(Author’s note: This post is for those not as familiar with the full extent of digital media tools, apps and hardware; there are a multitude of solutions out there and this is to bring the subject to the wider audience).
In this age of digital media, everyone is taking photos (JPGs), listening to music (MP3, OGG, FLAC), taking videos (MP4, DivX, MPG, MKV) – and there are plenty of other formats for each of those to choose as an alternative. Equally, there are many ways to consume those formats – Desktop, Laptop, tablets, PDA, phone.. the list goes on.
Over time you may come to realise that you have lots of files everywhere (SD cards, hard drives, USB memory sticks, Facebook, etc). – You probably have also wondered how can you organise them a little better so you don’t have to go to one place for pictures, another for music, etc. etc.
If you’ve not heard of NAS (or Network Attached Storage) already then this might be the answer for you!
What is NAS?
A NAS drive is one or more 3.5″ hard drives contained in an enclosure along with some additional bits and pieces to make it more than just a hard drive. For the technically minded, those bits and pieces are a network port, sometimes a USB port (to enable attachment of other USB devices including printers) and typically a micro kernal flavour of Linux allowing some other features such as the ability to automatically download .torrent files, FTP access, user management, etc. If you’re wanting yet more info, check out the Wiki article on it.
The NAS drive connects to your network router and provides the ability to store and retrieve data to (almost) any other device that can connect to the same network. To give you a flavour of just what this means, take a look at the possibilities below!
From this you can see that the potential to centralise all your picture, music and movies is pretty compelling. So what’s the catch?
What’s the catch?
NAS drives are as fast as the network they are connected to and the activity they are performing. For example, if you had 3 people trying to stream 1080p (HD) video on a 802.11B wireless network they are going to have to deal with slow network speeds and (potentially) one hard drive trying to squeeze 3 HD videos down a small network pipe. You can imagine that won’t work well! Also some devices have to do some extra decoding on the fly for certain content (usually video) – again that can add an overhead.
But it’s not all bad, is it?
Not at all – personally I have a single drive NAS drive (Iomega 1TB) which serves as a central store for all my digital content. It means I can share media across any device including XBox 360, PS3, laptops and Android phone. Slight frustration is with Apple mobile products; my iPad won’t connect without downloading (buying) more software or by routing the content via a PC / Mac which would have to be on to serve the content.
What else should I know?
NAS drives can be bought with the capability to house multiple hard drives. The main reason for this is to provide failover should one hard drive fail. You may have heard the term “RAID” – this basically means that whatever is on a disk is mirrored to another disk so that if one fails, the other disk has the same data to provide backup/failover. Read more about RAID here. This means that you could have 2 x 1TB drives with only 1TB of storage space but redundancy for that capacity.
NAS drives should also come as DNLA / UPnP and iTunes compatible so you have lots of options open to you – many do, but this is just something to look out for.
Also look out for those NAS drives that can act as a Print Server – that means you can connect your printer to the NAS drive and any device on the network potentially can use that printer.
So what NAS drive should I buy?
There are many options; if you have the budget I would recommend getting a NAS drive with RAID, plus drives as big as you’re comfortable buying. Check Amazon, NewEgg and CNET for recommendations – I’ve heard lots of good press about Buffalo; I’ve had a good enough experience with my iomega NAS too.
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