NAS (Network Attached Storage) drives will set you back a little more than regular hard drives, but the benefit is right there in the name - they're connected directly to your router, so you can get at them when your computer's switched off, and even access your files over the internet if you're away from home. Our top pick right now is the Synology DiskStation DS216+II, but you've got plenty of choice.
How to choose the best NAS drive for you
There are a few key specs to look out for when shopping for a NAS. First, there's capacity: how much data your NAS can hold, set by the number of bays and the maximum drive sizes you can afford. Some units come with hard drives fitted, some don't, but all will have a maximum capacity, so get a NAS that offers as much room as you need.
Also look for how a NAS allows you to configure the drives you're installing (listed as its RAID configuration) - many offer some kind of data redundancy, so if one disk fails, another can take up the slack. Aside from that, check through the plethora of extra features available, like powerful on-board processors that can get your media files into different formats as you stream them.
The 7 best NAS drives you can buy today
1. Synology DiskStation DS216+II
The NAS to beat
Bays: 2: | CPU: dual-core 1.6GHz (2.48GHz burst): | RAM: 1GB:
A fine all-rounder from Synology, with easy setup, rather appealing looks, two drive bays and a user interface that you don't need an IT qualification to understand. The two bays can take 3.5-inch or 2.-inch disks, while powering everything there's a 1.6GHz dual-core processor (2.48GHz in burst mode), plus 1GB of RAM.
Good for security (transfer speeds stay fast even with encrypted data) and media playback (real-time 4K video encoding is possible), the DS216+II ticks a lot of boxes for the beginner and experienced NAS user alike, though there's a lot of room for improvement with Synology's naming scheme.
2. QNAP TS-251+
A balance of power and accessibility
Bays: 2: | CPU: quad-core 2.0GHz: | RAM: 2GB:
If Synology doesn't meet all your baffling product name needs then QNAP is here to help, another company with a solid reputation in NAS drives. The TS-251+ is a fast performer, is simple to set up, and lets you do just about anything you want from your NAS - including accessing it remotely and from mobile phone apps.
As an added bonus you get an HDMI port for hooking the NAS directly up to a big screen display, and there are tons of third-party apps available to extend its capabilities. Specs-wise the two-bay drive is fitted with 2GB of RAM and a 2.0GHz processor (2.42GHz in burst mode).
3. Drobo 5N2
An emphasis on ease-of-use
Bays: 5: | CPU: quad-core 1.6GHz: | RAM: 2GB:
Brand new on the NAS scene is the 5N2 from Drobo, a storage company that's been undergoing a bit of a revamp of late. The firm wants to push out products with an emphasis on simplicity, and that's the case with the streamlined 5N2, with one of the most intuitive user interfaces we've seen.
You get a whopping five bays for all your storage needs, a 1.6GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM, though extra bells and whistles (like an HDMI port) are kept down to a minimum. There is an internal battery though, to protect against data loss if the power gets cut, and some integrated disaster recovery software.
4. Synology DiskStation DS916+
More power for more money
Bays: 4: | CPU: quad-core 1.6GHz (2.56GHz burst): | RAM: 2-8GB:
Our second Synology entry is the more expensive and more powerful DiskStation DS916+ - you get more memory, a faster processor, and twice as many drive bays. In fact there's an official expansion unit available for the DS916+ that takes the number of drive bays up to 9, so you can stuff a lot of hard drives in here.
Obviously that ramps up the price too, but if you're serious about your NAS, then it's worth the extra investment. As usual from Synology, the bundled software is capable and straightforward to use, and drives can be fitted and removed with the minimum of fuss.
5. My Cloud Expert Series EX2 Ultra
Perfect for your first NAS
Bays: 2: | CPU: dual-core 1.3GHz: | RAM: 1GB:
Western Digital has been in the hard drive game a long time, and its NAS drives are polished, reliable, and user-friendly (especially in the case of the EX2 Ultra). In fact, user-friendliness is one of the unit's key strengths, so it's worth a look if you're just getting started with networked storage.
You get two 3.5-inch drive bays, 1GB of RAM, and a dual-core 1.3GHz processor. Around the back are two USB 3.0 ports for plugging in additional drives. Allowing access to different users is a breeze, transfer speeds are quick, and it looks quite nice too, which helps.
6. QNAP TS-128
A one-bay wonder
Bays: 1: | CPU: dual-core 1.1GHz: | RAM: 1GB:
It's not always easy trying to find a decent NAS down at the budget end of the scale but the single-bay TS-128 does the job and brings you all the benefits of a QNAP drive that we mentioned above: reliability, remote access, strong app support and a friendly user interface to manage your data.
You're essentially buying an external hard drive with the added bonus of network connectivity - there's no data redundancy so make sure you have copies of your files somewhere else. It's a great 'starter' NAS with plenty of easy-to-use software for synchronising files and streaming media to other devices.
7. Netgear ReadyNAS 214
A simple NAS you can trust
Bays: 4: | CPU: quad-core 1.4GHz: | RAM: 2GB:
Netgear is another hardware maker with a strong track record in consumer NAS drives, and the ReadyNAS 214 is a solid choice if you've looking for extra capacity - it has four drive bays rather than two, and the disks you install can be set up in a variety of ways.
It doesn't have quite the power of some other similarly priced NAS units, so you may not be able to get as many types of media transcoded to as many types of devices, but it does all the basics well (Plex support is particularly good), and we like the look of the sturdy metal finish too.