What type of wirelessly accessible storage solution should I go with in my new home network? Details inside...
August 17, 2010 4:25 PM   Subscribe

What type of wirelessly accessible storage solution should I go with in my new home network? Details inside...

In my apartment, I am looking to move from a high capacity desktop machine to some sort of wirelessly accessible storage solution. My desktop machine is old and I'm having some hardware problems so I'm looking to get rid of it (and not salvage any parts).

I will be accessing this storage solution (NAS or home server) with some sort of Windows 7 laptop that I will be buying in the near future. Maybe I'll ask for recommendations on that piece next week.

Ideally, here are the required capabilities for my laptop/NAS or server combo:

1. Wireless Access. My music, photographs, documents, and movies will be stored on this NAS/server. I will be able to access/edit them from anywhere in my apartment via my laptop just as I would be able to if they were stored locally.

2. Music Streaming. I'll be able to listen to the music on this NAS/server over my wireless (currently G, probably moving to N soon) connection through speakers that will attached to my laptop.

3. Seedbox. I'll be able to have torrents constantly active on this NAS/server. They will be able to run even when my laptop is turned off. I would also like to be able to start new torrents on this NAS/server while I'm on travel.

4. Outside access. Related to #3, I'd like to be able to access the data on this NAS/Server while I'm on the road.

5. Automatic backups. I'd also like to have automatic backups running on this NAS/server. I'm sure this is a pretty easy thing to pull off.

6. Streaming HD videos. I'd like to stream movies from this NAS/server to the XBOX that is currently connected to my HDTV. However, is it possible to stream music to my laptop and stream a movie (prob .mkv or .ISO) to my TV at the same time? I don't know how often that would happen but how much does streaming an HD movie to a TV kill your wireless connection?

Are these capabilities easy to acquire? If so, what type of NAS/server should I go with if I plan on buying a Windows 7 laptop here in the near future. I see Newegg has many 2 or 4 bay NAS devices for a few hundred bucks. But, are those advanced enough to do what I'm trying to do here? Should I build a server instead?

Also, I'm not sure I entirely understand the difference between NAS and a server. I understand NAS to be nothing more than a non-OS-possessing piece of hardware that is used for storage. I understand a server to be a piece of hardware on your network that has its own OS. Can anyone help clarify these terms?

Thanks, everyone!
posted by decrescendo to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend a Windows Home Server box. They provide local and remote access, backup out of the box and you can just download a media streaming and torrent app.

NAS units usually only provide file level services, they run OS's like any other server but usually designed to not be interactive, and configuration/management is usually is handled through a browser.
posted by wongcorgi at 5:01 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: A NAS is literally for file storage, but most consumer-level devices have evolved to also include server services such as iTunes streaming and bittorrent clients. There are several available options at different price ranges. You can get a standalone NAS with additional server services, a Windows Home Server box that can do the above and will also do incremental backups of your laptop and other Windows PCs you have in your household. Both can provide local and remote access. Whatever you do, remember that a mirrored hard drive is not a backup, and that you should have an online service or external HD backing up your NAS/server.

You should look closely at transfer rates of the specific solution you do decide on because advertised speeds are usually highly inflated compared to real-world performance. For example, 1080p HD streams would be difficult to push out on most 802.11g networks, and on an 802.11n network, you wouldn't want the limiting factor to be your server/NAS solution. For example, this chart gives a benchmark for some different solutions.

Personally, I would assemble my own mini-itx PC, which would give me the most flexibility for pricing and future expandability. You can throw on a Linux distro, Amahi, FreeNAS, or even WHS. Remember that each has its limitations and quirks, and that requires research. For example, in the new WHS, the drives' file system is not typical so if the OS drive fails, you can't just throw it into an enclosure to read the data off your Win7 laptop.

Hard drive choice is also an important facet since certain drives don't perform well or have higher failure rates in RAID 1 so make sure to read reviews. Sometimes users will offer suggestions on how to increase drive life, e.g. changing the period of time before the hard drive parks its head.

The following are a smattering of available choices and are not necessarily representative of the best or all so I would recommend research into each solution to find what fits your needs, budget, and value on the data.

In general, for NAS, Netgear, Synology, Qnap, and Drobo (mixed reviews) make decent solutions. Acer and HP sell prebuilt WHS boxes that you can get on deals for ~300-500. If you assemble your own, you can easily bring it under $150 without drives.

D-Link DNS-323, Netgear ReadyNAS, Drobo and HP Mediasmart

I can follow up if you have any specific q's.
posted by palionex at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2010

Hmm, I was going to go with the WD MyWorldBook before I read the torrent requirement. I'd then go for some cheap PC, load it up with a pile of hard drives and slap Gentoo on it. It's a bit more technical an approach than Windows Home Server, but it is a lot more customisable, and is a lot more future proof.
posted by Biru at 4:45 AM on August 18, 2010

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