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

A Wi-Fi router USB port can turn an external storage device into that of a network-attached storage server. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

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: a Wi-Fi router USB port.

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 recommendation list, and tips on how to best set up a router as a NAS server.

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.


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. So 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.

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

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.

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.

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 drive 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.

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. In this case, a dual-drive RAID 1 external storage device, like the WD My Book Duo, is more suitable.

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.

READ MORE:  Device Connections Explained: It's All about USB-C

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.

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

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, which is quite slow. The reason is the much faster USB 3.2 Gen 1 mode can adversely affect the router’s 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band.

If you want to get the most out of the router’s storage, 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 — most of the time, NTFS is the safest choice. Also, don’t turn on the drive’s security feature, if it has one, because a router has no mechanism to unlock it.


Best Wi-Fi routers with built-in NAS feature

Now that you understand the basics of router-based network storage, below is the NAS performance chart of most USB-enabled routers I’ve used in the past years. I tested each using a wired Gigabit connection. With those that feature a multi-gig port, I also tried that out.

As for storage devices, I’ve always used SSD-based portable drives for the testing. The actual drive used for each router might vary, but they all have much faster speed than the router’s wired network port.  

Note that the scores on the chart are in megabyte per second (MB/s), which is 8 times the megabit per second (Mbps) measurement normally used for network connection speed.

Any routers on the chart above will work as a mini NAS server. But you’re on the market for a new USB-enabled router; the following are my recommendations. These are routers that deliver the best performance or have a generous feature set when hosting external storage. I’ve personally used them all.

Asus RT-AX89X

The Asus RT-AX89X has two 10 Gpbs network ports and two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports occupying two of its sides. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The RT-AX89X is the latest dual-band Wi-Fi 6 router from Asus, and it’s the very first router on the market that has two 10Gbps network ports.

That plus two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports means it can deliver high-speed NAS performance. What’s more, it’s also one of the first Asus USB-enabled routers that didn’t require SMBv1 to work in my testing.

Like all Asus router, including the GT-AX11000 below, the RT-AX89X, when coupled with a portable drive, can deliver all storage-related applications you can think of, including the support for Time Machine backup.

Read more about the Asus RT-AX89X here.


Linksys MX5 Velop AX

The Linksys MX5 router has a good heft to it. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The Linksys MX5 is the latest member of Belkin’s Linksys Velop mesh family. It’s part of the Linksys MX10 mesh system, but you can also get it as a standalone router.

Unlike some other Wi-Fi 6 routers below, the MX5 doesn’t have a multi-gig port, so its NAS performs caps at 1Gbps. And that was almost the speed it delivered in my testing.

The router’s USB port doesn’t offer anything more than local storage sharing — there’s no personal cloud, streaming features, or Time Machine backup — so it’s only suitable for those with simple network storage needs.

By the way, if you get the MX10 mesh system, keep in mind that you can also use the USB port of the satellite unit, meaning you can host more than one drive in your network.

Read the full review of the Linksys MX5 Velop AX here.

Netgear Nighthawk RAX120


The Netgear AX12 (RAX120) is an all-around excellent router. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

This router is the latest from Netgear and has the fastest network storage speed, by far, thanks to its 5Gbps port. But even when you use its regular Gigabit connection, the NAS performance is still outstanding.

Like most Netgear routers, when hosting an external drive, the RAX120 is all about sharing that storage. You can share that local or conveniently via the Internet using Netgear’s ReadyShare software. The router also supports local backup for Windows and Mac’s Time Machine.

Read the Netgear RAX120s’ full review here. Alternatively, you can also pick the RAX200, which has similar NAS performance and features.


Asus GT-AX11000

The Asus GT-AX11000 is a massive Wi-Fi 6 router. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The GT-AX11000 is the latest tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router from Asus. It’s also a powerful router, and it has everything when it comes to network storage. Its USB ports can host printers, storage devices, or cellular modem. On top of that, it also has a 2.5Gbps network connection to deliver superfast NAS performance.

And when hosting storage, it has all the applications you can imagine. You can share data locally, via the Internet or turn the router into a media streaming host. There’s also a PC-less download app. And the router also supports Time Machine backup.

By the way, the storage-based feature set is the same across all Asus routers released in the past few years. The GT-AX11000 happens to be also a great router, too.

Read its full review of the Asus GT-AX11000 here.


TP-Link Archer C5400X

There are two USB 3.0 ports to host storage devices or printer.
The TP-Link C5400X Wi-Fi router has two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports to host storage devices or printer. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

This massive and ostentatious router is the third on my chart of USB-based NAS performance. Though having no multi-gig network port, the router delivers fast NAS performance via its regular Gigabit ports.

The router supports sharing storage locally as well as over the Internet. It can also work as a media server, casting content to network streamers. Read the TP-Link’s Archer C5400x’s full review here.


Synology MR2200ac

The Synology MR2200ac has one USB 3.2 Gen 1 port to host a storage device or a cellular modem. Dong Ngo | Dong Knows Tech

The MR2200ac‘s NAS feature isn’t exactly fast, as you can see on the chart above. However, thanks to the advanced firmware, it has, by far, the best NAS feature set, similar to that of a Synology server.

Hopefully, Synology will release a more powerful router in the future. For now, the RT2600ac also offers the same NAS feature set. Other than storage, you can also use the MR2200ac’s USB port to host a cellular modem. Read the Synology MR2200ac’s full review here.

Dong’s note: I first published this post on September 24, 2019, and updated it on January 25, 2020, to add more relevant information. 

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About the Author: Dong Ngo

Before Dong Knows Tech, I spent some 18 years testing and reviewing gadgets at CNET.com. Technology is my passion and I do know it. | Follow me on Twitter, or Facebook!

8 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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! 🙂

  3. 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. 😉

    1. 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.

  4. 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. 😉

    1. 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.

  5. 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.

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