The Ultimate Storage Solution
A NAS box, shorthand for network-attached storage device, is as important to a home media-streaming setup as a video card is to gaming. Sure, a PC will run games without a video card, just as it will stream files to other connected devices around your networked home without a NAS. But any gamer worth his or her Wiimote knows that integrated graphics aren't the ticket to awesome visuals — nor is an onboard hard disk the ideal device for sharing movies, pictures, and music across a network. For that, NAS is the ultimate solution.
First, what is NAS device? Simple. It's an external hard disk (or disk array) that has its own network address. That is, it's not attached to another device on the net — it is another device on the net, and every other networked device can read from it and write to it. In addition, NAS boxes generally come preloaded with software that does useful things like media streaming or automated backup. Switching to NAS for storage and media streaming accomplishes three main goals: capacity, configuration, and comfort.
Let's start with capacity. Depending on your desktop system, you might not have room to add an internal hard drive. Or you might not feel comfortable doing so. A NAS box can come prefilled with hard drives of varying capacity, and you can purchase one to fit your anticipated storage needs. If you need a quick solution, go for a dual-bay device — tap into the best of either speed or automated drive replication. If you want a repository for every file you have, how about a four-bay, preconfigured RAID array like the D-Link DNS-343-4TB? And if you already have some spare hard drives laying around, a number of NAS devices (like D-link's ShareCenter products) make it easy to drop a hard drive on a tray and slide it into place — no cables to manage and no screws to fiddle with.
Configuration-wise, a NAS box comes ready, willing, and able to handle all sorts of network-based functions. Want to set up an iTunes share for NAS-based music? Easy: Click a box on the device's configuration screen. Need a way to stream video files to an Xbox or a PlayStation 3 console in the family room? Click the box that enables your device's DLNA server. Want to back up the entire contents of a USB storage device? With many NAS devices, all have to do is connect the USB drive and wander off to pour yourself a drink.
Desktop PCs and Windows are designed for a variety of uses. NAS boxes care about just one thing: making your files readily accessible to any device or user on your network — and I didn't even cover how easy it is to set that up!
Finally, comfort: I became a huge proponent of NAS boxes as soon as I realized that without one, I'd have to walk from my living room to my bedroom every time I wanted to stream a file from my desktop PC to my television. And if I wanted to catch a bit of shut-eye while my roommates watched a streamed movie, I'd have no choice but to leave my computer on and just deal with the wasted power and bothersome fan noise. With NAS, I have instant access to all my media from the living room. It's super-quiet, power efficient (unlike my desktop PC), and I can even schedule the exact times I want it to turn on and off throughout the day.