Is it worth having a NAS at home?

What is a NAS?

A NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a specialized computer that is dedicated to file storage and sharing. NAS devices contain one or more hard drives that are configured in an array for increased capacity, performance, and redundancy. Unlike a regular external hard drive that connects directly to a computer, a NAS connects to your home network and allows multiple devices to access the files simultaneously.

Some key benefits of having a NAS at home include:

  • Centralized storage – Store all your files like documents, photos, videos, music in one place that can be accessed by all devices on your home network.
  • File sharing – Easily share files between different devices and users in your home without having to connect external drives.
  • Remote access – Access your files remotely when away from home using apps or web browsers.
  • Backups – Automate backups for all computers and devices in your home to the NAS for safety.
  • Media streaming – Many NAS systems let you stream videos, music and photos to various media players.
  • Redundancy – RAID configurations on NAS provide protection against drive failures by storing duplicate copies of your data.

What can you do with a NAS?

Here are some of the common things that can be done with a home NAS:

  • Store all your family photos, videos, music in a central place that can be accessed wirelessly from phones, tablets, laptops etc.
  • Automatically backup your computers and phones to the NAS to keep your data safe.
  • Access and share files remotely when away from home using apps like Plex, Dropbox etc.
  • Stream media via DLNA to smart TVs, gaming consoles, and media players like Roku.
  • Run BitTorrent clients like Transmission to download torrents.
  • Host websites or web applications using platforms like WordPress or OwnCloud.
  • Serve as a surveillance station combining NAS hard drives and IP cameras to build a home CCTV system.
  • Enable NAS devices to function as a DVR for recording and watching TV programs.

The possibilities are endless! With a fast network connection and large capacity drives, NAS devices are extremely versatile for media management, backup, sharing, streaming and hosting data and multimedia applications at home.

What features to look for in a home NAS?

Here are some key features to consider when buying a home NAS:

  • Storage capacity – Aim for a minimum of 4 hard drive bays so you can add higher capacity HDDs in future. Many NAS support upto 8 or 12 bays.
  • Processor – Look for at least dual core CPUs from Intel or ARM based ones from companies like Marvell. More cores are better for running multiple tasks.
  • RAM – Having more RAM improves performance when multiple users access the NAS simultaneously. Go for at least 2GB.
  • Network ports – Look for gigabit ethernet ports for best network speed. Having link aggregation support helps increase bandwidth.
  • USB ports – Additional USB ports allow you to connect external drives for backups and additional storage.
  • RAID support – Look for NAS devices that support RAID 0, 1, 5 or 6 for storage redundancy and performance.
  • Remote access – Allows accessing NAS over internet when away from home. Useful for streaming media.
  • Mobile apps – Apps like QNAP Qfile, Asustor AiData, Synology DS File allow easy NAS access from mobile devices.
  • File systems – Should support major filesystems like EXT4, Btrfs, ZFS for flexible storage configuration.
  • Operating system – Look for NAS OS that is reliable, frequently updated and packed with useful features.

Recommended home NAS brands

Some of the top consumer NAS brands are:

  • Synology – Well known for its intuitive DSM OS and wide range of NAS models for homes and businesses.
  • QNAP – Offer a huge selection of NAS devices with focus on storage flexibility and scalability.
  • Asustor – A strong contender in home NAS segment with emphasis on multimedia apps and performance.
  • WD – Along with HDDs, Western Digital also offers My Cloud series of stylish and user-friendly NAS devices.
  • Netgear – Offers the affordable ReadyNAS series of SMB and home NAS products.
  • Buffalo – Known for high-performance LinkStation and TeraStation NAS lines suitable for homes.

For home use, Synology, QNAP and Asustor are among the most popular choices due to the balance they offer between ease of use, flexibility and price. The software experience on their NAS operating systems is typically superior as well.

What are the alternatives to buying a NAS?

Some alternatives to buying a dedicated home NAS are:

  • Using external USB hard drives to share data between computers
  • Building your own NAS using Raspberry Pi or an old PC
  • Using a router with USB ports that can serve as a basic NAS
  • Subscribing to cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud etc.
  • Using a file server program to turn a computer into a NAS

These options can work for budget-conscious home users who don’t need a full-fledged NAS, but they come with some downsides. External hard drives don’t allow remote access and lack redundancy. DIY NAS require technical skills. Cloud services have monthly fees and slower access. Overall, a purpose-built NAS provides the best combination of features, performance and convenience for most homes.

What are the benefits of a NAS compared to external drive storage?

Compared to external USB hard drives, NAS storage offers several benefits:

  • Accessibility – NAS can be accessed easily over the local network by all devices vs. external drives only connect to one device.
  • Portability – Files stored on NAS are accessible from anywhere vs. reliance on physical proximity to the external drive.
  • Durability – NAS hard drives are more reliable when always running vs. external drives which are prone to failure if frequently plugged in and out of devices.
  • Redundancy -RAID technology in NAS provides protection against drive failure compared to the single point of failure in external drives.
  • Automation – Tasks like backups can be automated easily on a NAS compared to manual backups with external drives.
  • Sharing – Central data and easy permissions management makes NAS better for sharing data securely.
  • Speed – NAS connectivity via Gigabit Ethernet makes transfer speeds much faster compared to USB 2.0/3.0 based external HDDs.

For advanced home data storage needs, NAS provides a centralized, redundant, automated and holistic solution vs. the manual operation and connectivity limitations of external HDDs.

What are the disadvantages of a NAS?

Some downsides of using a NAS include:

  • Higher upfront cost compared to external drives
  • Technical learning curve involved in setup and management
  • Not designed for portable file storage since NAS is not as mobile
  • Requires basic network administration skills for installation and configuration
  • Power consumption is higher due to NAS devices being always on
  • Not ideal for users who need only basic file storage and sharing
  • Taking the NAS offline impacts file accessibility for all users and devices
  • Possibility of reduced performance if multiple users access heavy multimedia files

For users with minimal file sharing needs or those who frequently access files across different locations, the advantages of a NAS may not justify the added investment and operational complexity. But for most home power users who need centralized access, automation and redundancy, NAS remains an extremely beneficial solution despite some disadvantages.

What are the typical use cases for a home NAS?

Typical usage scenarios where a home NAS can be invaluable are:

  • Central file repository – Store all family documents, photos, media in one place instead of scattered across devices
  • Backups – Automate regular backups for all home devices to safeguard data against loss
  • Media hub – Stream videos, music and photos to various media players and devices in the home
  • Home surveillance – Build a CCTV system by connecting NAS to home security cameras
  • Home automation – Use to store and serve files to automate home lighting, HVAC, appliance control
  • Smart home – Integrate with home automation hubs like Home Assistant to unify smart home data
  • Home lab – Use NAS as part of a home lab setup for applications like self-hosting websites
  • Gaming storage – Store and stream Steam gaming libraries across multiple devices

For tech-savvy households with multiple connected devices, massive storage needs and the need to automate tasks like backups, NAS devices provide huge value. Even basic file sharing across phones, tablets and laptops is far easier with a NAS compared to old-fashioned external drives.

How much storage capacity do you need in a home NAS?

Some guidelines on NAS storage capacity needs for home use:

  • 2-4 TB for basic files storage and sharing by 1-2 users
  • 4-8 TB for additional media libraries and automated backups
  • 6-12 TB for 360p/480p home video surveillance recordings
  • 10-20 TB for 720p/1080p high quality video recordings
  • 16-32 TB for creative work, RAW photos/videos and HD media streaming
  • 24-48 TB for 4K media content and long term archives

Aim for at least 4 hard drive bays so you can start small and expand storage by adding larger capacity drives later on. For multimedia libraries, plan for at least 2TB per 1TB of data to allow for future growth. Redundant RAID configurations like RAID 5 and 6 will require more raw capacity compared to RAID 0/1.

What are the different RAID configurations for NAS?

Common RAID levels available in home NAS devices are:

  • RAID 0 – Stripes data across disks for 100% storage use but no redundancy
  • RAID 1 – Mirrors data across disks for redundancy
  • RAID 5 – Stripes data and adds parity for redundancy while using majority of disks for capacity
  • RAID 6 – Dual parity for higher redundancy compared to RAID 5 but lower usable capacity
  • RAID 10 – Mirroring + Striping for increased performance along with 1 disk failure tolerance

RAID 5 provides a good balance for home use – combines increased storage capacity with the ability to withstand one disk failure. RAID 6 offers higher redundancy for more critical data. RAID 0 offers maximum performance and capacity but no redundancy.

What kind of performance can you expect from a home NAS?

The performance you can expect from a home NAS depends on several factors:

  • Network connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet provides upto 125MB/s theoretical transfer speeds.
  • Hard drives – SATA HDDs offer 100-200MB/s speeds depending on capacity and form factor.
  • RAID – RAID 0 improves speed but RAID 1/5/6 are slower due to parity calculation.
  • CPU – Dual or quad core NAS CPUs provide better performance for multiple streams.
  • RAM – 2GB or more RAM is needed for caching files and running multiple tasks.
  • User count – Simultaneous streams and tasks per NAS are typically 1-2 for optimal performance.

Real world transfer speeds can range from 30MB/s for writing a single stream up to 100MB/s+ for reading multiple files simultaneously from NAS. For optimal speed, connect NAS to router via ethernet and minimize simultaneous clients.

What is the difference between NAS and traditional external hard drives?

NAS External Hard drive
Accessed over home network Directly attached via USB/Thunderbolt to computer
Can be accessed by multiple devices Typically accessed by just one computer
Always on and accessible Need to be powered on and connected to access data
Inbuilt hardware and OS optimized for storage Uses computer’s resources for file operations
Can be expanded with additional drives Limited to storage capacity of external enclosure
More reliable with RAID redundancy Single point of failure
Backed by onboard RAM for caching Relies on computer’s RAM
Capable of performing automated tasks Manual operation only

In summary, NAS provides always-on network attached storage that can serve multiple users and devices while external HDDs offer direct-attached portable storage for single computers.


While a NAS involves more upfront investment compared to going with external drives, the benefits of centralized accessible storage, automated backup, easier sharing and data redundancy make it a worthwhile investment for many home power users.

With storage capacities going up and prices coming down, NAS devices are no longer out of reach for mainstream consumers. For households with multiple mobile devices, massive media libraries, need for remote access and home automation, a NAS can make file management seamless.

Carefully evaluating usage scenarios, required capacity, network setup and budget will help select the right NAS model for your home. In the long run, the convenience and versatility offered by a purpose-built NAS far outweigh the limitations of external storage devices for majority of home use cases involving centralized storage, streaming, automation and data protection.