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9 good reasons to buy a NAS for your home or office

NAS
NAS (Image credit: Windows Central)

There are many reasons why network attached storage (NAS) makes a great addition to your home or small office. Maybe you're sick of paying monthly cloud service fees, or maybe you need a lot more storage space than you currently have. A NAS allows for centralized file management, and, in some cases, adds a layer of security over your files. I'll help get you headed in the right direction when it comes to ditching the cloud and getting serious about network attached storage.

1) A NAS is relatively easy to set up

Synology DS218+ (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Setting up a NAS is relatively easy — it does not require much more tech knowledge than it took to set up Windows and navigate to this web page. Fill the NAS with drives, plug it in, and attach it to your network either wirelessly or with an Ethernet cable. Although NAS units have their own processor, motherboard, and RAM, most are controlled through an internet browser using a simple interface designed to be suitable for all users. You will have it set up and storing your data in no time.

2) A NAS offers peace of mind

Most computer users can relate to losing data. Your computer was infected with a virus and you had to reformat and ended up losing everything. Your hard drive failed. The SD card with your not-yet-backed-up vacation photos vanished. It happens.

A NAS can ultimately help you to avoid these scenarios. Files are saved on the NAS and accessed by your PC, meaning you won't lose any data if your PC hard drive or OS fails. A RAID 5 NAS setup using four drives allows for a drive to fail completely without losing any data. Replace the faulty drive and get back to work; the volume will be rebuilt in a few hours and you can still access your data, albeit it slowly, during the process.

3) A NAS offers increased storage space

A common problem among PC users is a lack of storage space. Imagine: your desktop has three hard drives already, and you need to add more for all the 4K movies you just bought. Instead of transferring your files from one hard drive to another, larger hard drive, invest in a NAS. It can be expanded, and it can be accessed by multiple people from multiple devices.

If you want to get particularly crazy with your backups, keep in mind that it's much easier to back up a single location (i.e. your NAS) than it is to back up multiple computers. All types of user will find an appropriate NAS, as they range in storage size from hundreds of gigabytes to several terabytes.

Best NAS for your home

4) A NAS makes file sharing easy

Having a hub in your home for movies, songs, photos, and games is easy to achieve with a NAS. Say you have movies on your beast of a desktop in the office upstairs, but your TV is in the rec room downstairs. Your NAS makes it easy to access those files from any other computer in the house, including the Xbox One attached to your TV.

Small businesses and offices will benefit from multiple people being able to manage, store, version, and backup files from a single location instead of spreading out across all the machines in the office. Conversely, it is much easier for one person to access multiple files belonging to one project when they're kept on a centralized hub rather than multiple computers. USB printers that are not capable of wireless printing can be shared across the office or home with NAS.

How to pick the right NAS for a Plex server

5) A NAS isn't throttled by ISP transfer speeds

TerraMaster F4-220 (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Transfer speeds between computers and a NAS using a Gigabit Ethernet connection can technically get up to 125MB/s, but most hard drives can only reach transfer speeds of about 70MB/s. Compare this with a cloud service where your transfer speeds are limited by your internet plan, bandwidth usage, and even the cloud service itself. Wouldn't you rather be limited by advancements in technology than by how much you're paying an internet or cloud service provider?

6) A NAS has no ISP access outages

Because the NAS is in-home and connected with Wi-Fi or Gigabit Ethernet, you won't experience any access outages if your ISP craps out or if your cloud service goes down (maintenance!). As mentioned above, a RAID 5 NAS setup can even survive the complete failure of one of its drives without losing any data or experiencing downtime.

Best and most reliable hard drives for Synology NAS

7) A NAS usually has organization software

Synology DS1618+ (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Many NAS units come with software that makes setting up and using your network a snap. Some map your storage for easy access, while others allow you to set up a cloud for internet access anywhere. Most NAS units will include sync software, but these options will change depending on what NAS unit you buy.

8) A NAS offers security features

Most NAS units feature some type of encryption for disk volumes. This adds another level of security on top of the fact that your drives can be, if you wish, kept off the public internet. If your laptop is stolen it won't have your files on it — they're kept secure and separate on your NAS. In an office setting, it's much easier to keep tabs on one centralized NAS rather than multiple computers. Users might give individual computers access that isn't exactly secure, and you could suffer from the vulnerability before it is noticed.

9) A NAS will save you money in the long run

The price of a quality four-bay NAS unit ranges from about $300 to $550 (opens in new tab), and the price of a 2TB hard drive is currently hovering around the $50 mark (opens in new tab). If you were to create a badass four-drive RAID 5 setup with four 2TB drives, you'd have to spend about $500. Your storage capacity minus data redundancy would be 6TB.

Now consider the price of cloud storage services. If you're not already an Office 365 subscriber with 1TB of included OneDrive storage, you're looking at about $70 per year for just an eighth of the storage space provided by a NAS. You can see how a NAS quickly pays for itself.

Building an affordable NAS

Your NAS

Let us know in the comments section below if you plan on getting a NAS sometime soon. If you already have a NAS, let us know what you love most about it!

Updated August 1, 2018: I've updated this guide with plenty of links to new related content to ensure you're getting a full look at why a NAS can be so advantageous.

Cale Hunt
Senior Editor, Laptop Reviews

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

54 Comments
  • Love my 2TB WD MyCloud! The only drawback is that I have never been able to get the Groove app to really work with NAS drives (giving the "not indexed" error half the time). It works sometimes, but not others. 
  • I can't say this isn't an idea that hasn't arrived. I'm in a situation like this in my home office and it might be worth the investment to do something like this.  Especially in light of how Microsoft put the brakes on my online storage aspirations.
  • I have 2 Synology NAS enclosures (ds214+ and a ds716) and you can't go wrong. Even better, they have Windows apps for music, video and photo sharing. I can also initiate and monitor torrent downloads from my phone, check the status of both, setup external download links for friends and more... And these are apps from Synology... Not 3rd party like my old d-link nas. While both are 2-drive units, the 716 is expendable to 7 drives using a 5 bay addon (which is expensive). It's a great investment that would east less power than a pc.
  • I'm being drawn towards a Synolgy. Their marketing gumpf does seem to fit what I'm after, especially with their streaming products.
  • Just hope there's no physical damage to the device once you have all of your pictures and files moved over to it. Fire, tornado, flood, spilled coffee, etc. could result in a complete loss. At least with the cloud, it's backed up on multiple copies and recoverable in the event of a disaster.
  • You can make backup to off site NAS (which we do in the family between my father, brother and me), you can make a backup in the cloud of your choice (including Amazon S3, Crashplan...).
    On the other side, for data only in the cloud, there NO backup as the data are synchronized so if your data change / are lost on the Cloud or on the local computer, they are gone forever.
  • I have two Synology NAS one at a friends and one in my premises, they are mirrored each evening through Hyperbackup which is a tool from Synology. Both NAS Boxes are encrypted and back up over a VPN.
  • Moved from NAS to cloud and Im much happier for it initially great but take my advice back up offline my linux nas drive died leaving me unable to get to any of the data of the discs, some of which were fried by the over heated has box.
  • As a long-time NAS user, I'm a bit divided on the tone of this article. I've used various NAS solutions over the years, and while they do have a place in the technology infrastructure of power users, I'm not sold on whether everyone needs to bother with one. The complexities of setup, configuration, and management still make them inaccessible to the average consumer. Most people's eyes glaze over when they hear "RAID." Back in the old days, I had a multi-drive Linksys NAS, and I damn near lost everything, because one of the drives started to fail and it turns out I had misconfigured it. After that, my wife rightly insisted that a cloud-based backup solution had to be incorporated into our setup. For a couple of years, I continued saving everything locally to my NAS and backing that up to Carbonite, but they started making that more and more challenging, so I switched over to OneDrive for my personal stuff. I currently have a WD MyCloud, and it's good for what I need to do with it. Mostly I use it as a media server for streaming ripped movies and TV shows around my home. For photos, documents, music, and other everyday stuff, I much prefer my OneDrive to my NAS. OneDrive is available wherever, whenever I need it, makes sharing/co-authoring simple, and provides better backup redudancy than I could manage with a local storage solution. My wife still routinely insists that I copy stuff off of our OneDrive accounts to the NAS "for backup purposes," but by and large, I just keep all of my important stuff on OneDrive.
  • I do agree with you to some degree, but I have had different Nas models and makes over the years and I find that they have actually gotten easier and easier to set-up. Yes the average user may have to do a little research, but not enough to say it would be too complicated. The complications will come when they get into more than just storage. The synlogy os is a great tool for many users. I do agree with others that they are pricey, but for me as a personal preference I like know that I have my files secure and in my possession and easily and quickly accessed regardless of internet connection.
  • The Cloud is NOT a backup. This basic misconception is a big problem because people think that they are safe with data in the cloud..until they delete by mistake some folders and they lose all the datas inside forever.
    NAS nowadays are super simple to use and configure and is a no brainer purchase to advise.
  • Definately the way to go.  After MS pulled the unlimted offer from under everyones feet I decided to build my own storage.  Synology 2015xs with 8x WD Red 6TB drives running in RAID 10, maybe 2x SDD for read/write cache (need to read more about this as im still a noob in this area), 10 GbE network is what I want, will build a PC soon that has that, probably all out and get the new 10 core Intel processor and 2x Nvidia 1080 in SLI.  Want something that I wont have to worry about for 5 years.
  • SSD's are only good for cache/burst reading for a lot of users to handle data spikes. 10Gb/e is great (nearly 1Gb/s transfer speeds with appropriate hardware) but again it's only really of use if you have the infrastructure and cabling in place to take advantage of it. I have a 10Gb/e Cisco switch and a couple of 10Gb/e Intel cards in my workstations so looking to replace one of my NAS boxes to one that has the ability to put in a 10Gb/e card. However if you don't have a lot of transfers on your network and/or users then it's a waste of cash.
  • From what I understand Synology is the "Gold" standard of NAS.  I went with Drobo 5N instead.  The benifit (for me) was that I can use any size HHD - they did not have to be all same size drives.  After plugging it in and installing the software - I have not really done anything.  It just works - well we will find out when one of the drives f's up. 
  • Synology does not need to have the same drive capacity in each bay. I have an older Drobo FS and Synology DS-1515+. When it comes to apps/performance/upgradeability the Syn is way better than the Drobo, especially if you can get it on sale. I almost went with a new model Drobo decided on Synology based on media streaming results. 
  • Damn!  I could have sworn they needed same size HHD.  Ohh well, next time.
  • I have a synology nas, (2x 4TB) and use it a lot for backup, movies, photo's (backup),... And I realy love their W10 App for movies and photo's. Now hoping there will be more apps coming soon! (or use Android/IOS or just the .exe software & web) Songs & photo's are on onedrive so it is easy to use with W10 (Photo's app & Groove)
  • I don't see a purpose of having a nas at home. I guess you may want to be extra private about your files.....
  • Capacity, speed, control and flexibility.
  • It's actually about being LESS private with your files... instead of having everything tucked away on a specific PC, you can have all your files & backups in one place so that everyone on the same network can access them.
  • Actually that's false, you can create shared and private folders. through user accounts and folder permissions You can also hide shares so only those with access can see them. No different from any enterprise solution. The NAS box at my friends can access or even see the back up folders I've created on the box and it's also fully encrypted so they can't mount those drives into a PC to read the Linux file system from the NAS.
  • hmmm basically they are backup hdd with a fancy name, lol how can it be compared to cloud which you can access from anywhere
  • You can access your NAS from any device with an internet connection same way as cloud, you also have dedicated Apps that give you MUCH more options on devices.  4K is here, files are large, I have 3 TB of films none 4k, i gulp at the amount of storage required.  Likes of Microsoft ditched unlimited storage and its nowhere near the speed and capacity (whatever you can afford) of your own NAS.
  • I'm still rocking my old HP MediaSmart EX495 Windows Home Server. I bought it back in 2010 and it's been running 24x7 since. I've had no issues with it other than a failed drive or two which I hot swapped without taking the server down. I did lose the system drive once which required a reinstall of the OS, but no data was lost. It provides plenty of storage for my household and the backup agents and backup management couldn't be easier to use. The drive technology works great and allows use of mismatched drives, much easier than dealing with a RAID solution. I've looked at other NAS solutions over the years, everything from home built linux boxes to Synology, QNAP, and Drobo, but I haven't been able to justify moving yet. Eventually the old WHS will die, but so far, it's been dead on reliable.
  • Lol built a whs & use it for wsus as well
  • Just buy yourself the slowest PC configuration(probably 5yr old second-hand device) you can find, remove DVD and sloppy drives, put there at least 3 hard drives of any capacity, then install any no-display/no-DE linux distribution, set up samba, and you've got most of the security settings domain controllers provide, along with NAS functionality. Also drop there any torrent client with web interface, and you've got yourself a nice, cheap, and effective NAS with blackjack and . Buying 2 2TB drives is another question though... Btw, any organization has some outdated hardware, if it is at least 5 years old, so you don't even have to buy anything. Of course, this isn't "buy, put this cable there, and it works", but the setting up will take up to 5 hours of lazy googling, if you don't know what to do. If you do, it's a matter of 15 minutes after turning it on. If you have to deploy 10k of such devices, just create an image and replicate it to other hard drives, for each device. Linux doesn't give a crap about a sudden change of hardware. Yes, that's sad egg thrown right into windows'face. All this deployment crap that I have to make through every time when new PCs arrive...
  • If the NAS can transcode 4 HD Plex streams simultaneously then ok, but if not no thanks.
  • Really ?  Scroogle Drive ?  I think I just got a little barf in my mouth.    Anyway.. pretty hard for 'most' consumers to justify  a NAS..  they are not magic either.. using JBOD that have very short MTBF.   If you have that much data (i.e. multiple TB's)  maybe,  but even still you need backups.. NAS is not magic... it stil has sinlge points of failure.  YMMV   -  I agree with gregsedwards  I'm not real swimmingly with the tone of the article either... this coming from an enterprise IT manager.. ;)
  • I run a home file server powered by Windows Server 2012 essentials. 4TB of storage --- providing access to my Plex Media Server (locally & remotely), music and movies by standard network shares (also remotely acessible via a web console) & functions as a backup store.
  • NAS is to keep the system up and running, Baackup is for when **** hits the fan and recovery.  IMO (and as many others say) NAS is a backup however if malware infects your system NAS can be too.  You need to store backups on different types of media and use versioning so you can roll back.  A comination of NAS, cloud, USB stick, CD's, fire proof safe or deposit box in a bank, non internet connected drive or machine, an expert even suggested Microfilm as it lasts several hundred years (if you need it I guess) - For consumers I guess 3 is good for important data.
  • I've been thinking about building a NAS at home. Would be good to do a comparison of the most popular consumer-grade NAS systems from the likes of Synology, QNAP, etc. 
  • Anandtech has good recent articles comparing the most serious NAS brands. It is a good read.
  • NAS are handy and important for local media and local extended storage purposes.  At a minimum, however, people should get used to secondary site storage and cloud is one way to accomplish that with an extremely low entry barrier.  Once you're accustomed to backing up key documents and build a strategy for what should be readily accessible anywhere (i.e. cloud with local sync like OneDrive, etc), then the strategy for longer term owned local storage might be more palatable.  Even basic 2x+ spindle units that are already built (i.e. WD, Toshiba, LaCie, Seagate) are good suppliments to local machine/ cloud storage.  More expensive NAS units might be too complicated for the average Joe but are certainly worth the investment.
  • Yeap, moved to NAS soon after I heard about the OneDrive cap change.  Now I have a 2TB redudant RAID with Synology.   They have good apps for Windows Mobile to view files, pictures, and movies over intranet and internet.    Anyone interested should look at the Disk Station Play versions.        
  • I have had a NAS for a long time, but you know what? Windows 10 Mobile cannot access Samba or AFS shares. My BlackBerry 10 could, my iPhone with VLC and similar could, etc, but not MS' own mobile OS and applications. Great!
  • A DLink DNS 320 around 60€ plus an old 500Gb HDD (it's made for two) that's my setup, it has a torrent downloader, multiple account user, a USB manager (printing, extra storage) a slow UI :) , and the minimum features, and GB ethernet, for me it's enou
  • RAID NAS?  Don't forget to have a spare chassis in case the hardware fails...
     
  • You can just use a SAS HBA or RAID card and recover that way, Anandtech has a great article on how to do it for a Synology box.
  • For the amount of storage for my media I'd need an 8 bay NAS with 6tb WD Red Pro drives. That would be expensive.
  • Yeah, I went with 8 x 4TB WD Red drives. 4 in my NAS and 4 in my PC as I don't like the idea of a single point of failure e.g. if a power surge zapped the NAS with everything on it
  • Just pray your house never burns down, or a lightning strike doesn't fry 2 of your drives. Critical stuff should also be archived in the cloud.
  • Or you could also make offline backups and keep them in a fireproof safe.  If we're being purist about it, RAID should not in of itself be viewed as a backup solution anyway.
  • The safe is a good option not only for fires but also simple theft. I saw some nice safes the other day that had provision for power sockets and sometimes ethernet connections, while still maintaining their external fire & flood protection ratings. I don't know how it would work in an enclosed space, but I was thinking it would be a great idea to have a small NAS (or an external HDD with ethernet) inside the safe for secondary backups. I was actually thinking of running an ethernet cable to my workshed (in the backyard, 10m from the house) to ensure it is physically separate should catastrophe strike. One of those 'powerline adapters' (ethernet over power) might do the trick too. Obviously you still have to worry about lightning strikes, but I always unplug most of my stuff during lightning storms anyway. 
  • I use a Drobo 5N (and used a 4D before that) and I can attest to Drobo being a fantastic product!
  • Lately, as of about 9 months I'm using a DIY NAS made out of a bannapi with 2  external drives added. It runs beautifully, dead silent, with openmediavault. Currently enabled  FTP, BYTTORENT SYNC, PLEX, SAMBA. It usually copies large files with about 35-40 MB/s over local network. All for about 50 $ for the bananapi , I allready had some older drives. So, for me its the best cheap solution for something simple.
  • I bought a QNAP NAS a year ago. I'm no IT expert, but not a complete novice. I didn't like the experience. Why not?
    * I bought a Windows 10 based Media PC, and wanted to store files on the NAS so that I could also access the files using a laptop. I wanted to run apps/applications on the Windows PC and simply read files from the NAS (or store files to the NAS).
    * It turned out I couldn't store files from Windows 10 by default... I had to...
    -- first create a new user on the NAS
    -- if I didn't choose the same user name and password as on my Windows 10 setup, nothing worked properly
    -- I had to give write access to the "multimedia" directory on my user
    -- there was not really any information about what I had to do, and I had to do endless googling to find the required information
    * I ripped my DVDs and Blu-rays and stored them on the NAS (yes, I only ripped disks I have purchased myself -- zero download of "shared" movies, and I don't let others get copies of my movies)
    -- after a few weeks of ripping, the NAS started complaining: it turned out there was less than 20% vacant space on the NAS
    -- before the whining started, I had seen zero information that I needed to have 20% vacant... maybe I should have known, but I didn't think of it
    * Several apps/applications on my media PC had problems accessing movie files on the NAS. As an example, VLC didn't work well So far, the whole NAS thing was a very negative experience. My impression is that you need to be relatively literate wrt. IT to use this. And note, this is not meant to criticize QNAP -- I have no reason to think that other systems are better -- QNAP regularly scores very high in NAS tests. To resolve the problem of accessing files, I bought a Drobo 5C. This set-up is very easy to use. Only "problems"... (a) the Drobo has to be located next to the media PC, i.e., next to my TV -- I'd prefer to put it away in an office or something, (b) It is not so simple to access files from another computer (I can of course just unplug the Drobo and plug it into the other computer, etc., but less elegant). Then I wanted to use the NAS for back-up from the Drobo. Well, I found that my media PC had Windows 10 home, which doesn't come with a back-up program (the W10 Pro does, I think). I found some freeware back-up programs, but they didn't work when backing up from a USB disk to a NAS... Personally, I'd rather use some simple "Windows Server" or even "Windows 10" based machine for back-up/as "NAS" -- so that only have to relate to one OS. So if anyone has any suggestions for a PC with a cabinet with room for 5-8 disks with RAID support, etc., and how to connect a media PC to the "server" PC, I'm interested.
  • You have to create a login and a password to use a PC or a tablet or a phone. I am sure everyone understand why you would need the same for the NAS to choose who have access to what.
    If you find it complicated, how did you setup your phone or PC? Also, i don't know where this 20% is coming from. In my Synology NAS, one of the disk (used as a backup for the 3 others in RAID is 99% full and the backup still works. Synology NAS works perfectly with VLC or whatever video player, it just give any PC access to the data like it would be on the hard drive, it comes with backup utilities you can install on your PC to backup automatically on the NAS themfolderd of your choice...
    I heard also only good things about QNAP but i am surprised with the limitations and problems you have experienced
  • WIndows 10, RAID 5 homegroup file sharing, LAN and WIFI, and/or KODI   FTW
  • I use an old Thecus N4200. It doesn't quite have the app support it once did due to it being a bit outdated. It did get fried once and I was VERY pleased that the repair bill was only $35.00.
  • I do plan on getting a NAS in a few years when/if I return to the US.  Right now I'm rolling like a baller with only my external.   Joking aside, having at least 2 backups of your important information is pretty damn important to say in the least. 
  • National Advance System (NAS) used to build mainframe computers, I used to operate one at Rice University. 
  • I've run network attached storage since about 2004 when I got my hands on an old server. Since then, I've had various solutions. I primarily use it for backup, but have about 2TB set aside to alleviate storage on my Surface Pro and OneDrive. Plus, it's easy for friends and family to grab files when they visit, like photos and videos of vacations and loved ones.
  • Yeah but what happens if a burglar enters your house or if your house catches fire?. Nothing beats the cloud for peace of mind.
  • I have issues with #2 and 9... For "semi" peace of mind.... With a single NAS, people are lured into the same false sense of security... What if NAS fries? Your data is now no longer accessible. As for saving you money in the long run? it's the REALLY LOOOOOOOOOOONG RUN. The example gives you 1 hotswap drive for failure. Nope... I currently have 2 Synology drives. both with 2-2TB drives. The are configured for Striping and mirroring. So effectively, each is 2 TB with the ability to lose 1HDD and still recover 100% of the data on each NAS. Drive replacements/upgrades mean spending twice as much for 2 drives. Also, the ideal NAS setup (as someone who works in IT and has seen entire NAS and SAN systems fail with zero data recover possible without paying tons) would be 2 identical systems. If you (and a friend you trust) have no data caps, place 1 at your place, 1 at theirs, and sync nightly. IF something happens (fire, tornado, etc) happens, you still have your data somewhere else safe. If not, place in the opposite end of your home. Now you have peace of mind, but the cost savings are out the window.