Wi-Fi Router USB Port Explained: How to Turn One into a NAS Server

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech A Wi-Fi router USB port can host a storage device to form a mini NAS server.

When it comes to network storage, I’d recommend a NAS server. But a good server can be expensive; plus, not everyone wants or has time to configure all the features. So the second-best option is to make use of what you likely already have: the USB port of your Wi-Fi router.

Indeed, there are many routers on the market that can simultaneously deliver both Wi-Fi and storage space for your entire home.

This post, among other things, talks about the storage-related use of a USB-ready Wi-Fi router. You’ll also find here my list of recommended routers, and tips on how to best set up one as a NAS server.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 24, 2019, and updated it on August 12, 2020, to add more relevant information.

What’s the use of a Wi-Fi router USB port?

Not all Wi-Fi router has a USB port, but if yours happens to have one, chances are you can use it for (at least one of) the followings:

Host that (old) printer

Print serving is the original function of a USB port on a router. Connect a USB printer to this port, and it’s now available to the entire network. There’s no need to buy a printer for each person anymore.

Five or six years ago, this feature was a big deal since printers at the time were mostly USB-only. Nowadays, those with built-in network port or Wi-Fi are commonplace. With that, some new Wi-Fi routers don’t offer the print serving feature anymore, though many still do.

Cellular connection

This feature allows the router to host a cellular USB modem and share the mobile Internet to the entire network. A cellular connection is a great way to have a backup Internet when your broadband service, like DSL or cable, is down.

Note that a router with this feature only supports specific cellular modems. Make sure you check the manual to know which one to get.

Network-attached storage (NAS) server

This feature is, by far, the most common and useful. Similar to the case of printing, plugging an external hard drive into the router’s USB port can also make its storage available to the entire network.

On top of that, you can use that public storage space for other applications, such as a backup destination (including Time Machine backup, in some cases,) PC-less downloading, or even a personal cloud.

READ NOW:  How to Turn your USB-enabled Wi-Fi Router into a Time Capsule


How to best set up a router as a NAS server

There are a couple of things to keep in mind about using a router as a NAS server.

Set the right expectation

The first and most important thing to remember is a router’s primary function is to host your network. For this reason, even a high-end router tends to have limited processing power for non-networking tasks.

It’s a router you’re using!

Naturally, a router is not as capable as a dedicated NAS server when it comes to hosting storage space. Also, just because the router supports a few functions with its USB port — like NAS, printing, or cellular modem, and so on — doesn’t mean you should expect to use all of them at the same time.

One of the reasons is there’s only so much power a USB hub can deliver. If a router has multiple USB ports, chances are they all share a single USB hub. So, you can’t use more than one bus-powered devices with it.

Security

Security can also be a concern. For example, some routers still use SMBv1, which is the original and ancient version of the popular Server Message Block protocol used in the Windows environment for network file and printer sharing.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Some routers still require the old and vulnerable SMBv1 protocol for the USB-based file sharing.

Due to security holes, for about a decade now, SMBv1 has been replaced by SMBv2 and newer versions and recently even disabled by default in most modern operating systems. That doesn’t mean using SMBv1 will get you in trouble immediately, but it sure is not ideal.

(Note, though, that many Asus routers might have the warning about enabling SMBv1, but they don’t require it to work. In my experience, all Asus Wi-Fi 6 routers can work with newer SMB versions.)

Another security concern is when you use the NAS feature via the Internet. In this case, make sure you create an account for each user access. But if you’re not sure, just don’t turn on any “cloud” feature or FTP access. Use those only when you know what you’re doing.

The bottom line is, if you want to do a lot of things with your network storage, it’s a good idea to get a real dedicated NAS server. But if you only wish to use some casual network storage, it’s quite fun and sensible to get even more use out of our router.

Get a good external drive

If you want the fastest possible speed, get a fast SSD-based portable drive, such as the My Passport SSD or the Sandisk Extreme. However, keep in mind, the performance depends on the network connection or the power of the router itself.

That said, a fast external storage device doesn’t always translate into better performance. In most cases, a typical affordable portable drive, like the WD My Passport or the G-Tech Mobile, will do.

Generally, the USB port of any router will have enough juice to power one bus-powered drive. But you can also use desktop external drives that have a power adapter of their own. In this case, you can use one with each of a router’s USB ports.

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Regarding storage space, the more, the better, so get the drive of the capacity that fits your needs. If you’re serious about your data, you can also choose an external drive with redundancy, such as a dual-drive RAID 1 external storage device, like the WD My Book Duo.

Get the right router

Not all routers are equal, especially when it comes to raw power. That said, get a router has a lot of processing power. Generally, the higher the specs, the better.

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Also, make sure you get a router that supports USB 3.2 Gen 1, a.k.a USB 3.0, or faster. Some router also has an eSATA or USB-C port. So, find one that suits your needs. And finally, get the router that includes the storage features you want, such as the support for Time Machine backup.

Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech Steps to make an Asus Wi-Fi router USB port work in USB 3.0 (a.k.a USB 3.2 Gen 1) mode.

Use the correct settings

By default, many routers — especially those from Asus and Synology — automatically set the connected drive to work in USB 2.0 mode. This mode won’t affect the router’s NAS functionality but has a theoretical cap speed of just 480 Mbps (60 MB/s).

The USB 3.2 Gen 1 (formerly USB 3.0) mode, which the cap of 5 Gbps (625 MB/s), unfortunately, can adversely affect the router’s 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. That said, if you want to get the most out of the router’s storage feature, you’ll need to enable the faster USB mode manually — we use mostly the 5GHz band these days anyway.

Finally, make sure you use the external drive with the right setting. For one, use it in the correct file system that the router support. Most of the time, NTFS is the safest choice. Also, don’t turn on the external storage device’s security feature, if it has one, because a router has no mechanism to unlock it.

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By the way, it’s worth noting that you only need to use the file system that the router supports, and not the one your computer supports. That’s because the file system used by the server has nothing to do with the client.

So, for example, if you use an NTFS (Windows) external drive with your router and share its storage, over the network, your Mac will be able to read, write to the shared folder, and use the space for Time Machine backup (if supported) just fine.

How to access your router-based NAS server

Once you’ve connected a storage device to a router and turned on the data sharing feature — often referred to as Windows-based, or SAMBA (SMB), file sharing — it’s easy to access that share space from any computer within the network.

(Here I assume you know already know how to set up a router, accessing its web interface, etc. Enabling the NAS feature is part of working with the router’s interface. If not, this post on how to build a network from scratch will help you with that.)

That’s because, as mentioned above, generally, the router shares the storage space using the popular SMB protocol. So the only thing you need now is the router’s IP address, which is the same one you’ve used to access its interface to turn on file sharing.

Alternatively, you can also use the router’s network name. But the IP is always the sure way. For this post, let’s say the IP address in question is 192.168.1.1 — chances are yours is a different one.)

(If you don’t know the router’s IP address, this post on IP addresses includes detailed steps on how to find out.)

After that, below are the standard ways you can access your newly-minted NAS server from a connected Windows or Mac computer.

Accessing your NAS server on a Windows computer

Access Server Windows
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech You can access the shared folder via the router’s IP address.

1. Open Explorer.

2. On the address bar type in this command then press Enter:

\\192.168.1.1

(Alternatively, you can also use \RouterName and the Windows search field under the Start Menu instead of Explorer. Don’t forget the (not //) and remember there’s no space in the command.)

3. Enter the username and password if prompted. If you haven’t set up an account for the data sharing, or if the router doesn’t support that, you can just use the admin username and password of the router’s web interface.

Accessing your NAS server on a Mac

Access Server Mac
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

1. Click on an empty spot on the desktop then press Command + K, and the “Connect to Server” window will appear.

2. Under Server address type in

smb://192.168.1.1 

(Again, you can also substitute the IP address with the router’s network name.)

3. Click on Connect and enter username and password if prompted.


And that’s it. Happy data sharing!

Best USB-enabled routers that can work as a NAS server

Now that you know how to turn a USB-enabled router into a NAS server, you probably wonder which router or routers you should get for the job.

I addressed that big question in this separate post of best Wi-Fi routers for NAS features. Check it out!

READ NOW:  Looking to Build a NAS out of a Wi-Fi Router? Check out These Options

By the way, many routers can also work as a Time Machine backup destination. For more, check out this post on how to turn a router into a Time Capsule.

Found a typo? Please report by highlighting it and pressing Ctrl Enter Thank you! ❤️

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22 thoughts on “Wi-Fi Router USB Port Explained: How to Turn One into a NAS Server”

  1. Hi Dong
    thank you for writing this post. However, I don’t trust my understanding of what you’ve written to go out and buy the gear to solve our dilemma. Would you mind helping a bit further please?

    We have only mobile devices (mix of iphone, android, drone, and laptops (mac/windows) and the mobile phones we use as our internet connections (we don’t have any other option available where we are located). We would like to have one external networked storage system (but don’t want to go to a server – it would be overkill). If I’ve understood your article correctly, our devices should all be able to talk to a router via Wi-Fi, and the router can be cabled to an external storage device. On top of that, the router is the bottleneck in terms of speed of file transfer from the devices through router to storage, correct? We have documents, photos, and videos we want to store – because Wi-Fi is slow we don’t want to transfer from our mobile devices direct to the external storage (and the drone has a microSD card), which is why we thought a hybrid (ie Wi-Fi to router, router cabled to storage) solution would work best.

    Can you recommend a) the pieces of gear we need to set this up, b) which brand works best for laptop backup as well as storage of videos etc coming from IoS Mojave V 10.14 and Android / Windows 10; and if this is really the best set up for us?

    I hope you can help us please.

    Reply
    • Hi Gin Gin. You can try this mobile hotspot and a USB-C external drive (a desktop one that has its own power adapter). Note though, that you can only expect to back up the laptop’s data, the Wi-Fi connection is a bit too slow to back up the entire computer. Alternatively, you can also get a portable drive and backup your computer directly. More here.

      Reply
  2. Hi ! Thank you so much for your write-up!
    I’ve been trying to avoid buying a NAS server by using my Dlink 890L Router but I am only able to see the files from my Storage Device via Dlink’s SharePoint App/Website.
    How can I make it show as SMB? Is this even possible with my router model? It’s got a USB 3.0 and 2.0 port in the back and the user’s manual is no help. Thanks!

    Reply
  3. First, many thanks for the detailed explanations. Great piece of writing, good even for a newbie like me.

    Would you recommend a Synology MR2200ac Wi-Fi Router together with a SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable External SSD as solution for a home media server (for someone with a low budget)?

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Rictus.

      Yes, that drive will work very well. But it’s overkill since the router’s NAS speed is much slower than any portable SSD. You can get a much cheaper hard-drive-based portable drive, like this one, and it will work fine, too.

      Reply
  4. Great article! Can you confirm that USB-connected harddrives on the Asus RT-AX92U can be accessed with SMB v2/3?

    Reply
  5. I wish I’d seen your article before I bought what I bought, even with research. I relatively recently got an Orbi RBR50 + satellite, hoping to get better reach/5GHz to my Roku, which despite switching to fiber and getting a Roku that could do 5GHz, still occasionally buffered.
    And, hoping to use one of the USB ports to replace the TP-Link W8980 that I was using to access two USB hard drives, not knowing that not all USB ports can handle that. The TP-Link is older, and when I got a 4Gb drive, I didn’t realize it can only handle up to 2Gb. The Orbi in AP mode is connected to an (ATT) ARRIS BGW210-700.

    What would be the best thing to do?

    Reply
  6. Hi, good article. Maybe you can help with a problem I’m having. I have a HP Microserver running Xpenology (Synology Diskstation) and I’ve just bought an Asus RT-AX88U router. On my previous TP-Link router I had a WD My Passport connected via USB which I mounted through Diskstation’s File Manager as a CIFS mounted shared folder. This worked flawlessly. Since getting the AX88U and plugging my USB drive into it, I cannot get Diskstation to mount the USB drive over the network. Diskstation simply tells me “Failed to connect to the remote server. Please make sure the remote server is accessible via CIFS”. I’m at a loss as to what the problem is. If I use AI CloudSync in the Asus software I can add the Diskstation and the router will then proceed to sync files from the USB drive to a folder on the Synology but this isn’t really what I’m looking to do. Any ideas? Thanks

    Reply
    • I haven’t tried that, Danny. My guess is maybe you need to enable anonymous access on the Asus router. By default, it requires a login (the router’s admin account) and maybe your Xpenology server doesn’t have a way to do that. In any case, I’d recommend a real Synology Server.

      Reply
  7. I can’t imagine focusing long enough to research; much less write this kind of article. You’ve outdone yourself with this material. This is great content giving some interesting information. I will try this idea for sure.

    Reply
  8. I wanted to add one (1) comment and one (1) correction to where I misspoke in previous post about the 2nd drive I had tested.

    1st – I’ve just been looking for sooooo long, for a good replacement for the Apple Airport Extreme / Time Capsules, ever since Apple announced the end of their production.

    I always knew there were other Routers out there that would allow a Time Machine External Drive to be hooked to them…BUT, it’s just I never wanted to have some ugly thing that looked like a dead antler rack or set of “bat wings” in my nice clean interior decorating. ha ha 🙂

    2nd – I noticed I misspoke in my last post (wish I could edit it, so I’ll post it in both of your great articles, as to not confuse people) My 2nd Test Drive was a 2TB Samsung T5, not a Samsung X5 (which I do own one of those, as well (but obviously a Samsung X5 is Thunderbolt 3 only). Oops 🙂

    Thanks again for all you do Dong!

    Reply
  9. The Linksys Velop MX5 (Model MX5300) / MX10 (Model MX10600) does work fantastic for Time Machine and/or Network File Sharing (SMB) with an External Drive over WiFi.

    I went ahead and purchased two (2) Linksys MX5s from Costco for $299 each. Again, I LOVE these!!! The first thing that comes to my mind after days of testing is…FINALLY, a WiFi and Time Machine solution that is as close as a person will come to an “Apple Like Experience”! It is like an Airport Extreme on steroids with AX WiFi 6! 😉 It actually works even better, and is a worthy replacement system to my beloved Apple Time Capsule. I’ll expound below about some of the HUGE features and benefits that are not as obvious on the surface (or some that Dong has already pointed out).

    Three (3) Different External Drives Tested –
    I connected three (3) different external drives (freshly formatted as HFS+) to the Linksys MX5 for Time Machine and they all worked fantastic that way! However, it is important to only connect a freshly formatted drive (I will explain a single caveat I found further below).

    Read and Write Drive Speeds / Comparison to the Old Apple Time Capsule –
    For all three (3) drives (2 – SSD and 1 – 7,200 RPM “Spinner”)
    – Wirelessly – I averaged 50-60 MB/s Read & Write speeds over WiFI from about 30ft.
    – Cat6A Ethernet Wire – Averaged 105-108 MB/s Read & Write speeds over Cat6A Ethernet Wire (so I would suppose, a person’s mileage may vary).
    – In comparison, to an Apple Time Capsule with a HGST Server Grade 6TB 7,200 RPM drive installed inside.
    – Time Capsule Wirelessly – Averaged 23-25 MB/s Read & Write.
    – Time Capsule Cat6A – Averaged 42-47 MB/s Read & Write
    So the Linksys MX5 is over twice (2X) as fast for either wireless WiFI or Cat6A Ethernet Wire Time Machine Backups.

    External Drives Tested for Days –
    – 1st, I tried an older Samsung 850 Pro 1TB (I had sitting around). I formatted it as a HFS+, and connected it using a Plugable USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB-C to SATA Adapter Cable, along with a Type-C to Type-A Adapter.
    – 2nd, I tried a Samsung X5 2TB. Again, I formatted it as HFS+.
    – 3rd, I tried a G-Drive Mobile USB-C 4TB 7,200 RPM “Spinner”, which had been connected directly to the 16” MacBook Pro as 1 of my 3 rotating backup drives. This drive displayed a caveat…which I figured out and will explain in the next paragraph.

    When a person physically connects an external drive to their Mac for use as a Time Machine Backup. Time Machine does NOT create or use a ‘Sparse Disk Image Bundle’ file like Time Machine does or did on an Apple Time Capsule, Apple Airport Extreme w/External Drive, or now with the Linksys MX5 with an External Drive using Network File Sharing (SMB). So bottomline, DO NOT expect to be able to just plug in the same old External Backup Drive a person has been using into the Linksys…that will NOT work as a person might think. There is no easy way to “transfer” or “inherit” a person’s past history from an existing Time Machine Backup Drive. So, when I plugged in that one (1) G-Drive into the Linksys MX5, it actually read the drive just fine (it also read my other “loose” files that I had put on it, that I did not care about but wanted off my main Macintosh HD). However, when I ejected that drive from the Linksys MX5 (after playing with it) and plugged it back into the Mac…the Mac had a hard time reading it. So instead, I reformatted it as a fresh HFS+…and then let Time Machine backup over the Network…and after it did that…it let me move the drive back and forth, being physically plugged into either the MX5 or the Mac with ease.

    So, why is the ability to “Eject” and move a drive from the Linksys and plug it directly into the Mac so cool? –
    Well, I hope others will not miss or underestimate this…because not only is it handy for copying or moving potentially really large file transfers outside of Time Machine through the Finder. BUT also when I plugged the External Drive into the Mac, Time Machine saw it and allowed me to ‘Enter Time Machine’ and recover files (without having to do it over a slower WiFi connection like an old Apple Time Capsule would require). Plus, drumroll please, the same procedure also worked when entering into Recovery Mode (Command + R) to do a Full Restoration of a Mac (like if the Mac was stollen or got hit by a bus). So, this is really the best of both worlds, flexible easy WiFI backup, AND the ability to connect directly with much faster speeds if disaster was to occur.

    How to Setup Time Machine Over Network File Sharing (SMB) –
    With each drive I tested…I could use either the Linksys App or the Linksys Web Interface to setup the SMB Authentication User and Password. Then, on the Mac I went to Finder > Go > Connect to Server… > smb://192.168.1.1 OR, whatever IP Linksys assigns, as at one point, I did have two (2) drives hooked up one (1) to each of the two (2) Linksys MX5s. Then I logged in using the SMB User Name and Password, while also checking the ‘Remember this password in my keychain’. Then I went to Apple Menu > System Preferences… > Time Machine > Add or Remove Backup Disk… > Select the External Drive, and that was it…from then on Time Machine would backup to that drive if it was mounted on the Desktop or Not. And, yes, I tested this for days…Shutting Down…starting up…once it was set it just worked…and a person could Verify the Backup, as well.

    Is there anything I would change or might consider to be a negative? –
    I guess if I was to nitpick, it would be nice if a person was not forced to use the Linksys App to do the initial setup. Once a person does this, then a person can use a Web Browser after that. Other than that, these Linksys MX5s are simply fantastic, and I’m so glad to finally have a wireless WiFI mesh Time Machine solution that is a worthy replacement to the aging Apple Time Capsule.

    So there’s my novel…I LOVE these, and hope this is helpful to others! 🙂

    Reply
  10. Hi Dong…well I contacted Linksys…and they said that the MX5 does support HFS+ drives, which should then support Time Machine (Yes/No)? They said the MX5 supports APFS (read-only), or FAT32, or HFS+. So, do you think the trouble you had in the full-review with having to reformat as NTFS was just with that SanDisk Extreme Portable Drive, perhaps? Just would be so nice to NOT have a big old ugly deer antler rack on my nice clean looking shelf…if the MX5 will do what the specs and Linksys says it is supposed to do. 😉

    Reply
    • The file systems only apply to DAS devices (like a portable drive), TEK. For a NAS device, its file system has little to do with its capabilities. So having the support for HFS+ doesn’t mean a router (or a server) can do Time Machine backup and vice versa — all TM-enabled servers I know don’t use HFS+, or any MAC file systems for that matter.

      Reply
  11. Thanks for the great reviews Dong…sure appreciate your efforts!

    Sure is a bummer that the Linksys MX5/MX10 does not work with Time Machine…so there went my plan to replace my beloved AirPort Time Capsule. So you continue to save me and many others!

    Seems nobody makes my ideal perfect Mesh Wi-Fi yet. 😉

    Reply
    • Sure, TEK. Almost all Asus routers support Time Machine, so you can use AiMesh. However, note that this depends on Apple since the company can change things and TM might not work anymore with a 3rd party hardware after you upgrade macOS.

      Reply
  12. A thing I had no idea about is that many (most?) mechanical HDD’s constantly spin. Another thing is that not all drives and routers are comparable. I made a horribly expensive mistake buying a 2tb Seagate “fast SSD” that is not recognized by my Netgear RAX120.

    Reply

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