The market for network-attached storage units has expanded significantly over the last few years. The rapid growth in public cloud storage (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and the like) has tempered the expansion a bit amongst consumers who are not very tech-savvy. However, the benefits provided by a NAS in the local network are undeniable, particularly when public cloud services can act in a complementary manner. Enterprise users obviously need NAS units with different performance and feature requirements. Our NAS reviews have focused more on the performance aspect. With feature set and ease of use becoming important across all market segments, we believe that a qualitative evaluation of the different commercial NAS operating systems is needed to educate consumers on the options available. The core features were addressed in a comprehensive overview last month. Today, we take a look at three of the top value-additions to NAS operating systems.


The core aspects of NAS operating systems include the user interface, storage management features and services and configuration of the network ports. These are closely tied to the hardware. Value-added features can be either on the hardware or software side. As an example of the former, some vendors ship NAS units with HDMI ports - these ports can be used to either drive a display for a software media player like Kodi or a video management system to view feeds from surveillance cameras. Our focus in this piece, however, is on the value additions from the software side.

The advent of smartphones has led to an explosion in the amount of user-generated multimedia content (photos and videos). Music collections (iTunes libraries and the like) also add to the consumers' digital multimedia content. Heavy users are loath to rely on only the public cloud for backing up or accessing these files. Many NAS vendors, therefore, make it a point to simplify the serving and management of such multimedia content. Media services form one of the most important value additions in NAS operating systems.

The transition from analog to digital surveillance (CCTV to IP cameras) has made video surveillance cheaper and simpler to set up for both home and business users. However, the storage of the recorded video is a challenge, and many NAS vendors have dedicated hardware lineups for NVR purposes (network video recorder). However, for the casual users with 3 or 4 IP cameras, a NAS unit can easily double up as a NVR while performing other duties. Simplifying the set-up, usage and control of IP cameras in the network is another value addition that NAS vendors have targeted.

The average consumer's first introduction to a seamless backup and sharing strategy has most probably been through public cloud services such as Dropbox. These services allow data to be accessed from anywhere on the Internet while using an authenticated device. NAS vendors have realized that these types of services have resulted in users demanding two things - being able to back up the content that they store on the NAS to one of more public cloud services, and, provision of features available in public cloud services such as seamless access to content over the Internet and simplified content sharing. Consumers also want to be able to access the data on their private NAS from the outside network over the Internet. This 'cloud' aspect has also become an important feature expected by NAS users.

In the rest of this article, we will go over each of the above value additions in detail and see how various NAS vendors and their operating systems tackle them. The following vendors and OS versions are currently covered in this article

  • Asustor [ ADM 2.6.5R9N1 ]
  • Netgear [ ReadyNAS OS 6.6.0 ]
  • QNAP [ QTS 4.2.2 ]
  • Synology [ DSM 6.0.2-8451 Update 2 ]
  • Western Digital [ My Cloud OS 2.21.19 ]
  • ZyXEL [ FW v5.20(AATB.0) ]

It must be kept in mind that many of the value additions come in the form of add-ons (either first-party (NAS vendor) or third-party). The exact version of the relevant add-on is specified in the specific section where the feature is addressed.

Multimedia Features
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  • jsntech - Friday, December 23, 2016 - link

    That would be fantastic. Can't wait!
  • perseid - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    Synology's DSM still does not support full drive encryption. I wonder why such a critical need has not been addressed yet.
  • tokyojerry - Saturday, December 24, 2016 - link

    Ganesh, thank you very much for your effort in creating this article on NAS. I think NAS devices are increasingly becoming popular among general computer users as an alternative to, (or complementary to) paid cloud services. Benefits are immediately obvious like like the elimination of forever recurring, monthly fee-based, cloud space rentals, an owner can control his / her own data, no theoretical space limits, etc. After all, physical possession is 9/10ths the law as the old say goes. And one's precious data is not entrusted to and at the mercy of a 3rd party vendor that you hopefully can trust, will not go out of business, etc.

    I am still a relative newcomer to NAS devices. I learn a lot such by being able to read NAS-related articles such as this one you created for the layperson. It offers insight into NAS basics for someone like me with a need to know.

    I've been using Synology's DS1515+. It has served me well. I recently also purchased a QNAP TVS-682T (foolishly I think as way overpriced) and am thinking to switch to it in lieu of, or use concurrently with the Synology. What do you think? Should I use both concurrently? Overkill? Use the new QNAP as the main and relegate the Synology to a backup role? Sell off the Synology? I am tending towards keeping the QNAP and let the Synology go all together. After all, isn't it the purpose of NAS to have not only central storage for all one's data as well as provide backup as well? As such, that would make my Synology redundant, no? Furthermore, since the QNAP is ported with Thunderbolt (albeit 2.0) the NAS can also be used as high speed DAS in addition to NAS, iSCSI. QNAP also has this Virtualization Station thing (nice!) which seems quite attractive. does that mean I can run a complete VM of Windows 10 from my QNAP without having to purchase a dedicated windows machine? Performance should be about the same? I do have a VM of Windows 10 on my Macbook Pro but I am thinking consolidation of that to the QNAP might be even better. The QNAP has the specs and I/O capability through thunderbolt, so I am thinking why not just consolidate every thing via QNAP NAS.

    Sorry for the long-winded message. I know you are busy, but, if you do have any thoughts to contribute, even short bullet-type answers will be appreciated. Thanks.
  • DanNeely - Monday, December 26, 2016 - link

    With a single unit, you can have either a unified data store or a backup because the latter is a second independent copy. A second nas is the deep pocket/paranoid way to have both. Cheaper ways include backing up your nas to external drives periodically (doing this to have offline backups is a good idea even if you have another backup option), backing up to the cloud, or having your nas serve as the backup for a media store on a 2nd machine and then share backup out.

    The desktop i3 in the model you have is fast enough that it should be comparable to what's in your MPB; depending on what you're doing you might need to upgrade its ram though. However this isn't the case for their more mainstream models which only have atom based CPUs, and can only be upgraded from 2/4 to 8GB of ram; they're only really intended for running a lightweight (ideally GUIless) *nix VM.
  • tokyojerry - Thursday, December 29, 2016 - link

    Thanks for the feedback. Yes, a second NAS might be the 'deep pocket' approach to having a backup, but I already have both. Considering Ganesh' suggestion (below) however, I may now just keep both. It surely is a lot less headache to have a complete second NAS unit rsync'd from a primary unit and using the second NAS as (1) backup and (2) immediately serviceable rather then having to try and do restores from a set of backups on external drives. I am still thinking about it but that seems to make the greater sense to me.

    Backup up to clouds is something I am giving almost no consideration to. Firstly, the forever, ongoing recurring monthly fees and secondly, I prefer to have control over my own data. The primary function for cloud services are for file transfers and file synchronizations.

    The QNAP TVS-682T is already 8GB and I think it could be upgraded to 16GB if I want. My heaviest use scenario might be video NLE production. I am not a player of 3D games (or games at all) and things of that sort. QNAP's TVS-series is their upper echelon series also having Core i5 and i7 models.
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - link

    I have used both Synology and QNAP units as 'daily-drivers'. For personal use / AnandTech review data work, I use the QNAP TS-853 Pro because I can run VMs on it (my home automation controller is a headless Ubuntu machine running as a VM in it). For recording from IP cameras, I use a Synology NAS - I tend to find that Synology is dedicating more DSM resources towards business users and not the mid-level professional users, while QNAP tends to have something for everyone.

    Since you have both the DS1515+ and TVS-682T, I suggest using QNAP as the main and use the Synology with a rsync job to keep regular / live backups. As for VM on the QNAP, I would think it is a good idea, but I can't tell for sure unless I know what workload you plan to run on it. Note that even if you don't need to purchase a dedicated Windows machine, you might need to spend money on the license, unless you have some spare from elsewhere.

    One thing I have learned in my time with NAS units is that it is never a bad idea to keep a live backup NAS - I have had to switch-over (not seamlessly, I am afraid, but still a good deal better than retrieving data from backups and loading on to a new NAS) a couple of times in the last 7 years.
  • tokyojerry - Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - link

    Excellent information Ganesh. Thank you for the time and effort on the feedback.

    I will take your suggestion to heart and use the QNAP as the main and keep the Synology as a backup unit. Currently I've been maintaining my Synology backup via a sort of hodge-podge solution. Synology has 5 bays. 4bays (6TB x4) is the main system providing 18TB of usable space. Bay 5 has 10TB as part of my backup. Externally I have Seagate 8TB (Archive) drive as the second part of the full backup. But I can see your point to conduct backups to the Synology and be able to implement that on demand as a fallback secondary system rather then doing restores from backups afterwards.

    Windows VM on the QNAP... about the heaviest workload I would do might be video NLE basic end user productions (not a movie producer :-) ) using something like Blackmagic's DaVince Resolve or the open source Shotcut NLE editor. Other then that it wold be all run-of-the-mill that any body would typical do... office apps, photo edits, communications, etc.
  • Planet07 - Tuesday, December 27, 2016 - link

    Nice article but I really wish you would cover drive failures, data corruption etc in your NAS reviews/articles. A lot of people are relying on these devices to backup their important data. It would be good to see how these units deal with worst case scenarios. What good is a NAS if corruption of one drive takes out the whole data set or if drives fail.
  • bill3000 - Friday, December 30, 2016 - link

    Lets talk speed! Wire I/O is usually the weakest link in a NAS, and this affects the rest of the NAS design. Vendors often report the performance of multiple “teamed” 1gbe ports (AKA link aggregation), 10gbe is much less common. I think Multichannel SMB is still in development for SAMBA, meaning your linux-based NAS likely doesn’t support sending SMB traffic over “teamed” ports, so you effectively get single 1gbe performance per user. A *huge* feature is support for Offloaded Data Transfers (ODX), so your local PC doesn't have to download a file just to move it around on the NAS.
  • darwinosx - Monday, April 3, 2017 - link

    What happened to the follow up article?

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