenient if you cannot, or don’t want to, run a network cable to the NAS. However, we recommend a cable for a faster and more stable connection. 
  • USB ports: With USB ports, you can connect USB sticks, memory card readers, external hard disk printers, and other USB gadgets to your NAS. You can then share them on your network via the NAS if you wish. USB 2.0 works for printers and scanners, if you want to transfer files, USB 3.0 Gen 1 or Gen 2 is better.
  • Memory card reader: NAS models with memory card readers make it easy to back up your pictures from your camera. Just plug in your memory cards and let the NAS copy them for you. Fast and convenient. Just check that the functionality exists in the NAS you want. 
  • IR receiver: Some NAS models have IR receivers so you can use a remote control. This is convenient if you use the monitor’s HDMI port to watch films directly from the NAS.

This article is written by Prisjakt’s editorial staff. No one else has influenced the content of it. There are no paid links or other types of advertising collaborations. Daniel Haaf can be reached at [email protected].