What exactly can you do with a NAS?

A NAS (Network Attached Storage) is actually a hard drive that is equipped with a network connection. This makes files that are on a NAS available to all users in your home network. What else is possible with a NAS and what you should pay attention to if you want to buy it?

A NAS is actually a simple PC that often runs on a variant of Linux. The primary function of a NAS is file sharing. Because a NAS is more of a mini-server these days, much more is possible. Besides for yourself, a NAS can also be used with, for example, your entire family. You can create a separate user account for each user and prevent users from accessing each other's files, and you can also create folders that all family members can access. There are NAS devices in different price ranges that differ in performance and functionality. Also read: The 8 best NAS systems you can buy right now.

Processor and RAM

Like a computer, a NAS contains a processor and RAM. If you mainly use a NAS for storing files and/or streaming to a limited number of devices, a NAS with a single core processor and 512 MB RAM will suffice. Even with 256 MB of RAM, you can probably still get by. However, if you want to stream to multiple users at the same time, or use the NAS for multiple tasks at the same time, such as streaming, downloading and viewing photos, then a copy with a dual-core processor and 1 GB RAM is more suitable.

Number of drive bays

NAS devices come in versions for different number of writes. There are variants for one, two, four or five discs. Of course, more or less, the more drive bays the NAS offers, the more expensive the device is and the more you can store on it. In addition, a NAS with two or more disks offers the possibility to protect the data against the failure of a disk through RAID.

For home use, a two-bay NAS is a good compromise between price and features, although four-bay NAS systems are also becoming more popular. Nowadays there are NASs for sale with a storage capacity of 4 TB. So you could lose 8 TB on a dual-bay NAS (two disks). Many users opt for the protection of RAID1, which makes it suitable for 4 TB. If you are only going to use the NAS to share less important things such as movies and music, then a NAS without this security technology will suffice.

An advantage of popular NAS brands such as Synology, QNAP or Netgear is not only the large amount of extensions, but perhaps more importantly, the large number of users. For the popular NAS manufacturers, there are forums where you can find all kinds of information and solutions to problems.

Dutch user forum Synology: www.synology-forum.nl

English User Forum Synology: //forum.synology.com

English User Forum QNAP: //forum.qnap.com

English user forum Netgear: www.readynas.com/forum

English user forum ASUSTOR: //forum.asustor.com

English user forum Thecus: //forum.thecus.com

Which drives?

NAS are sold with and without storage. If you opt for an empty NAS enclosure, you will have to buy hard drives yourself. You can basically put any SATA drive in a NAS, but it's a good idea to check if a drive is on the compatibility list of the NAS. The NAS manufacturer has then tested the hard drive for proper operation in combination with the NAS. Fortunately, both Western Digital and Seagate make it easy for you to find a suitable drive.

Both manufacturers have a range of hard drives that are specifically intended for use in a NAS and are usually on the mentioned compatibility lists. Western Digital calls its NAS drives WD Red, at Seagate you have to look at NAS HDD. HGST, a subsidiary of Western Digital, also offers NAS drives under the name DeskStar NAS. A NAS drive with 2 TB storage capacity costs about 90 euros, 3 TB is available for 115 euros and a 4 TB drive can be bought for about 160 euros, but those prices change quickly.

USB ports

Almost all NAS devices are equipped with one or more USB ports. The cheaper ones have USB2.0 ports while the more expensive NAS devices have faster USB3.0 ports. USB ports can be used for connecting USB storage so that you can back up the data on the NAS. The other way around is often also possible: you can easily copy data from a USB disk or USB stick to a NAS. In addition, many NAS devices have a built-in print server so that you can share a USB printer with your network. If you want to use this option, please check whether your USB printer is compatible with the print server on the NAS before purchasing. In practice, not every USB printer works with every print server. In addition to the USB ports, the more luxurious NAS devices also contain an eSATA connection, so that an extra drive can be much faster.

web interface

Although most NAS devices run on a variant of Linux, you will have little to do with this in practice. You manage a NAS just like a router via a web interface. You reach the interface via an IP address and most manufacturers provide tools that automatically detect this IP address for you. It is wise to give your NAS a fixed IP address, so that you can always reach it easily. NAS manufacturers' web interfaces are increasingly looking like complete operating systems. You can set up the NAS, manage files and install extensions via the web interface. NAS also contain applications to watch movies, music and photos in the browser.

Many possibilities

Every NAS is suitable for file sharing and a DLNA media server is also almost always present, so you can easily play media in your network. However, if you want more, it is best to choose a NAS that you can expand yourself with new options. The forerunners in this area are Synology and QNAP, but other brands such as Netgear, Thecus and ASUSTOR also offer extensive expansion options. We briefly discuss the main capabilities of NAS devices.

media server

A NAS is an ideal device to store a movie and music collection. Almost every NAS therefore contains a built-in DLNA media server so that you can stream media files to your media player or smart TV. Game consoles such as the PS3, tablets and smartphones can also handle DLNA. On more advanced NAS devices, you can install additional media servers such as Plex.

To download

Almost every NAS can download files itself, which is very handy. BitTorrent is usually supported and more advanced NAS also support downloading from newsgroups. On NAS devices that you can expand with packages for extra functionality (such as the models from Synology and QNAP), you can also install additional download programs such as SABnzbd, Sick Beard or Couchpotato.

Share photos

If you put photos on a NAS, you can give everyone access to these photos via a shared network folder or DLNA. Some NAS devices also offer a built-in photo website in which photos are presented in a well-arranged way. This is not only useful for yourself, it is also ideal for showing photos to other people.


You can expand the more advanced NAS of, for example, Synology, QNAP, Netgear and ASUSTORE with additional options and applications. These packages are not only developed by the NAS manufacturer itself, but also by the users themselves. The packages can be found on the websites of the respective brands.

Hosting websites

On some NAS devices it is possible to host a website and you can use content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla! to install. You can offer a (test) website within your own network. With a modern NAS it is also relatively easy to make the device and therefore the website accessible via the internet.

Personal Cloud

Cloud services are very popular because they make all your documents and files easily available on all your devices through apps. NAS manufacturers are also jumping into this market, offering capabilities and mobile apps that allow you to use a NAS as a personal cloud. If you want your own cloud, you can contact the NAS manufacturers LaCie, Synology, QNAP and WD.

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