NAS, choosing the right one

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In yesterday's post I detailed the four elements of a basic network music system.
  • NAS with a DLNA server installed (most have them already)
  • iPad or Android mobile device
  • WIFI router
  • DAC that can accept an ethernet cable
The heart of this system is the NAS. It has all the music storage, provides the computer to manage everything, and the server. The tablet, with appropriate software, is the interface between you and the system, known as the controller. The WIFI router is the highway system that connects everything together. And the DAC with an ethernet input is the device used to convert digital audio into analog audio we can hear from our speakers. This is called the renderer (or player). Together, the three main elements, server, controller, renderer, form the basis of a DLNA/UPnP network music system. Today. let's discuss the NAS. When we started this series I described the NAS (Network Attached Storage) as a hard drive tethered to an internal computer, accessed over a home network. Hard drives are hard drives; you choose them by size and speed. So, let's just assume the internal hard drive is a non-issue to keep this all easy. Deal? Choosing the NAS you need boils down to its internal computer and what software is installed on it. I am also going to further assume you intend to use this NAS to build a music system. If you need it for other things, the following pointers may not be helpful. Focusing solely on the computer inside the NAS, because we now understand this is the heart of the device, is much like choosing any computer. You look at its specs and find the one with the fastest speed, greatest amount of RAM, etc. And then you look to make sure there's a DLNA compatible program installed. And that's basically it. (there are other things for the more advanced, like backup). The computers built into NAS run Linux because it's free to them and it's a very good operating system. Plus, NAS haven't any user interface and just do one job. So running a NAS on Windows or OSX wouldn't offer designers any advantage and would wind up costing you a lot more money with little benefit. The Linux operating system runs much of the world - from airport control towers to much of the internet, its use is growing. I did a quick survey of the most popular NAS you're likely to find: Qnap, Synology, Western Digital, Intel, NetGear, and Buffalo. I found that they are all pretty much the same in terms of their computers. Most run what's called an Intel Atom computer, typically dual core, and running at 1.7gHz. Not a bad little computer. The Qnap had models that ran Intel Celeron at nearly twice the speed, but those models are far more expensive and it's questionable whether that extra speed would matter to you. So, here's the long and short of it. Look at the brands I have listed above. Every one of them is more than adequate to stream music to your DAC. Without exception, they all have a DLNA program installed. Without exception, they are all fast enough to work in a high end music streaming system without hiccups or compromises. Choose the various models based on price, and hard drive size. There's only one last thing we need to worry about. The software running the DLNA server. That can make a HUGE difference, and that's what we'll start on tomorrow.
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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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