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Thread: Simple NAS for home use - any recommendations?

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland

    Simple NAS for home use - any recommendations?

    I'm running an oldish WD My Cloud Live on my network at home, and while it's still working okay it's pretty slow when it comes to copying data onto it, added to which it tends to stutter with 1080p and higher resolution videos. While I don't want an ultra-expensive replacement, I'm wondering if there's a reasonably priced option that isn't too slow and that ideally can run an iTunes service?

  2. #2
    Administrator
    Registered: Oct 2000
    Location: Athens of the North
    I have a Qnap TS-251B that I've been pretty happy with that sounds like it'd fit the bill for what you're looking for. I went for it rather than a Synology NAS as from the research I did to be a bit more flexible in terms of applications that can run on it - but you'd probably be fine with either. It certainly has no issues with serving audio or music over DLNA - you can use the default or install a 3rd party software (I use Serviio simply because I prefer the folder options it provides). It certainly appears to have the an iTunes service built-in although I can't testify to how well it performs.

    The one caveat I'd have is that if you're running a few services on it then the 2G model really starts to push the RAM limits. I upgraded it to 8G and it was a lot more comfortable overall - it's an easy process but needs to be factored into the cost.

  3. #3
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    Thanks, that's useful. What kind of services are you running? I'd imagine I'd need a media server (Plex, perhaps) and iTunes and that's it - but then I don't really know what's possible.

  4. #4
    Administrator
    Registered: Oct 2000
    Location: Athens of the North
    Main thing I use it for is as a simple network storage and backup system as you'd expect. In addition to acting as a simple network drive it also runs the free version of Resilio Sync (previously bittorrent sync) which works similarly to dropbox but with your own storage space (and limits). As mentioned above I use Serviio as media server - although it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Plex it's one-off price is more reasonable and me to access and stream media remotely. Although I haven't played with it much yet the other attraction for me was the ability to run containers using Container Station. There are a bunch of other apps available, these days they're far more like mini servers rather than dumb network storage boxes. Of course, you set up and configure your own server - the convenience and form factor dissuaded me from going in that direction (for now...)

    These types of application are also available on other devices (primarily Synology ones) and it's probably worth hunting down some comparison reviews to see what's going to be the best fit for you. Bear in mind that some (such as the one I have) require hard drive(s) to be added to them so the overall price needs to be taken into account (I use Western Digital Red which is pretty standard for this type of device - as it's on the network and I'm not using it with the local display I didn't consider SSDs to be worth it).

  5. #5
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Ireland
    I was going to suggest building a microserver, because you used to be able to grab the more simple HP ones for stupidly cheap, but they seem to have all disappeared now.

    That would involve setting up your own Linux server OS and maintaining it, though, which might be a bit too much hassle.

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    Thanks, that helps. Mind you, I don't think I'd want to go as far as building a microserver - for what I'm trying to do, it sounds like overkill, and it's not the kind of overkill I enjoy.

  7. #7
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2001
    Location: Qantas
    If you anticipate using Plex to stream HD video (1080p or especially 4K) to different types of devices, I strongly suggest getting something with an x86-64 CPU that offers hardware acceleration for video transcoding. Synology offers systems with the Celeron J3455, which is a nice low power quad-core CPU that can handle some multitasking, e.g. transcoding 1080p video for streaming at the same time it's doing a backup. Transcoding 4K video is reportedly hit or miss though. QNAP offers some models with AMD RX CPUs which are more powerful but also more power hungry. I would avoid Marvell, Realtek, Intel Atom, Annapurna/Amazon ARM chips if you want to handle anything more than file serving and backups. Plex had a NAS compatibility page which might help.

    I also suggest getting something with more drive bays than you currently need, or an eSATA port that you can attach an expansion drive enclosure to. Once you have a good NAS, you'll probably want to put everything on it to take advantage of RAID redundancy or file replication, and automated backups of client computers. So make sure the primary storage of your NAS is expandable, either by buying a bigger unit with more drive bays than you need now, or planning ahead for external expansion. I prefer eSATA for external expansion, because there is no performance loss when accessing external drives. Save the USB port for attaching backup drives, which brings me to my last suggestion:

    Plan for how you're going to back up your NAS. RAID mirroring or file replication is your first line of defense against drive failure, but it is not a backup solution. With RAID, if you lose the controller you lose the whole array. That's not the case with file replication, but even so, if a bad drive causes file system corruption and you don't catch it right away you may be screwed. If you only need a moderate amount of storage, a single large external USB drive attached to the NAS might be enough. Or distribute your backups to multiple drives if you have room in the unit or in an expansion enclosure.

    Note that if you take my advice, it won't be cheap. The cheapest NAS I'm willing to recommend to anybody is the Synology DS918+, which is a 4-bay unit with a Celeron CPU that sells for $550 in the US without disks. Don't waste your time with a 2-bay unit. If you're really using it as a NAS, you'll outgrow it in no time. Otherwise, you might as well keep what you have. I know several people with Synology NAS's and have helped configure a couple of them, so I'm comfortable recommending them. They are pretty full featured, but not too difficult to configure.

    My personal choice would be a QNAP TS-873, which is an 8-bay unit with a more powerful processor and PCIe slots. It's more like a low power server than a NAS and costs $850-900. I'm guessing that's more than what you need, but it fits my requirements nicely. I wish something like it existed a couple years ago when I was shopping for a NAS. Instead, I went the DIY route.

    A bit of background: I used to upgrade my PC every few years, and rotate the old PC/parts into service as a Linux-based file server. It was not too hard to set up, but kind of power hungry and feature limited. When I moved to Australia in 2010, I wanted to dramatically reduce my physical stuff/living footprint, so I ripped a few thousand CDs and a few hundred of my wife's movies. I went shopping for a NAS that would fit all of our files, photos, music, and videos (~6 TB x2 for replication) and do backups of our Windows and Mac laptops. After a lot of research I bought an HP EX495, which was kind of like a NAS on steroids. It ran WHS v1, which was a home-oriented version of Windows Server 2003, and had 4 drive bays and an eSATA port which I used to connect an external 5-bay expansion drive enclosure. That was an awesome unit, especially the Drive Extender feature, but eventually I outgrew the limitations of WHS v1 - it didn't support advanced format drives so I couldn't use anything bigger than 2TB. I eventually maxed out the 9 drive bays. Also, Microsoft EOL'd WHS v1 and the security updates stopped coming.

    So a couple years ago, I went NAS shopping again. I narrowed things down to Synology, QNAP, and Drobo. Synology had the best software bundle, but the hardware was weak. QNAP - a bit better hardware and a bit weaker software, but I had the same concerns. And both brands were using RAID, which I did not want to bother with after enjoying Windows Home Server's Drive Extender technology. Drobo's BeyondRAID was more flexible, like I wanted, but Drobo's software was limited and they were ridiculously expensive.

    So I decided to build a small server instead: Mini-ITX board and case, i3-4370 CPU, 8 GB RAM, mSATA SSD system drive, super quiet fans. It runs headless and is nearly silent. I'm running Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, which I use for a file & print server, DNS server, backup server for Windows clients, and an Active Directory/LDAP server. I use StableBit Drivepool & Scanner software for disk management, virtual drive pooling, and file-based replication. I'm still using Twonky Media Server for streaming video, music, and photos. But I may jump to Plex soon. Online storage consists of 5x4TB WD Red drives. The server is backed up by my old HP EX495 which now has CentOS 7 installed on it and only wakes up once a night to run a backup job.
    Last edited by heywood; 29th Dec 2018 at 19:09.

  8. #8
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    It may well be that my choice turns out to have been bad, because it's definitely one of the cheaper Synology NAS options. However, at least my first impression is that it doesn't matter all that much because the NAS won't have to do any transcoding: the material that I'm keeping on there just needs to be streamed to one of the various playback devices I have. I'm running a Plex server and I've tried streaming 1080p and even 2160p video to my tablet and my Apple TV, and playback (albeit just a minute or so) was just fine. No stutters, no delays. Subtitles work fine, too.

    One thing I haven't yet figured out is the purpose of running an iTunes server on the NAS. I thought I'd be able to play music from there on my iPhone and tablet, but nope, it doesn't work. Basically it seems I might just as well have the music there without running the iTunes server and add the files to my iTunes library on PC - if I do that my Apple devices can access the music, but for that I don't need the iTunes server running as a service. I don't get it - the app seems entirely pointless from what I've seen and read so far.

  9. #9
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2001
    Location: Qantas
    Yeah, you might not need any transcoding if you only have a couple of playback devices, and you offline convert any incompatible files into a format those devices can handle.

    Transcoding mainly comes into play in the following circumstances:
    - You have a playback device that doesn't support the container format or codec of the video file, and you don't want to convert it
    - Streaming to an older mobile device that can't handle the resolution and/or data rate of the video file
    - Streaming high data rate video files over a 802.11g wi-fi connection

    Also, if you rip a lot of Blu-Rays and only want to keep the full size rips on the NAS, then you'll need transcoding to make them accessible to most devices. I know several people who do this. But since Blu-Ray rips take up a lot of space and we have a lot of Blu-Rays, I've been using Handbrake to convert them to high quality H.264 video with multi-channel audio in MP4/.m4v files, and then deleting the rips. For the kids movies/shows, I do a second conversion to a smaller file with stereo audio for playback on older devices, and to put on a USB stick for playback on our minivan's video screens.

    I wish I could help with iTunes, but I was never a fan and haven't used it in ages. I use DLNA server software to stream music.

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