NAS beginners questions

I’m wanting to set up a NAS for my home. I want to store my movies, photos and music and use it as one of my backup solutions.
Before I spend the money, I have some really newbie questions, so, be kind!

Will I be able to store my iTunes movies on there?
How will music work with those I own and have ripped from CDs vs music I save from my streaming service (Apple Music). Will this work as long as my subscription is current?

Can I watch movies from the NAS if I get a Plex account?

Technical questions.
Am I better off spending a few extra bucks to get faster HDDs? Ex. 7200rpms compared to 5400?
How about the size of the HDD cache?
With size and prices of HDDs these days, is it ok to go with a two drive bay with big HDDs or spend the rather large price difference for a four drive bay?

If I go with two bays, what RAID options should I choose?

Thanks for any answers and more questions might just arise…

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I’m not an Apple user/owner (technically not true, I own some Apple devices, but they haven’t been powered on in years) so I will leave the Apple specific questions to others.

As for the NAS questions, lemme have a go at trying to hit them as I just yammer on: :wink:

Your question about drive speeds belies a greater question… how will you hook up and connect to the NAS. NASes (NASen?) are not normally wireless devices, so they want to be wired into the network. For many networks, this means they will probably be connected to the switch ports in the router. Without doing something special, you’re going to have a maximum throughput into the NAS of 1Gbps. 1Gbps approximates a maximum file transfer speed of 100MBps. If all the devices are wired, then you might see these kinds of speeds. If you’re using wireless devices, you’re likely to get far less speed. This generally moots the point of disk speeds. A fast NAS will be far faster than your network. This is the reason the NAS specific drives are generally 4500rpms unless you spend much extra for the higher end pro/enterprise models.

Speaking of HDDs you should probably get one of those NAS specific drives. They have different firmware which makes them give up quicker on errors, because they assume the NAS has its own error recovery process (the RAID process.)

If you get a two bay unit, the ONLY RAID you should consider is RAID-1 (RAID-0 is known as scary RAID, it’s just a pool of disks, and if any one fails, the whole pool fails.) Many people will tell you RAID is not a backup, and they’re not wrong. You absolutely should NOT rely on RAID to save your only copy. There is a lot that can go wrong, you could have a structural problem (disk directory corruption, for example), you could have a bad write (some weird problem in the NAS) which gets spread across the entire volume, or you could have a disk fail in the volume. RAID can only protect you from that final thing… it can handle when one disc goes bad… and gives you a window of time to replace it and allow the volume to heal. The problem is that the disks were likely all bought and installed at the same time, and in the process of repairing the first failure, other disks can be stressed to the breaking point and then your volume is toast.

Everyone has their own risk tolerance for these things, but the extra drives of redundancy aren’t free. For example, if you have 6 disks, and you do RAID-6, you can survive two simultaneous disk failures, but you also gave up 2 full disks of capacity for the redundancy… you paid for 6 disks, and got 4 worth of space. In this sense, a larger number of drives means the cost of the redundancy is amortized across the larger pool size. 2 disks out of 12 represents a lower cost for the redundancy versus 2 out of 4, but on the other hand, a larger pool of disks means you’re more likely to have one fail at any given age of the system.

Since the major cost of the installation is the drives themselves and not the NAS hardware, I would consider buying larger, even if you can’t initially populate all slots with drives. My experience with NASes is mostly with Synology. In their product line, I would consider an 8 drive model which costs one disk’s price more than the 4 disk model:
DiskStation DS1819+ $931.00
DiskStation DS918+ $547.00
(also, just in case you don’t know about Synology, the last two digits are usually the year of the model, so those two above are 2019 and 2018 models. The first digits are the maximum number of disks, so one can have up 18 (with expansion) and one can have up to 9 (also with expansion). The expansion devices are pretty expensive, so I wouldn’t assume you’d ever acquire one, you might just buy a whole new NAS. )

Another NAS product I am interested in trying is the FreeNAS mini’s. They use a different technology, ZFS, which is more expensive to run, but some nerds really geek out about its capabilities. (It’s more expensive because it needs more RAM, and they strongly recommend parity RAM so that memory failures don’t end up corrupting your files.) The FreeNAS mini’s seem to be roughly twice the price of the Synology devices of equivalent size.

I’ve rambled for long enough that I forgot your original questions, so I will wrap up here for now.

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Ok, laughing out loud at this…I do that ALL the time.

I’m looking at Synology. It is not my only backup…I do the 321 like Leo’s says…Preach it, Leo!. Another factor is that my needs aren’t huge and as I’m the errr ok Boomer age group, I’m not looking at my collections growing exponentially over a huge period of time.

My budget is limited. While I’d love to get an 8 bay NAS, it’s just too much. But, I will consider the 4bay and just start with 2 drives. I’ll be connecting this directly into my router which is in my laundry room…it doesn’t have humidity issues as it’s large, heated and the interior door is always open.

Thanks for explaining drive speeds! I was looking at the WD Red and WD Red pro. I believe I can mix and match drives so will start with 2 HDDs of 6T. That is more than large enough for my current needs with much left over. Movies are the largest files but I only own about 30 and a few more that I’ve ripped. I have a lot of music but file size is much smaller and I’m more concerned with those I own than I am with streamed music but I’d love to be able to have both. Pictures, I have a lot…not like Leo’s library but some very old precious ones that I scanned in years ago…already backed up on a separate drive, google and Apple. I would just be storing on the NAS for one more option and TV screensaver display. So, that’s my current desires. Also, general file backups but also not very large…I’m retired, so no work files!

Another question…I believe both the 2 bay and 4 bay NAS have 2gigs memory upgradeable to 6…worth it? It’s pretty cheap.

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Yes, in a sense, and no, in another sense. Speaking specifically about Synology, you can add additional drives later, so long as they are AT LEAST as big as your smallest existing disk. Let me try to explain:

Let’s say you had a 4TB and a 6TB in RAID-1. In this scenario, 2TB of the 6TB drive was completely unused, and you had a volume of only 4TB total because one disk is allocated 100% to redundancy. If you now add an 8TB drive, only 4TB of it will be used as well, because your volume can only be as large as the smallest disk. Additionally, adding the 3rd drive would allow you to move from RAID-1 to RAID-5, which would still only use 1 disk for redundancy, so your total space would now be 8TB (even though your drives could theoretically hold 4+6+8 = 18TB.) If you subsequently replaced the 4TB with an 8TB one, now you have 8TB, 6TB, 8TB in the NAS, you could have a RAID-5 volume of 12TB (6+6) with one drive allocated to redundancy. Now when you replace the 6TB drive with an 8TB, and have 8TB in all 3 slots, now you have 16TB (8+8) capacity with one disk allocated to redundancy.

There is another option, however. You can have multiple pools of disks. You could have, for example a RAID-1 of 4 and 4 and another RAID-1 of 8 and 8. These will be two separate volumes, and you can’t span a file across the two volumes, but you can treat each volume as different destinations, such as video’s on one and music on the other, or whatnot.

As far as best use of resources you would always be best off starting with 4 identical drives in a RAID-5 configuration, but that is also the most expensive, given that purchasing the drives is your largest cost in the setup.

Since you mentioned having other backup options, you can maximize the value of the drives if you’re not worried about scary RAID. Using RAID-0 gives you access to the space of all the drives with none lost to redundancy, but you HAVE to be warned that you lose access to everything if any disk fails… and eventually a disk WILL fail… it might be 5 to 8 years from now, but it is inevitable.

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Thanks… I understand! That was very helpful. I plan on starting with two 6T drives. If I add more, I plan on staying with 6T as that would bump me to 24T and I can not ever envision using anything near that! I know, I know…that’s what they all say. :joy::joy::joy:

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Let me address these questions. I’m all-in on Apple and have a Synology DS418PLAY. I intended to use the PLAY for Plex but haven’t set it up. I use the NAS as a target for Time Machine backing up four Macs, and also for shared files. But one day… Plex.

First, I believe you should not put your iTunes library on a NAS. I think there used to be a support article saying only an external drive is supported for iTunes Library, but can’t find it. Now people do this and there are instructions available, but you may run into problems. This is largely because of the way iTunes accesses files – and the reliability of connecting over ethernet to the NAS. I recommend always keeping the iTunes Library file (iTunes Library.itl and other associated files) on your internal drive. I have my iTunes media on an external drive. This is easy to do in iTunes Preferences. If you google this you can find some articles about doing this. I recommend reading them before going down this road.
https://support.apple.com/guide/itunes/change-where-files-are-stored-itns2999/mac


https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4006962
https://discussions.apple.com/thread/250629362

Any music you rip with iTunes will go to the directory you store your purchased/owned music. Apple Music that you stream won’t be on your computer. Apple Music you “add to Library” AND “download” will be in \iTunes\Apple Music so it will be separated from the media you own. If you end your Apple Music subs you can no longer play the protected Apple Music songs. I suspect iTunes deletes them automatically too.

I’ll also say that getting TM backup to work to the NAS was challenging. Although it should “just work” it took a lot of tweaking to get encrypted backups working from all 4 macs. Occasionally a backup will fail, but it mostly works now.

Hope this is helpful.

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It’s very helpful!
Do you think there would be a problem with copying my music library rather than making the NAS the destination? I would be responsible for syncing and new music I rip. How about copying the streaming library or is that an Apple no no or perhaps not possible? If you don’t know…that’s ok! :sweat_smile:

I planned on doing NAS backups from Super Duper and continue letting time machine do it’s thing. I have a 2T external drive always connected to my 1T MBP and similar setup to my iMac. I’ll leave these alone. The NAS will just be redundant.

Let me know when you get Plex up and running and how it goes…I’ll be very interested!

Extra :heart::heart::heart::heart::heart: For you!

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To clarify something about Plex:

Plex has THREE components you need to deal with. There is the server, the client and the content store.

You need the server running on a device, and that device may need to have some spare cycles to do any transcodes for your clients. (This will depend on the movies you have. If you, for example, had movies that were 4K h.265 with Dolby Atmos 9.1 (or some other high end spec) and you’re trying to play it on a low powered Roku based TV, odds are very good the content will need to be down-coded to play right. There is some leeway in the encoding to make decoding a little easier for the player/transcoder, but that costs more encode time and thus not every movie is encoded for that.)

You intend your content store to be your NAS, but that doesn’t mean your server has to also be the NAS. On the other hand, it certainly could be… it depends more on the needs of your clients than anything else. I’m sure it would be theoretically possible to decode all this in advance (by analyzing spec sheets and such) but it will probably be easier to just try it and see how it goes. I will recommend that if you want to use Plex on your NAS, that you expand the memory on the NAS. (For Synology NASes that support memory upgrading, you can buy it pre-upgraded, or you can pay extra for fully supported Synology branded RAM, or you can just find the spec and buy your own. (I did the latter, and it was no big deal to install, and has worked fine for me.))

Also, be aware, that you need a Plex subscription to get the free clients for some devices (mobile phones and tablets for example.) You can buy the Plex client and not have a server subscription, and it will work, but you will not have access to the metadata sources for movies. Also note that one subscription allows you to run multiple servers and clients, so you don’t need to worry if you want to try different configurations. So you could set it up without the NAS, using your PC and its local storage for a few movies, to get a feel for how it will go, and then when you get your NAS you’ll be experienced enough to know what to expect. (A good portion of Plex is in the naming of the files, but you can do metadata entry on your own, and will need to for your own content (home videos, say) and it’s difficult to move the metadata between servers, so don’t go too gung-ho on that until you have your final configuration decided.)

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If you mean just copying the Music Library to NAS as a backup, there should be no problem. I do this periodically to an external drive–probably should just do this to my NAS! Just remember to back up both the iTunes Library files and the the media (songs, movies, etc).

I don’t see any reason to “back up” Apple Music files. I never include them in my backups. If you want them again, just download them again – that’s my suggestion. It may save you space. The fact that the songs are “in you library” is retained in your iTunes Library file and on Apple’s servers.

If you’re adventurous, you could try putting the media folder on the NAS. Maybe I was too hasty; I’m surprised by how many sources seem to say that it works. As long as you (1) don’t touch your existing media library and (2) carefully preserve copies of the existing iTunes Library files, you can revert to your existing setup.

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Excellent advise and thank you! I’m so glad I’m asking these questions now instead of my usual plan of just buying it and then figuring it all our! :joy::joy::joy:

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Again, thank you! I’m just asking all these questions so I can actually have an intelligent plan before I start spending money. I’m still figuring out what I can and can’t do with a NAS so I’m not overreaching or disappointed.

My final goal would be to have all my media on the NAS and use Plex to access all of it rather than the problems I have now of going into multiple places to remember where things are. I have movies in several locations. Music isn’t as bad but located elsewhere. And my home movies are stored on backup disks (multiple copies) and are a real pain when I want to watch one. I’m just tired of not knowing if a specific movie is on Amazon, Apple or a DVD disk in the cabinet! :woozy_face:

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I have a Synology that I use to stream stuff to vatious TVs in the house. The bedroom has a TLC Roku TV, so I installed the Synology app from the Roku store and enabled the Video service on the Synology. It is not the prettiest interface, but it works for browsing and watching videos.
The living room has a Firestick that I loaded the Android version of Kodi on and configured it to mount the shared video drive on the NAS.
Synology also make apps for phones and they are in the app stores.

So unless you really want to setup and use the other options of Plex, there are easier options out there to watch your stored content.

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The reason to use Plex is that it is pretty, and friendly, has features like rating and favourites and it has clients on almost every platform. (From Chromecast to AppleTV to PS3/4 to Roku to iOS and Android phones and tablets to Android STBs like the Shield TV to Web to PCs.) The single biggest reason you probably want it, is because of the automagical metadata. No one wants to enter all that by hand, and it is so much easier to do things like search by actor or director or whatnot if you have that data. If you just want to select a movie title by filename, then don’t do anything fancy, just use VLC and a Chromecast.

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That’s really good to know! Does Kodi give metadata? Does it work on Apple TV (I told you I was learning!:joy:)

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No, I want the metadata if I can and the fact that it works on PS4 is important so my grandson could watch, too! We have a variety of devices in our house besides TV and PS4. iPads, android tablet, windows PC, iPhones and an LG phone (there’s always that one…)

I’m learning a ton! I’m so glad I asked!

Oh, I want to add that I’m glad to understand why Synology has upgradable ram…I’ll be doing that!

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Kodi does get metadata, so you can have the movie poster art for each movie. Installing on Apple TV is not easy, but would be a fun project; https://kodi.wiki/view/HOW-TO:Install_Kodi_on_Apple_TV_4_and_5_(HD_and_4K)
It looks like you can use the built in video stream on the NAS to to PS4.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rxGegg7aDg
The built in video app on the Synology also will get metadata. It also has a web client so you can just use a browser to watch a show.

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Thank you…excellent to know that. I assume you use and like Kodi? Have you ever compared or looked at Plex? Just curious…

I tried Plex for a bit, but it tries to do too much for my needs. The default view is cluttered for my taste and having to setup a separate backend server to run it was not that big a problem, but I did not want another server in the house adding complexity. Client->Plex->NAS is one server too much and getting rid of the NAS for Plex was not going to happen. I don’t need curation, or paid addons, or sharing. Too much that can wrong.

Kodi clients connect stright to the shared video folder on the NAS. I just want a basic directory listing of my files, the cover art and description when I highlight them is bonus.

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This is good food for thought as I don’t really need all the extras, either. Nor do I particularly want another server running. Hmmm… I’m going to look into Kodi a bit more. Thanks!