Home NAS Box Roundup: 7 boxes tested
We put seven NAS drives from the likes of Maxtor, Netgear, Synology, Thecus, Western Digital and Iomega to the test to find out which is best for storing your files
With the price of hard drives plummeting, it doesn’t really cost a great deal to fill your home PCs with vast amounts of storage. But, with more homes served by their own wired and wireless networks, there’s a better way to store all your music, movies and documents.
What if you want to work on your laptop in the garden? Or sit in the lounge to watch a movie that’s stored on your PC in your study? You could avoid having to constantly copy files to and fro by investing in a NAS device and centralising it all.
NAS drives aren’t just about file storage, though. If you need reliable backup, you can set your PCs and laptops to make a daily backup over your home network and keep your most precious data safe and secure.
And, with modern NAS devices boasting iTunes and media servers with increasing regularity, it’s also possible to store all your music and movies in a central location, allowing everyone to access files when they want to.
Another benefit is remote access. Several drives here allow you to access them from any internet-connected computer: an ability that opens a whole world of possibilities. Forgotten to copy that document onto your thumb drive? Just log onto your NAS at home and you can get right back on track.
You can even download files using features such as integrated BitTorrent servers, ready for when you get home. And, best of all, you can afford to leave a NAS device on all the time without fearing the arrival of your energy bill. Even the most power-hungry of drives here barely topped a usage of 30W – far less than your average PC.
We’ve put seven NAS drives to the test, and with prices from $200 to $1328, there’s something for every budget.How we testPlus, the ratings explained
Choosing the right NAS drive for your needs depends on a range of factors. If you just want a centralised point on your network where you can store important files and perhaps your music collection too, you don’t need a drive swelling with extensive features. Even the two cheapest models here manage to squeeze UPnP media and iTunes servers into their modest prices, allowing you to copy an MP3 or iTunes library onto the drive and access it from any computer or media-streaming device in your network.
Other factors that come into play depend on whether you need user accounts to help protect sensitive data. If you want to make sure that other members of your household or office can’t spy on your documents, it’s essential to check that the drive you’re buying allows user accounts to be set up. And, if you want to make sure none of those users fill up your hard drive before you’ve had a chance to use it, look for a model with user quota control – this way, you can limit the storage space each user is allowed to consume.
Once you move up to the pricier models, the list of features becomes more comprehensive. Performance tends to take a turn for the better too, and once you reach the heights of Synology’s ds209+ (see page 79) you’re looking at a device that will serve up huge files across a network faster than even USB hard disks could muster. That extra speed can be put to good use, delivering demanding high-definition video across a network or, if a drive has built-in web-hosting capabilities such as the Netgear and Synology drives, serving up an entire website.
Another feature of the pricier drives is multiple drive arrays. This allows the use of RAID to provide fault-tolerant operation, meaning that if one hard disk fails you can just pull it out and replace it without losing any of your precious data. Bear in mind, though, while some drives are designed to allow for drives to be swapped by the user, others require the unit to be returned to the manufacturer. Some NAS drives, such as the Netgear and Thecus models, even allow for drives to be hot-swapped: replaced without first turning off the device. Performance
We tested the performance of each drive by timing how long it took to write 3GB of both large and small files to a share and then copy them back again. We carried this out three times for each test and averaged the scores for a final result.
Our test PC featured a 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor, 2GB DDR3 RAM and an 80GB Intel X-25M SSD drive. We connected each drive one at a time to the test PC via a Billion Gigabit switch to ensure no performance bottlenecks.Quietness
Unlike any other Australian magazine, we send every NAS drive to Intertek Research & Testing Centre to find out how noisy they are. Testing is carried out in an acoustically treated listening room using a precision sound-level meter with an “A-weighted” audio filter.
The results are in dBA, but bear in mind they aren’t comparable with our usual PC measurements, since recordings are taken at 10cm instead of 50cm in order to obtain a meaningful spread of levels. Features & Design
Drives are also rewarded for their range of functions. Core capabilities such as media, iTunes, print and FTP servers and backup are the most important in the points scheme, but we also take into account extra features, such as user accounts, BitTorrent clients and surveillance camera support.
Drives are also given extra marks for other key features, such as eSata, Wi-Fi, security measures, removable trays and hot-swappable disks.Value for Money
The Value for Money rating is calculated using a weighted average of the Performance, Quietness and Features & Design scores; we then factor in the price, including any delivery charges, to give an overall Value for Money score. Overall
The Overall rating is a straight average of the Performance, Quietness, Features & Design and Value for Money scores.Next Page: the results...
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This Group Test appeared in the May, 2009 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine