While cloud backup services have largely become the standard solution for consumers and small businesses to secure their data, certain professionals who deal with large data volumes — like photographers, videographers, and 3D designers — still rely on local backup methods.

For handling substantial data workloads, a network-attached storage device (NAS) can be invaluable. These devices not only provide vast storage capacities and swift data transfer rates but also securely back up data across multiple drives using RAID (redundant array of independent disks) technology. This significantly minimizes the risk of permanent data loss due to any single drive failure.

What is the best NAS device right now?

Based on extensive testing, research, product review analysis, and expert opinions, ZDNET’s top pick for the best NAS overall is the Synology Diskstation DS1522+. You can’t go wrong with this NAS as a powerful, robust option with excellent supporting applications. Read on to find all of our recommendations for NAS devices on the market today.  

Pros

  • Excellent DSM UI
  • Good price per bay
  • Great apps
  • Ample USB ports

Cons

  • No native 2.5GB Ethernet ports
  • No HDMI ports
  • No SSD-only models

Synology Diskstation DS1522+ specs: Drive bays: 5 | Max capacity: 108TB | Max w/expansion units: 270TB | RAM: 8GB DDR4 (32GB max) | 1GB Ethernet ports: 4 | 10GB Upgrade: with Gen3 x2 upgrade | USB 3.2 ports: 2 | eSATA ports: 2 | M.2 slots: 2

By far, the standout feature of any Synology NAS is the company’s exceptional Diskstation Manager (DSM) software. While the Synology hardware is on par with many other NAS offerings, it’s when that hardware is combined with the DSM software that Synology’s offerings truly become noteworthy.

Also: We test the Synology DiskStation DS1817+ RAID

Synology’s DS1522+ ships with built-in enterprise-grade data software and support for dozens of applications, OS, and SaaS services. Featuring five hard drive bays by default and expandable up to 15 bays total, the DS1522+ is an economical NAS solution with plenty of room to expand as the user’s data storage needs grow.

Running Diskstation Manager, this NAS option comes with Synology’s suite of enterprise backup solutions. This includes Active Backup for Business which allows users to backup Windows PCs, VMs, SaaS applications like Microsoft 365. 

Also included is Synology’s Hyper Backup software, which allows you to back up your entire NAS or specific files and folders to most major cloud service providers. This flexible and free backup software gives the user enterprise-grade tools in an easy-to-understand format. This makes setting up a proper 3-2-1 backup environment a breeze, no matter what or how many devices you’re responsible for.

“It’s like the cool kid on the block that can handle all sorts of data and has a knack for impressing tech enthusiasts and small businesses alike,” says user Kacper Rafalski, demand generation team leader at digital acceleration company, Netguru

The DS1522+ is also a certified storage device for VMware and is compatible with most major virtualization platforms, including Windows Server, Microsoft’s Hyper-V, and Citrix. 

Also: How to set up your own NAS for more reliable data backups

Pros

  • Ample M.2 slots
  • Reasonable RAM capacity
  • Built-in HDMI

Cons

  • Customers report slow tech support

Asustor Lockerstor 6 Gen 2 specs: Drive bays: 6 | M.2 SSD slots: 4 | Max capacity: 120TB + M.2 capacity | RAM: 8GB | 2.5G Ethernet ports: 2 | USB 3.0 ports: Dual 3.2Gen 2×1 | PCIe Gen 3 x4 slots: Support PCIe 3.0 on M.2 SSD | HDMI: HDMI 2.0b

This Asustor Lockerstor model bridges worlds in a number of ways. First, by providing six hard drive bays as well as support for four M.2 sticks, it’s possible to do some very interesting performance tiering work, both automatically and manually. Second, like the QNAP, the Lockerstor has HDMI output, possibly moving this from the server closet to the family room.

The internal 8GB RAM is respectable, and ZDNET was impressed with the 2.5G Ethernet port. The Lockerstor 6 uses the ADM operating system with more than 200 App Central applications, including various tools, business applications, office applications, and digital home entertainment.

A common theme in the reviews of this NAS is ease of use, which for what can be a complex network product, will be a breath of fresh air for those who are not tech experts.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Solid performance
  • Supports multimedia applications

Cons

  • Purchasing disks ramps up the cost

QNAP TS-233-US 2-Bay NAS specs: Drive bays: 2 | Max capacity: Diskless | RAM: 2GB (up to 4GB) | Ethernet ports: 1 | USB 2 ports: 2 | USB 3.2 ports: 1 

QNAP has a broad selection of NAS devices, and this lower-cost entry-level unit is absolutely worth consideration. At only $200 (without drives), this option provides you with a way to quickly create a private home cloud.

Powered by an ARM Cortex-A55 2.0GHz processor, this NAS station can serve two valuable purposes at home: working as a backup machine for Windows and Mac (via NetBak Replicator software and Time Machine), and as a storage system for your multimedia, including photos, videos, and important documents. 

The entry-level NAS comes with 3.5-inch drive bays that are 2.5-inch compatible. Customer reviews suggest that this NAS is excellent value for money, with one reviewer saying it “punches above its class.” However, others say the user interface needs improvement.

The Amazon reviews on this product are strong, with many users emphasizing the value this NAS device offers compared to other high-end units.

Pros

  • Fast
  • Respectable user interface
  • HDMI port
  • Bay hot swaps

Cons

  • A bit more expensive than TerraMaster’s earlier offerings
  • Fewer apps than Synology and QNAP

TerraMaster F4-423 specs: Drive bays: 4 | Max capacity: 80TB | RAM: 4GB | 2.5G Ethernet ports: 2 | USB 3.2 ports: 2 | HDMI port: 1 | M.2 slots: 2

TerraMaster is a solid storage space at a budget-friendly price. We found the user interface to be clean and well done and the overall usage experience to be solid. Now, to be clear, this is not a Synology, but that device is considerably more expensive.

TerraMaster is upping its game with the F4-423. Instead of a budget device, this is a performance machine, but at a mid-tier price. It’s got two high-speed Ethernet ports, an HDMI port that lets you turn this into a media center server, and support for additional applications. TerraMaster says this model provides improved speeds and up to a 50% improvement in handling high-load workflows.

Overall, this is a solid product for higher-stress loads at a reasonable price. Cheaper, two-bay options are also available. Customers say this NAS solution is great for home setups, although some are irritated by its lack of documentation.

Reviews for the TerraMaster F4-423 on Amazon and Reddit take note of the the stylish exterior of this NAS cabinet, as well as the performance and value for money it offers.

Pros

  • Portable
  • Personal cloud functionality

Cons

  • Some users report performance issues

SSK 2TB Portable NAS specs: HDD/SSD | Max capacity: 2TB | NTFS & EXFAT support | USB 3.0 ports: 1 | HDMI port: 1 | Supports up to 10 simultaneous connections

If you’re interested in exploring the capabilities of NAS devices but aren’t ready to take the plunge on a full rig — yet — you may want to consider the SSK 2TB portable NAS. 

To be clear, this product doesn’t have bays and is more akin to an external storage drive than a full NAS — and some users report problems with speed. However, it’s cheap and provides a way to set up a personal cloud that can be accessed remotely via your PC, smartphone, and other mobile devices. 

Keep in mind, though, that this is a mechanical hard disk so you shouldn’t treat it like a typical external SSD drive, which tends to be quite rugged. As it has its own Wi-Fi hotspot, I would use a product like this for accessing media including films and TV shows.

Many user reviews on Amazon compliment the ease of setup, with it being more like an external drive than a NAS. This makes it perfect for those who want an easy out-of-the-box storage solution.

ZDNET ranks the Synology DiskStation DS1522+ as the best NAS device currently on the market. This model stands out as a powerful and durable choice, supported by an excellent suite of applications. If the DS1522+ doesn’t meet your specific needs, here are the top features to look for in alternative models:

Best network attached storage

Price

Bays

Max capacity

Ethernet

Synology Diskstation DS1522+

$700

5

90TB

4 1GB ports

Asustor Lockerstor 6 Gen 2

$810

6

120TB

2 2.5GB ports

QNAP TS-233-US 2-Bay NAS

$200

2

36TB

1 port

TerraMaster F4-423

$460

4

80TB

2 2.5GB ports

SSK 2TB Portable NAS

$130

N/A

2TB

1 port

Choosing the right NAS device is a straightforward process, beginning with an assessment of your budget and storage requirements. Vendors typically offer models starting from two bays (allowing for two drives) and upwards.

For those requiring substantial storage, opting for a model with more bays is advisable. However, if you’re venturing into NAS devices for the first time, you might want to start with an entry-level or portable option. This allows you to become acquainted with NAS technology without committing to more advanced and costlier equipment immediately.

Below is a simple chart to assist you further in making your decision: 

Choose this NAS device

If you want…

Synology Diskstation DS1522+

The best overall NAS. By combining solid hardware and a best-in-class DSM software, this unit promises comprehensive storage for small businesses and remote workers alike.

Asustor Lockerstor 6 Gen 2

The best NAS from a reputable brand. This model also features six hard drive bays, support for four M.2 sticks, and uses the ADM 4.0 operating system.

QNAP TS-233-US 2-Bay NAS

The best value storage with solid performance. This entry-level model will add considerable value to your network without breaking the bank. 

TerraMaster F4-423

The best mid-tier NAS with a nice user interface. Coming at a mid-tier price, it still has two high-speed Ethernet ports, an HDMI port, and accounts for higher stress loads.

SSK 2TB Portable NAS

A portable, less expensive, and less powerful option. While this portable NAS drive does provide you with a private cloud, it’s more akin to an external hard drive than a typical NAS setup. 

When in the market for a new NAS device, it’s crucial to consider several key factors to ensure you choose the option that best suits your needs:

  • Use Cases: Identify the primary function of your NAS device. Whether it’s for video editing, setting up a home office, or entertainment purposes, understanding its intended use is vital given the investment. This clarity will guide your decision-making process.

  • Budget: Determine your budget early on. NAS systems are significant investments, often carrying a hefty price tag. Additionally, if you opt for a diskless model, remember to account for the cost of purchasing storage separately.

  • Bays: The number of bays you need is directly tied to your storage requirements. For those handling extensive multimedia files or planning long-term storage, opting for a device with more bays is advisable.

  • Connectivity: NAS devices vary in their connectivity options, from Ethernet and HDMI ports to portable models that can generate Wi-Fi hotspots. Ensure the device you choose has the connectivity features that align with your needs.

Here at ZDNET, our expertise in NAS devices spans decades. Our selections are informed by a combination of in-depth testing, verified customer feedback, and real-world user interactions, with particular emphasis on user-friendly interfaces, performance, a thorough assessment of each model’s strengths and weaknesses, and, importantly, price point.

  • User-friendly Interface: We prioritize NAS models that are straightforward to set up and manage, featuring software that simplifies usage and enhances sharing and collaboration capabilities.

  • Fast Performance: A NAS device accelerates saving and retrieving the data, making it particularly efficient for tasks like video editing—outpacing many cloud storage services.

  • Strengths and Weaknesses: Understanding that no model is flawless, we highlight the advantages and drawbacks of each, providing clarity on how they might match your security needs, setup preferences, and workflow requirements, including portability.

  • Price: Recognizing budget constraints, we carefully consider each product’s price. Although initial costs can be high, they may offer savings over time compared to ongoing cloud service subscriptions.

You can repurpose an old PC or even build a very custom NAS solution to meet your exact needs.

ZDNET author and resident hardware expert David Gewirtz has built his own NAS boxes for years, including some that were highly customized. But as the NAS offerings from vendors like Synology, QNAP, and Drobo improved, the need to build his own diminished. 

If you’re comfortable with the prospect of sourcing PC parts and building PCs, you’ll probably want to go it on your own. But if you’re new to PC building, buying an appliance NAS is probably the way to go. 

Most NAS devices, including all those recommended here, support RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. RAID technology leverages multiple hard disks, each with its own spinning platters, to enhance performance and data reliability.

One RAID configuration enhances speed by alternating write operations between disks. However, the form of RAID we’re particularly focused on is mirroring, which copies the data onto multiple hard drives.

A properly configured RAID array enables a drive to fail without any loss of data, offering a robust safeguard against hardware failure.

NAS stands for Network-Attached Storage, meaning the storage device is connected to a network, allowing multiple users or devices access. DAS, or Directly-Attached Storage, refers to storage devices directly connected to your computer.

For environments with multiple computers, collaborative work settings, or any situation requiring shared file access, opting for a NAS is the ideal choice. Conversely, for tasks demanding high-performance computing, such as video production on a single machine, a DAS offers the advantage of immediate access without any network-induced delay.

Kacper Rafalski comes through with another analogy that makes things easier to understand. “Think about it like this. DAS is like having a personal bookshelf right next to your desk. Quick and easy to reach, but only for you,” he says. “NAS, on the other hand, is like a library — everyone connected to the network can access it, even remotely. NAS is all about sharing and collaboration, whereas DAS is like a superfast personal hard drive.”

Vendors typically estimate the lifespan of a NAS device to be between three to five years. However, it’s possible for a NAS to exceed this range, potentially lasting up to a decade. Despite this, the risk of failure escalates over time.

Be on the lookout for signs of hardware deterioration, like sluggish performance and connectivity problems, which may indicate impending failure.

You can potentially improve a NAS device’s lifespan by allowing it to hibernate while not in use. For example, if you are away from home for several months, you may want to consider giving it a rest. However, NAS devices can be left on permanently, as many NAS devices have been specifically built to allow this. 

While our top recommendations are above, we also wanted to showcase some other worthy alternatives, including different features, price points, and bay counts.

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