Networked Attached Storage (or NAS for short) at first glance seems a rather old-school way of backing up your files and creative work. Essentially, networked attached storage is a very mini server – a bunch of hard drives all connected together within a system that is then connected to the network, usually your home internet system, so that anyone also attached to this system, wired or otherwise, can access the files on said hard drives. Many NAS systems come with their own software, so managing, backing up and maintaining files is a very straightforward process.
As creatives, we have a lot of work floating around – different versions of files, different linked assets and different catalogues and directories that all need backing up and storing in an area that is quick to access. This is one area where NAS excels, as not only is it safer than cloud storage from a security perspective with RAID backups, it also provides lightning quick access and write speeds so it can deal with large files with ease.
In this round-up of some of the best NAS drives for creatives on the market at the moment, we’ll be looking at a range of specifications, prices and setups, as well as assessing which types of NAS drives suit which creative discipline. We’ll also look at extra added features and ease of setup, which is an important aspect of recommending each product. It’s worth bearing in mind that many of the NAS drives on the market don’t come with hard drives (although some we’ve looked at are diskless or ship with them). Factor the additional cost of NAS hard drives (although standard HDD work too) into the budget when looking at the ones we’ve featured below.
The best NAS drives available now
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The best NAS drive for creatives overall
Many of the Synology DiskStation options offer exemplary performance for creatives, with the ability to speedily work on the fly, with excellent transfer rates, a good amount of speed and memory and with the DS1522+, relatively decent value for money if you’re a professional who needs to work quickly and has a lot of files to store.
Lots of the DiskStation systems can be upgraded, which also makes it a fairly decent failsafe option for the future. The DS1552+ can be upgraded to 15 drives, with DX517 expansion slots – there’s also built-in M.2 NVMe slots for SSD cache, which means data can be accessed even quicker during normal operation. As an all-rounder, with plenty of space for expansion, if you have the budget the DiskStation range is hard to beat.
The best budget NAS drive
For those on a budget, the Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra provides an affordable yet very reliable NAS solution.
It features a user-friendly setup process and with WD's My Cloud OS, managing files and accessing data remotely is fairly effortless for a casual user. Its dual-drive configuration and media streaming capabilities still make it a solid choice for basic storage and sharing needs, whilst not breaking the bank. There are plenty of deals to be had with 8TB hard drive space included for less than £400, which is less than the cost of the many NAS units themselves.
The best NAS drive for professionals
This is a small diskless unit with a lot of flexibility for home offices or small businesses looking to scale up to more than a one-person operation. It’s equipped with an AMD Ryzen R1600 dual-core processor offering performance up to 3.1Ghz, as well as four bays for 2.5in or 3.5in drives. We liked the fact that five extra bays can be added with an expansion unit and the device features two 1GbE ethernet ports for simple integration into existing environments and network systems.
We found it offered impressive performance that ensured smooth multitasking and speedy data transfers, but at more than £500 RRP for the device alone, without hard drives, we felt the device would probably best best suited to a large work environment rather than a purely home backup system.
The best NAS drive for beginners
If you’re new to the world of NAS drives and you’re simply just looking for something to get you started and that’s going to be dependable and easy to use, we’d certainly recommend the ASUSTOR AS1002T.
The device boasts a straightforward setup process, intuitive interface and entry-level pricing, which makes it a perfect starting point. Although it doesn’t have the best expansion options and only provides dual drive bays, it can provide ample storage and basic multimedia features for a casual home user – for example, storing photos and movies to watch across devices. We like the stylish look too – it hides some of the more ‘techy’ features away in a black diamond plate cover design – the drives themselves are tucked away behind a sliding cover.
The most powerful NAS drive
Small and medium business environments are where the DiskStation DS3622xs shines. Featuring a powerful Xeon processor and up to 32GB of ECC RAM, it’s the most powerful system on this list by a fairly long shot, and we also like the fact it has a large number of connectivity options and up to 36 drives if you so wish with a DX1222 expansion unit.
We think this NAS drive would be ideal for resource-intensive tasks, large-scale storage and demanding enterprise environments in business environments that need to scale up their capacity.
The easiest NAS drive to use
Simplicity is key for some users, and the Buffalo LinkStation LS220D excels in this regard, as well as surprising with some excellent features such as RAID drive mirroring, which gives you extra peace of mind in the event of one drive failing.
It doesn’t necessarily have the most capacity, but what it does do well is its plug-and-play setup - combined with a user-friendly interface, it makes it one of the easiest NAS drives to use. While it may lack advanced features, its straightforward approach to file storage and sharing suits those who would look towards a hassle-free operation. There are a number of sizes available, but we’d suggest 8TB for most creatives with a decent amount of stuff to back up.
The best value NAS drive
This is a new incarnation of a popular NAS drive, the 221, that features an Intel Celeron N4505 dual-core processor, with a main frequency of up to 2.0GHz and a maximum Turbo frequency of 2.9GHz. It is integrated with a GPU graphics card, too, which offers speedy performance from a user interface perspective.
With two drive bays, it offers flexible storage configurations and supports various RAID modes for data protection. We were also impressed by a user-friendly interface for easy setup and management, making it suitable for both beginners and tech-savvy users meaning it provides excellent value and a good mid-ground for many creatives who are getting started with NAS drives but would like some flexibility too.
The drive supports a number of applications, including data backup, file sharing, media streaming and surveillance systems.
Why should I buy a NAS drive?
Perhaps you’re running low on space on your current external hard drives, or perhaps you’re fed up with paying for expensive monthly subscription services to cloud storage. Getting a NAS drive is a versatile yet controllable at-home or office solution that is expandable and offers hugely more convenient access than cloud storage, especially if you like in a place with limited connectivity. The centralised nature of the storage also means that assets and files can be accessed by multiple devices on a network - and many of the best NAS drives on the market also have their own intuitive user interfaces that can help you manage, control edit access and manipulate your files on the go.
What are the best NAS brands?
There are a good variety of NAS brands out there, some from existing manufacturers of hard drives that you’ll recognise. Go for one of the more reputable companies – as with many things tech-related you’ll see lots of copies on Amazon and eBay and the like, but for reference, some of the top NAS brands include Synology, QNAP, Western Digital (WD), ASUSTOR, and Buffalo. These brands are known internationally for producing reliable, feature-rich, and user-friendly NAS solutions that are sturdy and well built.
What's the difference between QNAP and Synology?