In short NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a a stand-alone device where you can install one or more harddisk-drives (either internally or externally), and then connect that device directly to your network. The NAS device is given its own IP-address and you configure it to share the harddrives and their data contents on the network to multiple client devices such as XBMC and your computer. This way you do not have to have your computer(s) powered on all the the time and the data will still always be available on your network and accessible from multiple devices. It is also possible to 'convert' a modest computer into a dedicated NAS device, in fact that is the cheapest way to get your own NAS, (the downside with using a whole computer as a NAS device is the size of the computer-case and possibly the electricity it consums).
1 NAS (Network Attached Storage) and XBMC
XBMC already supports SMB/SAMBA/CIFS (and UPnP) network-protocols which many NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices support. It is also possible to stream via FTP to XBMC but that is not recommended because the FTP network-protocol was never designed for streaming so that will not be covered here, nor officialy supported. To stream from a NAS device to XBMC simply setup a SMB/SAMBA/CIFS (or UPnP) share on the NAS with a username and password, (once you have configured its network settings and connected it to your network), then add a bookmark for that share in XBMC.
2 The definition of NAS (Network Attached Storage)
NAS (Network Attached Storage) is the name given to dedicated data storage technology that can be connected directly to a computer-network to provide centralized data-access and storage to compatible network-clients. Normally this means a harddisk-drive storage device that is attached direcly to your LAN (Local Area Network), typically a ethernet-based network, and assigned an own IP-address, rather than being attached to a computer that is serving data-files to network users. Network-Attached Storage consists of harddisk storage, (that can include support for multi-disk RAID systems), and software for configuring and mapping file locations to the Network-Attached Device. NAS software can usually handle a number of network protocols, and share formats. Configuration, including the setting of user access priorities, is usually possible using a web browser.
3 NAS (Network Attached Storage) compatible with XBMC
This is a list of NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices and software compatible with XBMC.
Please feel free to add any NAS device or software that you yourself have tested and know if it works with XBMC or not!
3.1 NAS devices that work with XBMC
-  HP MediaVault mv2010/2020 has either an internal 300/500gb SATA drive, and a spare bay where you can insert a second SATA drive, and 3 USB ports for external drives or a Printer. Runs a Linux 2.4 Kernel, supports UPnP and Samba, and upto 1.2 TB of data across all drives. There is also an unofficial support site/community located here
-  Synology DiskStation DS-106(e) supports one internal and one external SATA drive, and 1-2 USB storage devices. UPnP and Samba is supported, among other protocols. Gigabit Ethernet.
-  Synology DiskStation DS-101j supports one internal and one external IDE drive, and 1-2 USB storage devices. UPnP and Samba is supported, among other protocols.
- LinkSys NSLU2 (Network Storage Link for USB 2.0 harddisk-drives), which is Linux and SAMBA based.
- As the NSLU2 is Linux-based you can 'hack' it and install all sort of software on it, for more info see wikipedia
- NetGear WTG634U Wireless Router
- Shares from a USB Mass Storage Compatible Harddrive connected to it via USB 2.0
- Kuro Box (by Buffalo Technology) for one internal harddrive. Linux-based and supports open source software.
- Buffalo Technology TeraStation NAS 1.0 TB (HD-H1.0TGL/R5) supports 4-drives, RAID-0/1/5 and GigaBit ethernet.
- Buffalo Technology Linkstation HD-HG300LAN and HD-HG400LAN, 300GB and 400GB respective with GigaBit ethernet.
- Maxtor Shared Storage™ Networking Drives
- Maxtor Shared Storage Plus 200GB (H01R200)
- Maxtor Shared Storage Plus 300GB (H01R300)
- Maxtor Shared Storage Plus 500GB (H01R500)
- Maxtor Shared Storage II 300GB
- Maxtor Shared Storage II 500GB
- Maxtor Shared Storage II 1TB
- Quantum / Snap Appliance Snap Servers (Models 2000, 2040, 2200 and 4100) (formely: Ateonix Nasas).
- ASUS WL-500g (Deluxe) Wireless-Router with USB 2.0 harddisks support, requires third-party firmware.
- Thecus N2100, 2-internal 3.5" SATA bays, RAID 0/1 and 3 USB-ports for external hardrives.
- Lacie Ethernet Disk Mini 250GB.
- SimpleTech SimpleShare NAS 400GB.
- Western Digital WD NetCenter™ Network Drives
- WD NetCenter 160GB Ethernet Network Drive
- WD NetCenter 250GB Ethernet Network Drive
- WD NetCenter 320GB Ethernet Network Drive
- WD NetCenter 500GB Ethernet Network Drive
- Infrant ReadyNAS NV supports up to 4 SATA drives in RAID 0-,1,5 and their own X-RAID protocol. OCE is possible under X-RAID. UPnP and Samba is supported, among other protocols.
- Vantec NexStar LX NAS (Works with latest Firmware Basic46 and XBMC 2.0.1 - tested on January 8, 2007).
3.2 NAS software that works with XBMC
- FreeNAS (sourceforge.net project-page), a free open source FreeBSD-based operating-system that turns any x86 computer into a SAMBA NAS device, (plus firewall and FTP-server). (Tested July 2006)
- Openfiler (sourceforge.net project-page), a free open source Linux-based operating-system that turns any x86 computer into a SAMBA NAS device.
- ClarkConnect Community Edition 4.0, a free Linux-based operating-system that turns any x86 computer into a SAMBA NAS device, (plus firewall and FTP-server). (Tested September 2006)
- NASLite, a non-free commercial closed source alternative to the above mentioned FreeNAS, boots from a single floppy diskette.
- NASLite+, the big brother of NASLite, it has more features but is a little more expensive and must boot of a CD or a USB-stick.
3.3 NAS devices and software that doesn't work with XBMC
- LanDrive (also sold as "LanDisk" and "LanServer") 3.5" harddrive enclosure with USB 2.0 port and 10/100Mb RJ-45 network-port. LanDrive, LanDrive and LanServer (as OEM hardware) is available under many brand names like Bytecc, Bona, Conceptronic, CoolMax, Datastorage, Ducki, FAN-TEC, Hotway, Hotec, LinITX, MacPower, MaPower, Mediasonic, Midte, NEM, NHouse, Usbex, Teac and V-Gear/VGear. (File-system permissons on the LanDrive/LanDrive/LanServer are not working 100% with XBMC, and results differ between firmware versions, but all brands and models have the same problem). If you want the LanDrive to work with you XBMC use firmware version "NAS-BASIC41".
- Bytecc ME-850 Bytecc ME-850 (firmware version .24 works partially), pretty sure this is a LanDrive as above with a different brand?)
- CoolMax NAS Model CN-550, supports SMB but doesn't seem to work with XBMC (tested November 2005), another LanDrive?
- Macpower Pleiades USB/LAN, supports SMB but doesn't seem to work with XBMC (tested November 2005), another LanDrive?
- Argosy HD363N, supports SMB but doesn't seem to work with XBMC (tested March 2005)
- Tritton Simple NAS NSS001, supports SMB but doesn't seem to work with XBMC (tested September 2005)
- NetGear Storage Central SC101, does not support CIFS/SMB/SAMBA (only added to this list because so many people asked!)
- CompUSA external NAS enclosure
4 Converting an computer into a dedicated NAS
This is a guide on how to make an 'old' computer into a cheap dedicated NAS box by using a free (and simple to use) operating-system/software like FreeNAS, Openfiler or ClarkConnect Community Edition. This guide will hopefully get a little more step-by-step oriented over time as people who test and play with these softwares adds information from their experince, but for now a short description will have to do. So for now please refer to the the respective website of the mentioned operating-system/software for more information, documentation (user-manuals), and FAQs.
4.1 Required hardware
- The computer itself:
- As people and most of all companies upgrade their to new computers they often give away or sell they old computers which usually is 4 to 6 years old hardware, most common are branded desktop or midi-tower work computers like COMPAQ, DELL, GateWay, HP, and IBM. These 'old' computer are no longer good for gaming or even office tools as they are persived as too slow performing, this however means that you can get hold of them cheap or sometimes even for free. Know though that the older the computer is, the more likely you are required to spend some extra money on it to get the performance you want/need.
- The hardware needed is Intel or AMD x86 (IBM-compatible) computer, at least 200Mhz processor and 96MB of RAM (however 500Mhz+ processor and 256MB+ RAM is recommended to be able to disable the swap/page-file), and a network-controller/adapter, (FreeNAS even supports GigaBit NIC's which is great if your other computers supports GigaBit too).
- The optimal installation location of the operating-system can be debated. While some of these 'NAS operating-systems' upload everything into the RAM-memory (if you have enough RAM-memory), some of them do require to access and read/write to the location where it is installed. This means that if the installation location is the same harddrives that you share, they will not be able to spin-down as often an the computer will thus also generate more noise and heat. A great solution to this problem is to make the installation location onto a solid state memory (meaning a memory that have no moving parts), like a Compact Flash card (if you get a Compact Flash to IDE/ATA converter), or a USB-stick/key flash-memory (if your computers supports booting to USB). By getting a computer which BIOS supports booting from USB you will free up a ATA/SATA-slot and are able to connect another harddrive to the system.
- Storage (the harddisk drives):
- The harddrives to be shared as storage can be connected via IDE/ATA, SATA, SCSI, USB or Firewire. Most of these NAS softwares also supports hardware RAID cards and software RAID 0, 1 and 5. Best is though if you get a computer with two or more IDE/ATA channels as then you can use at least four IDE/ATA harddrives which gives good value with the most GigaBytes for your buck. SATA harddrives are as cheap as IDE/ATA (and faster), however you must then purchase a SATA PCI-adapter as none of these 'old' computers comes with SATA ports on the motherboard, but one the other hand if you plan on upgrading your NAS-compuer in a year or two then those SATA harddrives (with a SATA PCI-adapter) is the smarter choise.
- Another nice feature is harddrive spin-down when idle (after ex. 30-minutes) which saves the life-time of the shared harddrives. All IDE/ATA harddrives connected to the internal IDE/ATA controller on the motherboard or on an internal a PCI-adapter support spin-down. Many external USB enclosures and internal IDE/ATA/SATA to USB-adapters on the other hand do not support spin down, remember that if you plan on connecting your drives via USB.
FreeNAS is a complete operating-system and NAS software package which is free and open source, (so you do not not need any other operating-system on the target computer) and it features a nice web-interface for all configuration, (so no keyboard/video/mouse is needed after the initial installation). The FreeNAS boot-image itself takes up less than 32MB memory and can be booted from a harddrive, a USB-stick, or a Compact Flash card (if you have a Compact Flash to IDE/ATA converter).
If you have tested this NAS operating-system/software then please contribute some information and your experince here.
good OS because its linux...but the only problem i had with it is that you cant have local user to authenticate ftp.....users have to come from ldap or windows domain controller....and i not fluent enough with linux to make that change via the command line....freenas has no users that you can create either......so remote access is not looking so good unless you just want anonymous aceess or you have to use a ftp server on a seperate computer and share your nas that way so you can have users and passwords
4.4 ClarkConnect Community Edition
If you have tested this NAS operating-system/software then please contribute some information and your experince here.