Choosing the best NAS drive in 2021 isn't an easy task, with so many excellent models out there to pick from, but we've got you covered – we'll guide you carefully through all the best NAS specs, features and prices on this page.
For the uninitiated, Network Attached Storage drives do a lot more than store files like traditional hard drives do: they're personal cloud services and media servers, backing up data as well as storing it, and enabling you to get hold of your files from any computer you're using, anywhere, any time, on demand.
These NAS drives are even able to work their magic when your main computer is switched off, regardless if you are using one of the best laptops, best 2-in-1 laptops or best lightweight laptops, as these drives connect directly to your router. They cost a bit more than a regular hard drive because of that, but you'll find them well worth the investment, with all the extra functionality that they offer.
One of the best NAS drive use cases is for media playback – viewing your personal video library on your TV over your Wi-Fi network, without having to connect to anything, couldn't be any simpler. In short, having a NAS drive rocks! It's like being able to store and access your data on one of the best SSDs no matter where you are, or even if your main computer is shut down.
You can even store and access footage from one of the best webcams on a NAS drive if you so wish.
NAS drives, as we note in our back to school guide, are also great for students. Letting you store and access all your files, be they coursework or personal movies and pictures, anywhere you want. If you are a student shortly about to head back to school, college or university, it's well worth checking out our guide, as we've stuffed it with this year's top student tech. Tablets, phones, laptops, headphones and more.
If you're shopping for a NAS – and we think it's a smart buy for all kinds of reasons – then we've picked out the best NAS drives of 2021 right here for your consideration. You've got plenty of other options too, with our best external hard drives for Mac guide just one example.
The best NAS drives you can buy today
There's a whole lot to like about the TS-231P3 from QNAP, which makes some of the best NAS drives in the business: if you're wanting to get started with a NAS drive without spending too much money, then this is definitely up there among the top picks. You get plenty of features and versatility, and it looks pretty stylish too.
The drive has two Ethernet ports and three USB ports, giving you a better-than-usual range of connectivity options, and there's built-in support for AES 256-bit encryption as well as many of the most popular cloud storage options. As with any QNAP drive, the software support is excellent, and the NAS isn't difficult to set up at all.
From snapshots of the system state to the easy photo management features, the QNAP TS-231P3 is a more capable device than you might think from the price. Another useful feature here is the ability to hot-swap lower capacity drives for larger capacity drives as and when needed, making upgrades a breeze.
The DiskStation DS920+ from Synology is going to set you back a significant amount of money, but it's a premium-level NAS drive that justifies its price and its packed with features that power users can take advantage of – there's even a dedicated expansion unit (the DX517) for this NAS if you need one.
With 225 MB/s encrypted sequential reading and writing performance, this is a piece of hardware that isn't messing about, and there are two built-in M.2 SSD slots you can take advantage of too. You don't get these sorts of features on cheaper models, and they can make a significant difference to performance.
From backing up your computer(s) to having a media streaming library that the whole family can share, the Synology DiskStation DS920+ is capable of doing it all, and you can mix together up to a whopping 108TB of storage here as well. You've also got two USB ports and an eSATA port to make use of besides Wi-Fi and Ethernet.
Here's a 2-bay NAS drive for not very much money at all from TerraMaster, a brand that's worth a look if you want something a little different from the norm (and want to save yourself some cash too). While its specs can't match more premium models, it covers all the NAS basics nicely, which will be fine for most people.
You do get read and write speeds up to 114 MB/s thanks to the quad-core 1.4GHz processor and 1GB of on-board RAM, and the drive also supports 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch disks (HDD and SSD). It's possible to pack the TerraMaster F2-210 with as much as 16TB of storage, which the majority of users should be happy with.
Add in support for Emby and Plex media servers, and this is a perfect NAS drive for beginners or for those who won't be placing too many demands on their hardware while it's in operation. If someone tells you that getting started with a NAS drive is expensive, then show them this.
If you've already done a bit of dabbling in the world of NAS drives – maybe you're looking for a second one, or you want to replace and upgrade your current one – then may we suggest the QNAP TS-431X? A 4-bay, high-performance NAS enclosure that's going to be able to take care of a multitude of tasks at the centre of your home (or office) network.
With encrypted read and write speeds of up to 312 MB/s, the TS-431X gives you a serious amount of speed to play around with, as well as a serious amount of security (there's also built-in fast disaster recovery). There are three USB ports, two Ethernet ports, and even a 10GbE SFP+ port for the fastest network needs.
You can upgrade the RAM to 8GB if you need to, which is another sign of the premium level we're at with this NAS drive. Of course there's a premium price attached too – and for a lot of users this is going to be way more than they actually need – but we'd recommend it as one of the best NAS drives for those who need a substantial upgrade.
If you're in the market for a reasonably priced NAS drive then Synology is absolutely one of the brands you should be checking out, and the DS218 is a model suitable for those with more modest needs and a more modest budget. If you need an affordable 2-bay device that's one of the best NAS drives around, it's worth a long look.
That 2GB of on-board RAM gives you a little bit more headroom when it comes to applications and file operations, while the 112 MB/s sequential read and write speeds are decent enough for the amount you're paying. With two USB ports here as well as Wi-Fi and Ethernet, you've got a choice of options for transferring data.
You can fit drives up to a total capacity of 16TB in capacity with the Synology DiskStation DS218, so there's a huge amount of flexibility in that regard too. As always with a Synology product, it's simple and straightforward to set up, and comes with a selection of useful software tools for managing files, streaming video files, and so on.
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.
To see how this stacks up against top competition, then check out the T3 QNAP TS-332X vs WD My Cloud Expert EX2 comparison feature. Whatever your budget, there are going to be quite a few top-notch NAS drives to pick from.
If you go for a NAS drive with just a single bay, there are no options for data redundancy: you've essentially just got an external hard drive that also offers network connectivity (so all of your devices can access it). Make sure the data on the drive is backed up somewhere else for safe keeping.
All the usual Synology benefits apply here, from solid construction and durability to the quality of the associated software, but as RAM and CPU speed are more limited, this isn't a NAS drive you can rely on for high-end tasks (like encoding video on the fly). If you need an all singing and all dancing NAS, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Still, not everyone needs high-end performance from their NAS, or multiple drive bays, and if the DS120j suits you then you can get it for a very respectable price. There's an Ethernet port and two USB ports around the back for extra connectivity options.
Here's a stylish, compact, powerful NAS from QNAP that would suit someone who needs a drive that's comfortably above the budget end of the market without getting into the heavy duty, business models that can cost a significant amount of money. This is quite a pricey drive, but it's not that pricey in the grand scheme of NAS drives.
You get a couple of drive bays here, 4GB of RAM, a quad-core 2.0GHz processor, five USB ports, two Ethernet ports, and all the usual and excellent software that QNAP bundles with its hardware. Add all of those specs up together, throw in looks that are better than the average NAS, and you can see how the TS-253D more than justifies its price.
There's also Wi-Fi 6 here, PCIe expansion options, and 4K HDMI output and encoding, so it sets a pace that the more affordable NAS drives on the market can't keep up with. Being from QNAP, you also know the drive is going to be well put together and well supported with software updates in the future.
If you want a premium NAS drive enclosure and are happy with a 2-bay arrangement then this stylish unit from Asustor is well worth scoping out. It costs more than a lot of rival 2-bay enclosures but you get plenty of performance for you money.
This model comes with compatibility for both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch SSD/HHD drives up to 36TB in total capacity (18TB x 2), 2 x gigabit Ethernet with an additional 10gbE port,and support for Plex media servers, too.
The enclosure is powered by a Marvell ARMADA-7020 dual core 1.6 GHz CPU and 2GB of DDR4 RAM, and it comes with a 3-year manufacturer warranty.
How to choose the best NAS drive for you
The first thing to consider when picking the best NAS drive of 2021 is capacity: that's how much data your drive can hold, set by the number of bays and the maximum drive sizes you can afford, so check these details carefully.
Go for a NAS that offers as much room as you need – some units come with hard drives fitted, some don't, but all will have a maximum capacity in their specs, so make sure you check. When comparing prices, make sure you're including the cost of the drives.
Also look for RAID configuration options, which is how a NAS allows you to configure the drives you're installing. Several RAID configurations offer some kind of data redundancy, so if one disk fails, another can step up – all of this happens automatically, once you've configured it.
Of course, you’ll also want to go 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. Take your time and use our guide to the best NAS drives of 2021 as a starting point.