Ask An Expert: What’s a NAS?

Paul McGowan:

If you Google “NAS” you’ll see that the first block of entries is for the rapper Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, better known as NAS. And if you look down the list Google offers you’ll find what we’re interested in. Hint: it stores music we listen to on our high-end audio systems.

A NAS is an acronym for Network Attached Storage; basically a hard drive you can connect to your network.

Now that we’re all computer experts we’re going to start learning about the various items that connect to our computers and make life more interesting or, at least, more useful when it comes to music playback and a NAS is certainly one of those.

When PS Audio first entered the network audio field with our revolutionary new PerfectWave DAC we began by recommending you store your music on a NAS. We no longer recommend that approach (as we’ve learned more) and so this short few series of posts is going to help us understand what a NAS is, how it works, what it’s good and bad points are and why we no longer recommend its use as your primary music storage method.

Let’s start with the basics first and examine just what is a hard drive and then move on to this particular type of hard disc drive. A hard drive is a magnetic data storage device and, unlike a soft drive, uses a rigid hard disc to remember the information you want stored. A soft drive is the same thing as a hard drive only the magnetic medium is soft or “floppy”. In fact, soft drives used to be called floppy disc drives (as some of us will remember).

Magnetic storage devices have been around for nearly a century, starting out as wire recorders, then moving on to tape recorders that moved a soft flexible piece of plastic tape past a magnetic head to store the data on a length of tape. Later, the reel of tape was replaced with a spinning disc of plastic tape, much like a vinyl phono disc in the way information is recorded in a long spiral pattern. So, just imagine removing the long length of recording tape from its reel and then winding the tape into a circle to form a round disc – which is basically what a floppy disc is.

The flexible spinning tape disc, known as the floppy, was replaced by the hard metal spinning disk known as a hard drive starting in the mid 1970′s and today you’d be hard pressed to find a floppy tape disc on any computer. The two primary methods of storing information today are optical (CD’s, DVD’s and Blu Ray’s) and magnetic (hard disk drive). Hard disc drives account for about 60% of all data stored today; which is currently estimated to be 2.7 Zettabytes (2.7 with 21 zeros after it). On the rise are solid state drives which will become the predominant storage medium in the next 5 or so years.

Closer to home, hard discs come in three basic flavors: internal, external and network. Your computer uses the internal style and most externally attached hard drives are connected through our old friend the USB port. What both of these have in common is that they are directly attached to the computer. A network attached storage device, our NAS, does not connect directly to your computer and, in fact, does not even need your computer to work. This latter piece of info is important to understand.

In all three connections schemes, internal, external or network connected, all hard disc drives require a computer to work. Without a computer attached, a hard disc drive is completely useless.

So obviously there’s a disconnect here – if all hard drives require a computer to work and a NAS is a hard drive, why then does my statement still hold true? How then does the NAS operate without a computer?

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