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CheckMag | Pre-built or DIY NAS price comparison - Is it really better to buy from QNAP Synology or another big brand?

Off the shelf or DIY, which is cheaper and which is better? (Source: Amazon)
Off the shelf or DIY, which is cheaper and which is better? (Source: Amazon)
Whether it’s QNAP, ASUStor, Synology or some other pre-built brand, a NAS is not a cheap piece of equipment. With free or low cost operating systems such as TrueNAS, Open Media Vault or even Unraid is it cheaper to build your own with new or second hand parts, or buy off the shelf? Let's take a look at the pricing.

There is a lot to weigh up when buying or building a NAS. Whether you build your own and go with TrueNAS or Unraid, the feature set is more or less the same. However, with a pre-build you get the security of having a warranty, though less of the fun, customisation and satisfaction of going the DIY route. But the bigger question is whether you can actually save any money, and whether that trade off is worth forgoing a warranty.

It should go without saying that any NAS build, whether off the shelf or DIY will have to have disks. Therefore all pricing will exclude the cost of disks. We will also assume that a 4 disk array would be the sweet spot for most people and given the cost of flash arrays, these will be excluded from the comparison. While UGREEN might be a viable alternative they are currently out of stock of everything and again will be excluded.

While there are significantly cheaper ARM based NAS boxes, you can't use virtualisation with them and for an apples to apples comparison we will look at x86 based systems only.

All prices are accurate at the time of publishing. The 3 off the shelf products for comparison (Available on Amazon*) are:

Synology 4-Bay DiskStation DS923+ QNAP TS-453E-8G-US Asustor AS5304T 4 Bay NAS
$638.60 $651.82 $459.00

Desktop NAS - New Build (Amazon)

If you don’t care about how your NAS looks, by far the cheapest option is to build a basic desktop and repurpose it as a NAS. You’ll get significantly better specs than most off the shelf NAS boxes in this price range and scope for adding more hard drives depending on the case you choose. You do lose the multiport 2.5 Gb ethernet that off the shelf products offer, as well as the small aesthetic. However, all your parts come with a warranty and you would have plenty of spare cash to invest in an Unraid licence (if TrueNAS isn’t your thing), as well as some disks. With this setup, you also have significantly more headroom for virtualisation and can upgrade with additional 2.5 Gb PCI-E ethernet cards, or even thrown in a GPU for some gaming virtualisation or transcoding duties.

16Gb DDR4 Patriot ASRock B450M - AM4 Thermaltake Smart 500W Cooler Master N400 AMD Ryzen 5 4600G (with cooler) Patriot P300 M.2 128GB Total
$36.99 $59.99 $39.06 $74.99 $90.00 $16.99 $318.02
The Jonsbo N2 makes an awesome NAS case but is expensive. Better to get when it's on sale (Source: Amazon)
The Jonsbo N2 makes an awesome NAS case but is expensive. Better to get when it's on sale (Source: Amazon)

Small Build (AliExpress)

If you are prepared to forgo any chance of a decent warranty, AliExpress offers a range of unique products specifically for building your own NAS. With socketed NAS motherboards often coming with four 2.5 GB ethernet ports and up to 8 SATA connections. You could also mix and match, buying a NAS case from AliExpress and a PSU from Amazon to avoid some of the dodgy chinese affairs. Pricing on AliExpress also varies wildly, but there is money to be saved by buying from different sources.

N5105 Industrial NAS Motherboard JONSBO N2 ITX Mini NAS Case Cooler Master V550 PSU Hyperx FURY Impact DDR4 SODIMM 8GB X2 KingSpec M2 SSD 128GB Total
$138.17 $82.39 $140.97 $20.72 $13.64 $395.89
Amazon has a similar selection of "specialist" boards to AliExpress, but expect to pay an Amazon tax (Source: Amazon)
Amazon has a similar selection of "specialist" boards to AliExpress, but expect to pay an Amazon tax (Source: Amazon)

Small Build (Amazon)

Many of the AliExpress items are available on Amazon. The prices are generally higher than buying from AliExpress, but at least you get the security of a reasonable warranty. You could spec it out with a standard AM4 or AM5 ITX board and low profile cooler, but this will obviously impact the price.

N100 Industrial NAS Motherboard JONSBO N2 Black NAS ITX Case FSP Mini SFX PSU Micron 8GB DDR4 SODIMM X2 Patriot P300 M.2 128GB Total
$179.99 $149.98 $89.99 $28.82 $16.99 $465.77
HP offers a range of small servers that can be found for very little on Ebay (Source: Amazon)
HP offers a range of small servers that can be found for very little on Ebay (Source: Amazon)

2nd Hand Option

Obviously, you could buy all your parts second hand from somewhere like eBay, but you are then forced to potentially deal with a different seller for every item if something fails. Alternatively you could buy a HP Gen 8 Microserver like this. At approximately $228 you get significantly better specs than an off the shelf NAS in a tidy little package. This is where you really can save the most money, but the risk is higher. Whatever you do, don’t buy your disks second hand. 

There are an almost unlimited number of options available when building your own NAS to meet a variety of price ranges. You could go with a cheaper off the shelf NAS such as a 2 bay model, or one that runs an ARM CPU instead of x86 for the lowest barrier to entry, but with those you lose any chance of virtualisation. Synology and QNAP both offer ARM based models.

With careful part selection A DIY NAS could be built for even cheaper by selecting a less powerful CPU, or go for a more expensive one with specs that outstrip even the priciest models from dedicated NAS manufacturers. With free and low cost software from TrueNAS and Unraid it becomes very difficult to justify buying an off the shelf solution, unless convenience and aesthetics are at the top of your list. You also miss out on the fun of a little weekend project and the satisfaction of having a truly multipurpose NAS for (in some cases) significantly less money.

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2024 06 > Pre-built or DIY NAS price comparison - Is it really better to buy from QNAP Synology or another big brand?
David Devey, 2024-06-21 (Update: 2024-06-22)