Buying a NAS for Video Editing – A Buyers Guide
Whether you are a professional, semi-pro or hobbyist video editor, the appeal of moving your editing suite over to a NAS based environment can be quite high. Although not quite as straightforward as utilising traditional an internal SSD or external storage on USB and thunderbolt, video editing on a NAS can bring a significant number of advantages and improvements to even a low-level post-production environment focused on editing video privately or commercially. It can be frightfully intimidating to understand which components you need to buy, let alone know how to create the ideal video editing set up on a NAS for multiple connected clients on windows and mac systems. So today I wanted to take some time and talked about why you should edit video on a NAS, why you shouldn’t and the key considerations when making the move towards network-attached storage for your video editing workflow.
Ready to Edit Video on a NAS Drive? Below is my FULL GUIDE to Edit on a NAS (Click Below):
What are the Benefits of Video Editing on a NAS
Network-attached storage (NAS) has been around now commercially for more than 20-years and it has only really been in the last few years that the viability of editing dense media, such as 1080P and 4K raw, has become particularly viable. NAS brings a number of unique advantages to video editors that apply to both the process of rendering in post-production AND general good working practice with your data. Key benefits of using a NAS in your video editing workflow are:
One Area of Storage, Accessible by Many at Once – Multiple users can connect to the same storage device, internal and external backup routines can be managed by the device and connected storage
Diverse Connectivity – Multiple types of connection are available for users to interact with the device
Security Advantages – Encryption and multiple security access options are available on the storage side
Easy Distribution – Completed projects can be distributed to the network or internet without requiring an additional cloud storage platform
Mixed OS Support – Different OS and file structures can communicate with the same storage device without being incompatible
Scaled Storage Options – Storage capacity is scalable with the ability to gradually add hard drives and SSD as you need them and even attach additional enclosures – ie you are not limited on day one with a preset storage capacity
Users & Group Access Controls with Custom Privileges – Each user can have their own login with access to different areas of the system storage being allowed/denied on the fly
AJA Speed Test from 4x Synology HAT5300 Hard Drives in a RAID 5 over 10Gbe NAS Connectivity Below:
What are the downsides of Editing on a NAS?
Of course, editing on a NAS is still not perfect for everyone and although it features numerous benefits to those working in post-production, there are still several hurdles that may be too much for some users. Below are several reasons why you may not want to use a NAS for video editing:
Top Speed Potential – Like-for-like a NAS will not quite hit the same top performance of a direct-attached storage device (DAS)
Arguable More Expensive – NAS costs more than a traditional DAS
Not Strictly Plug-n-Play – NAS is not as straightforward or feature the same level of plug-and-play that a regular DAS does
Additional Equipment (e.g Switches) – In order for multiple users to access a NAS at the same time, it can sometimes require additional hardware
Steeper Learning Curve – NAS systems have a marginally higher learning curve when it comes to setting up and maintenance when it comes to external network security
Overall, a NAS is still fantastic for video editing, but all the advantages that it brings for multi-editor environments and improving your workflow are not without a little friction at the start. That said, these are small in the grand scheme of things and most can be overcome with even a small amount of IT knowledge. Below are guides on how to setup your Synology or QNAP NAS for Video Editing for the first time:
Important Considerations When Choosing a NAS for Video Editing
In order to cover every aspect of how you can adapt a NAS into your video editing workflow, I have broken the whole thing down into several key considerations. Each one was selected based on its recurrence in the enquiry section here on NASCompares and I strongly recommend that you check the suitability of each in your setup before proceeding with purchasing any NAS solution for business class post-production, low-level video editing and even just for simple one-off tasks involving video.
Video Editing on a NAS – Size, Capacity and RAID
Let’s start with something straightforward and easy to understand, namely the subject of storage space and capacity. The amount of storage you’re going to need in a NAS that you plan on using for video editing may seem simple at first. Depending on whether you plan on utilising the NAS to its fullest in terms of editing, distribution and archiving, or simply plan on using the NAS for just the editing, you will need to make sure that you have enough storage for current projects and long-term storage. Typically, it is recommended that you work out how much data you generally create per year and times it by x5. However, capacity is only a small part of the importance of storage on your video editing NAS.
Here is a Guide to Understanding Each of the Main RAID Types (Click Below to read in a new tab)
In order to improve the performance of the NAS for optimal video editing, it is recommended that you use a NAS setup that features multiple hard drives or SSD in order to take advantage of both the redundancy and multi-disc access performance benefits available in RAID (redundant array of independent disks). A single hard drive can provide around 150-260 Megabytes per second of performance on average, but with each additional hard drive you add to a NAS system, it increases the overall performance by around 70-150MB/s per drive (more so with SSD). Although hard drives are traditionally slower than more expensive SSD, this can be negated via the use of multiple hard drives in a RAID and provide a much better price per terabyte investment. This also means that the NAS is able to store more projects for editing and archiving overall.
Finally, there is the consideration for the number of bays available on the video editing NAS. If you intend to take advantage of the performance and redundancy that RAID provides, you will need to ensure that you buy a NAS system that allows enough bays for you to populate with hard drives or SSD. However, you may also need to consider adding more drives later in your NAS drives life, whether to increase capacity later or just do improve performance when you need it. So it never hurts to consider partially populating a NAS in order to give yourself a little more flexibility later with your capacity, whether it is installing four hard drives in an 8 bay NAS or choosing a NAS that has the option of expandability with an externally connected expansion chassis.
Video Editing on a NAS – Noise and Distance from the NAS
Another massively overlooked area in using a NAS for video editing, and one that when overlooked can lead to enormous irritation, is avoiding ambient noise that some enterprise NAS devices generate. One of the biggest differences between editing using an SSD inside your Mac or Windows system compared with editing on an external device like a NAS/DAS is that due to the larger array of storage media combined with external enclosure design, the clicks, hums and vibration can create a noticeable increase in ambient noise. This can obviously vary based on the NAS and drive media you choose to use, but still nonetheless the general rule of thumb is that high performance in a NAS will equal a larger volume in in operational noise. If you are running a less noise prohibitive workflow, take advantage of professional headphones or maintain a decent distance from the system, you should be perfectly fine. However many users do not realise that video editing on a NAS enclosure can be rather noisy. To give you an example, below is some examples of general ambient noise generated from just a single NAS based hard drive when in operation:
Audio/Noise Tests of FOUR Popular NAS based Hard Drives:
Seagate Ironwolf Noise – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgXtQ1nGMI0/
WD Red Noise – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf23exhPDXg/
Seagate EXOS Noise – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BW4FIWX1QKo/
Western Digital UltraStar Noise – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THYPA5FMiD4/
Video Editing on a NAS – Hard Drives, SSDs, or Both in your NAS
Most people are already well aware that although hard drives bring a tremendous amount of storage potential at an affordable level, they pale in comparison to SSD when it comes to performance. Solid-state drives provide read and write speeds that practically no modern traditional hard drive can match. That is the main reason that a lot of people rely on SSDs inside their modern computers for operating systems and general high-performance file handling. However, when it comes to network-attached storage the gap between hard drives and SSD performance can be closed significantly via the utilisation of RAID (redundant array of independent disks – mentioned earlier), which allows a user to install multiple hard drives inside I NAS and because each Drive is being read and written to at the same time, it results in something that far surpasses that of a singular hard drive in speed. In short, if you look at the price of per terabyte of an SSD as around 4-5x that of a regular hard drive, you can still achieve these speeds by simply using 4-5 hard drives instead, but actually having more capacity available to you, as well as the option of a safety net that most RAID configurations offer by default. So do not assume that video editing on a NAS will be better just because you spent more money on SSDs. If you did choose to spend significantly more money in fully populating a NAS with SSD only, this could potentially over-saturate the connection between your NAS and your editing computer, so if you are running a 10 Gigabit connection (i.e 1000MB/s), on a NAS fully populated with SSD, you cannot actually exceed 1000 megabyte per second – so you would have wasted a lot of money on SSD to start with.
Of course, there is the third option of utilising both storage media in an intelligent way. The act of using a mixed media storage configuration can be realised in either taking advantage of a tiered storage system that moves data inside to whichever storage media is the most beneficial (i.e more regularly accessed on SSD, least accessed on HDD – known on QNAP NAS as QTier), or SSD caching that moves a copy of more frequently accessed data from the hard drive RAID storage array onto a smaller but higher-performing area of SSD storage media. The benefits of SSD caching on video editing are negligible unless you are utilising many, many smaller files and need these files more frequently accessed at any given time. Ultimately, this all means that you are not locked in on utilising just one kind of storage media on your video editing setup and it is recommended that you investigate the benefits of either or both in order to maximize your investment in a NAS for video editing.
Video Editing on a NAS – Buying a NAS with 10Gbe
For those who are looking at purchasing a NAS system for video editing, the appeal of 10-gigabit ethernets is largely inarguable. One of the biggest problems when it came to editing video and even photos on a NAS until recently was that you simply could not get the bandwidth and performance through it that you would need in order to edit a big single file. This changed when 10-gigabit ethernet became available, but more so when you became affordable. You can now pick up some 10Gbe NAS systems for as little as £200-300, which might leave you feeling that a NAS for video editing can be spectacularly cheap. However, it is so much more complicated than simply having a 10Gb port on your NAS to allow video editing in any seamless form. Indeed, there are several key factors that a lot of 10G buyers either overlook or consciously cheap-out on, which inevitably leads to slower performance. These are as follows:
Choosing the Right NAS CPU
As mentioned, there are several very affordable 10Gbe NAS systems out there that highlight how competent they are at file server handling. However, not all CPUs are built the same and unless you are using an x86 64-bit CPU, you are not going to get the performance needed to edit video smoothly. Most affordable alternative systems arrived with ARM-based processors (Realtek, Marvel, Annapurna, etc), in 32-bit and 64-bit. These CPU are designed for maximum efficiency but low heavy performance handling and along with featuring lesser power frequencies, cannot handle larger instructions particularly well. Video editing is an intense operation with numerous read-write actions happening in the background that is often unknown to the editor (caching, editing multiple streams on a timeline, etc) and an ARM processor is just not up to the task. This can be marginally mitigated with improved memory, but even this is like sticking a plaster on a shotgun wound! You need to opt for 10Gbe NAS that have either an Intel or AMD based processor that is 64-bit in architecture in order to ensure smooth editing of your videos personally or professionally. I recommend at last an Intel Xeon, Intel Core, AMD Ryzen or Pentium at the very least.
Choosing the Right Amount of NAS Memory
Although nowhere near as important as selecting the right CPU in a 10Gbe NAS solution, Memory still needs to be considered when setting up the device for video editing. This is because although a chunk of memory will be used by the NAS for individual video editing instructions and operations, the NAS will also need additional reserved memory for running background system operations, backup routines and any additional apps you have installed from the brand respective app centre (surveillance, snapshots, cloud synchronisation, etc). The majority of budget 10Gbe NAS solutions arrived with 2GB of memory (sometimes non-upgradable and soldered via individual memory chips to the motherboard), though I strongly recommend that video editors use at least 8GB of memory if you have at least two editors. There are also differences in memory types and frequency, but these are less vital in video editing NAS and generally the better CPU your NAS has, the better the memory it will include.
Choosing the Right Amount of Terabytes for Storage to MAX 10Gbe
Having 10G on a NAS does not mean you INSTANTLY guarantee 1000MB/s performance. The number of hard drive SSD bays that the NAS has is actually an extremely important part of setting up a NAS for 10G editing. Individual SATA hard drive or SSD arrives with speeds ranging from 160-550MB/s, with faster drives obviously being the more expensive. But if your system has multiple drive bays, with the right RAID configuration you can read and write from multiple disks at once and this multiplies the performance possible. This also means that cheaper, larger but slower hard drives can get a great deal closer to the performance of SSD if they are used in larger configurations of 6 or 8 bays. The performance of 10Gbe does not guarantee 1000MBs, it simply opens the channel to push that much data through. Utilising a NAS with more Drive bays and drives inside will allow you to maximize this connection and fully saturate 10Gbe for video editing.
Factoring Upgrades on your Client PCs and Macs
An often-overlooked factor, just because you buying a 10Gbe equipped NAS does not guarantee you 10G performance with all of your connected devices externally. 10Gbe on a NAS arrives in an available ethernet port in copper or fibre connectivity, 10GASE-T or SFP+ respectively. However, you still need to make sure that other devices in your network involved in connectivity and video editing also have this connection. Typically that means that you either need to upgrade your network switch to include one with 10Gbe on board and/or you need to upgrade the video editing workstations in your home/business environment with 10Gbe connectivity. Typically these connections arrived as either thunderbolt external adaptors or PCIe upgrade cards (not suitable for MacBooks, Mac minis or laptops). There are lesser connections such as 2.5G and 5G that allow USB upgrades by providing 250-500MB/s, but if you want to take advantage of 10GBe, you need to look at applying upgrades to any devices involved with video editing. Below is a guide to 10Gbe Upgrades:
Just remember that regardless of the hard drives you use, the memory you install and the number of hard drives you install inside, these all primarily affect internal performance and it is only by upgrading your ethernet connectivity to greater than 1Gbe that you will see external performance improve – VITAL for video editing!
Video Editing on a NAS – Buying a NAS with Thunderbolt
Although by no means a new way to edit video on a NAS, connecting to a NAS via thunderbolt is still a comparatively recent method and one that is largely only available from QNAP. In many ways, utilising a Thunderbolt 3 equipped NAS for video editing is largely identical to 10Gbe and is heavily dictated by many of the factors detailed above (CPU, memory, connectivity, etc). However, Thunderbolt NAS eliminates a lot of the client upgrade hurdles for many users, particularly Mac users, allowing them to connect directly with the NAS over TB3/USB-C for performance speeds much greater than traditional Gigabit LAN. Many users have edited video on local thunderbolt storage for years, more commonly referred to as DAS (direct-attached storage), a thunderbolt NAS allows multiple users to connect via thunderbolt and edit video on the same storage enclosure. The reality though is that thunderbolt NAS does not provide the same level of performance and throughput as a regular thunderbolt DAS enclosure. This is because it is utilising network protocol in its connectivity (in order to ensure that multiple users can connect at once – something a DAS drive cannot do). It can still provide potentially thousands of megabytes per second depending on the media inside and CPU, but there is a notable disparity between a DAS of the same scale. Additionally, whereas the majority of thunderbolt DAS (LaCie, G-Tech, Drobo, etc) are almost completely plug-n-play and appearing as an external drive immediately upon connection, Thunderbolt NAS requires a little more work in order to appear as an available drive on your Mac or Windows system. Most of these connection hurdles only need to be configured during the first time setup and then saved for the future, but it can still be a notably intimidating move to switch to a thunderbolt NAS for video editing. Nevertheless, thunderbolt NAS is still one of the best options out there are for video editors who work in a team and need to share the same storage array for backups, live editing, distribution and managing multiple archives in house.
Choosing A NAS for Video Editing – Need More Help?
So, those were the key considerations for those looking to buy a new NAS for video editing, or looking to upgrade/migrate from an existing DAS/External drive setup. However, there is still so much that you may need to know ranging from software compatibility, how to connect the NAS in the best way, Shoadowfiles and the best backup methods. If you still need help choosing the NAS solution for your needs, use the NASCompares free advice section below. It is completely free, is not a subscription service and is manned by real humans (two humans actually, me and Eddie). We promise impartial advice, recommendations based on your hardware and budget, and although it might take an extra day or two to answer your question, we will get back to you.
Learn More About Multiple Backup Strategies on your Synology NAS in the Guide Below:
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