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The best NAS drive in 2021: store ALL your images, and access them from anywhere

Best NAS drive
(Image credit: WD)

Want help finding the best NAS drive? This guide will help you choose the right one, and show you the best prices. But, first, what is a NAS drive?

Network attached storage (also know as NAS) allows your entire photo and video collection to be stored in one physical location in your home or studio, just like a conventional external hard drive.

But the beauty of NAS is that this drive also has a network connection, allowing it to be linked via your internet router to your home network and the web. NAS drives are also loaded with a simple computer operating system, allowing you to browse their file contents, view photos and videos, all from a remote location.

Of course security is paramount with such an accessible device, so you'll need your own login details in order to access the drive remotely, but these credentials can be given to trusted friends and family members if you want to share certain photos and videos.

With cloud storage becoming ever cheaper and more capacious, you may be wondering why you'd choose NAS drive over online file storage. Well, NAS can be more cost-effective over the long term, especially if you need more than 2TB of storage. Then there's the issue of uploading large files to cloud storage, which can be tediously slow on some ADSL internet connections. And of course, with a NAS drive, there are no monthly cloud storage fees to worry about.

Like the sound of a NAS drive? There's just one - rather important - thing you should know. NAS drives are often sold without any actual hard disks inside. The idea is you fit your own so you can choose the right amount of storage space to suit your needs and budget. We recommend forking a bit more for heavy duty hard drives specifically targeted at NAS storage, such as Seagate's IronWolf range and WD's Red drives, as these are built to handle continuous use.

The 6 best NAS drives

1. WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS drive

NAS storage made simple - the perfect choice for photographers

Capacity: 4TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB
Interface: Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0
Features: Remote file access, RAID features, My Cloud OS 3 software
Reasons to buy
+Dual core CPU+Dual bay for RAID setups
Reasons to avoid
-Operating system is simplistic-Lack of app support

Some NAS drives can be intimidating if you're new to the NAS game, filled with advanced features you'll likely never need. The beauty of the WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra is how easy it is to set up and use, with no unnecessary or confusing initial settings to navigate.

The My Cloud EX2 Ultra is already equipped with hard drives, so there are no unpleasant extra costs to be incurred. The deals we've got are for the base 4TB capacity, which is plenty for most users, but you can spec up to 16TB of space if you're a heavy user.

If you do want to get more techy, the drive also boasts RAID capabilities. This allows you to configure the two hard disks within to operate in parallel, so two copies of your files are automatically stored, one copy on each disk. That means in the unlikely event of one hard disk failing, the other still has a copy of all your files.

Accessing and storing files from a remote location is also no problem as the built-in software  allows you to use the drive as an FTP server, and the drive can be set to make automatic backups.

2. WD My Cloud Home

NAS (network attached storage) made as simple as possible

Capacity: 2TB, 3TB 4TB, 6TB, 8TB
Interface: USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Features: Remote file access, DLNA, iTunes Server
Reasons to buy
+Easy to set up+Very good price
Reasons to avoid
-No RAID options-'Only' 8TB max capacity

WD has realized that NAS storage certainly doesn't have to be a gadget for geeks and computer tech guys, as the My Cloud Home is as effortlessly easy to get up and running as you could wish for. Just link it to your home Wi-Fi and you've got a centralized storage drive accessible from computers, laptops and smart devices around your home, or from anywhere with an internet connection.

The drive can be configured so multiple trusted users can have there own private storage space, and you can stream videos from the drive using Google Chromecast, Sonos and Plex. 

Capacities vary from 2TB to 8TB, and all options are very competitively priced. The single hard drive configuration also results in a slim, space-saving design that'll easily sit on your desk, taking up little more room than a conventional external hard drive. The only downside with this single-drive solution is there are no RAID features for duplicating files across two hard disks for extra safety in the event of drive failure. But if that's a problem, consider the bulkier dual-drive WD My Cloud Home Duo which also adds 12, 16 and 20GB capacity options.

Best NAS drive:

(Image credit: Synology)

3. Synology DiskStation DS218play

A NAS drive with extra media server features

Capacity: Enclosure only (2 drive bays)
Interface: 2x USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Features: Remote file access, DLNA, media server, hardware encryption, hardware media transcoding
Reasons to buy
+Extensive media streaming capabilities+Generous processing hardware spec+Wide device compatiblity
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive once you add hard disks

Synology has a reputation for producing top quality, pro-level NAS devices more suited to business use than in the home, but the DiskStation DS218play is a much more accessible option for amateur photographers. While offering typical NAS options, it's also a versatile home media hub that's able to stream images and video to computers and mobile devices, as well as Samsung TVs, Apple TV, Chromecast and DLNA devices. The versatile built-in multimedia players - Video Station, Photo Station, and Audio Station, each of which having a companion mobile app - make it effortlessly easy to access and view your media files.

Though pricier than some entry-level NAS devices on this list, the DS218play adds value with a generous 1GB of DDR4 RAM, a 1.4GHz quad-core processor, RAID capability and hardware data encryption.

Just bear in mind that you'll need to factor in the extra cost of two hard disks to make the DS218play operational.

Best NAS drive: Buffalo LinkStation LS220D

(Image credit: Buffalo)

4. Buffalo LinkStation LS220D

A simple and well-priced dual-drive NAS - it's a bit of a bargain

Capacity: 2TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB
Interface: USB 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet
Features: Remote file access, DLNA, iTunes Server, built-in BitTorrent client
Reasons to buy
+Dual drives for extra peace of mind+Competitive pricing+BitTorrent downloading feature
Reasons to avoid
-USB connection is USB 2.0, not 3.x

Buffalo's dual-drive LinkStation 220 will cost you little more than a more basic single-drive NAS, but with two drives inside comes options for RAID drive mirroring, giving you extra data security in the unlikely event of hard disk failure.

And the features don't stop there. There's easy automatic backup for PCs and Apple Time Machine compatibility, and the drive is DLNA Certified so it can be used as an iTunes media server. But the standout feature is its built-in BitTorrent client that'll allow you to download and upload without needing to use your computer.

2TB, 4TB, 6TB and 8TB capacities are available, with the 8TB model making the most sense for long-term storage, and it's the best value.

(Image credit: Qnap)

5. QNAP TS-251+ NAS drive

A serious NAS device for professionals

Capacity: N/A
Interface: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0
Features: Remote file access, HDMI out, 4K media transcoding, DLNA
Reasons to buy
+Powerful hardware+Loads of features
Reasons to avoid
-Does not come with hard drives installed-Cost of hard drives adds to cost

If you’re after a feature-rich NAS storage solution that will do a brilliant job of safely storing your photos and videos, while also allowing you to access and share them online, then the QNAP TS-251+ NAS drive is a great investment. It comes with two drive bays to allow you to use dual hard drives in a RAID array of your choice, and there’s loads of apps available to make use of its features.

You can access your photos from the QNAP TS-251+ NAS drive on your smartphone using the QPhotos app, and you can easily set it up so that your PC or Mac sees the QNAP TS-251+ NAS drive as if it was a hard drive installed in the PC itself – which makes saving and editing your photos direct from this NAS device incredibly easy.

This drive doesn’t come with hard drives installed, however. It’s easy enough to add your own – and means you can pick drives that suit your needs and budget – but you’ll need to factor in the additional cost.

(Image credit: Synology)

6. Synology DiskStation DS1520+

For professional photographers with huge amounts of photos

Capacity: Up to 108TB
Interface: 4 x 1GbE LAN, 2 x USB 3.2 gen 1, 2 x eSATA
Features: Quad-Core CPU, dual M.2 SSD cache acceleration
Reasons to buy
+High-end performance+Feature-packed+Huge potential capacity
Reasons to avoid
-Can be daunting for novice users-Expensive-Drives are extra cost (though sometimes included in a bundle)

If you’re a professional photographer that runs a studio or business and you hold a lot – and we mean a lot – of photographs or videos for clients, then the Synology DiskStation DS1520+ NAS drive is an ideal investment. It’s a powerful – and fast – NAS device that will allow you to store and edit photographs remotely.

It can be expanded with the DX517 expansion unit to accommodate up to 15 drives, so you can grow the Synology DiskStation DS1520+ alongside your business. What's more, there are two dedicated M.2 SSD slots which can be used to boost the responsiveness and application performance of the data center.

While its impressive specs are good for pro users, if you’re a casual photographer, this is likely overkill.

Some of the NAS drives above will not come supplied with the actual 3.5in hard drives that you need. We'd recommend using heavy-duty models, designed specifically for NAS use. These are the top two options we'd consider, offering a good combination of robustness and value…

(Image credit: WD)

WD RED 3.5in NAS hard drive

Reasons to buy
+Available capacities: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 10TB, 12TB, 14TB+Transfer rate upto 150Mb/s+3-year warranty

(Image credit: Seagate)

Seagate IronWolf 3.5in NAS hard drive

Reasons to buy
+Available capacities: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 10TB, 12TB, 14TB, 16GB+Transfer rate up to 210Mb/s+3-year warranty

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Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging labs manager, responsible for all of the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensor, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest smartphones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to bags, filters and all manner of accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography!