Why are NAS so Expensive?

Monster900

Active Member
I usually frequent the satellite TV forum on this site and this is my first post in this forum. There do seem to be a lot of knowledgeable people here giving sound advice and information which is good to see because I'm a bit of a novice with networking.

I have had, for many years, a Zyxel NSA310 NAS which has proved a slow but reliable workhorse as both a NAS and media server. My wife and I have been using this to store more and more data which is important to us so that it can be accessed from PCs dotted around the house. As a result of this I have been getting slightly worried that a single disk NAS is not a very secure way to store such data and so I resolved to move to a two bay NAS with RAID 1 redundancy and also to move to a NAS / media server which could do transcoding if necessary.

I started out by looking at products from Synology and QNAP and was shocked to see prices of around £230-£400 for what, in PC terms, would be pretty basic hardware. A few years ago I built a quad core, low power, small form factor, Windows 10 Pro PC based on the AM1 platform with an AMD 5350 quad core, 2 GHz processor and small SSD. It cost £205 pounds to build using all new parts. The slight cheat here is that I did have a Windows 10 Pro licence spare. I reckon I could build a similarly specced machine for much the same money today but I may have to use a Linux based OS to stay within budget (as Synology and QNAP do) . The equivalent hardware spec. NAS from Synology or QNAP would be ~£400.

I have now removed the 4TB WD Red drive from the Zyxel and installed it in the PC, added another 4TB drive and mirrored them in Win 10, copied the data back onto the mirrored drives, set up the appropriate shared folders, and enabled Windows 10 DLNA function. It now seems to operate exactly as a NAS / media server should and functionally mimics the Zyxel only much faster. As I understand it, if I need a more sophisticated media server function I can add Plex, Universal Media Server or Kodi, but I don't know much about this. The upside is I can still use this as a PC to surf the internet, pick up email, stream TV, play music etc. as well as it functioning as a NAS/media server on the network. The only problem that I can see is that Windows 10 isn't a particularly stable platform, with Microsoft making a concerted effort to break it every six months or so with their 'features' updates.

So am I missing something here? What is it that makes QNAP and Synology NAS/media servers worth nearly twice as much as the equivalent PC?
 

Jester1066

Well-known Member
I usually frequent the satellite TV forum on this site and this is my first post in this forum. There do seem to be a lot of knowledgeable people here giving sound advice and information which is good to see because I'm a bit of a novice with networking.

I have had, for many years, a Zyxel NSA310 NAS which has proved a slow but reliable workhorse as both a NAS and media server. My wife and I have been using this to store more and more data which is important to us so that it can be accessed from PCs dotted around the house. As a result of this I have been getting slightly worried that a single disk NAS is not a very secure way to store such data and so I resolved to move to a two bay NAS with RAID 1 redundancy and also to move to a NAS / media server which could do transcoding if necessary.

I started out by looking at products from Synology and QNAP and was shocked to see prices of around £230-£400 for what, in PC terms, would be pretty basic hardware. A few years ago I built a quad core, low power, small form factor, Windows 10 Pro PC based on the AM1 platform with an AMD 5350 quad core, 2 GHz processor and small SSD. It cost £205 pounds to build using all new parts. The slight cheat here is that I did have a Windows 10 Pro licence spare. I reckon I could build a similarly specced machine for much the same money today but I may have to use a Linux based OS to stay within budget (as Synology and QNAP do) . The equivalent hardware spec. NAS from Synology or QNAP would be ~£400.

I have now removed the 4TB WD Red drive from the Zyxel and installed it in the PC, added another 4TB drive and mirrored them in Win 10, copied the data back onto the mirrored drives, set up the appropriate shared folders, and enabled Windows 10 DLNA function. It now seems to operate exactly as a NAS / media server should and functionally mimics the Zyxel only much faster. As I understand it, if I need a more sophisticated media server function I can add Plex, Universal Media Server or Kodi, but I don't know much about this. The upside is I can still use this as a PC to surf the internet, pick up email, stream TV, play music etc. as well as it functioning as a NAS/media server on the network. The only problem that I can see is that Windows 10 isn't a particularly stable platform, with Microsoft making a concerted effort to break it every six months or so with their 'features' updates.

So am I missing something here? What is it that makes QNAP and Synology NAS/media servers worth nearly twice as much as the equivalent PC?

I have pondered this very question myself. The only logical reason I can see for the price difference is that proprietary brands such as QNAP etc, require minimal setup and configuration by the end user - (OS is usually pre-installed etc).

These NAS's are aimed at those that want a simple plug n play, streaming/storage device, with the added functionality of being able to replace/upgrade hard disks etc, Which you don't get with a sealed unit such as the Western Digital My Cloud and the like.

Consumers have always been 'happy' to pay a certain premium for convenience - think ready meals, fast food etc. Like you though, I'm not sure it's worth paying nearly double!

With regards to the stability of windows as a base for your NAS solution, you could consider running a duel boot system - using a linux OS for NAS duties. Then only booting to Windows for surfing, emails etc?
 

Monster900

Active Member
I have pondered this very question myself. The only logical reason I can see for the price difference is that proprietary brands such as QNAP etc, require minimal setup and configuration by the end user - (OS is usually pre-installed etc).

These NAS's are aimed at those that want a simple plug n play, streaming/storage device, with the added functionality of being able to replace/upgrade hard disks etc, Which you don't get with a sealed unit such as the Western Digital My Cloud and the like.

Consumers have always been 'happy' to pay a certain premium for convenience - think ready meals, fast food etc. Like you though, I'm not sure it's worth paying nearly double!

With regards to the stability of windows as a base for your NAS solution, you could consider running a duel boot system - using a linux OS for NAS duties. Then only booting to Windows for surfing, emails etc?

Thanks for the quick reply. I'm glad you agree it is a bit of a puzzle too and, as you say, people do seem to be willing to pay a high price for convenience.

I have been thinking about a dual boot with a Linux OS, and I may get round to it one day. For now, the benefit doesn't seem worth the effort as it all seems to work, as is, with little extra work being involved compared to what I would have to do if I had bought a proprietary NAS, because I already had the Windows 10 PC already built.

I have mitigated, to some degree, the 'features' update problem in the update settings by delaying features updates for 365 days.
 

Sloppy Bob

Distinguished Member
A lot of these devices are aimed at SOHO type buyers.

They're not IT experts and don't want to spend time messing about with Linux and working out why it's not doing what they want.
The software is a large part of what you're paying for, and the support and warranty you won't get self-building.
 

bubblegum57

Well-known Member
Another reason for the high cost, is, that generally a NAS is on 24/7, it's low powered & has a small footprint.

You can install plex onto windows or a version of Linux, but leaving it on, could be expensive in the long run.

In my opinion, if you just want to play movies from a usb drive at home, Kodi, is best.

If you want to play movies away from home, Plex is best.
 
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Monster900

Active Member
Another reason for the high cost, is, that generally a NAS is on 24/7, it's low powered & has a small footprint.

You can install plex onto windows or a version of Linux, but leaving it on, could be expensive in the long run.

In my opinion, if you just want to play movies from a usb drive at home, Kodi, is best.

If you want to play movies away from home, Plex is best.

I agree with the 'small footprint' comment. The PC I'm using, despite the mini-itx platform and cube style case, is twice the size of the equivalent proprietary NAS.

In terms of low power, I think I have largely achieved that by the choice of m-itx motherboard, processor and PSU. I will have to measure sometime.

Thanks for the advice re: media server software. I will be mostly playing media at home off the the PC / NAS. So far, the Samsung TV and other media players seem to be able to find and play videos and music straight off the shared drive with no additional software installed. The folder and file structure doesn't seem to work quite right for some players, including the TV, but everything is viewable and playable if you know where look.

Thanks again to all for the thought and input.
 
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slkcarlover

Standard Member
There's a bit of economies of scale there, surely.

PCs, even mini ITX systems have much broader applications. A NAS box is really an enthusiast device with not much use. It's too basic to use for business/commercial use and it's too specialist to use as a normal PC. Everything is proprietory for a single use, a network attach storage for the home user. The board and CPU is built like a server (uses ECC ram), the cpu and board components, the case have to be optimised to run 24/7.

Because of lower demand, it needs to be produced in lower volumens and that put the price up a bit.
 

TheBlueRaja

Active Member
You can use some old PC hardware and something like FreeNAS software and do it yourself.

Lots do, but, I like the low power usage of a proper nas.
 
D

Deleted member 24354

Guest
A NAS box is really an enthusiast device with not much use. It's too basic to use for business/commercial use and it's too specialist to use as a normal PC. Everything is proprietory for a single use, a network attach storage for the home user. The board and CPU is built like a server (uses ECC ram), the cpu and board components, the case have to be optimised to run 24/7.
Not really. I know and have installed NAS in plenty of small businesses. I am sorry your information is just plain incorrect. Many small businesses don’t want the expense or hassle of running a Windows server, nor do they trust their information to the cloud. A NAS is a perfect platform in this type of environment.
 
D

Deleted member 24354

Guest
For all of the facilities that a NAS potentially provides the cost is cheap.

If we break the costs down (retail prices) A genuine copy of Windows 10 pro is £219 or if you want true server functionality with various levels of access then Microsoft Windows Server 2019 Standard £480

HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Opteron X3421 2.1 GHz 8GB No HDD Tower Server - £500 (inc)
Windows 10 Pro - £219

So lets call it £720 for a 4 bay mini server - No HDDs (No true server functionality)

So for the same money you could buy

Synology DS918+ 4 Bay Desktop NAS Enclosure - £520 - No HDDs
Synology DS1019+ 5 Bay Desktop NAS Enclosure - £759 - No HDDs

So in real terms of out of the box a Synology NAS is no more expensive than an equivalent Wintel solution and is far easier for the average user to set-up and maintain. Both will act as a basic File Server. The NAS will offer much more in terms of built in features, Antivirus Server, Mail Server, Out of the box web server, radius server, print server etc etc. The Synology in its standard configuration offers far more security than a standard Win10 box, to get equivalent levels of security you would need to add another £260 to upgrade to windows Server.

So in real terms, a NAS is actually more cost effective and that is without adding support costs which would seriously bump the TCO of the Wintel solution.
 

jouster

Moderator
Remember you can buy a two bay NAS far cheaper. If 4TB is enough for you then a 2 drive NA should be fine.
 

JDXAV

Active Member
Interesting question. As has already been pointed out they all tend to provide their own proprietary OS/software which of course takes time to make. And the micro-form factor generally makes things cost a bit more, as does a nice pretty box.

Of course server-grade disks cost more but the empty enclosure can still be prices based on spec alone.
I HOPE part of the reason is that the components and build are to a higher spec than your typical cheap PC, designed to run 24/7 for years. Which means each bit costs more. But that might be optimistic.
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
If you have "important" data on your NAS (or any other device) you would be well advised to ensure you have a backup regime in place.

"Backup" means making a duplicate of the data "somewhere else." RAID is NOT backup and does not protect your data - RAID avails continued access in the event of a disc hardware failure (HDD's are mechanical device and all fail eventually.) Some RAID levels don't even do that.

How many duplicates to make, how often to make them and how long to keep them is a value judgement based on things like the value of the data, how often it changes, how many "generations" you might wish to retain and what the cost of the backup solution is.

Real time transcoding is another subject we frequently debate here. Transcoding will take as much CPU resource as you can give it, hence a "fast" NAS with lots of CPU horsepower which is reflected in the cost. IMHO real time trans-coding is best avoided, then you don't need super powerful NAS's with high performance (and costly) CPU's. Pretty much anything made in the last thirty years can "just serve files."
 

JDXAV

Active Member
Obviously the wider point is true "don't think you're safe just because you have a NAS" - especially if the NAS is in the same room, house as your PC, shares the same electricity supply (in case of lightning for example).
But I think "it's not backup" is not strictly correct. Mirrored RAID is limited backup, against the specific case that one of your disks fails. When you compare the risk level of using mirrored RAID against "just plug an external USB drive in to your network" it's clearly offering some additional protection.

But in the event of a fire, theft, power surge, you don't rely on it. Even in 2021, proper backup is not that straightforward :)
 

mickevh

Distinguished Member
I would agree that RAID offers a level of protection. But I would argue it is protection against a particular type of hardware failure - ie when a disc dies, you can still access your data whilst you procure a replacement. Of course, that is important to businesses where one wouldn't want to send everyone home for a couple of days because a server dropped a disc, but one could argue it's less important in the SOHO use case.

Mirrored (or any other) RAID sets offer no protection against myriad other failures that might "corrupt" the data in some way. For example, if the kids record Trumpton over the wedding video, if one got a crypto locking malware, if one accidentally deleted something, if a PC crashes whilst editing a document leaving it in a unrecoverable state, (any) RAID won't save us: The data is gone.

Thusly it is something of an AVF mantra that "RAID is not backup."
 

jouster

Moderator
There's a bit of economies of scale there, surely.

PCs, even mini ITX systems have much broader applications. A NAS box is really an enthusiast device with not much use. It's too basic to use for business/commercial use and it's too specialist to use as a normal PC. Everything is proprietory for a single use, a network attach storage for the home user. The board and CPU is built like a server (uses ECC ram), the cpu and board components, the case have to be optimised to run 24/7.

Because of lower demand, it needs to be produced in lower volumens and that put the price up a bit.
A NAS can’t really be compared to any other type of PC. They do as you’ve said have totally different use cases, but I wouldn’t say they are enthusiast devices even when just for home.

I’ve been running a NAS of some sort for the past 10 years and they’ve been great. I use mine for recording my security camera footage; serving up my personal music library for Sonos and Plex; watching 4K UHD rips on my TVs and media boxes, backing up photos from smart ones (think free iCloud) and probably the one real enthusiast software, I also run Home assistant on it.

any home built small footprint PC could do this, even headless but it wouldn’t be as efficient with regards to power, unlikely to be as quiet, and a software license (as I’d not be happy relying on Linux which I didn’t really know) would be a qtr of the cost of my own NAS (Synology DS920+)
 

oneman

Well-known Member
For all of the facilities that a NAS potentially provides the cost is cheap.

If we break the costs down (retail prices) A genuine copy of Windows 10 pro is £219 or if you want true server functionality with various levels of access then Microsoft Windows Server 2019 Standard £480

HPE ProLiant MicroServer Gen10 Opteron X3421 2.1 GHz 8GB No HDD Tower Server - £500 (inc)
Windows 10 Pro - £219

So lets call it £720 for a 4 bay mini server - No HDDs (No true server functionality)

So for the same money you could buy

Synology DS918+ 4 Bay Desktop NAS Enclosure - £520 - No HDDs
Synology DS1019+ 5 Bay Desktop NAS Enclosure - £759 - No HDDs

So in real terms of out of the box a Synology NAS is no more expensive than an equivalent Wintel solution and is far easier for the average user to set-up and maintain. Both will act as a basic File Server. The NAS will offer much more in terms of built in features, Antivirus Server, Mail Server, Out of the box web server, radius server, print server etc etc. The Synology in its standard configuration offers far more security than a standard Win10 box, to get equivalent levels of security you would need to add another £260 to upgrade to windows Server.

So in real terms, a NAS is actually more cost effective and that is without adding support costs which would seriously bump the TCO of the Wintel solution.
If you do a like for like for CPU and RAM, intel based Synology is £500, a gen 10+ microserver is around £400.

OS wise, nothing forcing you to use Windows, the HPE box even has on board USB socket for booting from Linux without giving up and disk space. Nobody in their right mind is going to pay £200 for Windows. Keys are readily available for Win 10 Pro for a tenner and there is nothing that win10 pro can't do that server can for the home user. In fact I would say win10 is better choice than server for home users as the GUI on server is very locked down and rightly so. I have no idea what you are talking about regarding security of win10 Vs server, maybe you could clarify ? Even compared to Linux, used as a server, windows is no worse, 99% of the issues are people trying to do desktop functions on. By a huge margin the biggest attack vector is websites and links in emails. Don't use your NAS as a desktop if you are worried.

Of course the flip side is that windows NAS can be used as a basic desktop and save yourself the cost of a PC.

Of course you could go the Linux route, no cost except USB key to install it on, just a harder learning curve though with distro like FreeNAS it's pretty straightforward to setup and tons of videos on YouTube to guide you.

And OS is what you are paying for with preconfigured NAS and if you want something PnP then I would advise a NAS over microserver.
 
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jouster

Moderator
If you do a like for like for CPU and RAM, intel based Synology is £500, a gen 10+ microserver is around £400.

OS wise, nothing forcing you to use Windows, the HPE box even has on board USB socket for booting from Linux without giving up and disk space. Nobody in their right mind is going to pay £200 for Windows. Keys are readily available for Win 10 Pro for a tenner and there is nothing that win10 pro can't do that server can for the home user. In fact I would say win10 is better choice than server for home users as the GUI on server is very locked down and rightly so. I have no idea what you are talking about regarding security of win10 Vs server, maybe you could clarify ? Even compared to Linux, used as a server, windows is no worse, 99% of the issues are people trying to do desktop functions on. By a huge margin the biggest attack vector is websites and links in emails. Don't use your NAS as a desktop if you are worried.

Of course the flip side is that windows NAS can be used as a basic desktop and save yourself the cost of a PC.

Of course you could go the Linux route, no cost except USB key to install it on, just a harder learning curve though with distro like FreeNAS it's pretty straightforward to setup and tons of videos on YouTube to guide you.

And OS is what you are paying for with preconfigured NAS and if you want something PnP then I would advise a NAS over microserver.
Have to agree that using a NAS as a desktop would never be a good idea.

If you want a one stop device, then yes a windows machine will do it all for you.
You’d generally need a computer to facilitate a NAS, at least for the initial setup. If you’re moving large amount of files about, it can be done via the NAS OS itself but you’d be better off doing that with a computer anyway. It can be done on an iPad but it’s cumbersome on a phone, at least it is with DSM
 

jouster

Moderator
My 8-bay NAS was one of the best "gadgets" I've ever bought.
Incredibly happy with my Synology 4 bay. I thibk if drives were smaller I might have a. Issue but so far I’ve got 2 14s and a 12 so I very much doubt space will ever be an issue (for the usage on this specific machine)

wouldn't have been without my home built server, it’s served me well and at the time nothing was about to do the same thing.

but if I were starting fresh now I’d happily buy an 8 bay monster knowing I could buy a similar looking expansion box

in truth even my current setup with the current expansion would allow me to completely replace what I have now. I’d just have 24 drives that become surplus
to requirements.
 

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