The 4 Best NAS for Home Media Servers and Shared Storage
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Network-attached storage (NAS) is a must-have for a modern home with multiple inhabitants. If everyone has their own computer and phones, a NAS can back up data so you never run out of space. And it’s an excellent common media server for the whole home.

Indeed, NAS is the best backup solution out there. In fact, most NAS boxes will also have a failsafe second hard drive that keeps a copy of everything on your main drive, in case the main drive malfunctions.

In this article, we tell you what to look for in a NAS and recommend a handful of the best NAS devices to get you started.

What to Look for in a NAS

For this guide, our main requirement is a NAS that serves your backup needs, but also doubles up as a home media server. We still think Plex makes the best media center, and fortunately, most NAS devices support Plex. Even if it doesn’t come pre-installed, you can download it easily.

Additionally, we are looking at two-bay NAS boxes. With these, you will be using only one drive, even though there is room for two. The other drive will be a mirror of your first, serving as a backup of all your data. This is important since we are trying to make the NAS your main storage for all your phones, tablets, and computers. And yes, you will have to buy the hard drives yourself, as they don’t come with the NAS devices themselves.

Finally, give a thought to the interface and apps of your NAS’ manufacturer. If the box’s interface is too confusing, you won’t be able to use it to its fullest, like using a VPN. Synology, QNAP, and Western Digital all have simple and easy interfaces, and they come with great mobile apps so you can access your data even when you aren’t home.

Top Pick
QNAP TS-251A

Qnap TS-251A 2-bay TS-251A personal cloud NAS/DAS with USB direct access (TS-251A-4G-US) Qnap TS-251A 2-bay TS-251A personal cloud NAS/DAS with USB direct access (TS-251A-4G-US) Buy Now At Amazon

  • Bays: Two bays or hard drives, with RAID
  • Processor: Dual-Core Intel Celeron N3060
  • Memory: 2GB RAM or 4GB RAM
  • LAN: 2 Gigabit ports
  • USB: 2 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI: No
  • Audio: No
  • Plex: Hardware-accelerated video transcoding up to 1080p

Why You Should Buy It: It’s almost an HTPC with its built-in HDMI port and a media playback remote.

The QNAP TS-251A is the best media server NAS for regular homes today. No other NAS offers this combination of features, as you get a capable processor and up to 4GB of RAM while also connecting the box directly to your TV via HDMI. And this is the only NAS box to have a remote control for media playback.

With a recent update to Plex, the QNAP TS-251A also supports hardware transcoding for Plex. You’ll need to manually enable this, as shown by Lon.TV. But once you do, you’ll get smooth playback. QNAP also lets you automatically transcode movies in the background, in case you don’t want on-the-fly hardware transcoding.

For added security, the QNAP TS-251A supports full volume encryption. This is a bit overkill for a home user, but you can never be too careful with personal data.

The 4GB version isn’t always available so you might need to buy the 2GB one instead. You can also attach a microphone to the TS-251A and turn it into a karaoke machine. How’s that for a media box?

Better Transcoding
Synology Diskstation 218+

Synology 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS218+ (Diskless) Synology 2 bay NAS DiskStation DS218+ (Diskless) Buy Now At Amazon $298.00

  • Bays: Two bays or hard drives, with RAID
  • Processor: Dual-Core Intel Celeron J3355
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • LAN: 1 Gigabit ports
  • USB: 3 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI: No
  • Audio: No
  • Plex: Hardware-accelerated video transcoding up to 1080p

Why You Should Buy It: Better for transcoding high-resolution media files, giving you smoother playback.

If even a half a second stutter or lag ruins your movie experience, the Synology Diskstation 218+ is a better choice for you than the TS-251A.

The big upgrade in the DS218+ is the J3355 processor, which supports hardware decoding of h.264 AVC and h.265 HEVC video, which are crucial for smooth playback of high-resolution videos. If you’re using the NAS as a home media server with Plex, then this processor makes the biggest difference.

The Diskstation 218+ is also the only NAS we’ve seen in this price range to come with an eSATA port. It’s not a crucial feature, but it’s nice to have if you want to quickly connect a new hard drive to copy data.

Note that instead of full volume encryption, the Diskstation 218+ offers folder-level encryption. It’s not a deal-breaker, especially for home users.

That said, with Plex’s new update, the transcoding is smooth enough for the non-discerning eye. Couple that with the HDMI and audio ports, as well as the remote control, and the QNAP TS-251A is a better choice for 90 percent of users who want a good home media server and backup box.

Budget Pick
Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra

WD Diskless My Cloud EX2 Ultra Network Attached Storage - NAS - WDBVBZ0000NCH-NESN WD Diskless My Cloud EX2 Ultra Network Attached Storage - NAS - WDBVBZ0000NCH-NESN Buy Now At Amazon $154.99

  • Bays: Two bays or hard drives, with RAID
  • Processor: ARM v7 processor
  • Memory: 1GB RAM
  • LAN: 1 Gigabit ports
  • USB: 2 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI: No
  • Audio: No
  • Plex: No Video Transcoding, Hardware or Software

Why You Should Buy It: It’s cheap!

For half the price of the QNAP TS-251A or the Synology Diskstation 218+, you can still get a decent NAS box. The Western Digital My Cloud EX2 Ultra offers excellent value for money, but be ready for some tradeoffs.

The biggest problem is that it doesn’t support video transcoding for Plex or any software. The built-in ARM processor is too weak for that, so you will need to transcode videos in advance. Our guide to prepping videos for playback on Roku works just as well for Plex, so follow the same steps.

It’s a tedious and annoying job, but hey, if you want something cheap, you will need to make some effort yourself.

Best 4-Bay NAS
Synology Diskstation 418play

Synology DS418play NAS Disk Station, 4-bay, 2GB DDR3L (Diskless) Synology DS418play NAS Disk Station, 4-bay, 2GB DDR3L (Diskless) Buy Now At Amazon $422.99

  • Bays: Four bays or hard drives, with two on RAID
  • Processor: Dual-Core Intel Celeron J3355
  • Memory: 2GB RAM
  • LAN: 1 Gigabit ports
  • USB: 2 USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI: No
  • Audio: No
  • Plex: Hardware-accelerated video transcoding up to 1080p

Why You Should Buy It: It’s the long-term choice for anyone who wants a NAS box they will use for many years.

Home users don’t always need a four-bay NAS box. But here’s the thing. After you start using a NAS regularly, you’ll feel like two drives aren’t enough. You’ll itch to add one more (or well, two more since you need a backup of whatever you add). Instead of buying a new NAS box in the future, if you can afford to spend the extra money right now, get the Synology Diskstation 418play.

We have looked at other NAS boxes for Plex too, but the 418play is the best in its price range. You’ll need to install Plex manually on it, but that’s a small step. Once you’ve set it up, it offers the smoothest Plex experience possible.

The Diskstation 418play also adds a new file system called BTRFS. In layman’s terms, BTRFS is better for backup needs and file copying. The performance for regular usage is the same, but if your data gets corrupted, there’s a better chance of recovering it with BTRFS than good old EXT4.

Overall, if you can afford the extra dough, get the 418play. For more, read our review of the Synology Diskstation 418play Synology DiskStation 418play: The Best 4-Bay NAS For Everyone, with Full Plex Support Synology DiskStation 418play: The Best 4-Bay NAS For Everyone, with Full Plex Support The Synology DS418play is a fantastic choice for a beginner NAS – and even better, it's also the perfect media server, streaming your movies to anywhere in your home. Read More .

On a Budget? Build Your Own NAS!

If these NAS devices are a little too expensive, you could always build your own. All you need is an old PC, or you can even pick up cheap hardware for a server Need Network Storage? Here’s How To Build Your Own NAS Box Need Network Storage? Here’s How To Build Your Own NAS Box NAS stands for Network Attached Storage. As Windows became easier to use with network attached devices, and hardware prices fell, this term started to be used in the consumer market. Today there’s a wide variety... Read More . Then use our guide to set up your own NAS with FreeNAS How To Set Up Your FreeNAS Server To Access Your Files From Anywhere How To Set Up Your FreeNAS Server To Access Your Files From Anywhere FreeNAS is a free, open source BSD-based operating system that can turn any PC into a rock-solid file server. Today I’m going to walk you through a basic installation, setting up a simple file share,... Read More and you’ll be up and running in no time.

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  1. Ken
    March 31, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    Your bulllets for QNAP HDMI and Audio state NO. However, the review says YES.

    Why are you referencing a Roku article that’s five years old? It’s so outdated it’s worthless. It contradictes this article. Rather than helping to educate people you are doing the opposite by providing false information.

    The last paragraph of QNAP review needs proofing badly.

    I didn’t bother to check out the validity of the videos and other references.

    • Blytz
      April 1, 2018 at 5:45 pm

      Or the fact that the 4 bay Synology unit does raid 5 and 6 so you're not guaranteed of losing 2 bays to raid at all

    • drkvpr
      April 4, 2018 at 5:04 pm

      i agree please proof read. i am forced to through this info away. MUO shame on you. thanks for every other article i have ever read though.