You probably already know how a router hosts a home network and simultaneously delivers Wi-Fi to multiple devices. That's generally how a Wi-Fi router works.
But there are also "router NAS" options where a USB-enabled Wi-Fi broadcaster can work as a mini NAS server -- that's when a Wi-Fi router hosts a USB drive to provide storage for the entire network.
In other words, add a good external drive, and your router will also work as a file-sharing, media server, and more.
So, if you want to dabble into network-attached storage, a good Wi-Fi router is the best way to start before a real NAS server.
Routers vs NAS servers
In this post, we're talking about routers being used as network-attached storage servers, not actual dedicated NAS servers.
All routers will work with all real NAS servers in their respective roles. There's no such thing as "the best router for NAS", but those featuring multi-Gigabit wired connections will deliver the best network storage performance when hosting a similarly capable dedicated NAS server.
This post includes the performance chart of almost all USB-enabled routers and the best five candidates for the network file-sharing job.
Dong's note: I first published this post on October 29, 2020, and updated it on November 28, 2023, to add more options and relevant information.
Popular Wi-Fi router NAS options in numbers
Almost all Wi-Fi routers with a USB port can work as a mini NAS server, at least for simple file sharing. However, it's the actual performance that counts.
Below is the chart of NAS performance of popular home Wi-Fi routers I've tested, listed alphabetically.
I tested each using a wired Gigabit connection. With those that feature a Multi-Gig port, I tried that, too. As for storage devices, I've always used portable SSDs, which are much faster than the router's USB ports -- most use USB 3.2 Gen 1 (a.k.a USB 3.0) with a 5Gbps max ceiling speed.
Note that the scores on the chart are in megabytes per second (MB/s), not megabits (Mbps). The latter is generally used for network connection speed. Open the drawer below if you're new to digital data and connection speeds.
Digital storage and data transmission in brief
As you read this page, keep in mind that each character on the screen, including a space between two words, generally requires one byte of data.
The phrase "Dong Knows Tech," with no quotes, requires at least 15 bytes, and likely more since the formatting -- such as capitalization and font -- also needs extra storage space.
Byte -- often in kilobytes (kB), megabytes (MB), or gigabytes (GB) -- is generally used to convey storage space. For data transmission, we use bits.
One byte equals eight bits.
One million (1,000,000) bits = 1 Megabit (Mb).
Megabits per second (Mbps) -- the number of megabits being manipulated in one second -- is the common unit for data transmission nowadays. Based on that, the following are common terms:
- Fast Ethernet: A connection standard that can deliver up to 100Mbps.
- Gigabit: That's short for Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and generally means transmission speeds in Gigabit per second (Gbps). This is currently the most popular wired connection standard. 1Gbps = 1000Mbps.
- Gig+: A connection that's faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. It often applies to 2x2 Wi-Fi 6/6E or Internet speeds.
- Multi-Gigabit: That's multiple Gigabits -- a link that's 2Gbps or faster.
- Multi-Gig: A new BASE-T wired connection standard that delivers 2.5GbE, 5Gbe, or 10GbE over CAT5e (or a higher grade) network cables, depending on the devices involved, and is also backward compatible with Fast Ethernet and Gigabit.
Best Wi-Fi router NAS solutions: The top-five list
Again, any routers on the chart above will work as a mini NAS server. But you're in the market for a new USB-enabled router; find my recommendations below. I'll also mention their similar alternatives.
These routers deliver the best performance or have great features when hosting external storage. I've personally used them all. The list is sorted according to my preference, with the most recommended on top.
|Name||Asus RT-BE96U's Rating||TP-Link Archer BE800's Rating||Synology RT6600ax's Rating||Netgear Nighthawk RAX120's Rating||Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max's Rating|
|Buy this product|
1. RT-BE96U: Representing Asus’s NAS-ready routers
The RT-BE96U is the latest Wi-Fi machine from Asus and the first of the networking vendors to feature Wi-Fi 7. It replaces the long-standing RT-AX89X on this list.
Like the predecessor, it has two 10Gbps ports -- both are BSAE-T -- which help deliver excellent network-attached storage performance when hosting a portable SSD.
Like all Asus routers, including the alternatives below, the RT-BE96U has all available eUSB-related features and applications, including local and cloud-based data sharing, a PC-less download feature, Time Machine backup, and much more.
The storage-based feature set is the same across all Asus routers released in the past decade. If you want to see how Asus routers compare with one another on the performance front, including network storage performance, check out this post.
Similarly excellent alternatives:
- Asus RT-AX89X | Buy now
- Asus GT-AX11000 Pro | Buy now
- Asus GT-AXE16000 | Buy now
- Asus GT-AXE11000 | Buy now
- Asus RT-AX86U/Pro | Buy now
Asus RT-BE96U's Rating
Wi-Fi 7 support; excellent performance; AiMesh-ready
Lots of free, in-depth, and useful networking features and settings (VPN, AiProtection, Parental Control, Bandwidth monitoring, etc.)
Two 10Gbps Multi-Gig ports with excelling port flexibility; supports Dual-WAN, and LAN/WAN Link Aggregations
No vendor required login account; run cool and quiet
Only two 10Gbps ports; Wi-Fi 7 is still in draft
Bulky design, not wall-mountable
Lots of unnecessary plastic wraps
2. Archer BE800: Representing TP-Link’s NAS-ready routers
The Archer BE800 is a big deal. For one, it's one of the first Wi-Fi 7 on the market. Additionally, it forgoes all Gigabit ports and only includes multi-Gigabit wired connections. That and a fast USB port translate into a robust network storage solution.
Other similar alternatives from TP-Link on the network storage front:
TP-Link Archer BE800's Rating
Wi-Fi 7 support; plenty of Multi-Gig ports with two supporting 10Gbps; excellent overall performance; competitively priced
Robust web user interface; lots of network and Wi-Fi settings
Useful (optional) mobile app; EasyMesh-ready; interesting LED lighting
No option for 2.5Gbps WAN or Dual-WAN; limited EasyMesh hardware
Bulky design; HomeShield Pro costs extra and requires a login account; Tether app needed for LED light
Wi-Fi 7 is still in the early stage, with no computer-based clients
3. RT6600ax: Representing Synology as a major NAS maker
This network feature persists in most Synology routers. If you only care about that, also consider the following alternatives:
Synology RT6600ax's Rating
Fast and reliable Wi-Fi with support for 5.9GHz UNII-4 spectrum, mesh-ready
Robust, comprehensive yet user-friendly SRM 1.3 firmware with excellent web interface and DS Router app
Lots of useful built-in settings and networking features, helpful add-on packages with accompanying mobile apps
Can work as a full-featured NAS server
Practical design, wall-mountable
Only one 2.5Gbps port
No Link Aggregation, awkward Multi-Gig WAN, rigid default WAN port
Only client-based QoS, 5.9GHz clients are scarce
The RAX120, for now, is the only USB-enabled router with the fastest 5Gbps Multi-Gig port -- this likely will change in late 2023 when Netgear's RS700 becomes available. And in testing, the RAX120's network storage performance was quite impressive.
Like most Netgear routers, the RAX120 shares storage space in as many ways as possible when hosting an external drive.
You can share that locally or via the Internet using Netgear's ReadyShare software. The router also supports local backup for Windows and Mac's Time Machine.
Netgear Nighthawk RAX120's Rating
Powerful hardware, fast performance
Multi-Gig network port (5Gbps)
Well-organized web user interface
Ultra-fast network storage performance
No online protection, gaming, or mesh features
A bit bulky
The Linksys MX8500 is an interesting case -- it's part of the AXE8400 Wi-Fi 6E mesh system.
As a standalone router, the MX8500 doesn't have a Multi-Gig LAN port. However, when working as a satellite in a mesh setup, its 5Gbps WAN now functions as a LAN. That, plus the super-fast 6GHz band, means you can get excellent NAS speed.
And like the case of any Velop mesh set, you can use one external drive per MX8500 uint, meaning you can host more storage in a mesh setup.
Out of the box, Linksys doesn't officially support Time Machine backup, but you might be able to make it work with some tweaking.
Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max's Rating
Reliable performance, extensive coverage
5Gbps WAN port
Excellent NAS performance when hosting external storage device(s)
Separate SSID for each band
Comparatively slow mesh Wi-Fi speeds in homes with walls
Limited Wi-Fi settings and features, mobile app coercion
No Multi-Gig LAN port (main router), Dual-WAN, or Link Aggregation
No setting backup and restore
The final thoughts
All of the routers above will work well as a mini NAS solution. Apart from them, any of the others mentioned in the charts at the beginning of the post will work, albeit with slower performance.
It's worth noting that with the upcoming Wi-Fi 7 routers, all supporting multi-Gigabit, this top-five list will likely be updated more frequently starting in late 2023.
In any case, remember that you're using a router whose main function is to deliver network performance. The storage portion is not its primary function. If you're serious about network storage, consider a real NAS server.