Deciding on which NAS works best with Macs…

Posted on April 14, 2011

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Going beyond Airport Extreme and Time Capsule

The decision to look into the best Macintosh Network Attached Storage device came after realizing that adding more hard drives to our Airport Extreme was not going to work.  I needed a reliable server appliance that could host all our music, movies, photos, home movies and still manage our Mac & PC backups with a high degree of reliability.

Apple’s proprietary Time Machine backups, iTunes DRM controlled music & videos and the managing of an ever-growing collection of photos & video meant that choosing a NAS that didn’t work well with Macs was going to be a disaster.

My previous experience with any kind of home server was the early NAS hard drives that had a Cat 5 ethernet connector.  They required proprietary drivers and were nothing more than glorified hard drives.  The new world of NAS devices offer the promises of cloud computing, but in your own home with you controlling the privacy settings and costs.

I’d love to brag about all the research I did and show fancy charts comparing price points to features, but it didn’t turn out that way…

Initial searches into NAS Home Media Servers was a lot of hit and miss.  Google searches for Apple NAS, best NAS for Mac turned up surprisingly little.  Hence the creation of this blog to help other Mac users searching for a NAS solution that fits their needs.

I looked at my local Fry’s to see which brand had the largest number of returned resealed product boxes and saw that of the brands they carried many had been returned.  Best Buy only had Seagate’s 4tb version and never carriers any real geek ‘quip.

The 3 best places I found for doing NAS research was:

  1. SmallnetBuilder.com – For all things NAS
  2. Amazon.com –  search for “Network Attached Storage” and read the reviews.
  3. The NAS Manufacturers own user forums for real issues and how they are handled.

I narrowed my “researched” list down to the following items:

HP’s MediaSmart – a local Silicon Valley company, Their NAS is built on Microsoft’s Windows Server technology.  I nixed this choice because of my earlier decision this year to jump from Windows to Mac.  Don’t get me wrong I still have both, but Microsoft’s current limitations (legacy 32 bit era tech, NTFS not supporting 3TB drives, onerous updates with ongoing security issues wasn’t something I wanted).  HP’s own forum for MediaSmart is lumped in “other” but a better independent forum can be found here.

Iomega StorCenter – Utah based, the last Iomega product I had, was 15 years ago with the innovative, but not too reliable Zip and Jaz removable media drives.  Their new NAS drives are limited to 6TB so it was a no go.  So much for MEGA I/O.  Iomega’s forum can be found here.

NETGEAR ReadyNAS – another Silicon Valley network company.  I use their white Gigabit switcher that matches my Airport Extreme with Cat 6 cables (something you should do in upgrading your network to get ready for any NAS to ensure you get full data transfer speeds).  I love the look of their NAS line, although I was surprised that all they carried was Ford Model T black.  This was quickly becoming my top contender, but after reading numerous Amazon reviews about their horrible customer service and ongoing power supply issues I crossed it off my list.  NETGEAR’s ReadyNAS forums can be found here.

Buffalo LinkStation – Privately held Japanese company that was one of the early innovators in the Linux-based NAS market.  I had always seen their products at Frys, and the feature set looks good.  In the end it was the poor reviews on Amazon concerning the number of DOA (dead on arrival) units that crossed it off the list.  Buffalo’s forums can be found here.

QNAP NAS – Just the name Quality Network Appliance Provider had me excited. I always get a good chuckle out of asian to english name translations, and I’m sure at HQ in Taiwan a lot went into choosing QNAP.  Their 4 bay NAS units had me salivating.  The great customer reviews and large product line also looked great.  There is a great youTube video covering QNAP usage on the mac here.  After looking at their user manual I came to the realization that the UI was very Windows like.  Lots of options, but in many ways it embodies why too many features and complexity is a bad thing. QNAP’s forums can be found here.

Synology DiskStation – Cross town rivals to Taiwan based QNAP, Synology has really focused on the software side of NAS storage solution.  Amazon reviews ranked the products very favorably.  Their DS411j NAS has the physical look of Mac based products with their trademark white, silver and grey found on Apple’s product line.  The Linux-based operating system DiskStation Manager (DSM) is really good.  You can use a web page UI that can actually make you feel like you are on a Mac like desktop of your NAS.  If you’ve used VMware or Parallel desktop you already get the concept.  Synology has a webinar on using a Mac with Synology that can be found here (be warned it’s a sleeper).  Synology’s forums can be found here.

Making a final decision…

Spent a few more days agonizing over the more popular QNAP windows like NAS vs the Synology mac like NAS.  After looking at QNAP vs Synology’s visual interface from screen shots in their user manual the more I dreaded QNAP, and the more I liked the clean and simple options in Synology.

A pre-sales call to Synology’s Redmond, Washington USA offices (ironic that it is the opposite of Cupertino) was answered on the first ring (Try yourself and see if you get lucky – 425 296 3177).

“Yes the Synology NAS supports 3TB drives” (gave link to the compatibility page: http://www.synology.com/us/products/compatibility.php).

“No” to the Apple TV being able to stream directly from the NAS (although there are workarounds that’ll I’ll get into at a later date).

The final decision…

I made the decision to go with Synology.  In my next post I’ll talk about what went into choosing the right model for me.

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Posted in: Apple, Synology