Back up your files with these top NAS drives

NAS servers aren’t generally known for in-your-face style, but that’s the approach Asustor has taken with its AS-53 series devices. If anything, the AS5304T takes its design cues from gaming hardware, with its gloss-black, angled surfaces, red touches and glowing indicator LEDs. This is entirely intentional; one of the applications Asustor trumpets with this NAS is storing 4K gaming live streams to your NAS, while one of the bundled third-party apps, StreamsGood, is designed to play live streams from a range of popular gaming services directly from your NAS.

Remove the angular face plate from its magnetic moorings, and the AS5304T works like a conventional NAS. There are four bays with slide-out caddies, with the drives affixing without tools for easy population and removal. Yet look around the back and there are more clear signs that this isn’t an ordinary NAS. For a start, the two Ethernet ports go beyond normal Gigabit speeds to embrace the faster 2.5GbE standard. You might struggle to find a switch to support it, while you’ll have to buy a new Asus network card, but with applications such as 4K streaming where the network can hold you back, a faster connection can make all the difference – and with two you still get link aggregation for performance or failover connectivity.

The rear also hosts an HDMI output, along with two USB 3 ports. These could come in handy if you want the Nimbustor to moonlight as a media player or a Linux desktop PC; both roles it’s equipped to handle through its apps. Dominating the lot is a hefty 92mm fan, which works with heatsinks on the major components to keep the heat under control. At nearly 30dB in operation, the AS5304T isn’t exactly whisper-quiet, but it’s far from noisy, and the drives emerge from their bays nice and cool.

The software carries on the same themes as the hardware. The default desktop interface is straight from the school of hardcore PC gaming, although you can personalise it if you prefer a different look and feel. And while the user interface feels different from what you’d generally expect from a NAS, it doesn’t drop any of the usual functionality. You can set up users and shared folders as you would on any other NAS, or set up iSCSI targets for virtualisation purposes. Asustor still provides tools for sync with OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive, or backing up Windows and macOS PCs. With the Brtfs file system, you can even use snapshots and the Snapshot Center app to safeguard the data on the NAS.

What’s more, the built-in app store goes further to embrace development through Docker, Perl and Python, Surveillance and even running VirtualBox virtual machines. And if you want a media centre or a box to download and manage your entirely legal and copyright-friendly torrents, then the Nimbustor can do that too.

If the Asustor’s looks won’t be for everyone, it’s harder to be unimpressed by the performance. With a quad-core Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM, this one flies. Even running over a standard Gigabit Ethernet network, the AS5304T is a rocket of a NAS, matching and sometimes outpacing the Synology DS1019+ in both our sequential read/write and backup copy tests. It’s also on a par with the Synology when it comes to copy operations while streaming 4K content, although we couldn’t say that playback was anything like silky smooth. Still, on a fast network without so much activity, 4K playback is nothing short of flawless, with the AS5304T even handling high-quality 10-bit HEVC format files.

For certain users this is going to be overkill, while the ability to use your NAS as a Linux desktop or media player will be by the by. If you’re looking for a NAS for business or mainstream home use, the Synology DS1019+ or DS218+ will be better, more value-conscious bets. But if you’re looking for a great four-bay NAS for streaming, media and more, the AS5304T is the best on test we’ve seen. By looking beyond the usually conservative NAS market, Asustor has produced something really special.

Asustor Nimbustor AS5304T specifications

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Model numberAS5304T
Price (inc VAT)£360 (£450)
Warranty3yr RTB
Dimensions (WDH)174 x 230 x 170mm
Noise level19.7dB
CPUIntel Celeron J4105
CPU coresQuad core
CPU speed, cores1.5GHz to 2.5GHz
RAM/maximum RAM4GB/8GB
Bays (free)4 (4)
Drive type2.5in/3.5in SATA hard disk
Max internal capacity64TB (4 x 16TB)
RAID modesJBOD, 0, 1, 5, 6, 10
Bay typeSlide-in caddy
Hot swap?Yes
2.5in drives supportedYes
SSD supportYes
Status display7 x status LEDs
Gigabit Ethernet ports0
10GB Ethernet ports2 x 2.5GbE
USB ports (rear)2 x USB 3.2
USB ports (front)USB 3.2
802.3ad link aggregationYes
Load balancingYes
Network failoverYes
Major network protocolsSMB, AFP, FTP, NFS, TFTP, WebDAV
iSCSI target256
USB expansion optionsYes
NAS OS/firmwareAsustor Device Manager
Main desktop softwareAsustor Control Centre
Remote accessRsync
Cloud integrationDataSync for OneDrive, Dropbox sync, Google Drive sync
BackupAI Data, MyArchive, Time Machine
MediaLooksGood, SoundsGood, iTunes Server, Photo Gallery, UPnP Media Server, TakeEasy, Plex
SurveillanceSurveillance Centre,
Testing and DevelopmentDocker, Perl, Python
Other major servicesVirtualbox, Linux Centre, Download Centre, mail server, VPN Server
Stuart Andrews

Stuart has been writing about technology for over 25 years, focusing on PC hardware, enterprise technology, education tech, cloud services and video games. Along the way he’s worked extensively with Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and Chrome OS devices, and tested everything from laptops to laser printers, graphics cards to gaming headsets.

He’s then written about all this stuff – and more – for outlets, including PC Pro, IT Pro, Expert Reviews and The Sunday Times. He’s also written and edited books on Windows, video games and Scratch programming for younger coders. When he’s not fiddling with tech or playing games, you’ll find him working in the garden, walking, reading or watching films.

You can follow Stuart on Twitter at @SATAndrews