Looking to store all of your media, files and backups in one accessible place? A network attached storage (NAS) drive is a great option. But what will suit your needs?
ADAM TURNER and ANTHONY CARUANA take a look.
PROS: Linked to cloud storage
CONS: Single drive; no third-party apps
PRICE: $119 (2TB); $249 (3TB)
RATING: 3 / 5
The LaCie CloudBox comes with desktop software to automatically back up files from your Mac, or you can simply point your Time Machine backups at this network drive. You can access the drive across your home network as a standard Samba network share, as well as copy files to it via AFP (advanced function presentation) or S/FTP (secure file transfer protocol).
For an extra level of protection, the CloudBox can back up its contents to LaCie’s affiliated cloud storage service Wuala. It’s a handy option, but not the cheapest – starting at around $4.50 per month for only 20GB. It’s frustrating that you can’t use alternatives such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
As a consumer-focused NAS, the CloudBox is designed to be the hub of your multimedia library – acting as an iTunes or DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) server for streaming music and video around your home. You’ll find a built-in BitTorrent client for downloading files, but the CloudBox can’t run third-party apps such as Plex Media Server. It only sports a Marvell 1GHz processor with 256MB RAM, which is enough to satisfy your average home user, but may frustrate power users placing heavy demands on their NAS.
The CloudBox places a strong focus on remote access, with a browser interface and the LaCie MyNAS iOS app for accessing your files when you’re away from home. You can also create private folders for different users and set different sharing options for remote access.
The CloudBox only features a single hard drive, so there’s no redundancy and everything is lost if that drive fails. You can’t easily slip the drive in and out, but it’s possible to pop the box open. The CloudBox is equipped with a Gigabit Ethernet port and offers read/write speeds of 350/150 Mbps.
LaCie’s CloudBox is a jack-of-all-trades network drive designed for busy households.
– ADAM TURNER
Netgear ReadyNAS RN104
PROS: Capacious storage
CONS: A little noisy
RATING: 3.5 / 5
Setting up the ReadyNAS RN104 was a snap using the browser-based configuration tool that is replacing the tired RAIDar application that previous Netgear NAS devices used. Our test unit shipped with two drives, but we added another two drives to expand capacity from 4TB to 8TB. Adding each extra disk took about 18 hours as the system needs to rebuild the RAID array – we were using RAID5 – which is about normal.
As well as providing basic storage, the RN104 can be extended through third-party apps that can be added easily using the configuration tool. We immediately enabled real-time virus protection and there were options for media servers, web servers, MySQL and PHP for creating your own intranet, HR information systems and lots of other options.
Like many business-focused systems, the RN104 supports multiple Ethernet connections. There are also USB3 and eSATA ports, so you can connect and back up external drives to the ReadyNAS. This required the creation of a backup job in the configuration tool, which was easy to do.
Like many storage devices, Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN104 supports backup to cloud services. As well as working with Netgear’s own Vault service, you can choose to sync a folder from the ReadyNAS to Dropbox. The device can also be used for Time Machine backups of your Macs. There are also file synchronisation services, so you can automatically sync folders from your computer directly to the ReadyNAS.
Performance was solid. We transferred a 1.3GB file package, including files of different sizes and types, to the RN104 from our Mac over Gigabit Ethernet. Copying the folder to the RN104 took 39.85 seconds on average with the return trip completing in just 15.53 seconds.
Netgear’s four-bay NAS will hit the spot for the growing business or household.
– ANTHONY CARUANA
WD My Cloud EX2
PROS: Two drives; extra apps
CONS: Skewed towards business users
PRICE: $449 (without drives); $499 (4TB); $599 (6TB); $749 (8TB)
RATING: 3.5 / 5
Western Digital is better known for its basic, fully-sealed NAS boxes, but the My Cloud EX2 has room for two removable drives. You can run them as two separate drives or as one combined drive striped (RAID0) for improved speeds or mirrored (RAID1) to protect your files should one drive fail.
The My Cloud EX2 comes with desktop backup software and supports Time Machine backups along with Samba, AFP, S/FTP and FXP (file exchange protocol) access. For an extra level of protection, you can back up the NAS online to Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive or Amazon S3 account. If you’re not keen on this, you can still use the My Cloud EX2 as a personal cloud drive, accessing it via WD’s cloud service, which includes browser access and the iOS app across the internet when you’re out and about.
Thanks to the extra grunt of a 1.2 GHz Marvell Armada 370 processor with 512MB of RAM, the My Cloud EX2 can run a Twonky 7.2 DLNA server along iTunes and Logitech servers for streaming content around your home. There’s a download client, handling HTTP, FTP and BitTorrent, but you can also run Transmission, aMule and NZBGet for file-sharing.
This NAS can even host Joomla, WordPress and other server apps, but you won’t find high-end third-party apps such as Plex Media Server.
The drive is equipped with Gigabit Ethernet, offering read/write speeds of 350/140 Mbps in RAID0.
If you’re looking for basic consumer features then WD’s My Cloud EX2 is probably overkill, but if you’re running a home office or small business, it may be the one for you.
– ADAM TURNER
PROS: Fast; elegant
CONS: Annoying installation
PRICE: $329 (without drives)
RATING: 3.5 / 5
Once we loaded the N2560 with a pair of 4TB Seagate hard drives – there’s a simple, screwless system that uses plastic rails that fit into the drive’s screw holes – it took a while for the N2560 to initialise. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what’s happening as the documentation was unclear on how long the initial boot world take. However, once the initialisation process was complete, the system emitted a loud beep.
Sitting on the desk next to our Mac, the N2560 looked every bit an Apple accessory. While some other reviews complain about the N2560’s plastic casing, its elegant, glossy white finish was a nice contrast to the usual black or grey industrial design most other NAS makers prefer. The two drives are hidden behind a small door and they can be easily extracted by pressing down on a small lever.
The N2560 can be used for Time Machine backups and there’s an in-built iTunes server so you can access your music from Macs running iTunes. An extra feature we really liked was the integrated media player and HDMI port, so you can connect the N2560 directly to your TV for media viewing.
There are also two USB ports, one at the front and another at the back for connecting printers and USB storage devices. However, there’s just one Gigabit Ethernet port. That won’t be an issue for home users, but may be a concern for businesses.
Performance was excellent. We transferred a 1.3GB package of files to the N2560 in just 34 seconds – that’s more than twice as fast as some of the other devices we tested. Read performance was also snappy with the return trip for our files taking 27 seconds.
The N2560 is a great two-bay NAS that lets itself down with poor software.
– ANTHONY CARUANA
PROS: Two drives; Intel processor with hardware transcoding
CONS: No Plex Media Server app
PRICE: $439 (without drives)
RATING: 4.5 / 5
The Synology DS214play has room for two drives, which can run side-by-side or else combined in RAID0 or RAID1. There’s desktop backup software and Time Machine support, plus it caters to a range of protocols including Samba, AFP and S/FTP. For extra protection, it can also upload files to Amazon Glacier or HiDrive cloud storage.
The DS214play is a step up in price and performance from the standard DS214 thanks to the dual-core Intel Atom 1.6 GHz processor accompanied by 1GB of RAM. This lets the DS214play support MPEG-2/4 hardware transcoding for converting multiple 1080p videos on the fly, plus it will run business-focused servers like Joomla and WordPress.
Unfortunately, there’s no official support for the Plex Media Server app, although there are workarounds to get it up and running. It can act as an iTunes, Logitech, DLNA and internet radio server, plus it can stream music to AirPlay, DLNA and Bluetooth speakers. You can even stick a USB TV tuner in the back to record and stream digital television. As for downloads, it supports FTP, BitTorrent, NZB, eMule and others.
There’s support for remote access via a web browser and you’ll find a range of Synology DS apps in the iTunes store, which make it easy to access your multimedia and other files. You’ve the ability to stream or download files for offline playback. You can also sync files between the NAS, computers and mobile devices.
The DS214play is also blessed when it comes to connectivity – featuring two USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA port on the back and an SD card slot and single USB 2.0 port on the front. You can even bypass your computer and copy files directly from USB/SD storage devices. The DS214play is the fastest NAS of the bunch, delivering impressive read/write speeds of 380/380 Mbps in RAID0 via Gigabit Ethernet.
Synology’s DS214play is a high-end consumer NAS aimed at those who want to make the most of their multimedia library.
– ADAM TURNER
Seagate Business Storage 2-Bay NAS
PROS: USM for extra storage
CONS: Complex configuration tool
PRICE: $399 (4TB)
RATING: 3 / 5
Right off the bat, Seagate’s entry in this lineup offers something we haven’t seen in any of the other NAS devices we’ve tested over the years. The USM (Universal Storage Module) is a way of connecting external hard drives directly into the NAS. So, even though the two-bay NAS we tested was equipped with a pair of 4TB drives, we could easily add a third drive in the USM bay that’s hidden by a small flap.
USM drives can be connected directly to your Mac using a cable as well, making them a great way to easily move files between your Mac and the NAS if you’re out of the office often.
Like other NAS units, the Business Storage 2-Bay NAS supports connection of USB devices – there’s a port on the front and another on the back – as well as two Ethernet interfaces. The USB ports can be used for printer sharing as well as storage.
The browser-based configuration tool is very comprehensive, but also complex. All of the options are laid out logically, but there are a lot of them. Thankfully, the main tasks you’ll need to carry out, such as creating users and shares, are made easily accessible as they are listed on the main dashboard.
Mac users will be happy that there’s native support for Time Machine backups and streaming to computers running iTunes from the embedded media server. However, neither of those services is enabled by default.
Performance was solid. The two drives in our unit were configured as a single RAID1 volume so that, in the event one drive failed, our data would be safe. Copying our 1.3GB folder to the two-bay NAS took just over a minute with the return trip coming in at 19.5 seconds. While not super-fast, it’s not a bad result.
Seagate has been a stalwart of the storage business. Its two-bay business NAS will fit the bill for many small offices.
– ANTHONY CARUANA
Netgear ReadyNAS RN102
PROS: Two drives; wide range of apps
CONS: Mediocre transfer speeds
PRICE: $279 (without drives); $379 (1TB); $509 (2TB); $599 (4TB); $739 (6TB)
RATING: 4 / 5
The ReadyNAS RN102 supports two drives, running them side-by-side or else combined in RAID0 or RAID1. You can access it across your network via Samba, AFP and S/FTP. There’s no backup software included, but the NAS can back up files from your Mac. There’s also Time Machine support, plus online to Dropbox and ReadyNAS Vault. You can also sync files between computers or even between ReadyNASes.
The RN102 packs the same Marvell Armada 370 1.2 GHz processor and 512MB of RAM as the WD My Cloud EX2, but the Netgear is skewed more towards high-end home users than business users. It’s no slouch in terms of performance, but if you’re expecting to transcode multiple 1080p video files then you may be better off with an Intel-powered NAS – with Netgear this means looking to the business-grade models.
Netgear has the healthiest app store of the NAS vendors. Multimedia fans will be pleased that it can act as a DLNA, iTunes, Logitech, TwonkyMedia and Plex server for streaming around your home. You’ll also find Transmission, Sick Beard, SABnzbd and aMule for downloading files. Add to this a range of business-focused server apps such as WordPress, SugarCRM and Joomla.
You can access the ReadyNAS RN102 across the internet via a web browser, plus you’ll find the ReadyNAS Remote app in the iTunes store along with ReadyDLNA, ReadyNAS Surveillance and ReadyCLOUD. You could also use the Plex iOS app.
You’ll find a USB 2.0 port on the front of the RN102, plus two USB 3.0 ports and an eSATA expansion slot on the backup. There’s also a backup button, which can be programmed to copy files from external storage or from the NAS to a wide range of locations. The RN102 was surprisingly slow in speed tests, only delivering read/write speeds of 280/215 Mbps in RAID0 via Gigabit Ethernet.
Packed with features and a wide range of apps, Netgear’s ReadyNAS RN102 is one with the lot.
– ADAM TURNER
Western Digital MyCloud EX4
PROS: Easy to set up and use
PRICE: $1199 (with four 2TB drives)
RATING: 3 / 5
There was a time when configuring a NAS was very hard work. Western Digital’s My Cloud EX4 is easy to set up and use. The browser-based setup tool and two-line LCD display mean you always know what’s going on with the device. Each of the four drives has a small LED over its bay so you can instantly tell if there’s a problem with one of the drives.
The EX4 has a number of features we’ve only ever seen on enterprise storage gear. In addition to the pair of Gigabit Ethernet connectors, it also supports connection to two power supplies. Our experience with storage gear is that the power supplies often fail before any other components so this is a good way to ensure business continuity and break reliance on a single point of failure.
We could barely hear the EX4 while it was running in our office. Other than the lights and screen, it should just sit in the corner and barely be noticed. It can handle connection of two USB devices as well, although the placement of ports is a hassle as they are on the back of the device. Many other NAS have a port on the front for easy access.
Creating user accounts and allocating shares was very straightforward. You can also use the EX4 for Time Machine backups and there are lots of extra apps you can add easily. Out of the box, the EX4 has a download manager that could be used to retrieve files over HTTP, FTP and BitTorrent. Downloads could be programmed to only occur at specific times so that users can take advantage of off-peak download allowances if your ISP has that option.
Data stored on in the EX4 can be accessed using Western Digital’s Cloud Access service. This supports access from smartphones and tablets, as well as computers.
Performance was a little disappointing. Our 1.3GB file package took 1:14 to copy to the device’s four drives configured as a RAID5 array. The return trip was a much swifter 22 seconds.
The Western Digital EX4 is a serious storage device that offers plenty of capacity and flexibility without requiring an advanced degree to operate.
– ANTHONY CARUANA