Network-attached storage drives, NAS for short, appeal to both consumers and businesses. This list, however, is only of concern to the latter, who arguably have the greater need for their capabilities and want to specifically know what are the best NAS drives.
NAS drives are storage devices that combine power and compatibility; they make the management of processing large volumes of data efficient and simple. There is some relatively complex work waiting for you when you take them out of the box for the first time, but it is worth the time and effort in the long run.
There is an abundance of choices here, as there are numerous manufacturers and models on the market. As such, there is a dizzying array of features and capabilities to consider, each with different use cases. For those entering the NAS world for the first time, understanding the market and what is on offer is a daunting task. But it is worth being brave, as it will revolutionize your data management.
What is a NAS drive?
NAS drives are a little like mini servers for smaller-scale use. Usually small enough to fit on a standard desk alongside other computing equipment, the units themselves are dedicated to effective storage management to which multiple devices and users can connect. They make an ideal replacement for small businesses or teams who want to store data locally but don’t want the hassle of managing a full rack-mounted server, or having to manually hook up to bulky hard drives throughout the day.
NAS drives are similar in concept to cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. They allow multiple people to add to change or create new shared files that can be accessed in real-time. However, because NAS drives are not hosted on the cloud, but rather on a physical device you own, you maintain ownership of the information stored on them, you can decide who else has access, and you can choose exactly where to store the data.
NAS drives can also boast a huge storage capacity versus similar cloud services – usually terabytes worth of storage against modest upper capacities with the latter – and they tend to be more affordable in the long-term, despite a sizeable initial cost; the subscription fees of cloud services add up when looking at the bigger picture.
Synology DiskStation DS2422+
Synology’s DiskStation DS2422+ aims to satisfy storage-hungry SMBs, and this mighty desktop appliance‘s 12 hot-swap storage bays make it a great choice as an affordable high-capacity central backup vault, with plenty of room for services such as file sharing and video surveillance recording. Its Ryzen CPU makes it considerably faster than the Atom-powered DS2419+ and the new DSM 7 software makes the DS2422+ especially appealing.
|Quad-core 2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B
|4GB ECC DDR4 SO-DIMM (max 32GB with 2 x 16GB)
|12 x SATA LFF/SFF, 2 x USB 3, 1 x mini-SAS HD expansion
|RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6, SHR, SHR2, JBOD
Price when reviewed: £1,517 exc VAT (diskless)
Read our full Synology DiskStation DS2422+ review for more information.
Asustor Lockerstor 8 AS6508T
The Lockerstor 8, also known as the AS6508T, is an eight-bay desktop appliance powered by a 2.1GHz Intel Atom C3538 CPU. It comes with a generous 8GB of DDR4 memory, which should allow you to run a good few apps, and the two SODIMM slots can be easily accessed if you need more, allowing you to upgrade it to a maximum of 32GB.
If you’re looking for the fastest NAS around, you won’t find any other vendor offering dual 10GBase-T and 2.5GbE at this low price. Factor in easy deployment and management, plus a heap of useful data-protection apps, and you’re left with a very attractive appliance.
|2.1GHz Intel Atom C3538 CPU
|8GB DDR4 SODIMM (max 32GB)
|8 x hot-swap SATA drive bays, 2 x M.2 NVMe/SATA slots
|RAID0, 1, 5, 6, 10, JBOD
Price when reviewed: £832 exc VAT (diskless)
Read our full Asustor Lockerstor 8 AS6508T review for more information.
Buffalo TeraStation TS3420DN
Small businesses with big data-transfer needs will love Buffalo’s TeraStation TS3420DN. It’s an affordable four-bay desktop NAS appliance that supports 2.5GbE, providing more than twice the speed of a regular gigabit connection over legacy Cat5e network cabling. Our review model came with four 1TB Seagate IronWolf SATA drives in hot-swap carriers behind the lockable front door, and Buffalo also offers the appliance in 8TB, 16TB and 32GB capacities. There’s no diskless option, but the standard three-year warranty also covers the supplied drives. Despite a limited app selection, the TS3420DN's strong set of backup and security services make this an appliance you can confidently entrust with your irreplaceable data.
|1.4GHz Annapurna Alpine AL214 CPU
|1GB DDR3 (maximum 1GB)
|4 x 1TB Seagate IronWolf hot-swap hard disks
|RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6
Price when reviewed: £550 exc VAT (4TB)
Read our full Buffalo TeraStation TS3420DN review for more information.
QNAP's TS-h973AX might not have the snappiest name in the desktop NAS market, but it makes a big impression in other ways, offering enterprise-class data security and protection on a budget. Despite its modestly-sized casing, the TS-h973AX delivers an impressive set of features and great all-around performance. It's also available for a great price and was our favourite NAS during testing.
It is worth highlighting, however, that QNAP's NAS drives have been under sustained, successful ransomware attacks throughout 2022 and the company's failure to proactively mitigate the waves of Deadbolt attacks has driven customers away from the brand. To QNAP's credit, many of the attacks have been successful due to owners' apathy towards applying security patches - the latest wave was fixed by the company just 12 hours after the attacks began - but it's something to consider when making a purchasing decision, nonetheless.
|2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B
|32GB DDR4 ECC (max 64GB)
|5 x LFF, 4 x SFF (2 x U.2 NVMe)
|RAID0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, triple parity, triple mirror
Price when reviewed: £1,047 exc VAT (diskless, 32GB RAM)
Read our full Qnap TS-h973AX review for more information.
QNAP TVS-h1288X QuTS hero Edition
The TVS-h1288X is one heck of a box. This imposing desktop NAS appliance provides eight LFF and four SFF drive bays, along with dual internal M.2 NVMe SSD slots – and it presents all this storage over four embedded 2.5GbE ports, as well as a dual-port 10GBase-T PCIe card.
It also enjoys all the benefits of QNAP’s 128-bit ZFS-based QuTS hero OS. This has some fantastic data-integrity features, including near unlimited snapshots, end-to-end checksums for transparent error-correction, and triple-parity and triple mirroring RAID options. The price is high, but that buys superb connectivity, plenty of storage capacity, bags of expansion potential and a wealth of data-protection features.
|3.3GHz six-core Xeon W-1250
|16GB DDR4 (max 128GB)
|8 x LFF SATA, 4 x SFF SATA, 2 x M.2 NVMe
|RAID0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, triple parity, triple mirror
Price when reviewed: £2,314 exc VAT (diskless)
Read our full QNAP TVS-h1288X QuTS hero Edition review for more information.
Synology DiskStation DS1621+
The DS1621+ is a good choice for SOHOs and SMBs that want more capacity than a four-bay NAS appliance can offer but have a keen eye on costs. Value looks good, too - it’s around £100 cheaper than its eight-bay DS1821+ stablemate, the AMD CPU delivers a substantial boost in performance over the older Atom-powered DS1618+ and Synology’s DSM software provides a superb range of apps and utilities.
|Quad-core 2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B
|4GB ECC DDR4 (max 32GB)
|6 x SATA LFF/SFF, 2 x M.2 NVMe SSD slots
|RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6, JBOD, SHR
Price when reviewed: £686 exc VAT
Read our full Synology DiskStation DS1621+ review for more information.
Synology DiskStation DS1821+
This eight-bay Synology NAS boasts outstanding performance, courtesy of an AMD Ryzen chip and server-grade ECC memory. As you'd expect from such an august vendor, it also boasts a wide catalogue of apps, and Synology's DSM management software proves as capable and well-rounded as ever. Our only minor complaint is that 10GbE ports aren;t included as standard, and must instead be installed via the manufacturer's first-party expansion cards. This is a small quibble, however, and the DS1821+ makes an outstanding option at a great price.
|2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B
4GB DDR4 ECC (max 32GB)
|8 x LFF/SFF hot-swap SATA drive bays
Supports RAID0, 1, 10, 5, 6, SHR-1/2, hot-spare, JBOD
Price when reviewed: £788 exc VAT
Read our full Synology DiskStation DS1821+ review for more information.
QNAP’s eight-bay TS-873A desktop appliance has the flexibility to fit a range of business needs, with users being able to choose between QNAP’s standard QTS operating system or the more advanced QuTS hero platform. Its storage options are just as versatile, with internal M.2 NVMe SSD slots and eight front-facing SATA drive bays supporting both mechanical disks and SSDs.
The TS-873A also comes equipped with a quad-core 2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B CPU and excellent software support, with 109 apps available for QuTS and 123 for QTS. Overall, it adds up to a very impressive and flexible desktop NAS, with plenty of expansion potential thanks to dual PCIe slots.
|2.2GHz AMD Ryzen V1500B processor
|8GB DDR4 (max 64GB)
|8 x LFF hot-swap drive bays, 2 x M.2 NVMe SSD slots
|Supports RAID0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, Triple Parity, Triple Mirror (with QuTS)
Price when reviewed: £886 exc VAT (diskless, 8GB)
Read our full QNAP TS-873A review for more information.
How we test NAS drives
NAS performance is dependent on more than simply the drives you fit into them; internal configuration of a NAS can, for example, affect its suitability for different roles. So to give you the best measurements of performance, ITPro runs a series of benchmark tests on each NAS drive we review.
If a NAS comes pre-populated with drives, we'll use those for the tests, but diskless units will be fitted with NAS-specific SATA HDDs, configured either in the manufacturer's own RAID system or in a RAID5 configuration (or RAID1, for units with less than four bays).
For real-world performance, we measure copy jobs to and from a connected PC, using both mixed-file batches and large single files to measure backup speeds and sequential transfers. We also use CrystalDiskMark for raw read and write speeds.
When it comes to more business-focused NAS drives and appliances, our testing methodology changes slightly compared to connected storage devices. First, we'll install and set up the unit using NAS-specific SATA HDDs in a four-drive RAID5 configuration (or RAID1 for appliances with fewer than four bays). We then connect the appliance to a test server via 10GbE, either using the standard RJ-45 or fibre SPF+ ports, or by fitting an adapter card if necessary.
To test real-world performance, we copy a 25GB test file to and from our server to measure read and write speeds, timing how long the process takes to complete. We'll also test encryption write performance by copying the 25GB file to an encrypted share.
We also use the open-source Iometer tool to test raw sequential read and write performance to an iSCSI target – this allows us to state the likely maximum speeds that the NAS is capable of.
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Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.